Ta'arovet Chametz

  • Harav Aharon Lichtenstein zt"l

Based on a Shiur by Harav Aharon Lichtenstein zt”l

Translated by David Strauss

 

            Any discussion concerning ta'arovet chametz (chametz mixtures) divides into two levels: Torah law and rabbinic law. In this shiur, we will deal exclusively with the level of Torah law. Owing to the nature of the issue, the discussion will deal with two realms of Halakha that merge on this issue – the laws of chametz and matza and the laws of ta'arovet.

Ta'arovet chametz and Chametz nukshe

            The Mishna states:

Elu overim be-Pesach [according to one understanding:  "With these one transgresses on Pesach"; alternatively: "These are removed on Pesach"see below]: Babylonian kutach, Medean beer, Edomite vinegar, Egyptian beer, dyer's broth, cook's dough, and scribes glue. Rabbi Eliezer says: Also women's toiletries. This is the rule: With anything that is of a species of grain, one transgresses on Pesach. They are governed by a negative precept, but they do not carry [the punishment of] excision [karet]. (Mishna Pesachim 3:1)

            The seven items mentioned in the Mishna divide into two groups. The first group is comprised of foodstuffs made up of full-fledged chametz intermingled in a food that is not chametz, whereas the second group is comprised of items that are exclusively chametz, but chametz of a lower level, namely chametz nukshe. Chametz nukshe itself is divided into two types: 1) items that underwent the full chimutz (fermentation) process, but do not fall into the category of okhel – "food"; 2) se'or – items that underwent only a partial chimutz process.

            In the aforementioned Mishna, the law is brought without any explanation and without sources. Moreover, the meaning of the words "Elu overin be-Pesach" are not clear. The Gemara clarifies the source of this law:

Who has taught that full-fledged chametz in a mixture and chametz nukshe on its own are prohibited by a negative precept? Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: It is Rabbi Meir, for it was taught: Se'or must be burned, and he gives it to his dog, and one who eats it is liable to forty [lashes]. (Pesachim 43a)

            According to Rav, Rabbi Meir is the Tanna of our Mishna, for it is he who maintains that the eating of se'or is forbidden by Torah law. At this stage, the Gemara is clearly working on the assumption that the law governing a mixture containing full-fledged chametz is more stringent than the law concerning chametz nukshe. Later in the passage, the Gemara brings the position of Rav Nachman:

Rav Nachman said: It is Rabbi Eliezer, for it was taught: For full-fledged chametz, one is punished with karet; for its mixture, with a negative prohibition; these are the words of Rabbi Eliezer. But the Sages say: For full-fledged chametz, one is punished with karet; for its mixture, there is no punishment. And we have heard that according to Rabbi Eliezer who said that full-fledged chametz that is in a mixture is forbidden by a negative prohibition – all the more so, chametz nukshe on its own.

            Both opinions assume that one may infer from the law governing one group about the law governing the other group. According to the first opinion, we can infer from the law governing chametz nukshe to a chametz mixture, whereas according to the second opinion, we can infer from the law governing a chametz mixture to chametz nukshe. The conflicting rationales are recorded in the Gemara:

Rav Nachman – why did he not say like Rav Yehuda? He can say to you: Perhaps Rabbi Meir only said [his law] there concerning chametz nukshe on its own, but concerning full-fledged chametz in a mixture – not.

And Rav Yehuda, why did he not say like Rav Nachman? He can say to you: [Perhaps] Rabbi Eliezer only said [his law] there concerning full-fledged chametz in a mixture, but concerning chametz nukshe on its own – not.

            On the one hand, a chametz mixture is more stringent because it contains full-fledged chametz; on the other hand, chametz nukshe is more stringent because it stands on its own and is not intermingled in another food. In any event, the Gemara in the continuation establishes that we cannot infer anything from one realm to the next. We shall therefore focus on the disagreement between Rabbi Eliezer and the Sages whether or not one who eats a chametz mixture is liable for lashes.

The Position of Rabbi Eliezer

            What is the source for the view of Rabbi Eliezer? The Gemara in the continuation discusses this issue:

And Rabbi Eliezer, from where does he know that a [chametz] mixture is governed by a negative prohibition? For it is written: "You shall eat nothing leavened (kol machmetzet)" (Shemot 12:20).

The derivation stems from the word "kol." The Gemara immediately asks:

If so, he should also be liable for karet, for surely it is written: "For all who eat that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off" (ibid., v. 19). – That is required for that which was taught: "That which is leavened" – I only know that which becomes fermented by itself; from where [do I know that which becomes fermented] by something else? Therefore, the verse states: "All… that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off."

The derivation regarding a chametz mixture is not from the verse that establishes the punishment of karet, but from the verse dealing with the prohibition of eating.

If we carefully examine the wording of the Gemara's question, we will see that the Gemara is working on an assumption that is very important for our purposes. Since Rabbi Eliezer learns from the words "kol machmetzet" that one who eats a chametz mixture on Pesach is liable for lashes, the question arises why should the law governing one who eats a chametz mixture be different from the law applying to one who eats chametz, the latter being liable to the punishment of karet. On the other hand, the Gemara does not object to Rabbi Eliezer on logical grounds, but rather from the verse from which he derives his law. In other words, the Gemara's question implies that Rabbi Eliezer never intended to say that a chametz mixture is regarded as a type of chametz, in which case all of their laws should be identical. All he meant to do was to learn the prohibition of eating a chametz mixture from a special derivation. For this reason, the Gemara understands that Rabbi Eliezer needs one derivation for the prohibition itself and another derivation for the punishment. The prohibition applying to a chametz mixture is not part of the general prohibition of chametz, but rather a separate prohibition.

One question that remains open concerns the status of this prohibition. In various places in the Torah we find prohibitions that include several levels of prohibition. Thus, for example, the Gemara in Keritut 21-22 implies that the eating of certain types of blood is punishable by karet, whereas the eating of other types of blood does not carry that punishment, but both prohibitions are included in the prohibition to eat blood. Is this also the relationship between the eating of chametz and the eating of a chametz mixture? Does the prohibition of eating a chametz mixture fall under the prohibition of eating chametz, as a lower-level prohibition which also carries a less stringent punishment? Or perhaps these are two separate prohibitions?

Different Types of Mixtures

            With what kind of mixture is the Gemara dealing? We know from the laws of ta'arovet that mixtures are classified according to two variables:

  • the nature of the mixture – liquids (lach be-lach) or solids (yavesh be-yavesh);
  • the components of the mixture – the same species (min be-mino) or different species (min be-she'eino mino).

A mixture of two solids constitutes a situation of objective uncertainty, which stems from an inability to identify which food is the forbidden one and which food is the permitted one (for example, two pieces of meat, one forbidden fat [chelev] and the other permitted fat [shuman]). In our case, we are clearly dealing with mixtures of liquids, and not mixtures of solids. So too the prevalent opinion among the Rishonim is that we are dealing with a mixture of different species, and not a mixture of the same species. It should be noted that the Halakha is that in a mixture of min be-mino, the forbidden food is nullified by a majority of permitted food, whereas in a mixture of min be-she-eino mino, the mixture is forbidden as long as the taste of the forbidden element is perceptible in the mixture.

Another variable regarding mixtures is the concentration of the mixture. In the framework of a discussion of the position according to which a chametz mixture is forbidden by Torah law, the Gemara (Pesachim 44a) establishes that one who eats a concentrated mixture – where a quantity equal to the size of an olive of the forbidden element is mixed with a quantity of permitted element equal to half a loaf – transgresses a Torah law. Such a mixture is mentioned in another talmudic passage:

Rabbi Yochanan said: Whenever the taste and substance [of the prohibited element in a mixture are perceptible] it is prohibited [and one who eats it] is liable to the punishment of lashes; and that is a quantity equal to the size of an olive [of the prohibited element mixed] with a quantity equal to half a loaf. If the taste [is perceptible] but not the substance, it is prohibited but he is not punished with lashes. (Avoda Zara 67a)

            How are we to understand the difference between a mixture of an olive-sized quantity of forbidden element in a half loaf of permitted element and a mixture of less than an olive-sized quantity of forbidden element in that same quantity of permitted element? The measures of kezayit, the size of an olive, and peras, half a loaf, are familiar to us from the laws governing forbidden foods: a person is only liable for eating a forbidden food if he eats a quantity equal to the size of an olive in the time that it takes to eat half a loaf (kedei akhilat peras). It is possible to connect these two ideas: If one is forbidden to eat a mixture containing a forbidden food, then one who eats a quantity equal to the size of an olive in the time that it takes to eat half a loaf, violates this prohibition. However, even one who maintains that there is no independent prohibition regarding the eating of a mixture containing forbidden food, agrees that one who eats of a concentrated mixture, which has a quantity of forbidden food equal to the size of an olive mixed in half a loaf of permitted food, violates the prohibition, because such a person eats a quantity equal in size to an olive of the forbidden food in the time that it takes to eat half a loaf.

            It should be noted that there are two ways to understand the status of a diluted mixture, which does not have a quantity equal to the size of an olive of the forbidden element mixed with a quantity of permitted element equal to half a loaf. On the one hand, it is possible that the forbidden element in such a mixture is nullified by Torah law, and therefore a person who eats it does not violate a Torah prohibition. On the other hand, it is possible that the forbidden element is not nullified by Torah law, but since there is an insufficient quantity of the forbidden element, a person who eats of the mixture eats only half of the measure (chatzi shi'ur) of the forbidden element that entails liability. According to this second understanding, the law in such a case depends on the dispute whether or not half a measure is forbidden by Torah law, but clearly the person is not liable to lashes.

Bal Yera'e and Bal Yimatze

            In addition to the prohibition against eating chametz, the Torah imposed two additional prohibitions in connection with chametz: bal yera'e and bal yimatze – the prohibitions to have chametz in one's possession during Pesach. Do these prohibitions apply to chametz mixtures? Of course, this question must be considered separately according to the two opinions – according to Rabbi Eliezer, who maintains that eating a chametz mixture is forbidden by Torah law, and according to the Sages, who maintain that this is forbidden only by rabbinic decree.

The Position of Rabbi Eliezer

According to Rabbi Eliezer, parallel to the prohibition of eating a chametz mixture, do the Torah prohibitions of bal yera'e and bal yimatz apply to such a mixture?

As we saw at the beginning of this shiur, Rabbi Eliezer does not argue that a chametz mixture is a type of chametz, but rather he maintains that there is a separate prohibition against eating a chametz mixture, parallel to the prohibition against eating chametz. Thus, it stands to reason, according to him, that the additional chametz prohibitions – bal yera'e and bal yimatze – apply only to actual chametz, and not to a chametz mixture.

Another reason why the prohibitions of bal yera'e and bal yimatze should not apply to a chametz mixture, according to Rabbi Eliezer, is the view found in the Rishonim that these prohibitions stem from the concern that a person will come to eat of the chametz. Thus, some Rishonim argue that these prohibitions apply only to actual chametz, the eating of which is punishable by karet, but not to a chametz mixture, the eating of which is not punishable by karet.

In fact, the question whether Rabbi Eliezer maintains that the prohibitions of bal yera'e and bal yimatze apply to a chametz mixture is debated by the Rishonim, in the context of a disagreement as to the meaning of the expression found in the Mishna cited above: "Ve-eilu overin be-Pesach." Rashi explains:

Ve-eilu overin [= over these one transgresses] – bal yera'e and bal yimatze.

            According to Rashi, despite the fact that the eating of the items mentioned in the Mishna is not punishable by karet, nevertheless they are governed by the prohibitions of bal yera'e and bal yimatze. Rabbenu Tam disagrees with Rashi, and says:

And it seems to Rabbenu Tam that "eilu overin" refers to the foods, and "overin" means that they are removed from the table, because they may not be eaten, but there is no bal yera'e.

            According to Rabbenu Tam, these items are not subject to the prohibitions of bal yera'e and bal yimatze. Other Rishonim understand the expression "overin" to mean "are removed from the world," but the source of the law is a rabbinic decree.

The Position of the Sages

            According to the Sages, there is no Torah prohibition to eat a chametz mixture. Is it possible for them to maintain that such a mixture is subject to the prohibitions of bal yera'e and bal yimatze? The simple understanding is that the Sages do not distinguish between the prohibition against eating and the other prohibitions of chametz; just as the prohibition against eating does not apply to a chametz mixture, so too the prohibitions of bal yera'e and bal yimatze.

            On the other hand, it is possible that, according to the Sages, it is only the prohibition against eating that does not apply to a chametz mixture. As may be recalled, we saw that even the Sages agree that one is forbidden to eat of a chametz mixture that contains a quantity equal to the size of an olive of chametz mixed with a quantity of non-chametz equal to half a loaf, and the entire disagreement between them and Rabbi Eliezer is limited to a more diluted mixture, which does not contain such a high concentration of chametz. Thus, it is possible that the Sages maintain that eating of such a mixture is not forbidden by Torah law, only because the person is not eating a quantity equal to the size of an olive of chametz in the time that it takes to eat half a loaf, and thus he does not "manage" to violate the prohibition in the prescribed time. If this analysis is correct, then the problem focuses on the eating, but as for the prohibitions of bal yera'e and bal yimatze – a chametz mixture is treated like ordinary chametz.

            Such a possibility emerges from the words of the Ravya in Pesachim. According to him, one who eats a chametz mixture on Pesach is not liable to lashes, but since the eating of the mixture is forbidden by Torah law – he is liable to lashes for violating the prohibitions of bal yera'e and bal yimatze. The assertion that the eating of a chametz mixture is forbidden by Torah law implies that the prohibited element is not nullified, and therefore one who retains possession of such a mixture over Pesach violates the prohibitions of bal yera'e and bal yimatze.

            As we have seen, the prohibition to eat a chametz mixture, according to Rabbi Eliezer, is a special prohibition that stands apart from the general prohibition to eat chametz. Regarding mixtures in general, the Rishonim disagree on the question how much one must eat of the mixture in order to be liable: an amount of the mixture equal in size to an olive, or an amount of the forbidden element equal in size to an olive. The Rosh in Chullin cites the position of Rabbi Chayyim ha-Kohen, according to which it depends on the concentration of the mixture: In the case of a mixture which does not contain a quantity equal to the size of an olive of the forbidden element mixed with a quantity of permitted element equal to half a loaf – a person is only liable if he ate a quantity equal to the size of an olive of the forbidden element. But in the case of a mixture containing a quantity equal to the size of an olive of the forbidden element mixed with a quantity of permitted element equal to half a loaf, he is liable even if he only eats a quantity equal to the size of an olive of the mixture. This implies that there is a qualitative difference between a concentrated mixture and one that is more diluted. When there is a quantity equal to the size of an olive of the forbidden element mixed with a quantity equal to the size of half a loaf of the permitted element – the prohibition "spreads" and imposes itself on the entire mixture. If we adopt this position, it is possible that even according to Rabbi Eliezer, a distinction should be made between the two types of mixtures: When a quantity equal to the size of an olive of chametz is mixed with a quantity equal to half a loaf of non-chametz – the entire mixture is regarded as chametz, and thus it is governed by the prohibitions of bal yera'e and bal yimatze. But when a quantity equal in size to an olive of chametz is not found in half a loaf of non-chametz – the mixture is not regarded as chametz. While there is a special prohibition against eating it, apart from the prohibition against eating chametz, a special derivation would be necessary in order to infer that the mixture is governed by the prohibitions of bal yera'e and bal yimatze.

The Final Law

            How has the law been decided regarding the dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and the Sages? The Rif in Pesachim asserts:

Even though the Sages said, "For its mixture, there is no punishment" – there are no lashes, but there is a prohibition.

The Rif does not explain whether the prohibition that exists even according to the Sages is by Torah law or by rabbinic decree. The very fact that the Rif discusses the position of the Sages testifies that, according to him, the law follows that position. The Ba'al ha-Ma'or (ad loc.) disagrees and rules in accordance with Rabbi Eliezer, and perhaps even in accordance with Rabbi Meir. On the other hand, the Ra'avad and the Ramban accept the ruling of the Rif.

            The Rambam in his Sefer ha-Mitzvot (commandment no. 198) says:

We are warned against eating items that contain a mixture of chametz, even if they are not bread, e.g., muryas, kutach, beer, and the like. And this is what they stated: "You shall eat nothing leavened" (Shemot 12:20) – to include Babylonian kutach, Median beer, and Edomite vinegar. You might say that he should be liable for karet. Therefore, the verse states: "For all who eat that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off" (ibid., v. 19) – just as chametz is distinct in that it is full-fledged chametz, to the exclusion of those items that are not full-fledged chametz. And what do they come for? To be liable for the violation of a negative commandment. And their prohibition has already been explained in Pesachim – there is liability for lashes only if there was a quantity equal in size to an olive of chametz mixed in a quantity equal to half a loaf [of non-chametz]. However, regarding a chametz mixture of a lower concentration, one who eats it is not liable for lashes.

            The Rambam rules in accordance with the view of Rabbi Eliezer that a chametz mixture is forbidden by way of a separate prohibition. In addition, as opposed to the Gemara (Pesachim 44a), the Rambam maintains that Rabbi Eliezer and the Sages disagree about a mixture containing chametz in an amount equal in size to an olive mixed with non-chametz in an amount equal to half a loaf. Even in such a case the Sages maintain that one who eats of the mixture is not liable by Torah law.

            The Ramban (ad loc.) disagrees with the Rambam, and raises two objections. First, why do the Sages maintain that there is no Torah prohibition in the case of a mixture that has an amount equal in size to an olive of chametz mixed with half a loaf of non-chametz? And second, according to Rabbi Eliezer, why in such a case is the person who eats of the mixture liable for lashes, and not karet?

            It should be noted that a similar difficulty arises from the words of the Rambam in Hilkhot Ma'akhalot Assurot (15:1-3), and not only regarding chametz:

A forbidden item that became mixed with a permitted item – if of different species, [it is forbidden] if its taste is perceptible; and if of the same species, where the taste is not perceptible, it is nullified by a majority [of the permitted item].

How so? If chelev (fat) of the kidneys fell into barley and melted – the barley is tasted. If the taste of the fat is not perceptible, it is permitted. And if the taste of the fat is perceptible, and its substance is also perceptible, it is forbidden by Torah law. If the taste is perceptible, but not its substance, it is forbidden by rabbinic enactment.

How so its substance? If there was an amount equal in size to an olive of chelev for every three eggs' worth of mixture – if he ate three eggs worth of the barley, since they contain a quantity equal in size to an olive of chelev, he is liable to lashes, for its taste and substance are perceptible. But [if he ate] less than three eggs' worth, he is liable to lashes by rabbinic enactment. And similarly if the mixture did not have an amount equal in size to an olive of the forbidden item in every three eggs' worth [of the mixture], even if the taste of the chelev is perceptible, and he ate the entire pot – he is only liable to lashes by rabbinic enactment.

As is well-known, one who eats chelev is liable to the punishment of karet. Why, then, is one who eats of a mixture that contains an amount equal in size to an olive of chelev in three eggs' worth of the mixture, only liable to lashes, and not to karet? The Rambam's distinction between a mixture and a full-fledged prohibition might relate to the intensity of the prohibition (cheftza) or else to the person's act (gavra). It is possible that the prohibition applying to a mixture is weaker in intensity than the prohibition applying to the forbidden item itself, and it is possible that one who eats of a mixture is not regarded as "eating a prohibited item" in the same way as is one who eats of the forbidden item itself.

The Mirkevet ha-Mishne answers the other objections raised by the Ramban. He explains that the Rambam understood that the disagreement between Rabbi Eliezer and the Sages relates to a mixture of identical species, rather than a mixture of different species. In general, a forbidden item that became mixed with its own species is nullified by the majority of the permitted item. Rabbi Eliezer requires a special derivation in order to prove that chametz that became mixed with its own species is not nullified by a majority of the permitted item, and it is about this derivation that the Sages disagree.