Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 3 March 2012 / 8 Adar I 5772

Margarine, Misconceptions, and Maris Ayin

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

The origin of good old fashioned (or bad old - depending if one is health conscious) ordinary margarine is surprisingly fascinating. In the 1860’s France, with the rising popularity and cost of butter (due to the universal constant known as the law of supply and demand), Emperor (Louis) Napoleon III made a contest offering a considerable prize to anyone who could create a satisfactory substitute for butter. Additionally, the contest rules stipulated that this substitute must be inexpensive enough for the common man (apparently this French leader wanted to keep his head), as well as have been able to be mass produced for their Armed Forces. In 1869, chemist Hippolyte Mege-Mouries invented a substance he called “oleomargarine”, now known worldwide as margarine, and won the substantial prize. Unfortunately for him, margarine never really took off in his lifetime, and after selling the patent in 1871, he died a pauper in 1880. However, as big a role the now popular margarine plays in our daily lives, it interestingly plays a halachic role as well.

There is a remarkable Rabbinic enactment known as “Maris Ayin[1]. The most basic definition of this law is the prohibition of taking actions which strictly speaking, are permitted according to halacha, but nevertheless give onlookers the impression that we are doing something halachically forbidden[2]. In other words, although an observer has an obligation to judge others favorably (dan l’kaf zchus)[3], nevertheless we still have an obligation not to do things that might raise an observer’s suspicions. The expression might be “looks can be deceiving”, but even so, one must make sure not to engage in questionable activities, or even questionable-looking ones.

One of the more famous applications of this rule applies to cooking (and/or eating[4]) meat in (pareve) almond milk. Since this appears to an onlooker as cooking basar b’chalav, the forbidden mixture of meat and milk, it is therefore Rabbinically forbidden due to Maris Ayin[5]. There is a solution, though, to place almonds down next to where the cooking/eating is being done, to show to all that there is no actual prohibition occurring.

Employing this logic, updated for modern times, would seem to imply that having a cold cut sandwich lathered with margarine might just be forbidden, due to Maris Ayin, as the margarine can easily be mistaken for butter! But if so, why is this not more widely known?

The answer lies with a silky situation. The Mishna[6] rules that combining wool and silk does not violate the Biblical prohibition of shatnez (wearing a mixture of wool and linen)[7], yet is forbidden Rabbinically nonetheless due to Maris Ayin, as such garments could easily be mistaken for shatnez. Still, several centuries later, the Rosh, and even later, the Shulchan Aruch[8], ruled that in their times this was no longer an issue, as silk had become so common that it was easily recognizable, and no one would suspect a silk blend garment of being shatnez. The Rema takes this ruling a step further and maintains that even a kanvas-blend garment, if it is commonplace, is also considered above suspicion; the Shach affirms that in his locale kanvas is common and therefore not-applicable to the law of Maris Ayin.

The renowned Kreisi U’Pleisi, Rav Yonason Eibeshutz[9] extrapolates and expands on this concept even further, applying it as a general halachic rule across the board: any time that the questionable object (or action) becomes commonplace, Maris Ayin no longer applies, as it will no longer arouse suspicion[10]. The example he gives is if in a place where cooking in almond milk is the norm, then accordingly it would not be necessary to place almonds next to the pot, as the average onlooker would simply assume that one is cooking in pareve almond milk, and not real milk. Other later authorities, including the Maharsham, and Yad Yehuda[11], have echoed Rav Eibeshutz’s ruling.

In fact, this basis for being lenient in cases of Maris Ayin has been widely accepted by contemporary authorities as well; the only issue being how common that item has to be in order to be entitled to this exemption. There was a famous dispute recorded around a hundred years ago between the Pe’as HaSadeh and the Yigal Yaakov[12] regarding some novel egg-based desserts served at a wedding that looked remarkably dairy-like. Although both agreed with the Kreisi’s approach, they disagreed as to whether such desserts were considered common enough in their day to negate the rule of Maris Ayin.

However, nowadays, with popular and familiar daily staples such as margarine, soy schnitzel, burgers, and hot dogs, non-dairy creamers, pareve ice creams and whipped desserts so commonplace, the vast majority of contemporary authorities assert that me’ikar hadin there no longer is a Maris Ayin issue with these products at all. Who would suspect a religious Jew of using dairy butter, milk or ice cream after eating meat, instead of assuming that the pareve alternative is being used[13]? Although some maintain that it is still preferable to exercise caution and keep the container or wrapper on the table at the time of eating, nevertheless, they agree to this halachic principle. That is why many do not even think twice about “buttering” their sandwich with margarine or having pareve “ice cream”, or coffee with non-dairy “milk”, even at a fleishig (meaty) meal.

This is an excellent example of halacha’s adaptability to a changing world. The rule remains the constant, but its practical application is dependant on our great authorities’ interpretation. So, to sum it up, although the creator of margarine never got to enjoy its questionable benefits, we at least can, both in the physical sense, as well as in the halachic sense[14].



[1]See Mishna in Shekalim (Ch. 3, 2) which bases it on the verse in Bamidbar (Mattos) Ch 32, 22 “V’hiyisem nekiyim meiHashem u’meiYisrael”, “And you shall appear clean (sinless) before G-d and before (the people of Israel”. This issur is cited several times throughout the Talmud, including: Shabbos 61b, 64b, 137a, and 146b, Bava Basra 8b, Avodah Zarah 12a, Kerisus 24b, and Bechoros 43b - 44a. See Shu”t Igros Moshe (O.C. 1, 96) and Shu”t Minchas Shlomo (vol. 2, 58, 29; Tinyana 53, 3) how the Gedolim actually define the issur. Maris Ayin does not include worrying that someone might mistakenly think something permitted is prohibited (The example Rav Moshe gives is driving in a car on Friday afternoon after candlelighting time, that it is not Maris Ayin, even though some people mistakenly think that it is already considered Shabbos and might further assume that one would drive on Shabbos as well); one need not concern himself with others’ mistaken notions of what is prohibited or allowed, only actual halachic concerns. Although some commentators use the terms chashad and Maris Ayin interchangeably, see Shu”t Igros Moshe (O.C. 4, 82) who maintains that chashad is a Biblical prohibition while Maris Ayin is Rabbinic in nature, and explains the subtle differences between them. See also Shu”t Minchas Asher (vol. 1, 65 & 66), who defines them a bit differently.

[2]This concept was touched upon in an earlier article titled “Ma’aseh Avos = Halacha L’Ma’aseh”.

[3]See Gemara Shabbos 127b, Gemara Shavuos 30a, and Rabbeinu Yona’s Sha’arei Teshuva (Sha’ar 3, 218 s.v. v’heenay).

[4]See Shach (Y”D 87, 7 & 11) who argues, maintaining that the prohibition only applies to eating them together, but not cooking them together. See also Pri Megadim (S.D. ad loc).

[5]Rema Y”D 87, 3. See also Shulchan Aruch and Rema Y”D 87, 4 and commentaries. There is also the minority opinion of the Pri Chadash (Y”D 87, 7; O.C. 461, 2) who begrudgingly accepts this scenario as a case of the issur of Maris Ayin and states that the prohibition of Maris Ayin does not extend beyond what is explicitly prohibited in the Gemara. The Gilyon Maharsha (Y”D 298, 1) echoes this as well. The Kreisi U’Pleisi (ad loc, 7) and Yeshuos Yaakov (ad loc) do not accept this scenario of almond milk as Maris Ayin for a different reason. They explain that almond milk is not really any sort of milk; they maintain that in order to be concerned for Maris Ayin, the items have to be of the same type. Meaning, cooking in mother’s milk would be Maris Ayin, as it’s an actual milk, just not a dairy one, while coconut or almond milk would not be included as they are not intrinsically milk. There is also a separate question whether it is possible have a prohibition of Maris Ayin when the questionable act appears to be a Rabbinic prohibition. This is actually a four-way dispute with no clear cut final halachic ruling. The basic opinions are of the Rema (ibid - who writes that it does not apply), the Taz (ad loc 4 - who writes that l’chatchila one should not do so, but b’dieved it’s permissible), the Shach (ad loc 6) and Be’er Sheva (Shu”t 17 - who hold that it is assur, even b’dieved), and the Be’er Heitiv (ad loc 7) and Pri Megadim (ad loc M.Z. 4 - who feel that the Rema only intended to rule leniently when it’s a double derabbanan). There is also the opinion of the Pischei Teshuva (ad loc 10 and Nachlas Tzvi 3) who feels that only in someone’s private home the halacha is relaxed by an issur derabbanan. Many later authorities are divided as to the proper halacha and several rule like each of these opinions with no clear consensus.

[6]Mishnayos Kilayim (Ch.2, 9).

[7]Devarim (Ki Seitzei) Ch.22, 11.

[8]Rosh (commentary to Nidda, Ch.9), Tur/ Shulchan Aruch/ Rema (Y”D 298, 1), Shach (ad loc 2).

[9]See earlier article titled “The Gid Hanasheh Incongruity”.

[10]Kreisi U’Pleisi Y”D 87, 8.

[11]Maharsham (Daas Torah on Y"D 87, 3); Yad Yehuda (ad loc. Pih”A end 5).

[12]Shu”t Pe’as HaSadeh (vol. 1, 36) and Shu”t Yigal Yaakov (Y"D 23). Regarding Maris Ayin at Jewish weddings and Seudos Mitzvah, see also Knesses HaGedolah (Y”D 87, Haghos on B”Y 8), Chida (Machzik Bracha ad loc 6), Yad Efraim (ad loc s.v. v’nahagu), Zivchei Tzedek (ad loc 21 -23), and Kaf Hachaim (26 - 27).

[13]Including Rav Chanoch Padwa (Shu”t Cheishev HaEfod vol. 1, 20), Rav Moshe Stern (The Be’er Moshe - brought in Pischei Halacha - Kashrus 1st edition page 113:7), Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (cited in Rabbi Yaakov Scozylas’s Ohel Yaakov on IV”H - 2nd edition, 87, footnotes 42 - 44), Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner (Shu”t Shevet HaLevi vol. 9, 157), Rav Ovadiah Yosef (Shu”t Yabea Omer vol. 6, Y”D 8, 4 & Shu”t Yechaveh Daas vol. 3, 59), Rav Menashe Klein (Shu”t Mishna Halachos vol. 5, 96), Rav Levi Rabinowitz (Shu”t Ma’adanei Melachim 63, 3; 64; 65; 67, 2; Ma’adanei Hashulchan Y”D 87, 20), Rav Yochanon Wosner (Shu"t Chayei HaLevi vol. 4, 47, 14 & 15), Rav Yisroel HaLevi Belsky (Shu”t Shulchan HaLevi vol.1 Ch. 22, 9), the Avnei Yashpei (Shu”t vol. 6, 64, 4), the Minchas Pri (Shu”t vol. 3, 57), the Megillas Sefer (on BB”C 87, 7 s.v. v’heenay) and the Ohr Yitzchak (Shu”t vol. 2, Y”D 3).Several of these decisors are referring to margarine, others to soy schnitzel, and others pareve creamer; and although some maintain that it is preferable to keep the container or wrapper on the table at the time of eating, nevertheless, they all follow the Kreisi’s principle. See also Shu”t Minchas Asher (vol. 1, 66) who although agreeing in principle, nevertheless maintains that one should not rely upon this l’chatchila since the dairy versions are far more common. A dissenting opinion, who apparently argues on all abovementioned authorities, is that of the Badei Hashulchan (Y”D 87, 48 & Biurim pg. 11-12 s.v. mishoom) who does not seem to accept the Kreisi’s logic et al. to permit these items nowadays.

[14]Regarding the permissibility of taking a drink, using the restroom, or being part of a business meeting in a non-kosher restaurant nowadays, see Shu”t Igros Moshe (O.C. vol. 2, end 40 s.v. u’vadavar) and Shu”t Minchas Asher (vol. 1, 67).


Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.


L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda, and l'zchus for Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam and her children for a yeshua teikef u'miyad!

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