Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 7 July 2012 / 16 Tammuz 5772

The Odd Account of the Overnight Onion

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz

Those of us fortunate to be learning Daf Yomi are approaching the final countdown to the worldwide grand Siyum HaShas, celebrating seven-and-a-half years of daily determination, persistence and unyielding commitment to Torah that is required to finish all of the Talmud. There are celebrations planned for well over 100,000 people in many places throughout the globe, including the former Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin in Poland (birthplace of the Daf Yomi), Binyanei HaUma in Jerusalem (of course), and the single largest venue - the MetLife Stadium (better known as Giants’ Stadium) in New Jersey (Yes, contrary to reason and popular belief, the New York football teams actually play in New Jersey).

Recently, Daf Yomi learners worldwide came upon a fascinating Gemara in Maseches Nidda, the last Tractate in the Talmud. The Gemara cites an extremely strong, yet puzzling, statement by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai[1]. He states that one who eats a peeled onion, egg or garlic that has been left sitting out overnight is literally endangering his life, and will be ultimately judged as a person who took his own life[2]! The cause of this prohibition is a ‘Ruach Ra’ah’, a type of ‘spirit of impurity’ or spiritual contamination that rests upon these three foods when peeled and left overnight.

The reason why this statement is considered intriguing is that although there does not seem to be a dissenting opinion, and in view of the severity of both the offense and the punishment stated, nevertheless, this prohibition is not codified by the classic halachic authorities. Astoundingly, there is absolutely no mention of this proscription in any of the works of the greatest Jewish doctor, the Rambam, nor the Rif, Tur, nor Shulchan Aruch!

Yet, many later authorities, including the Pri Chadash, Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Chida, Ben Ish Chai, and Aruch Hashulchan[3], all do cite the Gemara’s statement, and consequently rule that eating a peeled egg, onion or garlic that sat overnight is strictly forbidden. So how is it that it is not mentioned at all by the great halachic codifiers?

This question has baffled many for years and there is no clear-cut one-size-fits-all solution. But there are several different perspectives that the halachic decisors take in this matter.

No More Ruach Ra’ah

One method of understanding the codifiers’ deafening silence on this issue is that they may have been of the opinion that ‘Ruach Ra’ah’ is no longer applicable. This is not a new argument, but rather one that many Rishonim cite, including the Maharam M’Rottenberg, the Mordechai and Tosafos[4]. The Rashal as well, famously declared that ‘Ruach Ra’ah’ is no longer prevalent among us. Several later authorities rule this way[5], that peeled overnight onions no longer give us any reason to worry about and may be eaten. They maintain that this is the reason there is nary a mention of it by the great codifiers, and not due to any lacunae in their knowledge.

Ruach Ra’ah Still Abounds

Yet, as mentioned previously, many later decisors maintain that this prohibition still applies in full force, as once an issue is mentioned in the Gemara as a halachic problem, it cannot be discounted just because many codifiers did not quote it. Also, several authorities aver that the Maharam did not discount Ruach Ra’ah completely. On the contrary, he entertained that leniency as a possible solution, just not necessarily as a definitive ruling. Additionally, it can be argued that Tosafos and the Rashal were referring exclusively to a specific type of Ruach Ra’ah that no longer is applicable; the Ruach Ra’ah associated with overnight peeled eggs and onions may therefore still be pertinent. These poskim therefore maintain that it is strictly prohibited to eat a peeled onion, egg, or garlic that was left out overnight[6] [7].

The Middle Road

A third approach to this issue is to synthesize both of the other approaches, taking all of the above into account. These authorities, including the Chofetz Chaim, Rav Moshe Feinstein, and the Steipler Gaon, maintain that if one wishes to be lenient, one definitely has what to rely upon. Yet, they recommend following the strict approach: not to partake of peeled overnight eggs, onions, and garlic[8].

Eggsclusions…err… Exclusions

However, even if one wishes to follow the recommended route of no overnight peeled onions, there are several important exclusions to the rule:

  1. The Gemara itself cites an exception: if some (even a tiny amount) of the original outer layer, peel, shell, or root hairs remain, then one need not worry about Ruach Ra’ah, as it is not considered to be peeled.
  2. Many poskim rule that if the overnight onion was mixed together with another food item, such as part of a salad, then it would be permitted, as it lost its status of purely being an onion or an egg. Several contemporary authorities, including the Ben Ish Chai, Chazon Ish, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, and the Minchas Yitzchak, maintain that this holds true even if only a small amount of salt, sugar, flour, or oil was added to the onion or egg, that it no longer is considered a mere peeled egg or onion, but rather as part of a mixture, which Ruach Ra’ah cannot affect.[9]
  3. A quite questionable leniency is that if one wraps the peeled egg or garlic up well and then puts it in the fridge, it is consequentially considered protected from Ruach Ra’ah[10]. The reason why many question this and do not agree to this supposition is that the Gemara explicitly states that even if the peeled onion is covered and wrapped up, it is still susceptible to Ruach Ra’ah. Therefore, most authorities do not abide by this leniency at all. Yet, others differentiate between how it was closed; for if it was hermetically sealed (which wasn’t around at the time of the Gemara), some opine that it is as if it is still in its shell, and rule that it is permitted[11].
  4. Another opinion cited by many authorities is that Ruach Ra’ah does not affect dried onion powder, garlic powder or powdered eggs, as not only are they not considered the original food item, but they are not even considered a food at all, rather a powder[12].

Commercial Uses and Bakeries

A common question debated among contemporary authorities is what should a bakery do? Are they required to throw out trays of unused leftover eggs, and not use them the next day?

Several authorities, including the Yad Meir and Shevet HaLevi, rule that nowadays the Ruach Ra’ah is non-applicable and therefore bakeries need not worry about this problem at all[13]. Others, including the Minchas Yitzchak, Tzitz Eliezer, and Rav Ovadia Yosef[14], maintain that although personally one should be stringent, nevertheless, in a commercial setting since there are many mitigating factors and rationales present (as sugar and/or salt often get added to the mix; in addition, the prohibited amount might have actually been nullified, etc.), it is permitted.

Rav Moshe Feinstein rules leniently as well, but from a different perspective. He posits that there is no Ruach Ra’ah when a company cracks eggs or peels garlic that will not be used for many weeks or months. He explains that Ruach Ra’ah only applies when someone is preparing food for the next day, as that would have been the standard scenario the Gemara was referring to, not for weeks later[15]. Therefore, bakeries would be included in this exception.

Yet, there are several contemporary authorities, chief among them the Klausenberger Rebbe[16], who did not allow any dispensation for industrially produced items, and exhorted extreme caution with all facets of this halacha, ruling that peeled overnight eggs, onions or garlic are strictly prohibited. He even once publicly asserted that negligence and lackadaisicalness with eating overnight peeled eggs and onions might be the cause for cancer R”l! This is why although many poskim allow leniency when it comes to bakeries (due to the above-mentioned rationales), nevertheless, bakeries run by Sanz and/or Klausenberg chassidim are very stringent with this.

Whether or not Ruach Ra’ah still exists today, it would seem that with a little bit of effort we can minimize the possibility of it affecting our food. So, when next preparing an egg salad or garlic spread, it seems quite worthwhile to follow the guidelines that ensure “spiritual contamination” remains far from our food!

The author wishes to thank mv”r Rav Yosef Yitzchak Lerner, as much of this article is based on his excellent comprehensive sefer Shmiras HaGuf V’Hanefesh (vol. 1, Ch.3).

[1]Gemara Nidda 17a.

[2]Rashi ad loc. s.v. umischayav, as explained by the Aruch LaNer. See also the Maharsha’s explanation.

[3]Pri Chadash (Y”D 116, 9), Shulchan Aruch HaRav (C.M. Shmiras Guf V’Nefesh, 7), Chida (Birkei Yosef Y”D 116, 10), Zivchei Tzedek (ad loc. 61), Ben Ish Chai (Parshas Pinchas, Year 2, 14), Aruch HaShulchan (ad loc. 22), Kaf Hachaim (ad loc. 92). However, there are other later authorities whose exclusion of this issue remains quite conspicuous, including the Pischei Teshuva, Chochmas Adam, and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch.

[4]Maharam M’Rottenberg, cited by the Mordechai (Maseches Shabbos, Ch.7 - Klal Gadol, Chidushei Anshe Sheim 3; Haghos Mordechai Ch. 8 - Hamotzi s.v. u’mibeitzah), Tosafos (Yoma 77b s.v. mishoom; Chullin 107b s.v. hasam), Rashal (Yam Shel Shlomo, Chullin Ch. 8, 12). However, it shoulb be noted that the prohibition is mentioned by several other Rishonim including Tosafos (! - Shabbos 141a s.v. hani & Beitza 14a s.v. ika), Rosh (Beitza 14a, 21), the SMA”K (Mitzva 171), and Trumas HaDeshen (cited in Leket Yosher (Y”D pg. 6).

[5]Including the Aderes (Kuntress Over Orach, 4), Shu”t Pri HaSadeh (vol. 3, 61 & 62), Shu”t Yad Meir (19; cited in Darchei Teshuva 116, 74), Shu”t Kav Zahav (14), and Mishmeres Shalom (Y”D 116, 4). The Har Tzvi (Shu”t vol. 2, Y”D 74 s.v. ode) seems to accept this as well.

[6]Including those mentioned in footnote 3, as well as Shu”t Beis Shlomo (vol. 1, Y”D 189), the Maharsham (Shu”t vol. 4, 148 and Daas Torah O.C. 513, 6), Shlah (Shaar HaOsiyios pg. 129), Reishis Chochma (Ch. Derech Eretz, Shaar 3, s.v. v’garsinan), Yeish Nochlin (15), Shevet Mussar (end Ch. 40), and Shu”t Shem Aryeh (the Arugas HaBosem, Y”D, end 56). The Mahasham proves from the fact that the Maharam prefaced his leniency with ‘dilma’ shows that he did not truly mean to rule leniently. However, the Sdei Chemed (Ma’areches HaLamed 141, 31 s.v. ha’oleh & Klalei Haposkim beg. 16; cited in Shu”t Yabea Omer vol. 2, Y”D 7) maintains that the Maharam used ‘dilma’ as a ‘lashon anavah’, but definitely did intend to rule leniently. The argument that Tosafos and Rashal were only lenient with a specific type of Ruach Ra’ah is made by the Divrei Yatziv (Shu”t Y”D vol. 1, 31, 4), Chelkas Yaakov (Shu”t vol. 3, Y”D 39, 3), and Ba’er Moshe (Shu”t vol. 3, 115, 2, inthe bracket).

[7]Interestingly, overnight peeled eggs might actually be permitted according to several authorities, as Rashi (ad loc. s.v. she’avar) when explaining the prohibition omits eggs from the criteria. Additionally, there is some debate among several later poskim about what type of peeled eggs are intended for inclusion in the prohibition - cooked eggs or raw eggs. See at length Shmiras HaGuf V’Hanefesh (vol. 1, 3, 2 & 4, and relevant footnotes for explanation). Nevertheless, the common custom is that both raw and hardboiled peeled eggs are considered to be affected by Ruach Ra’ah [Shu”t Shulchan HaLevi (vol. 1, Ch. 23, 3). Yet, as the Tzitz Eliezer (Shu”t vol. 18, 46) notes, there will always be a safek sfeika to permit it b’dieved, as whichever type of egg one peels that was left overnight, raw or cooked, it is always possible that Ruach Ra’ah is actually exclusive to the other type. That, coupled with the Maharam’s shitta, plus the opinions who say eggs are excluded, should allow room for leniency.]

[8]Including the Chofetz Chaim (Likutei Halachos Nidda 17a, Ein Mishpat 7), Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igros Moshe Y”D vol. 3, 20), the Steipler Gaon (cited in Shmiras HaGuf V’Hanefesh vol. 1, 3, end footnote 1), the Debreciner Rav (Shu”t Ba’er Moshe vol. 3, 115, 2), Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shlomo on Tefilla Ch. 2, Footnote 103), the Minchas Yitzchak (Shu”t vol. 2, 68, 13), Rav Y.Y. Fischer (Shu”t Even Yisrael vol. 9, 126, 3), the Tzitz Eliezer (Shu”t vol. 18, 46), the Az Nidberu (Shu”t vol. 11, 47), Rav Moshe Sternbuch (Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos vol. 22, 256 s.v. uviha”k), Rav Ovadia Yosef (Shu”t Yabea Omer vol. 2, Y”D 7), the Shevet HaKehasi (Shu”t vol. 2, 247), and Rav Yisrael Belsky (Shu”t Shulchan HaLevi vol. 1, Ch. 23, 3).

[9]Including the SMA”K (ibid.), Zivchei Tzedek (ibid.), Ben Ish Chai (ibid.), Chazon Ish (cited in Shmiras HaGuf V’Hanefesh ibid. pg. 25, footnote), Tosafos Chaim (cited in Sefer Mataamim, Erech Yayin Seuda, 18), Kaf Hachaim (ibid.), Halichos Shlomo (ibid.), Tzitz Eliezer (ibid.), Shu”t Yaskil Avdi (ibid.), Yabea Omer (ibid., 4), Shu”t Divrei Shalom (vol. 6, pg. 293, Piskei Teshuvos 199), and Taamei Haminhagim (Likutim 16). Rav Yisrael Belsky (Shu”t Shulchan HaLevi ibid.) is lenient if the chemical balance (pH) is changed, even slightly by adding the salt or sugar. The Minchas Yitzchak (Shu”t vol. 6, 75) only allows salt and sugar if it is at least 2% of the mixture. [See Shmiras Haguf V’Hanefesh (vol. 2, Miluim, top of pg. 802 for an explanation from Rav Yaakov Blau of the Eida Charedis]. Rav Moshe Sternbuch (Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos ibid.) is lenient l’chatchila only if the color is changed by the mixture. The Klausenberger Rebbe (Shu”t Divrei Yatziv ibid., 14, s.v. u’lmaaseh & Y”D vol. 1, 32, 3) maintains that one may only rely on this if the taste is actually changed by adding the salt or sugar; he further rules that one may not use eggs, garlic or onions as the other ingredient in the mixture.

[10]Shu”t Rivevos Efraim (vol. 3, 495 & vol. 5, 523) and Shu”t Vayaan Dovid (Y”D 119). The Tzitz Eliezer (ibid.) rules that one may rely on this in cases of great loss, as there are many sniffim lehakel. The Chazon Ish (cited in Orchos Rabbeinu vol. 1 pg. 210, 16) ruled similarly regarding a raw egg that was left out, that covering it was sufficient. [It is unclear, however, if he held that the same would apply to onions and garlic as well, as it is possible he was referring to the egg exclusion; additionally, perhaps he held that Ruach Ra’ah only affects cooked eggs.]Conversely, in Shu”t Rivevos Efraim (vol. 4, 51 s.v. bsiman) a dissenting opinion is presented, that the Gemara (as well as the later authorities who rule this way, ex. Shulchan Aruch HaRav ibid, et al) explicitly rules that this leniency is not valid. The same point is strongly made in Shmiras HaGuf V’Hanefesh (vol. 1, pg. 23, footnote 5, s.v. v’davar).

[11]Shu”t Shulchan HaLevi (ibid.).

[12]Including Shu”t Degel Efraim (28), Darchei Teshuva (ibid.; who cites the Degel Efraim with no dissenting opinion), Shu”t Har Tzvi (ibid; albeit due to relying on the Maharam - see Shmiras HaGuf V’Hanefesh vol. 1 pg. 28, end footnote 12), Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov (ibid.), Shu”t Ba’er Moshe (ibid.), Shu”t Shevet HaLevi (ibid.), Shu”t Yabea Omer (ibid.), and Shu”t Shulchan HaLevi (ibid.). Commercially sold onion and garlic powder would also be included in Rav Moshe’s hetter - see footnote 14.

[13]Shu”t Yad Meir (19; cited in Darchei Teshuva 116, 74), Shu”t Shevet HaLevi (vol. 3, 169 & vol. 6, 11, 5, 7 & 9), Shu”t Yaskil Avdi (vol. 7, O.C. 44, 4 & vol. 8 Y”D 14). The Har Tzvi (Shu”t vol. 2, Y”D 74 s.v. ode) seems to accept this as well.

[14]Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak (ibid; however see Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos ibid. and Shmiras Haguf V’Hanefesh vol. 2, Miluim, top of pg. 802 for an explanation from Rav Yaakov Blau of the Eida Charedis), Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer (ibid), Shu”t Yabea Omer (ibid.), Shu”t Az Nidberu (ibid.).

[15]Shu”t Igros Moshe (Y”D vol. 3, 20). Although the Mishneh Halachos (Shu”t vol. 12, 21 s.v. u’mah) argues on this, maintaining that there should be no difference whether the onions and eggs are peeled many weeks in advance or the previous night, nevertheless, it is worthwhile to read Rav Yisrael Belsky’s strongly worded defense of Rav Moshe’s shitta. He writes (Shu”t Shulchan HaLevi ibid. s.v. u’lmaaseh) that since the issue at hand is one of spiritual danger, once the universally recognized Gadol HaDor rules that it does not apply, it is certain that no spiritual contamination will affect someone who relies on his ruling - see Gemara Pesachim 112b.

[16]Shu”t Divrei Yatziv (Y”D vol. 1, 31; the quote about causes of cancer is found in a footnote in the responsum) at length. Other contemporary poskim who rule stringently include the Chelkas Yaakov (Shu”t vol. 3 - Y”D 39) and Mishneh Halachos (Shu”t vol. 12, 20 & 21), following the ruling of the Maharsham and Beis Shlomo (ibid.) et al (see footnote 6).

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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