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England - A Chelm Tale: Kashras Is About The Sugar, Not Stirring

Published on: December 1, 2009 12:21 PM
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Rabbi Rubin at the Kashrut Conference in Brussels Photo: Meir Dahan, RCERabbi Rubin at the Kashrut Conference in Brussels Photo: Meir Dahan, RCE

England - There are some mysteries that go beyond all understanding. In previous generations we were blessed with wise men who delved into such matters and then shared their understanding of them with us lesser mortals.

One such group of deep thinkers lived in the sleepy village of Chelm and much of their wisdom has been transmitted. On one occasion the town fathers were faced with a particularly vexing conundrum. The ‘Rosh Hakohol’ (President of the community. YRR) noticed that when one poured sugar granules into hot tea you had to stir it to make it sweet. The question was this: What makes the tea sweet, the sugar or the act of stirring?

Soon everyone in the village was taking sides: The pro-sugar lobby claimed that of course it was the sugar that made for the sweetness. The stirrers stood their ground; no, it’s all in the stirring motion of the spoon. Soon one could hardly go to shul without being drawn into the ever-expanding argument. Finally, it was decided to convene a special meeting where the town’s greatest minds would finally decide the issue.

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On the day, the pro-sugar group came up with what they thought was the definitive argument. If it wasn’t the sugar that made the tea sweet how come it didn’t taste like that until it was added and dissolved? The stirrers weren’t fazed at all; the sweetness came from the stirring, all the dissolving of the sugar did was to mark how long one had to stir.

This quaint tale comes to my mind whenever I participate in discussions about the environmental problems now facing the world. Certain things are now so blatant, yet there are those who still argue the side of the stirrers rather than the sugar. It wouldn’t be so bad but the problem is that these matters are of great import when we talk about the future.

It is time to begin accepting that there are huge problems and that as Jews we must become part of the answers and not be seen as part of the fault.

The world we inhabit is complicated, and never more so than in the realm of kashrut. Foodstuffs are brought in from around the world and almost every day brings new questions that need to be answered. We source ingredients from China, India and further afield.

Consumers don’t even begin to understand the complexities of what is involved. I have just attended a conference of rabbis who are experts in the realm of kashrut. Organized by the Rabbinical Center of Europe, over one hundred rabbis from all sections of Europe and Israel gathered in Brussels for two days.

I was there as almost a spectator in that I have nothing to do with kashrut supervision except for the fact that I like to eat. As a member of the Center’s Rabbinical Board I attended so as to support the vital work our kosher food experts are doing.

Listening to the many discussions astounded me as the picture of how global the world of kashrut has become quickly emerged.

The only thing I had to add to the discussion was my query about how or if we should factor in the environmental cost when deciding about the kashrut of any item. I am not talking about debatable scientific theories that scream out at you “the sky is falling”, I am only asking about areas that certainly touch on Jewish Torah law and it’s intent such as Bal Tashchit (unnecessary waste) for example.

Recent surveys tell us that over 40% of the food we buy is thrown away. Have you seen the mountain of rubbish at the back of any catering hall? I know many send their leftovers to needy charitable institutions, but that is only the waste that is still whole and uneaten. What about the huge leftovers on all our plates?

During the Rabbinical conference there was discussion about various parasites that cling onto fish in the sea. I am not an expert, but I did mention that it well may stop being a problem in a few years time in any case. It is agreed by all that coral reefs in many areas are dying because of ecological damage. If this continues there won’t be any parasites on those fish; in fact, come to think of it there won’t be any fish. Problem solved.

Much discussion was had about the cost of meat and the many kashrut problems that come to the fore when trying to meet the needs of what is an ever growing kosher market. Left unsaid was the problem that so much meat production is coming with huge costs to our ecology. We produce in one country to supply another through third party supervision coming from yet somewhere else.

Wastage is immense and in the end we must pay for it all. Then there are those colorful plastic bags, a favorite hobby horse of mine. They can never be disposed of completely and there are now whole islands of plastic bags floating in our oceans starving the native wildlife that we depend on for nutrition. I can continue with ever more detail but that is not the remit of this article.

All I want to suggest is that we bring these problems to the communal table. It should become part of our lexicon to speak of strictly kosher as not only fulfilling every scintilla of possible Jewish practice, but also reflecting a responsibility for G-d’s Creation. We should be seeking here an opportunity to create a sanctification of G-d for that is definitely what is called for.

I shared with my colleagues in Brussels my fear that in 10 years time we all will be held to task for not having done something. I can’t say that my fears were met with any great groundswell of support. No matter, I will persist because I need to express my feelings that it is about the sugar and not the stirring.

Rabbi Yitzchok Reuven Rubin is the Rabbi of Bowdon, Cheshire, Member Cabinet of the Chief Rabbi of England and Former Chairman Rabbinical Council of the Provinces


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1

 Dec 01, 2009 at 12:31 PM Anonymous Says:

The Baal Tashchit claim is certainly legitimate; perhaps to an extent. I have heard gedolim debating whether the Baal Tashchit goes on in a time when there is a great rachvus. Just some 'food' for discussion...

2

 Dec 01, 2009 at 12:41 PM Anonymous Says:

Defenately the sugar no question about it, but what would happen if we would put the sugar into the cup BEFORE the hot water eliminating the need to stir?¿?¿?¿.

oh thats right we cant do that then how would we justify the large $$$$$$$$$ amount that are paid for the hechsher?

3

 Dec 01, 2009 at 12:42 PM Anonymous Says:

For many years I've been disgusted by (frum) people who leave over so much food in restaurants and pizza stores. Where is their seichel? Especially when many of their grandparents starved to death during WWII??

4

 Dec 01, 2009 at 12:44 PM Alan Says:

Thank you Rabbi Yitzchok Reuven Rubin. I always thought that fulfilling the mitsvos was to make us more sensitive to the needs of our fellow beings in the world and "...seeking...an opportunity to create a sanctification of G-d "

5

 Dec 01, 2009 at 12:49 PM 5T Resident Says:

I used to have a children's book called "The Wise Men of Chelm" when I was in yeshiva. I read that book about 10,000 times.

6

 Dec 01, 2009 at 01:52 PM esther Says:

i'm no bleeding heart liberal but there is no question that the amount of baal taschis that goes on is terrible.i was'nt raised frum but my mother always reminded me about the starving children in india when i would leave food on my plate as a child.the throw away attitude that is part and parcel of our time has lasting negetive ramifications i teaching children not to appreciate whatt Hashem has given.

7

 Dec 01, 2009 at 02:05 PM Anonymous Says:

One way to cut down on food wastage at weddings is to have buffet tables. They might not seem so elegant as having waiters (who likes waiting for waiters anyway? and who likes it when waiters brought the food but missed you because you weren't at your seat?) but people can choose the food they want and the amount instead of having uneaten food thrown into the garbage.

8

 Dec 01, 2009 at 02:10 PM Anonymous Says:

The rav of Chelm was told that too much food was wasted at catered events. Then he was told about the ecological effects of meat production. The rav answered that they should take the food that wasted at the catered events and help the ecological problems (whatever that is) of meat production by giving the leftovers from the catered events to the animals.

9

 Dec 01, 2009 at 02:14 PM fish dissappearing?!?! Says:

this rabbi is a kook!!! does he read newspapers. all the hooey junk science about global warming has been made out to be a total fabrication. the ice caps are going nowhere, no matter what photoshopped pictures may tell you, the reefs are not dying at any alarming rate, they are actually growing on a global level, just moving from some parts of the ocean to other, which has happened many times throughout history. you flat earther, anti growth socialists have got to go!!!(even if they happen to have smicha)

10

 Dec 01, 2009 at 02:24 PM Read it all befor you reply thanks Says:

Sorry but who in the world is this rabbi what an apikoras I'm shockt no one grab'd him by his lappels and toust him out there's a reason he got know support for one most of the global warming ozan damaging has been prooven to be total crock beside hakodesh Baruch created the world to last a certain amount of years 6,000 to be exact and nothing we do or can do will change that the reason for the changes the world goes thrugh is couse everything is disgiesed in tevah even the self slow distruction of the world over the next 230 years so guys grow up and shut up and let hashem take care of his world yes I agree we need to take care of it so we can stay healthy and live peacefully that's what hashem wants agreed but to make the world meshugah stop it won't help or make a difference it's part of the master plan the only richtegeh ta'anah is the ba'al tashchis one that we must be carfull evrything else is crock from azah grosh rabbi like rabbi Rubin

11

 Dec 01, 2009 at 02:30 PM Anonymous Says:

Interesting, how such a simple point, is stretched, into so much gobbledygook, I wonder who the "Chelemer" is.

2. You make it seem, like there are companies, that actually like loosing money, and they seek, to increase their costs, how silly is that, obviously, these are the cheapest options.

3. I never thought, we as frum Jews, would join, the environmentalist extremist movement/religion, where, if you don't believe, that we are actually, going to be destroyed very shortly, we are like "Kofrim".

12

 Dec 01, 2009 at 02:37 PM no baal tashchis here Says:

we eat everything in our house down to the last drop. make good food people will lick the platter clean .

13

 Dec 01, 2009 at 02:37 PM Anonymous Says:

Can't understand why this topic is so de-emphasized in frum communities? Not giving a thought to where all of the trash goes after we throw it in our bin is just irresponsible. What about all of the plasticware (had paami)?

14

 Dec 01, 2009 at 02:38 PM Anonymous Says:

I would like to ask this writer a question similiar to the Chelm question.
What made you do this? Does the Mitzva of Ball Tashchis mean so much to you that you are sounding Liberal, or are you just a Liberal using Ball Tashchis as a tool?

15

 Dec 01, 2009 at 03:19 PM yeapb Says:

At our Bar Mitzvah last year we put platters on the table and everyone helped themselves, we found we had very little in the way of leftovers on plates and what was on the platters we could take home.

16

 Dec 01, 2009 at 03:21 PM The Truth Says:

Reply to #7  
Anonymous Says:

One way to cut down on food wastage at weddings is to have buffet tables. They might not seem so elegant as having waiters (who likes waiting for waiters anyway? and who likes it when waiters brought the food but missed you because you weren't at your seat?) but people can choose the food they want and the amount instead of having uneaten food thrown into the garbage.

The only problem with your theory of having buffet tables is that you leave the portion sizes to be decided by the hungry (greedy?) eyes of the masses. They will then pile their plates even higher that if served ("because its freee") and then still leave over the food.
You'll also have the 'vilde chayos' syndrome when Jews are given a buffet/kiddush table full of food.

Rabbi Rubin makes excellent points and I hope the world takes note.

17

 Dec 01, 2009 at 03:56 PM AuthenticSatmar Says:

And just recently in the news was information how many scientists are covering up the truth about global warming, and that there is no data to prove that what is occurring today is not part of a repeating ecological cycle.

18

 Dec 01, 2009 at 04:08 PM Jimmy37 Says:

Reply to #7  
Anonymous Says:

One way to cut down on food wastage at weddings is to have buffet tables. They might not seem so elegant as having waiters (who likes waiting for waiters anyway? and who likes it when waiters brought the food but missed you because you weren't at your seat?) but people can choose the food they want and the amount instead of having uneaten food thrown into the garbage.

Are you kidding?? Don't fool yourself. You have never checked the plates at a reception that are filled with uneaten food. Remember that old phrase about one's eyes being bigger than their stomach? When food is free, the eyes grow even bigger.

19

 Dec 01, 2009 at 04:11 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #7  
Anonymous Says:

One way to cut down on food wastage at weddings is to have buffet tables. They might not seem so elegant as having waiters (who likes waiting for waiters anyway? and who likes it when waiters brought the food but missed you because you weren't at your seat?) but people can choose the food they want and the amount instead of having uneaten food thrown into the garbage.

I hate to tell you this but you would have more baal taschis with a buffet table. How many times have you seen children poking their finger into a full platter--then no one touches what is left. How about the person who took a bite of something off a serving platter and then put back the rest because she didn't like it (I saw this at a simcha with a middle aged lady doing the tasting)? There are too many such stories and therefore still much going to waste!

20

 Dec 01, 2009 at 06:11 PM Anonymous Says:

Reply to #7  
Anonymous Says:

One way to cut down on food wastage at weddings is to have buffet tables. They might not seem so elegant as having waiters (who likes waiting for waiters anyway? and who likes it when waiters brought the food but missed you because you weren't at your seat?) but people can choose the food they want and the amount instead of having uneaten food thrown into the garbage.

What do you think happens to the uneaten portion of the buffet? It cant be reused and most places refuse to give it to charity because if it's mishandled they can be blamed for an outbreak of illness. So, it goes into the garbage just the same.

21

 Dec 01, 2009 at 06:29 PM Shlomo Says:

Why is that so many - the vast majority on this site are anti environmentalist I didn't think there was a Daas Torah position on this

22

 Dec 01, 2009 at 06:34 PM Ben Says:

If you want to create a seperate Bal Tashchis Hechsher go ahead & let the consumer decide. But don't manipulate the existing standards for kashrus to promote your agenda. Kashrus is kashrus end of story.

23

 Dec 01, 2009 at 06:38 PM The Truth Says:

Fact: HKB"H created and continuously sustains the world.
Fact: The world is being affected by global warming.

Why do some (most?) people think that these two FACTS are mutually exclusive? Either believing in one or the other. I, like Rabbi Rubin know that they are both true.

24

 Dec 01, 2009 at 08:13 PM Sean Harris Says:

Reply to #8  
Anonymous Says:

The rav of Chelm was told that too much food was wasted at catered events. Then he was told about the ecological effects of meat production. The rav answered that they should take the food that wasted at the catered events and help the ecological problems (whatever that is) of meat production by giving the leftovers from the catered events to the animals.

When I learned in Gateshead Yeshiva, all the leftover food on the plate went into a special bin and once a week a farmer collected all the bins and used it as hog slop!

He supplied the yeshiva with eggs as payment for the hog slop.

After seeing what they served the hogs I lost any taiva I had to eat pork.

25

 Dec 02, 2009 at 10:09 AM Lawyer Says:

The problem is that bal taschis and kashrus are two different issues. Food relates to the item itself -- it is kosher or not.

Bal taschis concerns what you do with the food. (Yes, the old cheftzah-gavra distinction.)

Two people can buy the same 5 pound glatt kosher roast beef. Buyer No. 1 takes it home and feeds it to his family of ten, and they eat every last crumb. That is perfectly fine. Buyer No. 2 takes it home, he and his wife each eat some, and the rest is thrown in the garbage. That is bal taschis.

How can a kashrus organization or rav hamachshir possbily know what people are going to do with the food?

26

 Dec 02, 2009 at 10:39 AM Reb Yid Says:

It's not bal tashchis if it's necessary for you. The "colorful plastic bags" are necessary to compete with the other guy by making the products look appealing. The meat consumption--how else are you going to eat meat?

27

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