Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Raisins Not Kosher??

First, to those living in Beit Shemesh who have already read my previous postings to the Beit Shemesh list, my apologies for being somewhat repetitive. I have added an additional point or two, and, at any rate, wish to raise the issue to a wider audience.

The KAJ recently published a worldwide ban on eating all raisins (1). For the sake of clarity, the Rabbinate referred to in the notice does not refer to the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, but to the Rabbinate of KAJ.

I must confess, I know very little about KAJ, other than that it is run by a group of Rabbis living in self-imposed exile (a factual statement, not intended to render judgment one way or another), whom Reish Lakish would not, min ha-stam, have admired were he alive. This because Reish Lakish, quoted in Yoma 9b, states that he "hates" (not a word I would use, but I must be accurate in quoting) Rabba Bar Bar Chana and others like him who did not make aliyah en masse when given the opportunity (2).

At any rate, I reviewed Sefer VaYikra and could not for the life of me find raisins mentioned among the prohibited foods. Which made me wonder.

Perhaps raisins are prohibited by Rabbinic decree due to insect infestation? So … a thorough check of the Talmud revealed no such raisin prohibition. Nor could I find it in the Shulchan Arukh. How and why did raisins and/or insects change so dramatically since Matan Torah, the redaction of the Talmud and the publication of the Shulchan Arukh?

To begin the discussion, R. Yechiel Michal HaLevi Esptein, author of the Arukh HaShulchan and one of the greatest poskim of his day, advised his disciple, R. Yehuda Leib Maimon, upon granting him Rabbinic ordination, that every Halakhic question is assumed to be permitted until proven otherwise. The burden of proof is upon the Rabbi who answers "prohibited" (3). As such, I suppose the KAJ would need some very solid proof before prohibiting, in such a sweeping manner, a food which has been eaten by observant Jews for centuries.

Getting back to how and why raisins changed.

A quick survey of the Halakhic literature reveals that neither raisins nor insects have changed. Indeed, raisins have always been known to have issues of insect infestation. But, according to the Taz, since raisins generally become infested once they have already been harvested, they may not only be eaten, they need not even be checked (4).

The raisin issue is only one aspect of a larger discussion on checking fruits, vegetables and flour for insects. Why did our parents/grandparents not check these food items in the ways many Rabbis today require?

I don't know conclusively the answer to this question. What I do know is that, according to the Shulchan Arukh, food items need be checked only if the probability of finding insects reaches a certain level of probability. The Rivash, an important Rishon who was a frum Jew and knew a bit of Torah, set that probability level at close to 50% (5). Perhaps the Rivash was frum enough for our parents and grandparents, but not for us; I'm not certain.

I also know that Rabbi Nachum Eliezer Rabinovitz, rosh yeshiva of Birkat Moshe, writes that insects so small as to not be recognizable to the eye as living creatures, even if visible, though as tiny inanimate specks of dust, are not prohibited (6). Maybe Mom/Dad and Savta/Sabba knew, instinctively, something we didn't know.

In general, the decline in Orthodox Jews' willingness to rely on mimetic tradition, which has led, in turn, to all kinds of stringencies not practiced in times gone by, is a subject discussed at length by Haym Soloveitchik (7).

Back to raisins, I wonder how KAJ assessed the competing values of avoiding foods that might be problematic but are permitted according to the Taz and others (e.g., Knesset HaGedola, Lehem HaPanim, Shulchan Gavoah, Pri Megadim and Zivchei Tzedek) (8) versus supporting Israeli farmers who grow such foods … the majority of raisins in Israel are homegrown (9).

Perhaps the livelihood of kashrut supervisors takes precedence over that of farmers. Or perhaps such assessments are simply not on their radar screen.


(2) אלהא סנינא לכו דכתיב (שיר השירים ח) אם חומה היא נבנה עליה טירת כסף ואם דלת היא נצור עליה לוח ארז אם עשיתם עצמכם כחומה ועליתם כולכם בימי עזרא נמשלתם ככסף שאין רקב שולט בו עכשיו שעליתם כדלתות נמשלתם כארז שהרקב שולט בו

(3) בח"ו משרי-המאה (עמ' 112) מספר הרי"ל מימון, שבעת שהסמיכו הרב יחיאל עפשטיין (בעל ערוך-השולחן) ביקש ממנו, שילמד אותו אורחות חיים בהנהגת הרבנות. אמר לו הרב עפשטיין: "כשתבוא לפניך שאלה באיסור תורה, עליך לחשוב מקודם כי שאלה זו בחזקת היתר עומדת. ורק לאחר שתעיין בראשונים ולא תמצא איזה צד היתר, מחויב אתה לאסור. ולדאבוני מכיר אני כמה רבנים, והם גדולי תורה, אבל משום שיראתם קודמת לחכמתם, הם דנים בראשונה על שאלה מתוך השקפה שיטתית שהיא בודאי טריפה ואסורה, ועל ידי זה הם נכשלים כמה פעמים להפסיד ממון של ישראל שזהו חטא יותר חמור מעבירה שבין אדם למקום".

(4) יו"ד, פד ס"ק יב: כל מיני פירות שדרכם להתליע במחובר לא יאכל עד שיבדוק וכו', משמע אבל באם אין דרך להתליע אלא בתלוש א"צ בדיקה, וע"כ אין חיוב בדיקה בקמח או בפירות יבשים כגון רוזינ"י וכיוצא בהם אם יש שם מילבין קטנים דאין שם איסור אלא אחר שפירשו ונמצא דהוי ס"ס, ובס"ס מותר אפילו בשל תורה כמ"ש ב"י בשם הרשב"א גבי עבר ובישל תוך י"ב חודש.

(5) שו"ת הריב"ש, סי' קצ"א

(6) שו"ת שיח נחום, סי' מה: חרקים שהם כה קטנים שאינם ניכרים לעין כבעלי חיים, ואפילו נראים אלא רק כמו נקודות אבק דק בלא חיות, אינם אסורים.


(8) כף החיים, יו"ד, פד:סג



  1. Nobody is claiming that raisins have always been ossur. KAJ claims to have investigated certain brands and found them to be infested.

  2. I think you didn't read KAJ's announcement. It specifically said ALL raisins.

  3. All raisins are now not not kosher, or have never been kosher? Big difference.

  4. Hamasig, I'm not sure I understand your question. The point is, KAJ announced that all raisins currently in the market are not kosher. The point of my posting is two fold: 1) that's ridiculous 2) it's irresponsible in that such an announcement could potentially harm the livelihood of raisin producers, without sufficient justification.

  5. My point is that is irrelevant that the gemorah, shulchan oruch, my grandparents or anyone else used to eat raisins. If they are currently infested, then they are currently infested.
    KAJ investigated certain brands on the American market and determined that in their opinion, they are sufficiently infested as to be forbidden to eat. I dont believe that that would include Israeli brands. Nevertheless, once a producer is producingproducts that are forbidden to eat, his livelihood is not an issue.

  6. But Taz and others held otherwise. According to him, yes ... raisins have insect issues. But since these issues develop after harvesting, they need not even be checked. This is exactly the position of the O-U, which I posted in the original post.

    Read KAJ's announcement. They did not refer to specific brands. They said "no raisins of any brand or hoshgocho may be used." That is irresponsible.

    The livelihood of others is ALWAYS an issue. Read the Sarei HaMeah I quoted.

    If the product is clearly prohibited, like pork, then that prohibition will take precedence over the producer's livelihood.

    Raisins are not as clear as pork. Most Halakhic issues in life must be assessed from a broad perspective that takes into account conflicting halakhot/values. My concern is that KAJ, and others of their ilk, look at many Halakhic issues in a vacuum and overlook the other side of the equation.

  7. 1) The Taz says that there is no need, even lachatchila to check. KAJ did. However, where one did check, and found bugs, the food is ossur.
    2) The KAJ issued a clarification where they state: Various brands of raisins were checked and found to be infested, including some originating from abroad... I believe that in the future supervision on the production of raisins will -as a matter of course- include checking for infestation by many kashrus agencies. Given the recent publicity on the matter, it is likely that raisins will become standardized as an item checked for infestation in line with strawberries and vegetables which need checking, for instance.
    The last part of this statement does not appear to be according to the Taz.
    3) The OU issued a statement: The OU have long maintained that raisins packed and stored under normal industry conditions do not pose a halachic infestation concern and may be consumed without further checking on the part of the consumer.
    Recent public reporting of widespread infestation in packaged raisins has led the OU to reexamine its prior held position vis-à-vis raisins. Following careful investigation, extensive testing and consultation with our Halachic authorities, the OU upholds its original position that raisins, when stored under normal conditions (cool, dry and clean environments) do not require checking for the presence of worms or insects. (עיין בט"ז יו"ד פד, יב)

    4) The Taz is clearly discussing a case where we know that there was no reinfestation from another external source, subsequent to picking. His only issue is if to check from bugs that arrived prior to picking. The logic of he Taz simply doesn’t work otherwise.
    It seems to me that there is no machloket between the OU and KAJ on the Taz. They all agree that there is no need to check any raisins where WE KNOW that the bugs did not come from outside after picking. The OU maintains “ maintained that raisins packed and stored under normal industry conditions do not pose a halachic infestation concern”, i.e. we can be fully confident that reinfestation did not occur. The KAJ however believe, based on their investigation that it does indeed happen. Therefore, under present industrial circumstances, there is source for confidence that the bugs can’t get in later.
    I cannot be certain that these are their positions, but it seems to me to be most likely.
    5) The Oruch Hashulchan is criticizing those who have decided the halocho based on gut, which causes them to arrive at an incorrect psak. He is not suggesting allowing the consequences of the psak to interfere with the decision making process. He is certainly not discussing how to deal with cases of safek.

  8. No sir. The Aruch HaShulchan's author explicitly said that a Rabbi should assume that whatever question he is asked, even if a d'oraita question, should be assumed permitted. Only after going through the rishonim and not finding "eizeh tzad heter" should you prohibit.

    If you think that the consequences of a pesak should not "interfere" with the decision making process, I really hope that no one is asking you she'eilot. Life is complex. The answers to real life questions do not exist in the shulchan arukh, which has answers only for questions that exist under no mitigating circumstances. Most real life questions have multiple competing Halakhot/values at play ... i.e., mitigating factors.

  9. Chuck, I assume you saw this: www.kashrut.com/Alerts/?alert=A2642