Volume 50 Number 60
                    Produced: Fri Dec 16  5:51:09 EST 2005

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Hechsher on hazardous food (6)
         [Akiva Miller, Dr. Josh Backon, Hillel (Sabba) Markowitz,
Robert Israel, Arnie Kuzmack, Immanuel Burton]
         [Art Werschulz]
Women Writing a Sefer Torah (2)
         [Elozor Reich, Avi Feldblum]


From: Akiva Miller <kennethgmiller@...>
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2005 13:43:30 GMT
Subject: Re: Hechsher on hazardous food

Yeshaya (Charles Chi) Halevi asked:
> The Chicago Tribune printed an expose on how fish sold in the U.S. -
> especially tuna - is contaminated by poisonous mercury. ... Now that
> this is known, can any rabbi or organization give a hechsher on such
> fish?

My understanding is that the vast majority of hashgachas refuse to get
involved with these issues, and for reasons which seem quite reasonable
to me. Specifically, it is simply not their area of expertise.

Suppose a kosher utensil got used with a nonkosher food, or a nonkosher
food got mixed into a kosher food, or a shochet noticed something
unusual with an animal, or a new process is developed for a certain raw
ingredient. These are topics which require a deep understanding of the
halacha (not to mention of the practical events of the situation), and
these are the things that the rabbis have spent many years
studying. When a situation arises, they will look at the many many
details, and apply their years of experience to weigh the many pros and
cons, possibly consult with their colleagues and teachers, and come up
with the best answer they can.

Compare that with this with information obtained from a single newspaper

On what basis would you have a rabbi remove his hashgacha from a fish?
Simply because a newspaper ran an "expose"?

Such an action would not be right or fair. Not to the fish company, and
not to the public either.

Of course, no one wants to see a hechsher on unsafe food, but who is to
determine whether this fish is safe or not? It is one thing to remove a
hechsher for things which ordinary people understand to be unsafe --
when an ill employee sneezes on something, for example -- but the
question of mercury in fish is clearly NOT in that category.

As that article itself said: <<< The simple question "Is fish safe to
eat?" depends on many factors. What kinds of fish do you eat? How much
do you eat? How often do you eat it? How much do you weigh? >>>

For a hashgacha to get involved in these issues, it would have to spend
great resources on educating their rabbis in these topics. Now let's
suppose an organization did actually do that. Sounds like a great idea,
but consider this: Kashrus organizations are not uniform in how strictly
they interpret the halacha, and they would also not be uniform in how
strictly they evaluate these health issues. Suppose a hechsher satisfies
you in one area but not the other?

Why should a kashrus organization get involved in these headaches? A far
better idea, I think, would be for *other* organizations to be
developed, who would set standards and grant a stamp of approval for
products which meet those standards. I think that such organizations
already exist for certification of "organic" foods, and I think that the
hashgachos would welcome such for health issues too.

Akiva Miller

From: Dr. Josh Backon <backon@...>
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2005 18:57:05
Subject: Re: Hechsher on hazardous food

Before I give the halachic aspect (below) here's my medical hat on: I
wouldn't eat canned tuna fish more than once a week and would completely
avoid frozen tuna steaks. [That's from my being the Assistant Editor of

As to the hechsher: see Yoreh Deah Siman 60 in Hilchot Treifot (on
whether an animal that eats a deadly poison that kills cattle is
permitted to be eaten). The halacha is specific (YD 60:1): it's
permitted.  Only if the poison is dangerous to humans is the meat
prohibited (not because of treifot but because of sakana [danger]).
There is an halachic dictum "chamira sakanta m'issura" [danger is
treated more stringently than items prohibited because of ritual law]
and the parameters of this halacha are delineated in Rambam Hilchot
Rotzeach u'Shmirat haGuf 11:5-6; Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah Siman 116 and
in the Aruch haShulchan YD 116.

Here (tuna) the danger is incremental rather than acute and may not fall
into the category of sakana. It may be similar to smoking one cigarette
(no immediate danger only chronic) [Incidentally as I posted on the
AVODAH list a few years ago, even smoking 1 cigarette would be
prohibited to a male due to hashchatat zera (damaging sperm motility and
count) [based on Beit Shmuel EVEN HA'EZER 5 s"k 13 and the medical
evidence that the damage to sperm motility from one cigarette is almost
immediate (under 10 minutes)].


To what extent can one put oneself in danger? Choshen Mishpat 420:31
indicates that one who injures himself even though he isn't permitted to
is not subject to punishment. See also Yoreh Deah 155:1 in Shach s"k 7."

Halachic discussion on danger has ranged from diets (Iggrot Moshe CM II
65), aesthetic plastic surgery (IM CM II 66, Chelkat Yaakov III 1,
Minchat Yitzchak VI 105 #2, Tzitz Eliezer XI 41), performing a mitzva
(e.g. drinking wine at Seder for someone with a severe allergy to wine
(Halacha u'Refuah Sefer Daled p. 125), undergoing risky medical
procedures (Shvut Yakov III 75; Achiezer II 16 #6; Binyan Tzion I 111;
Beit Meir YD 339 #1; Yad Halevi I YD 207; Harav Unterman in NOAM
Vol. 13, p. 5; Tzitz Eliezer IV 13 and X 25 #17; Shearim Metzuyanim
B'Halacha 190 s"k 4; Mor u'Ktziya 328), volunteering for medical
research, and others.

PEYRUSH RASHI: If I were you, I wouldn't *fress* on tuna fish and would
try to avoid giving it to kids. A "nice piece" of pickled herring would
be much healthier for kids (especially kids with learning disabilities)
[From my position as Consulting Editor of the JOURNAL OF PEDIATRIC



From: Hillel (Sabba) Markowitz <sabba.hillel@...>
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2005 11:12:39 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Re: Hechsher on hazardous food

This is a matter of sakanah (danger) and not of kashrus.  Thus the
animal could be certified as kosher but be forbidden because it is
poisonous.  The rav would have to get a medical or government
certification that it was dangerous before withholding a kashrus
certification on such a fish.  Indeed, in secular law, he could probably
be sued for slander if he does not have such proof.  If that is the
case, then the provider of the fish would have more problems than just

Consider the Alar scare on apples which proved to be untrue.

Hillel (Sabba) Markowitz | Said the fox to the fish, "Join me ashore"
<Sabba.Hillel@...> | The fish are the Jews, Torah is our water

From: Robert Israel <israel@...>
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2005 14:43:27 -0800 (PST)
Subject: Re: Hechsher on hazardous food

For other views on this issue, you might look at e.g.

> Now that this is known, can any rabbi or organization give a hechsher on
> such fish?

One could just as well ask how any rabbi or organization can give a
hechsher to beef (which has been linked to increased risk of heart
disease and colorectal cancer, for example).  The fact is that many
foods have some risks attached to them, and these have to be balanced.
Rabbis and kashrut organizations generally don't have the expertise to
decide on these issues.

Robert Israel                                <israel@...>
Department of Mathematics        http://www.math.ubc.ca/~israel 
University of British Columbia            Vancouver, BC, Canada

From: Arnie Kuzmack <Arnie@...>
Date: Fri, 16 Dec 2005 00:19:49 -0500
Subject: Re:  Hechsher on hazardous food

Every fish in the world is contaminated by mercury, and this has been so
as long as there have been fish.  It is all a matter of degree: some
fish have more or less mercury than others, and some have more or less
omega-3 fatty acids than others.  Without getting too deeply into the
science, which is way off topic, it appears that omega-3 fatty acids
have beneficial effects on those aspects of health on which mercury has
adverse effects (especially neurological development and functioning and
cardiovascular disease).  The amount of mercury in a particular piece of
fish tissue depends on the species and size of the fish and, to a lesser
extent, on where it was caught.

(This is not to ignore the need to reduce human releases of mercury into
the environment.  There is probably about three times as much mercury in
the environment as there was in prehistoric times, but it will take
decades to bring global mercury levels back down to such levels, at the
most optimistic reckoning.)

There is virtual unanimity among the experts that the health benefits of
eating fish are significant and valuable.  The FDA/EPA public guidance,
criticized in these articles, attempt to give people some rules that are
simple enough that people can actually remember and apply them, thus
reducing exposure to mercury as much as possible and still getting the
health benefits of fish.

What is the implication of all this for kashrut organizations?  I will
leave it to others more knowledgeable than I to discuss the halakhic
approach to health risks and benefits.  But an organization that wanted
to make a ruling in this area would need to hire staff or consultants
familiar with these issues to inform the rabbis making the decisions, as
well as rabbis willing to devote their time to the issue.  In short,
they would need to duplicate the process followed by the US Government
in developing its policy and guidance.  What reason is there to expect
that they would come up with a better result?

To make things even more interesting, the various kashrut organizations
may well develop different answers!

From: Immanuel Burton <iburton@...>
Date: Fri, 16 Dec 2005 09:31:12 -0000
Subject: RE: Hechsher on hazardous food

In Mail.Jewish v50n58, Yeshaya Halevi asked about hechsharim being given
to hazardous foods.

First of all, what counts as hazardous?  Should hechsharim be withdrawn
from foods with high salt, sugar, fat, etc?

Secondly, I don't think kashrus has anything to do with whether a food
is hazardous or not.  My father pointed out to me that when God gave
Adam and Eve their dietary law, they were told that they may eat from
all plants other than from the Tree of Knowledge.  No commandment or
even warning was given by God about not eating hazardous plants.

Immanuel Burton.


From: Art Werschulz <agw@...>
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2005 09:17:08 -0500
Subject: toralight.com

B Lemkin <docben10@...> wrote:

> Until apporixately 800 years ago there was a nusach Eretz Yisrael. Rav
> David Bar Hayim of Yerushalayim has been trying to resurrect this
> nusach. His website is at www.torahlight.com

Two remarks:

(1) I originally mistyped this address as www.toralight.org.  It turns out
    that torahlight.org is a Messianic website.  Does anybody have
    suggestions about what one can do about such fraudulence?

(2) When I tried to visit www.torahlight.com, I got an error msg
      Directory Listing Denied
      This Virtual Directory does not allow contents to be listed.
    Does anybody know specific URLs within that website that could be


Art Werschulz (8-{)}   "Metaphors be with you."  -- bumper sticker
GCS/M (GAT): d? -p+ c++ l u+(-) e--- m* s n+ h f g+ w+ t++ r- y? 
Internet: agw STRUDEL cs.columbia.edu
ATTnet:   Columbia U. (212) 939-7060, Fordham U. (212) 636-6325


From: Elozor Reich <lreich@...>
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2005 10:54:25 -0000
Subject: Women Writing a Sefer Torah

A.J. Hyman <ajhyman@...>  wrote
> I am wondering what the current thinking is on Aviel Barclay writing her
> Torah (now that, according to CNN and other news outlets, she is nearing
> completion)?
> http://www.jewishbulletin.ca/archives/Sept03/archives03Sept05-04.html
> Are women included in the obligation to write a Sefer Torah?
> ...
> (http://www.biu.ac.il/JH/Parasha/eng/nitzavim/gilat.html)

 The author of the above Pilpul, Professor Yitzchak D. Gilat, quotes
several Poskim but (deliberately ?) omits the main point.

It is established Halacha that a Sefer Torah written by a woman is
Possul.  For this reason alone women should be discouraged from writing
any sifrei T'nach (Megillas Esther is an exception according to most
authorities) to avoid doubts on provenace.

Elozor Reich

From: Avi Feldblum <avi@...>
Date: Thu, 15 Dec 2005 10:54:25 -0000
Subject: Women Writing a Sefer Torah

Elozor, I do not understand your comments above. The first listed URL is
dealing with the practical question of this particular woman writing a
sefer Torah and clearly states that this is being done with the full
understanding that the Torah is not for communal use and is possel for
any purpose requiring a kosher sefer Torah. The second listed URL is
dealing with the general question of what is the nature of the
individual requirement to write a sefer torah. As part of that analysis,
one looks for differences between various understandings of the
requirement and what difference in halacha is driven by those
differences. One such difference is whether there is an individual
requirement on a women to write a sefer torah. That is what Dr. Gilat
brings down, and I see no logical reason for him to discuss the
kosher / pasul status of the resulting sefer torah. Quite on the
contrary, if he were to bring that down, I would question the reason for
doing so, as it is not relevent to the matter at hand. 



End of Volume 50 Issue 60