Milk and Meat: Part II - Davar Charif by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


This week we will continue to explore some of the laws of milk and meat.  We will focus on the laws of "Davar Charif," a sharp-tasting food item cut by a meat or milk knife.

Talmudic Statement

The Gemara (Chullin 111b-112a) 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 "Agav Churfei Bala"- because the radish is sharp, it absorbs the meat taste particles from the knife.  Although normally absorption (Bliah) occurs only when a food or utensil is hot, even a cold radish absorbs taste because of its sharpness.  The Rishonim debate the parameters of this Halacha, and we will focus on three issues that they debate.  First, is a radish the only example of a sharp item (Davar Charif) that this rule applies to?  Second, does this rule apply even if the knife was "Eino Ben Yomo" - not used with meat during the twenty-four hour period prior to cutting the Davar Charif?  Third, why is the radish not considered Pareve despite the fact that sharpness of food is equivalent to heat, because the radish is Nat Bar Nat (two steps removed from the meat itself, as was discussed in last week's Kol Torah)?

It should be noted at the outset that Rashi (Chullin 112a s.v. Kishot) asserts that a Davar Charif absorbs only in combination with Duchka Desakinah (pressure of a knife).  The Rama (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 pot.  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 which is not sharp is cut by a clean meat or milk knife it remains Pareve (see Tosafot Chullin 8b s.v. Agav, rejecting the stringent opinion of the Rivam in this regard and Shach 96:6).

What is Davar Charif?

One Rishon (Rabbeinu Yechiel cited by the Semak number 213) asserts that the rule of Davar Charif applies only to the sharp items specifically mentioned by the Talmud -- a radish and assa foetida (Chiltit, see Avodah Zarah 39a).  Most Rishonim, though, follow the opinion of Tosafot (Chullin 112a s.v. Agav) and Rambam (Hilchot Maachalot Asurot 9:24) that this rule applies to any sharp item such as onion or garlic.  The Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 96:21) rules in accordance with the majority opinion.  However, the minority opinion is used as a Snif Lehakel, 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. 96:9, Pitchei Teshuva Y.D. 96:3-4, Aruch HaShulchan Y.D. 96:13, and Darkei Teshuva 96:44).  Rav Binyamin Forst (Laws of Kashrut p. 323) cites the Yad Yehuda (96:2) as asserting that a fruit that is edible raw is not considered a Davar Charif.  According to this approach, oranges and grapefruits are not categorized as Davar Charaf.  One should consult his Rabbi in a case where it is not clear if an item is considered Davar Charif

Eino Ben Yomo

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 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 twenty four hours.  Ordinarily, kosher food cut by such a knife is permitted because of the rule of Notein Ta’am Lifgam - the food taste that has been lodged in a utensil for more than twenty four hours becomes rancid and does not render kosher food as not kosher.  However, the Gemara states that the sharpness of the assa foetida revitalizes the rancid taste and restores its good taste (“Agav Churfei, Machlaya Lei Lishvach”).  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 taste (see Tosafot Avodah Zarah 39a s.v. Agav and Tosafot Chullin 112a s.v. Agav for citations of the conflicting opinions).  The Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 96:1) cites both opinions but Rama (Y.D. 95:2) and Shach (Y.D 96:6) rule strictly.  Our 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).  Teshuvot Mishkenot Yaakov Y.D. 43 (cited in the Pitchei Teshuva Y.D. 96:1) rules in accordance with the lenient opinion.  We noted, though, a few months ago, that the Mishkenot Yaakov sometimes issued rulings that run counter to the commonly accepted practices. 

Nat Bar Nat

The Gemara in Chullin (111b) presents the rule of a radish cut by a meat knife, immediately after the Gemara concluded that hot fish placed on a meat plate is considered to be Pareve (Nat Bar Nat).  The obvious question is why the radish is not Pareve, despite its sharpness being equivalent to heat, just as the hot fish is considered Pareve.  Rashi (s.v. Kishot) provides two alternative approaches to this problem.  One approach is that the fish is Pareve because we can assume that the meat plate was clean because plates are kept clean.  Knives, Rashi explains, are different.  People are not careful to keep knives clean (I have heard Rav Mordechai Willig and numerous other authorities point out that this presumption is not applicable today; also see Badei Hashulchan 96:10) and the knives usually retain a thin residue from the food they have been used to cut.  Hence, a knife that was used to cut meat and subsequently used to cut a radish, probably had meat residue on it when it was used to cut the radish.  Accordingly, the radish becomes "meaty" because it has absorbed from the film of the meat on the knife.

According to this approach of Rashi, if a clean meat knife cut a radish, the radish will be Pareve, similar to the hot fish placed on a meat plate.  However, Rashi presents a second approach.  He writes that "sharpness" causes more extraction of taste and absorption of taste than heat does.  Therefore, the sharpness together with the pressure of the knife combine to extract the meat taste embedded in the meat knife, more effectively than heat does.  According to this approach, a Davar Charif is an exception to the rule of Nat Bar Nat.  Rav Yosef Karo (Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 96:1) and the Rama (Y.D. 95:2) rule in accordance with Rashi's second approach and therefore a Davar Charif cut by a clean meat or milk knife is not considered Pareve.  The lenient approach, however, is utilized by Poskim as a Snif Lihakel (see, for example, Badei Hashulchan 96:58).

Three Common Problems

As a practicing Rabbi will attest, questions regarding Davar Charif arise very often (especially on late Friday afternoon before Shabbat).  We will presently discuss three of these issues.  The first is if an onion was cut by a clean "Eino Ben Yomo" milk knife and was subsequently cooked together with meat.  Do we say that this food now constitutes a forbidden mixture of meat and milk?  Rav Feivel Cohen (Badei HaShulchan 96:58) cites two opinions regarding this issue.  Two great Acharonim, the Chochmat Adam and the Pri Megadim, rule that this food constitutes a forbidden mixture of milk and meat and must be discarded.  However, the Beit Meir rules that three aforementioned lenient opinions of the Rishonim may be combined to rule that this food is permitted. 

1) The opinion that only a radish is defined as a “Davar Charif.”

2) That the rule of “Nat Bar Nat” applies even to a “Davar Charif.”

3) That the rule of Davar Charif does not apply when the knife is Eino Ben Yomo.  One should consult his Rabbi for a ruling should this situation arise.

The second case is if an onion was cut by a meat or milk knife and subsequently placed in a Pareve blender.  Is the blender no longer considered Pareve?  This issue is vigorously debated by the Acharonim.  The Magen Avraham (Orach Chaim 451:31) argues that since the rule of Nat Bar Nat does not apply to a Davar Charif then a Pareve utensil that cut the onion (that was cut by a meat knife) becomes "meaty".  The Even HaOzer (Y.D. 96:3) disagrees.  He asserts that the Pareve utensil that was used to cut an onion subsequent to its being cut with a meat knife, remains Pareve because it is Nat Bar Nat.  The Davar Charif itself is an exception to the rule of Nat Bar Nat, but a utensil that is used to cut the affected Davar Charif is not an exception according to this approach.  Rav Feivel Cohen (Badei HaShulchan 96:57) rules that in case of need one may rule leniently, in light of the fact that some Rishonim believe that the rule of Nat Bar Nat applies even to the Davar Charif itself.

Acharonim debate whether the cutting board beneath a Davar Charif that was cut by a meat or milk knife becomes meat or milk (see Badei HaShulchan 96:7).  They argue whether the cutting action of the knife and the sharpness of the food impact on the cutting board as well as the food.  Contemporary authorities disagree concerning how to rule on this matter.  Rav Feivel Cohen rules (ibid) strictly but Rav Hershel Schachter told this author that one may rule leniently.  Saul Friedman (my Talmid at the Torah Academy of Bergen County, who was in my Shiur from 1995-1997) argues that the cutting board should be considered Pareve according to the aforementioned view of the Even HaOzer.  He points out that the cutting board should be considered Nat Bar Nat and permitted in case of need as we mentioned earlier.  This argument seems reasonable.  One should consult his Rabbi for a ruling should this question arise.

A Few Final Thoughts

Pitchei Teshuva (Y.D. 96:4) cites authorities who rule that cooked onions have lost their sharpness and are no longer considered “Davar Charif.”  Rav Feivel Cohen (Badei Hashulchan 96:46) points out that no general rule can be given regarding the question if a sharp item loses its "sharpness" when it is cooked.  Rather, the question of whether cooking removes an item from the status of Davar Charif should be determined by a Rav on a case by case basis.

Similarly, the Rama (Y.D. 95:2) asserts that a food item is not classified as "Charif" unless a majority of the food is "Charif."  Rav Feivel Cohen (Badei Hashulchan 95:43) cites a number of Acharonim who question why the majority principle should be employed to determine if a food item is "Charif."  They argue that sometimes a food is "Charif" if even just a small amount of spices has been added to the food.  Accordingly, Rav Cohen concludes that no objective rule can be given to determine if a food is "Charif."  Instead, a Rav must evaluate each situation individually.

Finally, there is a comment that appears in the Pitchei Teshuva (95:4), which is very instructive.  The Pitchei Teshuva cites a debate among the Acharonim regarding the rule that a Davar Charif can revitalize a rancid taste – whether this rule is rabbinic in nature or it has the status of a Torah law.  He concludes his survey of this debate by citing the Teshuvot Shevat Tzion (no. 32).  This authority asserts that the rabbis rule that a Davar Charif revitalizes a poor taste absorbed in a utensil based on actual experience.  Hence, if empirical evidence demonstrates that the meat taste that is imparted into a Davar Charif is not rancid, then the Davar Charif is meaty on a biblical level.  This approach clearly assumes that Bliot are physical in nature as assumed by Rav Aharon Soloveitchik, as we cited in last week’s essay. 

The assertion that Chazal made many Halachic determinations regarding Kashrut based on experience and experimentation is supported by the Ramban in his commentary to the beginning of the third chapter in Chullin.  Indeed, this argument seems to have clear evidence from the anecdote regarding Rav that appears on Chullin 111b.

Next week, with God's help and B’li Neder, we will explore the issue of not eating milk products after consuming meat.

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Milk and Meat: Part I by Rabbi Chaim Jachter