By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
Dear Rabbi Fried,
I was with family in New York who are very Orthodox and strictly kosher, so I was very surprised by what I saw happen in their house. They were cooking meat on the stove and one of the children dripped a couple drops of their ice cream cone into the pot, which I would have thought would have made the whole thing non-kosher.
But my cousin, who is very strict about everything and studies Torah every day, came home and said it’s OK because not enough dripped in to render the meat not kosher.
I didn’t want to say anything, but it seemed very self-serving; how could he decide that it’s “not enough” to make it non-kosher? If God said meat and milk is treif, why would this not be treif?! Am I missing something?
I would appreciate your answer because this has really been troubling me; in my mind it calls into question their integrity in all they do.
— Nancy K.
Rest assured that your cousin knows quite well what he is doing and has a good grasp on the laws of kosher; he didn’t decide arbitrarily that not enough fell in to render the food non-kosher, but his ruling was grounded in Torah sources.
In fact, not only would his ruling apply to milk, which inadvertently fell into meat. It extends to a bit of non-kosher meat, even pork, which fell in as well!
Let’s start from scratch, and fasten your seat belt!
The Talmud rules, based upon the concept of “majority rules” throughout the laws of the Torah, that if you have a few chunks of kosher meat and a chunk of non-kosher meat gets mixed up with them, then you may eat them all.
(We maintain one should not eat them all at one sitting as a stringency. The non-kosher must, of course, not be distinguishable).
The concept of majority rules tells us that the non-kosher piece becomes batel, or nullified, to the kosher pieces and it then loses its non-kosher status.
The above applies to dry pieces of meat, which were cooked previously and are not being cooked together, and eating them as they are.
If, however, they are cooked together, that brings up another issue: The taste, or taam, of the non-kosher is extended, through the cooking, into the kosher meat; rendering it non-kosher as well.
This is the concept of taam k’ikar, meaning that the taste of a food has the status of the food which provided that taste. When the taste of non-kosher food enters the kosher food, it becomes non-kosher.
In order for taam k’ikar to take effect, the taste much be strong enough to be distinguishable by someone sensitive to taste. The Talmud rules that, for most foods, in order for the taste to be considered distinguishable, it must be more than one 60th, (1/60), of the kosher food it fell into.
If 1 ounce of non-kosher food fell into 60 ounces of kosher, its taste is not strong enough to permeate the kosher food in a distinguishable way. Hence, there is no taam k’ikar, and it becomes batel, nullified into the kosher food and the entire mixture is rendered kosher.
This applies to milk falling into meat as well. The only way that a mixture of meat and milk is considered non-kosher is if enough milk falls into the meat to give its taam, or taste, to the meat.
If there was more than 60 times the meat in the pot against the drops of ice cream that fell in, than the taste of the ice cream, the milk, is considered indistinguishable in the meat and the entire mixture is kosher. So your cousin is treading on solid ground.
The important thing to remember is that the laws of the Torah are not static, rigid, dry rules. Rather they are very rich and full of life, which, when one fathoms their depth, are applicable to life’s myriad situations in varied, often, surprising ways!
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at email@example.com.