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 as part of our preparation for Shavuot. We will focus on the laws of "Davar Charif," the ramification of a sharp tasting food item cut by a meat or milk knife.

Talmudic Statement

            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 three of these issues.  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 211a s.v. קישות) asserts that a Davar Charif absorbs only in combination with דוחקא דסכינא (pressure of a knife).  The Rema (Yoreh Deah 59:2) rules that sharp items also have impact during cooking.  Accordingly, the Taz (Y.D. 69:3) 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. 69:2 and Aruch HaShulchan Y.D. 69:11).  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. אגב and Shach 69:6).

What is Davar Charif?

            There is a Rishon (Rabbeinu Yechiel cited by the Semak number 312) 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 93a).  Most Rishonim, though, follow the opinion of Tosafot (Chullin 211a s.v. אגב) and Rambam (Hilchot Maachalot Asurot 9:42) that this rule applies to any sharp item such as onions and garlic.  The Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 69:12) 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 69:21 and Biur HaGra 69:9).

            "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 the past 42 hours)

            The Gemara (Avoda Zara 93a) 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 נותן טעם לפגם מותר - the food taste that has been lodged in a utensil for more than twenty four 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 93a s.v. אגב and Tosafot Chullin 211a s.v. אגב for conflicting opinions).  The Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 69:1) cites both opinions but Rema (Y.D. 59:2) and Shach (Y.D 69:6) 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 69:4).

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. קישות) 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, however, are different.  People are not careful to keep knives clean (most contemporary Rabbis point out that this presumption is not applicable today) 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.  The Mechaber (Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 69:1) and Rema (Y.D. 59:2) rule in accordance with Rashi's second approach and therefore a Davar Charif cut by a clean meat or milk knife is no longer considered Pareve.

Three Common Problems

            As a practicing Rabbi will attest, questions regarding Davar Charif arise very often.  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 is a forbidden mixture of meat and milk?  Rav Feivel Cohen, a contemporary halachic authority, (Badei HaShulchan 69:85) cites two opinions regarding this issue.  Two great Acharonim (from the eighteenth century) 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 lenient opinions of the Rishonim may be combined to rule that this food is permitted.  1) The opinion that only a radish has the rule of "Davar Charif" apply to it.  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 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 Achronim.  The Magen Avraham (Orach Chaim 154:13) 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. 69:3) disagrees.  He asserts that the Pareve utensil that 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 not a utensil that absorbed meat or milk taste.  Rav Feivel Cohen (Badei HaShulchan 69:75) 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 69:7).  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 (an outstanding student at the Torah Academy of Bergen County) points out that the cutting board should be considered Pareve according to the aforementioned view of the Even HaOzer.  Saul Friedman points out that the cutting board should be considered Nat Bar Nat and permitted in case of need as we mentioned earlier.  This author finds this argument persuasive.  One should consult his Rabbi should this question arise.

A Few Final Thoughts

            Pitchei Teshuva (Y.D. 69:4) cites authorities who rule that cooked onions have lost their sharpness and are no longer considered "davar charif".  Rav Feivel Cohen (Badei Hashulchan 69:64) points out that no general rule can be given regarding when 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 Rema (Y.D. 59:2) asserts that a food item is not classified as "charif" unless a majority of the food is "charif".  Rav Feivel Cohen (Badei Hashulchan 59:34) cites a number of Acharonim (latter-day authorities) who question why the majority principle should be employed to determine if a food item is "charif".  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 (59:4) which is very instructive.  The Pitchei Teshuva cites the debate among the Acharonim regarding the rule that a "davar charif" can revitalize a rancid taste -- some assert that this rule is rabbinic in nature and others argue that it has the status of a Torah law.  He concludes his survey of this debate by citing the Teshuvot Shevat Tzion (no. 23).  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.

            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, we will explore the issue of not eating milk products after consuming meat.

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