Rav Moshe Vaye, probably the world’s expert on bugs in food, from both halachic and scientific perspectives, is very strict as to which fruits and vegetables may be consumed and how to prepare them. His arguments are powerful and well-documented, and cannot simply be shrugged off and dismissed. Nevertheless, there is a sense of going to extremes throughout his sefer, Bedikas HaMazon, as well as in his lectures.
Take, for example, his opinion on corn on the cob. According to Rav Vaye, corn on the cob is “highly infested” and the only way to enjoy corn is to “cut all the kernels off the cob with a sharp knife and separate the kernels from one another…soak the kernels in soapy water for three minutes, rinse well in a strainer under a strong stream of running water – one ear’s worth at a time.”
Let’s be honest. Corn on the cob has always been consumed, along with many other fruits and vegetables that Rav Vaye’s rulings have forbidden (or considerably regulated). Could Rav Vaye not have suggested soaking the corn on the cob? Maybe taking a fingernail-type brush and brushing down the cob under running water? Perhaps even a second brushing after the corn has been cooked? This would cover any concerns with a “miut hamatzui” status (a significant minority, which even though it is not the majority of cases, many times halacha takes this minority into account) and possibly even “muchzak b’tolaim” status (a halachic presumption that there are bugs present), if corn on the cob must be declared as such. But in this and related issues, there are other halachic opinions.
Rav Eitam Henkin, hy”d, wrote a sefer called Lechem Yehiyeh L’achla (Machon Lerabanei Yishuvim, www.rabanim.org), which takes a much more moderate approach to the issue of bugs in food. It is an approach that is consistent with historical reality and also takes into consideration the reality on the ground (pun intended) today.
Rav Henkin’s sefer helps readers distinguish between what is halacha and what is chumra. For example, Rav Henkin notes that Rav Vaye writes that a “miut hamatzui” food that cannot be completely cleaned is categorically forbidden to be eaten – something that may be unfounded. Such stringency only truly applies to “muchzak b’tolaim” (and Rav Vaye does acknowledge this fact in another place). Rav Vaye also writes that “miut hamtzui” includes a frequency of five percent, which Rav Henkin proves is an unnecessary chumra according to all normative standards.
Rav Henkin also has a different approach to checking figs (p. 129) and strawberries (p. 129). His chapter on corn on the cob is the most fascinating and eye-opening. He permits one to eat corn on the cob, and most other fruits and vegetables, as long as they are properly cleaned and checked (p.129).
Rav Henkin also brings to our attention many other halachic considerations permitting fruits and vegetables that Rav Vaye largely ignores, such as the many different opinions regarding bittul (halachic nullification); the different opinions of what is considered to be “visible”; what is d’rabanan and what is d’oraita; when checking produce may be waived in situations of tircha (undue burden); the different opinions on the issues of beriah (a whole, complete organism, which according to many can’t become nullified), sfek sfeika (a doubt on top of a doubt, which lowers the chances of infestation), and much more. Rav Henkin not only challenges the rulings of Rav Vaye, but he also tackles the rulings of other experts in the area of tola’im, such as Rabbis Yoel Schwartz, Yehuda Amichai, Shmuel Shternfeld, among others.
Some claim that a strict approach to fruits and vegetables is urgently needed because “the bugs we have did not exist in Europe” and “the pesticides and farming methods of today attract more bugs than in days gone by” and the like. This may or may not be true. However, it is quite possible that our European ancestors, who would literally celebrate the arrival of any vitamin and nutrient-filled fruit or vegetable to their village (hence the custom to recite “shehecheyanu” on a new fruit), didn’t even wash their fruits and vegetables before eating them! Did they have running water? Would they have used their precious and limited well-drawn water to wash their vegetables? And if they did, would it have been in a manner that even remotely resembles the extent that Rav Vaye holds that the halacha demands? Does anyone realize that this precious well-drawn water was likely more infested with bugs than the vegetables themselves would have been?
Most readers would agree that the Eida Chareidit is the strictest Orthodox Jewish organization in the world, on both political and religious issues. Furthermore, all kashrut certifications of the Eida Chareidit, as they themselves assert, are always mehadrin and in compliance with every normative chumra. It is simply not possible to get a product with Eida Chareidit that is “b’dieved” kosher. This includes the chocolate-covered raisins that they certify, which they claim are “mehadrin” kosher. Rav Vaye, however, holds that such raisins are only b’dieved kosher and should best be avoided. So which is it? Are raisins l’chatchila (Eida Chareidit) or only b’dieved (Rav Vaye)?
Additionally, the Eida Chareidit rules that flour ground immediately after Pesach does not need to be checked and sifted for bugs due to its freshness, as is done with most other flour in Israel throughout the year. Rav Vaye, on the other hand, writes that such flour is even more prone to bugs and must be even more rigorously checked than any other flour. He writes: “Flour that is ground immediately after Pesach (in Israel) is more likely to harbor infestation, due to the insects that proliferate in the idle machinery during Pesach.” In other words, Rav Vaye is stricter than what is considered to be the strictest hechsher on the market.
(To be continued)