'Banning Breaded Water' (14 May 1993)
I shall have to watch myself.
There is a hebrew adage, al tiftach peh lasatan, ‘Do not
open your mouth to the devil’. I am not worried about the devil, and I
don’t suppose he is too worried about me, but I am worried about the Rabbis.
No matter how light hearted my intentions or bizarre my ideas, they pounce on
almost everything I utter as if it were holy writ – and before I know
what has happened, it is part of halacha.
There is in existence a Secret Socity for the Prohibition of Just About Everything
(and the Banning of Almost Everything Else). A few years ago, while commenting
on the work of the society , I mentioned that a growing number of Jews were
becoming vegetarians and were escaping rabinnical scrutiny – and, of course,
I asked whether the rabbis were quite sure that lettuce was kosher. Hardly
had my question appeared in print when I learned that a kibbutz was marketing
‘kosher’ lettuces grown in sealed plastic bags under rabbinical
supervision. (This struck as entirely appropriate, because most rabbis these
days are grown in sealed bags, or are bottled under strict supervision.)
More recently – in fact only last month – I raised the question
of whether tap water was kosher for Pesach. I now have the answer. It is not
– or, at least, not if it comes from the Lake Kinneret (also known
as the Eea of Galilee).
Rabbi Moshe Aryeh Freund, who is head of the strictly Orthodox Eda Charedit
Beth Din in Jerusalem – and who, as such, could lay claim to being vicar
general of the Secret Society – has discovered that fisherman on the lake
use bread as bait and has therefore forbidden it’s water for the purpose
of drinking on Pesach. This may explain the expression, ‘Cast thy bread
upon the waters,’ but it does not quite explain Rabbi Freund’s attitude.
The amount of bread used is miniscule, while the Lake Kinneret is fairly large.
On a rough estimate, I would say that the proportion of bread to water would
be in the region of 1:613,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000 (give
or take a trillion).
Rabbi Freund, however, has no sense of proportion – or rather, the claims
that the halacha has none. ‘Even a single crumb makes the Kinneret
unfit for drinking,’ he has said. (Henceforth, no doubt, the Sea
of Galilee will be known as the Bread Sea, yam halechem, to distinguish
it from the Dead Sea, yam hamelach.)
I suspect that Rabbi Freund may have read the parable of the loaves and the
fishes, wherein, according to St Matthew and St Mark, five small loaves were
enough to feed 5,000 men (so were two fishes, but they could have been Leviathans).
A loaf in the Galilee clearly went a long way, and possibly still does, so that
Rabbi Freund may have a point. And as the Kinneret feeds the national water
carrier, it means that tap water in Israel cannot be used over Pesach. (I should
perhaps add that , given the meagre toilet facilities around the Kinneret, there
are worse things than bread that may be cast upon the waters, but I understand
they pose no problem as far as kashrut is concerned.)
No one has raised the possibility of using matzah, or even shemurah
(specially supervised) matzah, as bait, but Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, the
former Sephardi Chief Rabbi, who is a corresponding member of the Secret Society,
has adopted a less stringent attitude and has ruled that, whilst tap water may
be used, it should be filtered before being drunk.
The fact that the water is already filtered by the Mekorot water company is
apparently neither here nor there, possibly because the water engineers may
eat their sandwiches over the water (and perhaps even in the water). Water bottles
should do well in Israel, and filter makers even better.
In case those of you who live in the London area think that you are all right,
I should add that I have seen a whole line of anglers using bread as bait whilst
fishing in a reservoir which feeds the Thames Water Company – and
the same could apply to almost everywhere else. No wonder Moses struck a rock
to arrange his own water supply.
But what about the fish who actually swallow the bait? Perhaps I shouldn’t
ask, because if I do, the Secret Society may move into action, and you can be
sure that a month hence – and certainly a year hence – you will
be told from the pulpit that you cannot eat fish either, even if they have fins
and scales and cloven hooves and chew the cat (though, from my understanding
of wild life, it is usually the cat who chews the fish).