A Question of Jewish Law

April 28, 2016

As Sweet as Honey

Filed under: Festivals,Jewish Law,Kashrut — chaimweiner @ 9:11 am

Question: Do I need to buy special Kosher for Passover honey?

Answer: It is well known that the kosher requirements are Passover are very strict. Special supervision is required for most items that are to be consumed during the festival. However, honey is an example of an item which is pure, undergoes minimal processing and does not have any obviously non-Passover ingredients. So it is legitimate to ask whether special supervision is required.

This question is discussed in the Talmud.

Raba said: The law is: Leaven, in its time, whether [mixed] with its own kind or with a different kind, is forbidden even when there is only a minute quantity, in accordance with Rav; when not in its time, whether [mixed] with its own kind or with a different kind, it is permitted, in accordance with R. Simeon. [BT Pesachim 30a]

This statement establishes an important principle. During the week of Passover even the smallest amount of Hametz can render an entire dish unsuitable. Therefore, if there is any doubt regarding the standards of its preparation, it cannot be used during the festival. However, before the beginning of the festival, small amounts of hametz that may have inadvertently been mixed into a product are lost in the mixture. And as long as the vast majority of the mixture is suitable [less than 1 in 60], it can be regarded as kosher.

On the basis of this statement Rashi rules that salted meat and cheese that were prepared before the festival without supervision are permitted. The Tur and the Shulchan Aruch [Orech Hayyim 447] rule that certain items that were prepared before Passover without adequate supervision may be consumed during the festival. Joseph Caro, quoting earlier authorities, mentions fresh meat, cheese and honey as examples. This is the accepted halacha amongst the Sephardi rabbis.

However, Rabbi Moses Isserles [Poland, 16th cent.], adds that it is not ‘our’ custom [i.e. in Ashkenaz] to eat cheese, salted fish or salted meat that haven’t been specifically supervised for Passover. Presumably this is because the salt hasn’t been checked for possible hametz. But there are still some items that Ashkenazi authorities allow without supervision as long as they were bought before the festival. The most common of these is milk. Many Ashkenazi Jews buy the milk they need for the entire week before festival begins, relying on the fact that if anything unsuitable inadvertently mixed in the milk would become void.

The difference between ‘salted meat’ and ‘milk’ is that it is perhaps possible that salted meat and fish could inadvertently have hametz mixed in the salting mixture, whereas the presence of hametz in the production of milk is so uncommon that one does not even need to take this into account. We find this consideration amongst the authorities. R. Simeon ben Zemah Duran [ Tashbetz, Algeria 14-15th cent.] writes that it is permitted to use butter that was prepared by non-Jews without supervision as long as it was purchased before Passover because “… our eyes see that there is no mixture of hametz in it, and even if hametz was mixed in before Passover, it would be annulled by 1 in 60 like all other prohibitions”. And Rabeinu Asher [Germany and Spain, 13th and 14th cent.], a leading Ashkenazi authority, writes: “Concerning honey, I have not seen anyone who considers this forbidden during Passover because of the possibility that flour may inadvertently have been mixed in it, for this is a very uncommon occurrence, and if it happened it would have been annulled before the festival.” [Klal 24:4-5]

In our days, health-and-safety precautions that govern the production of food make the chance of a foreign object accidentally being introduced in the production of honey even more remote. For that reason, unsupervised honey should be permitted.

This raises the question of the suitability of many other non-supervised items. Modern production techniques mean that we can be more sure than ever about the hygienic conditions in which factory produced food is prepared. But, on the other hand, there are many additives and production aids that may be introduced to foods without our knowledge, and in many cases it is impossible to know everything that is in the food that we are eating.

For this reason, Ashkenazi Jews should follow the Ashkenazi custom of being strict in the production of Passover foods. We generally seek reliable Kosher supervision of Passover food. However, pure food items that undergo minimal processing can be consumed during Passover on condition that they have been bought before the beginning of the festival, so that anything that inadvertently mixed in them is nullified.

Rabbi Chaim Weiner

Nissan 5776

Based on Ovadia Yosef, Yechve Daat 1:11


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