The Panicked Congregant
Every congregational rabbi has received a panicked call with a panicked congregant proclaiming, “Rabbi, I cooked my meat soup with an onion cut with a dairy knife!” The answer the rabbi provides is not, pardon the pun, clear cut. Let us first review the background to this question in the Gemara, Rishonim, Shulchan Aruch and Acharonim to help us understand how a rabbi will respond in this scenario.
The Gemara (Chullin 111b) states that a radish that was cut by a meat knife may not be consumed with milk products. The Gemara explains that the reason for this law is that “אגב חורפיה בלע,” because of the sharpness of the radish it absorbs. Although, normally, absorption (בליעה) occurs only when a food or utensil is hot, even a cold radish absorbs because of its sharpness. The Rishonim (authorities who lived in the Middle Ages) debate many of the aspects and ramifications of this statement. We will focus on two of these issues. First, is a radish the only example of a sharp item (davar charif) to which this rule applies? Second, does this rule apply even if the knife was “eino ben yomo,”not used with meat during the 24-hour period prior to cutting the “davar charif.”
It should be noted at the outset that Rashi (Chullin 112a s.v. קישות) asserts that a davar charif absorbs only in combination with דוחקא דסכינא (pressure of a knife). The Rema (Yoreh Deah 95:2) rules that sharp items also have impact during cooking. Accordingly, the Taz (Y.D. 96:3) rules that a sharp item that is merely placed in a milk pot is permitted to be eaten with meat, since it has not absorbed any milk from the plate. Most authorities agree with this assertion of the Taz (see Shach Y.D. 96:2 and Aruch HaShulchan Y.D. 96:11). Similarly, the Aruch HaShulchan (ibid) rules that if a pareve item that is not sharp is cut by a clean meat or milk knife it remains pareve (see Tosafot Chullin 8b s.v. אגב and Shach 96:6).
What Is Davar Charif?
There is a Rishon (Rabbeinu Yechiel cited by the Semak number 213) who asserts that the rules of “davar charif” applies only to the sharp items mentioned by the Talmud—a radish and assa foetida (חילתית, as mentioned in Masechet Avoda Zara 39a). Most Rishonim, though, follow the opinion of Tosafot (Chullin 112a s.v. אגב) and Rambam (Hilchot Ma’achalot Asurot 9:24) that this rule applies to any sharp item such as onions and garlic. The Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 96:1) rules in accordance with the majority opinion. However, the minority opinion is used as a סניף להקל, a consideration in a lenient ruling (see Shach 96:12 and Biur HaGra 96:9).
“Davar Charif” applies not only to sharp items such as radishes, but also to any food item with a very strong taste. This is evident from the examples of “davar charif” that appear in the Shulchan Aruch—lemons, very salty fish, strongly pickled vegetables and spices. Later authorities debate what precisely is included in the category of “davar charif” (see Taz Y.D. 69:9, Aruch HaShulchan Y.D. 69:31, and Darkei Teshuva 69:44). One should consult his rabbi in a case where it is not clear if an item is considered “davar charif.”
Eino Ben Yomo (a Utensil That Has Not Been Used in he Past 24 Hours)
The Gemara (Avoda Zara 39a) states that if assa foetida (chiltit) was cut by a non-kosher knife, it is rendered non-kosher. The Gemara states that this applies even if the knife was not used with non-kosher food within the past 24 hours. Ordinarily, kosher food cut by such a knife is permitted because of the rule of נותן טעם לפגם מותר, the food taste that has been lodged in a utensil for more than 24 hours becomes rancid and does not render kosher food not kosher. However, the Gemara states that the sharpness of the assa foetida revitalizes the rancid taste (מחליא ליה) and restores its good taste והוה ליה נותן טעם לשבח. Hence, the non-kosher food taste absorbed in the knife has become revitalized and renders the assa foetida that it cuts as forbidden.
Rishonim debate whether this rule applies to any “davar charif” or only to assa foetida due to its extremely sharp nature (see Tosafot Avoda Zara 39a s.v. אגב and Tosafot Chullin 112a s.v. אגב for conflicting opinions). The Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 96:1) cites both opinions, but Rema (Y.D. 95:2) and Shach (Y.D 96:6) rule strictly. Ashkenazic practice is to rule strictly that any davar charif revitalizes a rancid taste, and thus an onion cut by an eino ben yomo meat knife is considered meat. The lenient opinion is used as a consideration to rule leniently only in a case of considerable need (see Y.D. Aruch HaShulchan 96:4).
Conclusion: It Depends on the Congregant and the Circumstance
However, Chacham Yitzhak (Yalkut Yosef YD 98:20) notes that the Shulchan Aruch presents the lenient view as the primary view and the stricter view as secondary. Thus, one may be lenient for a Sephardic family if the knife used to cut the onion was not used for the previous 24 hours. Even if the caller is Ashkenazic, the rabbi may be lenient in case of great need if the knife was an eino ben yomo and if the sharp item is not a radish.
The skilled rabbi knows not only how to size up the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries but also the congregant and his needs. It is always in every Jew’s best interest to develop a strong relationship with his or her rabbi so that the rabbi can serve them in the best manner possible.
By Rabbi Haim Jachter
Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.