New York - Halachic Debate: Is It Ethical For The OU To Provide A 'Hechsher' On BeanBoozled Jelly Beans
New York - They are gross and disgusting, and they have the hechsher of the OU. No, we are not making a plug here for the Conservative attempt at creating an “ethical hechsher”; we are discussing Jelly Belly’s product line called BeanBoozled.
For those unfamiliar with this nasty confection, which came out earlier this year, a brief description: Jelly Belly BeanBoozled jelly beans: Weird and nasty flavors mixed with regular ones. The jelly beans come in twenty different flavors. Ten of the flavors are nasty and noxious flavors. They are matched up with ten regular flavors. The nasty flavors have nasty names associated with them. Is the black jelly bean Licorice-flavored, or is it actually the one called Skunk Spray? The blue bean could be Toothpaste, or it could be Blueberry. Other flavor pairings include Rotten Egg/Buttered Popcorn; Baby Wipes/Coconut; Pencil Shavings/Top Banana; Moldy Cheese/Caramel Corn … you get the idea.
And now the halachic questions begin.
We start with berachos. The Shulchan Aruch (204:8) rules that foods and medicines consumed for medicinal purposes that have a good taste require a blessing. The Magen Avraham, based on Tosefos in Berachos (36a, “Keivan”), writes that to be exempt from a blessing, it must actually taste bad. It seems that this rule does not only apply to medicine; even vile-tasting food, if one is thoroughly repulsed by its taste, would be exempt.
Do these vile-tasting candies require a berachah? A quick survey of some teenage aficionados of this new food product revealed that, in fact, the criterion of “nafsho katzo mimeno—a person is disgusted by it” is clearly fulfilled. The criterion was further backed up by viewing the expression on the faces of the brave volunteers who gave of themselves so that this article may be written (thank you, C. W.) The volunteer running out of the room for water backed up the idea, too. And the final clincher is that the company that manufactures the vile-tasting jelly bean does not do so during regular factory hours—they do so at night, so the regular workers do not have to deal with the foul smells.
Now that we have established that a blessing is definitely not recited upon the rotten flavors, when faced with a jelly bean of undistinguishable origin—in other words, it might equally be Licorice flavor or Skunk Spray flavor—is a blessing recited? Many of us are familiar with the concept of “Safeik berachos lehakil”—whenever one has a doubt in regard to a blessing, one is lenient and the blessing is not recited. So here we have a legitimate doubt. Even by smelling it, one cannot distinguish between the good-tasting jelly bean and the vile-tasting one. Therefore, whenever one eats a BeanBoozled jelly bean, a blessing should not be recited. Our poskim have also advised us that we should not place ourselves in situations of a safeik berachah, where a blessing might be in order. Remember, if one partakes of food without having thanked the Creator, it is as if he has stolen from the Holy One Blessed Be He.
If one went ahead and partook of this doubtful jelly bean and subsequently discovered that it was his or her lucky day and that it was a good-tasting jelly bean after all, then a blessing must be recited. We run into another problem, however. King David wrote (Tehillim 71:8) the words, “My mouth shall be filled with Your praise.” Our rabbis tell us (Berachos 50b) that this verse alludes to the fact that when we recite a blessing, nothing should be in our mouths. Thus, after this person discovered that the jelly bean, in fact, is good and that a blessing must be recited, his mouth now has candy in it! The jelly bean will also become unappetizing if it is spit out, so the halachah allows the candy eater to push it to one side of the mouth and then recite the blessing, rather than spitting it out and wasting it.
This is not the ideal method of dealing with the food, however. It is best to initially recite the blessing on another type of jelly bean altogether, so one does not have this problem. When reciting the blessing, he should intend to include the additional jelly beans.
There are other halachic issues with this type of candy, too. Might there be a problem of borer involved on Shabbos? Borer only applies to situations where two different items are mixed together. When there is no true mixture, there is no problem of borer. Generally, if people do not care which part they get, the item is not considered a mixture. And if all the food is considered one min (one kind), then it is not a true mixture. (The TaZ holds that there is borer even if there is only one kind of item, but we do not rule in accordance with his view). Here they most certainly would care which one they were getting.
Finally, a third issue: Is someone permitted to give this candy to an unsuspecting person? Clearly the answer is a resounding no. The reasons are manifold. First, because of “Lifnei iver” for berachos. Second, it is an abnegation of the mitzvah of “V’ahavta l’reiacha kamocha,” loving your fellow neighbor as yourself. And finally, it is a violation of “Lo sonu ish es amiso,” the injunction to not afflict your fellow.
In light of the above, it is questionable how a kashrus organization can affix a hechsher on something so fraught with halachic peril—namely, the issue of reciting blessings incorrectly and the Biblical prohibitions of afflicting others. At a minimum, perhaps they should create a new designation: “OU–MBP,” for “must be pattured,” that is, it must be exempted from the recitation of a blessing by being eaten with another food.
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