In the “Guide to Kashrut,” published by the Jerusalem Rabbinate with the haskama (endorsement) and rulings of Rav Eliyahu Schlessinger, has the following comments regarding bugs and food: “…and therefore one must be careful to inspect and carefully clean all fruits and vegetables prior to eating or cooking them.” That’s it.
Rav Shlomo Amar has also ruled similarly in many public forums. In fact, Rav Moshe Feinstein writes in one of the last teshuvot of his life (c.1984): “…People say that I declared that the little bugs found in many different vegetables are forbidden. I never said such a thing, and in fact, it is my opinion to be lenient…it is forbidden to cast aspersions about earlier generations who were not careful about such things… one cannot be strict and publicize that such produce is forbidden… I would never want to be known as one who forbade [such food]…” (Igrot Moshe, YD 4:2).
Other lenient poskim throughout the years on the questions of bugs include Rav Shlomo Kluger,1 the Ksav Sofer,2 and the Aruch HaShulchan,3 just to name a few.
We must not declare that something is assur when there are reliable opinions (such as the Eida Chareidit) to rely on. It is also worth mentioning that insiders tell me there are no restaurants, hotels or wedding halls, of any hechsher, that fully comply with Rav Vaye’s standards in their food preparation. The level of supervision, infrastructure and manpower required to do so in industrial settings is cost prohibitive and does not currently exist.
Something else to think about: How many of those who are so urgently concerned about the prohibition of consuming bugs are also concerned about other comparable prohibitions in other areas of life? On the topic of bugs, in fact, how many people are concerned for the opinions of the Yereim, Lechem V’simla, and others who rule that the leniencies of small bloodstains no longer apply today since we no longer have lice in our beds and body, and therefore even a minute stain should make a woman a nidda? And what about the opinions that even if we want to accept the unlikely assumption that a bloodstain may have come from a louse, that we must evaluate the size of the stain according to the minute amount of blood released by the lice we have today and not according to the larger amount of blood released by the lice of the Talmud? Nobody seems to concern themselves with these eminent, logical, and scientifically accurate opinions. We continue to rule leniently regarding a possible karet-related violation based on the assumption that a woman’s bloodstain may be the result of a non-existent bug.
There is also hilchot treifot. According to the rules of hilchot treifot, we are obligated to check almost every internal organ of an animal. But we don’t. We rely on all types of leniencies and only check the lungs. This is based on a chazaka remaining from ancient times when the lungs were the only organ where treifot were likely to be found. All other organs were generally clean and healthy. But again, times have changed. Animals are raised in very different conditions than they once were. They are also consuming all kinds of foreign matter in their feed and in the fields. These and many other factors are causing more and more treifot to be found in their internal organs than ever before.
Nevertheless, we rely on chazakot that are no longer true today. Once, on a visit to a slaughterhouse, I noticed a long rusty nail that went right through the stomach of a cow, rendering the animal treif. I brought this to the attention of the bodek/mashgiach who promptly removed the animal from the production line. And yet the animal had been sent to the glatt kosher line – because its lungs were perfect! But the bodek didn’t check the stomach because common custom didn’t require him to. The bowels, bladders, stomachs, spleens, and esophagus of animals today are not in the same condition that they once were. There’s no two ways about it: much (most?) of the glatt kosher meat that we consume today would easily be declared treif – if only we began to inspect the other internal organs, just like the Shulchan Aruch would like us to.
Make no mistake: I am not suggesting that one should not be machmir in one area of halacha just because one is not machmir in another. I’m just trying to share my heartfelt thoughts on something that has been taken to the extreme by many without enough consideration or perspective. I am also not advocating following all of Rav Henkin’s rulings. If we were to follow all of Rav Henkin’s leniencies we would certainly be consuming bugs, and I don’t want to, even if doing so might be technically permissible.
Frankly, I do my own thing when it comes to bugs and produce – somewhere between the rulings of Rav Vaye and Rav Henkin. But what I am advocating is education, balance, perspective, and exposing oneself to different views in order to be able to make informed decisions and ask informed questions. Many of Rav Henkin’s arguments are compelling and must be considered. And of course, always consult your rav – he knows what’s best for you according to where you are “holding.”
Rav Moshe Vaye has performed a nearly unprecedented and tremendous service. He has single-handedly educated an entire generation on the halachot, realities, and severity of bugs in our food, and I salute him for it. Baalei nefesh should certainly consider being machmir (stringent) in accordance with his rulings. However, most of us are not baalei nefesh. Most of Rav Vaye’s rulings, as legitimate and compelling as they may be, are not normative halacha or practice. They are simply gezeira she’ain rov hatzibur yachol la’amod bo, just like being metamei a woman upon every tiny bloodstain.
- Tuv Ta’am V’daat 3:1:160.
- Teshuvot Ketav Sofer YD 63.
- YD 84:36; 100:13-18.