By Rabbi Eli Gersten and Rabbi Moshe Zywica
OU Halacha Yomis is dedicated to the memory of Rav Chaim Yisroel Belsky zt”l who served as OU halachic consultant for thirty years.
Under the direction of the Halacha Yomit program editors, Rabbi Yosef Grossman and Rabbi Yaakov Luban, the staff has selected questions and teshuvot for the eight days of Pesach.
Can one use any paper towels on Pesach or is there a concern because paper is made with starch?
Rav Belsky ruled that one may even place hot food directly on top of a paper towel on Pesach. The starch that is used in paper products in America can be assumed to be at most only kitniyot, and because the starch binds strongly to the paper, it is unlikely that any starch will transfer into the food. Poskim write that one is permitted to hang lamps of oil above their table, even if the oil is kitniyot and may drip into the food. Unlike chametz, which cannot become nullified on Pesach in any proportion, kitniyot will be nullified in a simple majority. So long as it is not for certain that the kitniyot will get into one’s food, it is permitted. Furthermore, because the starch becomes part of the paper, it is no longer considered edible. Therefore, even if some starch would migrate out of the paper into the food, there is no concern.
Is Play-Doh (which is made from flour) considered real chametz?
Rav Belsky (Shulchan HaLevi 12:9) ruled that Play-Doh should be considered actual chametz. Even though Play-Doh includes chemical dyes and preservatives, it is non-toxic and is still considered edible. While bread baked from this dough might not be tasty, it would still be classified as food. Play-Doh should either be discarded before Pesach or sold with one’s chametz.
I have heard that under certain guidelines, the OU permits kitniyot-derived products for Pesach, even for Ashkenazim; Can you please explain?
The minhag of Ashkenazim is to consider corn and all types of corn byproducts as kitniyot. Therefore, Ashkenazim will not eat corn syrup, corn alcohol or corn vinegar on Pesach. Yet Rav Belsky ruled that aspartame (an artificial sweetener commonly used in many diet products), although made from corn, may be used on Pesach. Aspartame is made by combining two amino acids (aspartic acid and phenylalanine). These amino acids are produced from corn through a fermentation process and neither one has a sweet taste. In fact, phenylalanine tastes bitter. Since the corn undergoes many steps during which it is fermented, reacted and then synthesized into a completely new molecule, we no longer view aspartame as a corn byproduct. This concept of losing halachic identity is known as “nishtaneh.” Although there is a disagreement among poskim as to whether one can rely on nishtaneh to permit non-kosher foods, and the OU does not permit that, Rav Belsky ruled that with regard to kitniyot, whose prohibition is only based on minhag, we are lenient.
How does the OU deal with Jewish-owned companies during Pesach?
Jewish-owned companies are not permitted to produce chametz on Pesach. They are required to sell their chametz and cease all operations. To be considered a valid sale there must be “gemirat da’at” (complete recognition that a sale has occurred). Rav Belsky would not permit a Jewish-owned company to even move inventory during Pesach. The company must understand that the sale is genuine, and the chametz no longer belonged to them. Rav Belsky was strongly opposed to allowing a “paper sale” of the entire corporation to a non-Jew for the purpose of circumventing Pesach. Such sales are devoid of sincerity and therefore lack gemirat da’at—the basic component that is the foundation of every sale of chametz.
What is considered a Jewish-owned company?
A company can be considered Jewish-owned if even one of the partners is Jewish. But what constitutes a Jewish partner? Do we need to be concerned about a partner who owns less than 1%? This question is also relevant for anyone who owns shares of stock. If one owns ten shares of stock in “Mega-Bakery” Corporation, must it be sold before Pesach? Rav Belsky would distinguish between two types of partnerships. There are partners who get together and pool their resources and start a company. These partners own an absolute share in the entire company and its inventory, even if they only invested a small amount. Such a partner would need to divest ownership before Pesach, or the business would need to be closed. However, regarding purchase of stock in a company, Rav Belsky ruled that it would depend on whether one has any say in the management of the company. For example, if one purchases 5% of the stock of a company and can now influence decisions at the company, then that person is a partner. Otherwise, it is understood that the purchase of stock only gives that individual rights to share in the future revenue, but he or she is not a decision making, influential partner in the business.
Many women have the custom of reciting the bracha of Shehechiyanu when they light candles for yom tov. This bracha may only be said once, so if a woman recited Shehechiyanu when she lit candles, she may not repeat the bracha if she were to say Kiddush. If she fulfills her obligation by listening to her husband say Kiddush, may she answer “amen” to the bracha of Shehechiyanu or would this constitute a hefsek (an interruption) in the middle of Kiddush?
Rav Belsky (Shulchan HaLevi 14:1) ruled that a woman who already recited Shehechiyanu may nevertheless answer “amen” to Shehechiyanu during Kiddush. He said that this was also the ruling of Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igeros Moshe OC IV:21) and many other poskim. Rav Belsky offered an interesting proof based on the wording of the Taz. The Taz (Y.D. 19:7) writes that one is not permitted to interrupt in the middle of the performance of a mitzvah, and this includes sichas chulin, idle speech. The recitation of a bracha is not idle speech, and therefore does not constitute a hefsek. Rav Belsky inferred from the reasoning of the Taz that likewise in our situation, since one is obligated to answer “amen” to a bracha, this is not idle speech, and this too would not constitute a hefsek.
If one has difficulty consuming four cups of undiluted wine at the Seder, what alternative options are available?
Although many poskim permit the substitution of grape juice for the four cups of wine, for those medically permitted, it is nonetheless preferable to use actual alcoholic wine. Rav Belsky was often asked what is the least amount of alcohol in a wine mixture for the beverage to still be categorized as wine. His response was that 3.5% alcohol is sufficient. He reasoned as follows: wine will naturally ferment to a maximum of about 14% alcohol. Therefore, one would expect that the wines that were discussed in the times of the Talmud contained about 14% alcohol. Yet the common practice in Talmudic times was to dilute the wines with three parts water to every one part wine. This would mean that the alcohol content of the wines that they drank were only one quarter the strength of their wines—about 3.5% alcohol.
Can one add water to a hot water urn on yom tov if this might cause the indicator light to turn on?
Although cooking is permitted on yom tov, one is not permitted to light a new fire. Therefore, one is not permitted to add cold water to an urn, since this might cause the light to turn off or on. Rav Belsky said that one may not even ask a non-Jew to add cold water to the urn. Although turning on the indicator light is an unintended consequence, and strictly speaking one is permitted to ask a non-Jew to do a permitted activity even if this will cause an unintended consequence that is forbidden (psik reisha), in this case it is not permitted. Rav Belsky explained that there are two heaters in an electric urn. The larger heater turns on when the urn is filled with cold water. Once the proper temperature is reached, the first heater turns off and a second smaller heater turns on to maintain the temperature. When one adds cold water to an urn, one is not only changing the status of the indicator light, but that person is also turning on the larger heater. Since the intent of adding cold water to the urn is to cook the water, one cannot consider the turning on of the heater to be an unintended consequence. To appropriately add water to an urn on yom tov one should boil the water on the stove and then pour it into the urn.
Dedicated in memory of RAV CHAIM YISROEL BELSKY, zt”l, Senior OU Kosher Halachic Consultant (1987-2016)
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