Taste, health and convenience are some of the considerations consumers think about when making decisions regarding foods. Of course, kosher consumers also consider the kashrus of products. But one other principle discussed in Chazal, chamira sakanta me’isura – laws regarding danger are more stringent than those regarding prohibition— make food safety a primary consideration. This article will focus on one unique aspect of food safety – ruach ra’ah.
Recently, a kosher certified company requested kosher certification for deviled eggs. This prompted the agency certifying the company to review the halakhot of leaving peeled eggs overnight. The Gemara (Niddah, 17a), notes that a person who eats shelled eggs, peeled onions or garlic that had been left overnight, endangers his life and will be judged as a person who took his own life. The Gemara explains that the danger associated with these foods is ruach ra’ah. How do kosher certifying agencies address this concern?
Does the Concern for Ruach Ra’ah Still Apply to These Foods?
There is a disagreement among later Poskim about this question and other details of the prohibition. The following is a summary of these views:
- Yad Meir and Shevet HaLevi hold that this halacha is no longer relevant because Tosafot states that certain ruach ra’ah do not descend in “these countries”. We can infer from Tosafot that we do not have to be concerned for any ruach ra’ah unless we have a mesorah that that specific form is still prevalent. Yad Meir and Shevet HaLevi cite Hagahot Mordechai as a source for adopting such an approach regarding leaving eggs, onions and garlic overnight. They are supported by the fact that the Shulchan Aruch cites certain dangerous activities listed in the Gemara but not these. Minchat Yitzchak discusses this issue and concludes that there is basis for those who are lenient.
- The overwhelming majority of Poskim hold that the Gemara continues to be relevant nowadays. They address, but do not resolve, the fact that Shulchan Aruch doesn’t discuss this danger. They also argue that:
- One must have absolute proof that a form of ruach ra’ah no longer exists before considering as irrelevant a clear directive of the Gemara.
- We do have a mesorah that this form of ruach ra’ah still exists because Tosafot and Rosh both mention it and the minhag has always been to be careful.
- Even Hagahot Mordechai only says that maybe one can be lenient because this ruach ra’ah no longer exists, but he is not certain that this is the case.
What can be done to prevent ruach ra’ah?
According to this second, strict opinion, it is generally agreed that:
If the egg etc. is mixed with other ingredients before being left overnight there is no concern. Divrei Yatziv (the Klausenberger Rebbe ZT”L) suggests that there must be enough of the other ingredient to be notein ta’am, i.e. give taste, to the egg, but other Poskim do not cite this requirement. Divrei Yatziv rules that one may not use eggs, onion or garlic as the “other ingredient”.
Some Poskim agree in principle with Divrei Yatziv that there must be some threshold at which point the “other ingredient” is insignificant and does not protect the peeled egg, but disagree with the suggestion that the criteria is nesinas ta’am. Rather, as long as the other ingredient had some effect on the egg, it would be significant enough to not be “batel”. Thus, it would be sufficient if the other ingredient acted as a preservative or balanced the pH in the egg. These Poskim also agree that eggs, onion or garlic could not serve as the “other ingredient”.
However, there is disagreement regarding the following:
- The Gemara in Niddah states that if one leaves part of the shell (egg) or “hair”, peel (onions and garlic) on the eggs, then it is protected from ruach ra’ah. Divrei Yatziv takes this literally and rules that the food is only protected if there is at least one piece of hair or shell which was never removed from the food, but it is ineffective to add pieces of shell, peel or hair. However, SMa”K is of a different opinion and holds that the shell or hair can protect even if they were completely removed and later added back.
- Beis Shlomo and Kaf HaChaim (504:1) hold that only raw eggs are dangerous while Hagahot Mordechai implies that there is danger on cooked eggs (and doesn’t discuss raw eggs). Darchei Teshuva cites Yad Meir and Degel Ephraim who hold that only cooked eggs are dangerous. Divrei Yatziv suggests that Hagahot Mordechai and Beis Shlomo actually agree, but Hagahot Mordechai is discussing eggs which were peeled after cooking (and are therefore susceptible to ruach ra’ah) while Beis Shlomo is discussing eggs which were cooked before being peeled/cracked (and are therefore protected from ruach ra’ah). Maharsham, Yabeah Omer, Chelkas Yaakov and Shevet HaLevi leave the issue unresolved. Yabeah Omer suggests that according to Beis Shlomo dried onions (e.g. onion powder) would be permitted since they are dried with heat which provides a minimal cooking as well. Chelkas Yaakov and Shevet HaLevi raise the point that the Gemara discusses “peeled” eggs which implies that the eggs are cooked.
- Darchei Teshuva cites Degel Ephraim who maintains that ruach ra’ah does not descend on dried eggs, garlic or onions. Yabeah Omer agrees with this and says that Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank permitted powdered eggs for this reason. He also notes that Chelkas Yaakov discusses powdered eggs and does not mention this leniency.
- Igrot Moshe suggests that since we do not understand how ruach ra’ah operates, we cannot extend the Gemara’s warning to any cases other than those mentioned specifically. Thus, we can assume that the Gemara is discussing a typical case of a housewife who peeled an egg and accidentally left it overnight or who peeled an egg today with the intention of eating it tomorrow. (Similarly, a certified caterer would not be permitted to crack eggs for the next day’s breakfast or to cut onions and garlic for the next day’s salad.) However, the Gemara’s ruling does not apply to a company that cracks eggs that will not be used for many weeks or months. Therefore, we do not have to be concerned for ruach ra’ah in such cases. In contrast, Beis Shlomo, Chelkas Yaakov and Divrei Yatziv hold that we can extend the Gemara’s chumra to include industrially produced eggs.
How Do Kosher Certifying Agencies Address the Concern for Ruach Ra’ah?
Many Kosher certifying agencies rely on the Igrot Moshe. This would provide a basis for certification of all commercial egg, garlic and onion products but would not permit a caterer to crack eggs for the next day’s breakfast or to cut onions and garlic for the next day’s salad. Others do not accept this approach, and either don’t certify such products or follow one of the approaches noted above (e.g. mix in other ingredients, cook the eggs).
We cannot see ruach ra’ah, and perhaps that is why there are so many differences of opinion on this matter. Nonetheless, the concept of ruach ra’ah teaches that there is a plane of reality that we don’t see and there is more to life than what meets the eye.