Food: A Halachic Analysis - Book Review by Rabbi Shlomo Simon
Food: A Halachic Analysis
By Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
Mosaica Press (2021) 483 pages
I was tempted to begin my review of Rabbi Spitz’s newest addition to Ohr Somayach’s Jewish Learning Library by saying that one cannot read it and remain parve. But that sounded too corny (which is parve) so I rejected it in favor of the following:
When I was asked by Ohrnet’s editor, Rabbi Moshe Newman, to review Rabbi Spitz’s book, Food: a Halachic Analysis, I was hesitant. I told him that I would consider it. It is a big book – with over 480 pages. And I thought to myself, it’s probably very densely written with esoteric discussions on the various problems involved in the certification of food products and most likely filled with extensive footnotes, referencing halachic discussions. In short, I thought it was going to be quite boring.
Boy, was I wrong! This book reads more like a fast-paced, page-turning detective novel than a dry Halacha sefer. But that is its uniqueness and brilliance. The author has managed to write a sefer that is both comprehensive in its treatment of every topic discussed and excellently written. Even the footnotes, which account for most of the text, are intriguing and well written.
In his Foreword to the sefer, attesting to Rabbi Spitz’s scholarship Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz, well known for his own encyclopedic knowledge, noted several remarkable features of this book.
“Accuracy: many halachic works, both in English and in Hebrew, will quote or paraphrase sources based on how those sources are cited in earlier works without bothering to verify the original source. More than once, this has led to the widespread perpetuation of error, as a mistake or omission by one author gets automatically followed by later authors, as each one uses the predecessor text as the source. Rabbi Spitz has gone to great effort to trace every quoted psak and sevara to its original source and does not rely on secondary quotations or paraphrases. And if there is ambiguity in the reports he will note it.
“A completeness: When Rabbi Spitz addresses a topic, he will give you all the views on the topic. He does not limit himself to a selection of the views he finds most persuasive. He includes many oral psakim that cannot always be found in writing and carefully documents the source of them as well….”
The subjects discussed are also very topical and interesting. They include, among others, the following chapters headings: Hard Cheese Complexities; The Great Dishwasher Debate; Genetically Engineered Meat; Buffalo Burgers and Zebu Controversy; The Erev Pesach Meat Scandal; The Halachic Adventures of the Potato; The Quinoa-Kitniyos Conundrum: The Coca-Cola Kashrus Controversy; Chodosh in Chutz La’aretz; Margarine, Misconceptions, and Maris Ayin; Chalav Yisrael: A Halachic History; Kashering Teeth; and my favorite, Leeuwenhoek’s Halachic Legacy: Microscopes and Magnifying Glasses.
He masterfully shows connections between stories in the Chumash and contemporary halachic issues. In discussing the need for a hekker (a physical object which functions as a reminder not to mix milk and meat) when two or more individuals are eating their separate dairy and meat meals at the same table, he brings halachic sources that cite the story in Parshat Vayera of Avraham Avinu feeding the three angels, disguised as Arabs, tongue and butter. The Torah tells us: “And he stood over them, under the tree, and they ate.” Why was it necessary to mention the fact that Avraham stood over them while they ate? Because, say these authorities, the three might have been eating milk and meat meals at the same time and Avraham needed to supervise them to ensure that one wouldn’t take food from the other’s plate. And a shomer (a supervisor) can also function as a hekker.
I was particularly impressed by Rabbi Spitz’s mastery of the science behind many of the Halachic issues discussed. In his chapter on genetically engineered meat, he seems to have a firm grasp on the biology and chemistry involved it its making. This is especially important in today’s world of food production, which is increasingly high-tech and difficult for even the average rabbi, not involved in this specialty, to understand.
Rabbi Spitz seems to be indefatigable in his research. Even after exhausting all the written literature on a topic, he recounts extensive discussions of these issues with the top poskim of our day.
I have seen many excellent halacha sefarim i n English which are informative, some which are even scholarly, but none which are informative and scholarly and humorous. As an example, in his chapter titled “Microscopes and Magnifying glasses,” he concludes as follows:
“Still, the bottom line is that using a magnifier or microscope to see something that cannot be seen at all by the naked eye would have no halachic bearing whatsoever, ‘bein lehakel bein lehachmir’. So, although Leeuvenhoek’s (the inventor of the microscope) impact on the world in various important areas is immeasurable, nevertheless, his halachic legacy remains – quite ironically - microscopic. “
I highly recommend this book to every Jew who likes to eat, wants a deeper understanding of kashruth and who has a sense of humor.
Rabbi Yehuda Spitz is a lecturer and the shoel u'meshiv for the Ohr LaGolah smicha program.
- In Israel via Shanky's - https://www.shankysjudaica.
- In Israel via Shanky's - https://www.shankysjudaica.