Thursday, January 10, 2013

It's Just A Little Bit

Years ago, a popular ad for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups showed a person with a bar of chocolate accidentally plunging the chocolate into someone else’s open peanut butter container. The result turned out to be the delicious Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup.

The dilemma of the at-first unhappy consumers in the Reese’s advertisement is actually quite similar to an important component of the Jewish dietary laws. What happens if a non-kosher item accidentally falls into one’s kosher hot soup or a person accidentally adds milk to a hot meat stew? One’s first instinct might be to rashly dispose of the food immediately, but the real answer to what one should do next, depends, in most cases, on the size and volume of both items that were accidentally mixed.

The general rule is that if the volume of the unwanted ingredient is 1/60th or less than the volume of the desired food, then the kosher status of the food has not been compromised. If, however, the volume of the unwanted ingredient was more than 1/60th, the food would assume a non-kosher flavor and status. This law is known as bitul b’shishim, nullified in one sixtieth.

The sages defined the critical factor as being whether the taste of the non-kosher item remains in the mixture. The problem, however, is that in the process of testing and determining whether the taste remained, one might actually eat non-kosher food. The sages therefore declared that a flavor becomes null in a proportion of 1/60.

There are many guidelines for nullifying forbidden food in bitul b’shishim and a qualified rabbi should be consulted. The most important of these is that the forbidden ingredient may not be intentionally added. In other words, one may not add a dash of cream to a large pot of chicken soup thinking that the minimal amount renders it acceptable.

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