Insights from the Institute: Halachos Pertaining to Covid-19

2020 will be remembered for a long time to come as the year of the Covid-19 pandemic. These unusual circumstances have given rise to some unusual halachic questions. It is my fervent hope that everything will have returned to ‘normal’ by the time that you read this, and the lasting legacy will be the chiddushei Torah and piskei halachah that were generated as a result of this event. Below are some examples.

Q: If there are two adjacent houses with decks, with five men on one deck and another five men on the other deck, can they join together to form a minyan?

A: A gathering of ten men is needed in order for their davening to be considered tefilah b’tzibur. Once ten men have joined together to form a minyan, anyone else who is able to see them and participates is considered part of the minyan, and his davening is considered […]

Now You See It, Now You Don’t: A Kosher View of Refined Edible Oils

“שמן תורק שמך“ (Shir Hashirim Rabah 1:3) …”Your name is flowing like fine oil”. Shir Hashirim Rabah makes the following insightful observation.  Shlomo Hamelech compares Bnei Yisroel to fine oil. Just as fine oil is extracted from its source through crushing and squeezing, so do the innate qualities of Bnei Yisroel emerge as a result of our collective challenges and travails. Similarly, just as oil serves as a glowing source of radiance that fills a room with shining light, so does Bnei Yisroel serve as a light to other nations through their stellar performance of Torah and mitzvos.

Oil is an incredibly remarkable and versatile product of Hashem’s creations and is not limited to olives, the quintessential source of shemen. Oil is found in a plethora of sources, and the means of oil extraction are varied.  Moreover, there are remarkable halachic ramifications with various oil extractions.  Let’s explore the wondrous world of […]

GETTING INTO HOT WATER: Urns & Pump Pots in Halacha: Shabbos & Yom Tov<sup>1</sup>

Electric urns greatly enhance our oneg Shabbos and Yom Tov by allowing us to effortlessly enjoy hot drinks. However, the technological advances that permit us to use urns on demand come along with a host of halachic considerations that must be carefully reviewed.

A summary of the various halachic considerations in the usage of electric urns, pump pots and commercial urns are addressed in this article. An urn is a heater that lets the water out through gravity using a lever at the bottom of the urn. A pump pot uses a pump at the top to force the water out. In this article, the term urn is used generically to refer to a pump pot, as well (except as noted in the section about the water level tube).

Keep in mind that there are many different types of devices, and not every situation is applicable to all of them.

Heating, Adding and […]

Keep the Fire Burning Creatively

1-איז דרך טוב שידבק בה האדם … רבי שמעון אומר הרואה את הנולד – What is a wise life course of action? Rabbi Shimon says it is seeing the consequences of one’s actions. Our Chachomim, with their keen insight into human nature and the consequences of one’s actions, realized that safeguards have to be instituted in order to keep the קדושה and טהרה of כלל ישראל intact.

 2 גדולה לגימה שמקרבת את הרחוקים there is nothing more effective to draw hearts closer (i.e., relationships) than a “geshmak” meal. לגימה is probably the most potent tool that kiruv professionals have in their kiruv arsenal. The “לגימה” factor is part and parcel of human nature and socialization. Unfortunately, we have seen how potentially dangerous “innocent” socialization can create serious pitfalls. As a precaution against unnecessary socialization, our חכמים3 have instructed that certain בושח foods served at important functions must be monitored by a יהודי […]

Sous-Vide Cookers on Shabbos

Some pronounce it ‘sue vee’, while others pronounce it ‘sue veed’. Either way, it is a French phrase which translates to “vacuum”. It is a method of cooking that was first described by the inventor Sir Benjamin Thompson, aka Count Rumford, who is also credited with the invention of thermal underwear. The techniques of modern sous-vide cooking were perfected in the 1970s and have become increasingly popular over the past twenty years. Sous-vide is a method of cooking in which food is vacuum-sealed in a plastic pouch and cooked in a bath of water at an accurately controlled temperature. The water is typically held at 125° – 175°F, which is considerably cooler than standard cooking temperatures in an oven. While the vacuum packing is achieved by removing any excess air, the food will not float but rather sink and be completely submerged underwater.

There are a number of benefits to sous-vide […]

Spotlight on Eggs

Jews have been eating eggs for thousands of years. How many of us have ever wondered whether the eggs we bought at the local grocer came from a Kosher bird? The Shulchan Aruch1 states that only eggs which are pointy on one side and round on the other side can be considered Kosher. If, however, both sides are round or both sides are pointy it would be a siman (an indication) of an אמט ףוע, a non-Kosher bird.

The above noted siman does not make the egg itself Kosher, rather it is a way to indicate that the egg comes from a Kosher bird. Today, we can find chicken eggs which are round on both sides; consequently, the siman as stipulated by Chazal may have changed in our generation (עבטה הנתשנ). However, it is considered an act of piety for one to verify that the egg one wishes to consume is, […]

Signed, Sealed and Delivered: The Requirements for Chosmos on our Foods

One of the popular services that STAR-K offers to worldwide Jewry is our availability to find answers to shailos on almost any topic. When a phone call comes in, our Kashrus Administrators often have little clue as to what they will need to address. Some answers end up being straightforward, some are complex and some need to be creative.

I was faced with the latter situation over a year ago when a woman called. She said that her husband’s company had brought him a ready-to-eat meal, “Grilled Cutlets and Salad”, in a plastic container from a kosher certified store. However, after it was presented to her husband, since no one had thought to request seals on the container, my phone rang.

“It’s not that important, but is there any way my husband would be allowed to eat this food?” the woman asked. Immediately, I emailed a colleague who asked me to send […]

Medicine on Shabbos: Questions and Answers from Rav Moshe Heinemann, Shlit”a

In the times of Chazal, people would grind up medicine as needed. Grinding is forbidden on Shabbos; therefore, Chazal enacted a gezeira that a person should not take medicine on Shabbos for a minor ailment. Even though it is not common nowadays for a consumer to crush his own medicine, the gezeira remains in full force. In general, it is forbidden for a person with a minor ailment to do anything on Shabbos which an observer would realize is being done for refuah. I asked Rav Heinemann, shlit”a, twenty questions regarding treating minor ailments on Shabbos. Below are the questions and his answers. Following that, I have added source material for those who wish to further understand these pesakim.

Q1: How bad does a headache or an allergy such as hay fever need to be in order to take medicine on Shabbos?

A person is generally not allowed to take medicine on […]

Undercover: The Halachos of Schach

When our הרות speaks about the Festival of סוכות it states,חג הסוכות תעשה לך באספך מגרנך ומיקבך”,1″ “The סוכות holiday should be observed at the time that you harvest your grain and your wine,” during the fall.  Our חכמים have taught us that this קוספ has another interpretation.  The סוכה, in which we dwell during this חג , should be made from the unused parts of the harvested grain and wine, namely the stalks of grain and twigs of the vine.  These are the items that should be used for the סכך, the covering, which is placed on top of the סוכה instead of a permanent roof.

Our rabbis have further taught that this directive, פסולת גורן ויקב, includes other items that are similar to stalks and twigs that are no longer attached to the ground and cannot become ritually impure, טמא.  Unfinished wood slats, corn stalks, and palm branches are […]

A Time and Place for Almost Everything

Introduction:
Years ago, on a transatlantic flight, I had an interesting exchange with another passenger sitting across the aisle. He was traveling with his family, and they were obviously very European. Out of curiosity he asked, “What do American children eat for breakfast?” I responded, “All varieties of cold cereal;” that is the anchor of the All American breakfast. He reacted with a tone of disdain, “That is what we would feed animals!” I countered, “So, what do you serve your children?” “Porridge!” was the reply. Porridge, I said to myself. That’s the staple of the Three Bears!

Of course, every country has their own breakfast menu and what one culture might consider to be an elegant repast would not pass muster in a different district or region. In fact, the laws of בישול עכו”ם reflect these differences of זמן and מקום, time and place. What qualifies as עולה על שלחן […]

Kosher Dining at Yale University Hillel Newly Certified by STAR-K Kosher Certification

As a proud native New Havener, I was overjoyed when I found out that Yale University’s kosher kitchen would be certified by STAR-K Kosher Certification; I couldn’t wait to try it out, as I recently did, on my annual Elul trip to my hometown.

Yale University’s kosher kitchen has come a long way since it first opened to serve weeknight dinners to its graduate students in the fall of 1959. It was housed in the Young Israel synagogue, a 25-minute walk from the university’s downtown New Haven, Connecticut, campus. Most recently, reinventing itself as a STAR-K Kosher-certified facility in the Lindenbaum Kosher Kitchen located at the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life, it functions seamlessly in the middle of the campus as part of the Yale University Dining System.

Since 1999, STAR-K Kashrus Administrator Rabbi Mayer Kurcfeld has been engineering and overseeing the agency’s many certified on-campus facilities, custom-designing those which were […]

Undercover: The Halachos of Schach

Published Fall 2009

When our Torah speaks about the Festival of Sukkos it states, “Chag HaSukkos Taaseh Lecha B’Aspecha Migornecha U’Miyikvecha.”1  “The Sukkos holiday should be observed at the time that you harvest your grain and your wine,” during the fall.  Our Chachamim, sages, have taught us that this pasuk has another esoteric meaning.  The sukkah, in which we dwell during this chag, should be made from the unused parts of the harvesting grain and wine, namely the stalks of grain and twigs of the vine.  These are the items that should be used for the schach, the covering, which is placed on top of the sukkah instead of a permanent roof.

Slurpee Confidential

Editor’s Note: The STAR-K Slurpee List is a compilation of flavors certified by an array of reliable kashrus certification agencies. Optimally, either the individual 7-11 store should be kosher certified or the consumer should check the kashrus of the syrup himself by checking the back of the machine. Many stores have been known to allow this. If neither option is available, this article will address the halachic basis for relying on The Slurpee List at any 7-11 store located in the United States.

One of the ways we mark the change of seasons is by eating and drinking the foods we associate with that particular time of year. The Rambam advises in Hilchos Deos1 that one adjust his menu with the seasons, eating warm spicy foods in the winter and cool, less seasoned ones during the warmer months: hot hearty soup (or microwaved leftover cholent!) on a cold winter night, watermelon […]

A Cut Above – Or Is It?

Much discussion and halachic energy have been expended discussing the halachic legitimacy of Norelco’s Lift-and-Cut shavers. The Lift-and-Cut claims to lift up the hair by one blade and then cut it with a second blade, instead of using a screen-blade scissor action.

It is a fascinating fact that the lift-and-cut “technology” is based on a concept fostered by Gillette razor blade producers that if you insert two razor blades together with a slight gap between them, the first will pull the shaft of the hair up and the second blade will cut the hair below the skin line. Hence, the term “lift and cut”.

Bear in mind that the edge of the razor blade is sharpened to a point of .1mm to .2mm (1/16 of an inch = 1.5mm), so the point of a razor is unquestionably razor sharp! However, users of the dual blade have dispelled the lift-and-cut “theory”. Below are […]

Electric Shavers

Since Star-K often receives questions regarding the use of electric shavers, this article will address the halachic concerns of removing one’s facial hair.  The Torah states, “לא תקפו פאת ראשכם ולא תשחית את פאת זקנך” (ויקרא י”ט כ “Do not round the corners of one’s head and do not destroy the corner of one’s beard” . The Torah continues, “ופאת קזנם לא יגלחו (ויקרא כ, “and the corner of one’s beard they shall not shave”.

What are the actions of forbidden facial hair removal?  The Mishna in מכות discusses which methods of removing facial hair are forbidden. הקפה, “rounding”, refers to the complete removal of hair from the temple area.  The terms גילוח, “shaving”, and השחתה , “destroying” refer to forbidden forms of removing one’s beard.

The Mishna does not offer a practical explanation of these actions.  Do these terms refer to the cutting of hair using different types of shaving implements, or do these actions refer to different degrees of hair removal […]

Exploring A Common Kitchen Mixup

You have arrived home after a long day at work. Upon entering your house, you notice a full strainer of macaroni sitting next to a fleishig pot. You are not sure if you can use that macaroni to make yourself macaroni and cheese. Everyone knows that cooking milk and meat is an issur d’oraisa,1 but this is pareve macaroni from a clean fleishig pot. What is the halacha?

The Gemara tells us that just as one may not cook actual meat with cheese, he may also not cook meat flavored food with cheese2 (i.e., meat flavored potato from a cholent pot). Even a flavor which was transferred twice cannot be cooked with the opposite gender food, e.g., flavor which transferred from meat to a pot and then from that same pot to the macaroni. When the transmission of flavor is performed through a cooking process, we maintain the view of the […]

First Ever Pan-Asia Training Seminar Held in Shanghai

They come from Perth; Yerushalayim; Mumbai; Manila; Boston; Scottsdale; and Los Angeles, but truly the mashgichim attending the inaugural STAR-K Pan-Asia Kosher Training Seminar in Shanghai, January 9-14, live out of their suitcases. Dedicated to the mission of ensuring and spreading kashrus, even at a moment’s notice, implies where they are from is wherever their luggage happens to be.

Representing the premier kosher certifier in Asia, these STAR-K mashgichim are the “eyes and ears” in the field who help certify thousands of products –from canned goods and nori sheets in China and South Korea, to spices and coconut products in India and Sri Lanka, and banana chips and coco sugar in the Philippines–mostly exported as “bulk” ingredients to be processed globally into consumer products.

STAR-K operates regional support centers in Shanghai, China and Cochin, India and representative offices in Manila, Philippines; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Karachi, Pakistan; and Jakarta, Indonesia.
Joining Baltimore-based STAR-K […]

Bedikas Chometz: Search for Dough Like a Pro

Before Pesach, a person is obligated to perform bedikas chometz, a search of his house and possessions, to ensure that he does not own any chometz. The bedikah should be conducted at the beginning of the night of the 14th of Nissan, immediately after tzeis hakochavim.1 If he did not do so, the bedikah can be done all night. Bedieved, if he did not perform the bedikah that night he should do it on the day of the 14th of Nissan.2

If he will not be home on the night of the 14th of Nissan, he should appoint another adult to perform the bedikah on his behalf.3 If he leaves his house within thirty days of Pesach, and is not planning to return and conduct a bedikah or have someone else perform a bedikah for him, then he should do bedikas chometz without reciting a brocha at […]

When You Can Drink and Drive: The Halachic Implications of Drinking Coffee on the Road

Happy Fact: Unflavored roasted coffee beans, whole and ground, are considered kosher without a hechsher (kosher certification). Bearing this in mind, buying a cup of unflavored regular, decaf, or High-Octane coffee (my usual choice) should not present any kashrus issues, right?

Not so fast fellow caffeine heads; life is never so simple.

The Problem: Some coffee vendors sell kosher and treif (non-kosher) items, like the Bacon & Gouda Breakfast Sandwich and the Pepperoni & Tomato Savory Foldover.1 The keilim (utensils) used for coffee and treif can at times be washed together, causing blios, absorbed tastes, from the treif kli to enter the coffee equipment. In Starbucks, for example, it’s been established that the brew basket that holds the coffee grounds while the coffee is being made is sometimes washed with keilim that may have come into contact with treif. If we have a “perfect storm” situation in which the wash water is […]

Nisht Oif Shabbos Geredt? The Guide to Proper Speech on Shabbos

Shabbos is the most beautiful day of the week, and our Neviim and Chazal have enhanced its sanctity by establishing various mitzvos d’rabanan. These mitzvos include activities that maintain kedushas Shabbos and render it more enjoyable, and prohibitions to ensure we do not perform a melachah d’oraisa. One example of an issur d’rabanan is what Yeshayahu Hanavi1 refers to as “daber davar”, a restriction on business and melachah-based discussions on Shabbos.

According to the Talmud Yerushalmi,2 when we are careful with speech on Shabbos, we emulate the Ribono Shel Olam, Who rested from speech3 on Shabbos Beraishis following the completion of the creation of the world.

The following halachos are based upon the psak of Harav Moshe Heinemann, shlit”a, Rabbinic Administrator of STAR-K Kosher Certification.4

I. Discussions of Melachah

In general, on Shabbos one is not allowed to say that he will perform a melachah after Shabbos. For example, it is forbidden to say, […]

Danger-Sakana: Keeping Our Food Safe & Healthy

In an ongoing effort to keep food processing on a high level of quality, a new position known as Director of Food Safety has been created in the Quality Assurance departments of food processors. In fact, there is a relatively new certification program that companies undergo known as SQF certification. SQF stands for Safe Quality Food, and there are different levels of SQF certification: 1, 2 or 3.

SQF standards are very rigorous, some may say bordering on excessive. However, the repercussions can be devastating if a company’s production environment is compromised or unsanitary. A common nemesis to food producers that Quality Assurance valiantly tries to battle is the presence of E-coli, bacteria comprised of many different strains that are commonly found in one’s intestines. Most are harmless, yet there are some E-coli that can cause severe food poisoning.

When the bagged salad industry was in its fledgling stage, E-coli food poisoning […]

Notes from the STAR-K Bais Medrash Govoha Halacha Chaburah

The following article is based on an actual in depth and detailed ‘limud‘ that the STAR-K  Kollel Chabura conducted during the past zman.

Scenario #1: It’s the afternoon of the second day of Pesach; your house is a hurricane – dishes are piled up to the ceiling, stains are all over the tablecloths, the floors are sticky and you need some serious help. You have a live-in maid. The trouble is, you’re very uncertain as to what you can ask her to do and what is and isn’t halachically permissible. Can she be asked to run the dishwasher, wash the floor or take out the garbage?

Scenario #2: It’s the afternoon of the second day of Pesach; your house is a hurricane – dishes are piled up to the ceiling, stains are all over the tablecloths, the floors are sticky and you need some […]

Insights from the Institute

Q: Does a walk-in closet in my house need a mezuzah?

A: Many of the doorways of the various rooms in a person’s house are required to have a mezuzah on the doorposts; however, not every doorway is halachically obligated to bear one. Whether or not a particular room needs to have a mezuzah will depend upon the location of the doorway, the intended use of the room, and other factors. A complete exposition of all relevant halachos is beyond the scope of this article. We will limit ourselves to one specific question: What are the specific measurements that a walk-in closet would need to meet in order to halachically be considered a “room”? In other words, when is a walk-in closet large enough to require a mezuzah and when is it small enough that it does not?

A large walk-in closet is halachically considered to be a room if it is […]

GramaChip Technologies

There are cholim (ailing or frail individuals) who would greatly benefit from being able to use electric devices on Shabbos. GramaChip Technologies is a company that provides halachically compliant solutions for these cholim; its products are STAR-K certified.

As its name suggests, the products rely on the halachic principle of grama. The Mishna discusses grama in the context of putting out a fire on Shabbos. One is permitted to arrange a ring of water around a fire, even though the fire will certainly be extinguished when it reaches the water.1 This is halachically allowed due to the time delay between the action of arranging the water and the subsequent melacha of extinguishing the fire on Shabbos. Similarly, any activity that includes a time delay between a person’s action and the ensuing melacha would be categorized as a grama.2 Grama of a melacha de’oraissa is permitted only in situations of financial loss.3 However, […]

K’Tapuach B’Atzei HaYa’ar Like an Apple in the Orchard

The Talmud1 records a very interesting exchange between two Amoraim, Rava and Rav Pappa. Rava raised a legal query which Rav Pappa heartily answered. To that response, Rava exclaimed, “Sadnai!” Rashi gives two explanations to the approbation, Sadnai. One explanation is that Rava’s exclamation attests to Rav Pappa’s keen scholarship. When Rava extolled Rav Pappa’s scholarship, he implied that his insight was so great that Rav Pappa was able to uncover the underlying “secrets” (“sode”) of Torah. Another explanation of the term “sadnai” is a testimonial to Rav Pappa’s expertise as an expert brewer. He knew the mystery of creating a successful brew of beer.

Which variety of beer was Rav Pappa brewing? The Gemara in Pesachim,2 where this exchange between Rava and Rav Pappa was also recorded, tells us that he was brewing date beer. Brewing beer was popular in Talmudic and pre-Talmudic times. As far back as Noach, wine […]

Kosher Provides a Taste of Yiddishkeit for Assisted Living and Nursing Home Residents

For many assisted living and nursing home residents, some of whom have kept kosher their entire lives, a facility with a trustworthy kosher certification is non-negotiable; for others, it is a welcomed taste of tradition – literally! From a marketing standpoint, the importance of a facility’s choice of a universally well-respected kashrus agency cannot be overstated.

Even prior to accepting the position of Executive Director of Tudor Heights Assisted Living Community – the forerunner of today’s Tudor Heights, A Solvere Living Community – Dovid Lapin strongly urged the facility’s management to partner with STAR-K.

“Clearly, the local supervision that had been in place for a number of years was not working, as the census was at 34 and there were 30 vacant rooms,” recalls Mr. Lapin. “I asked for permission to begin a national marketing campaign, promoting Tudor Heights and STAR-K as partners in this beautiful state-of-the-art community. We truly branded ourselves […]

Don’t Miss the Boat: Halachic Guidelines of Kosher Cruises

The task of food preparation aboard a modern cruise ship is enormous. Activity begins even before the first passenger comes aboard. Needless to say, food is central to a cruise. “Kosher Cruise” may simply imply that the food is kosher; other halachic issues may not have been addressed by the kosher certification agency. In this article, we will examine kashrus, as well as other topics including Shabbos, davening and tznius.

Kashrus

Providing kosher supervision on a cruise ship is not an easy task. “Mega-ships” can carry over 4,000 guests.1 Food preparation occurs around-the-clock in multiple locations. Most often, a ‘kosher cruise’ means that an entrepreneur has booked a number of cabins aboard a large ship. In such an arrangement, kosher and non-kosher food will be prepared and served simultaneously.

The traveler must have confidence in the kashrus agency that is certifying the cruise. In order to instill confidence, a reliable kashrus organization must address many issues.

What arrangements have been made to accommodate […]

Meshane Makom/Meshane Brocha: When do I need a new Brocha?

Almost every time I enter a supermarket, I marvel at the wide variety of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, as well as a plentiful assortment of epicurean delights. If someone were to call their market “Gan Eden” – in the secular sense – they would be right.

Before consuming our supermarket delicacies, we must give proper consideration to an important shaila: What is the correct brocha for this food? Many times, this is not an easy question. After all, there are so many aspects of birchos hanehenin1 to keep in mind. How does it grow? Is it processed? Is one of the chameishes minei dagan (five special grains) present in a halachically meaningful way? What part of the food is the ikar (primary) to me? Do I need to recite a brocha if I already said the same brocha on a different food? What if I decided I was finished […]

A 25 Year Retrospective on Kashrus Kurrents

Approximately twenty-five years ago shortly before “Pesach” 5738 Mr. A. J. Levin, a vice president of the Orthodox Jewish Council, began publishing Kashrus Kurrents. In that first issue, printed on the familiar yellow paper with the blue Kashrus Kurrents logo, it was deemed necessary to advise the Baltimore community that they cannot rely on labels or advertisements that merely states ‘Kosher for Passover’. From that same issue we learned that the fledgling Star-K organization had just inaugurated its kosher hot-line whereby one could get accurate kashrus information Monday through Thursday between the hours of 10 a.m. to 12 p.m.

A most welcome and popular feature was a list of items that did not require special Passover certification. Included were specific brands of sugar and cocoa as well as a number of commonly used over the counter medications. Compiling the list required substantial research by volunteers […]

Hot Off the Hotline

(All answers are based on the psak of Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, shlita, Star-K Rabbinic Administrator.)

Q: What type of aged cheese requires one to wait six hours before eating meat?

A: Generally speaking, aging of cheese is an ongoing process, which occurs when the bacteria found in cheese breaks down the lactose (the milk sugar), creating lactic acid, thereby changing the physical property of the cheese, giving it a sharper flavor.

A good example of this aging process would be if someone were to leave a wedge of Muenster cheese in a nice warm environment until the cheese becomes “tangy.” The housewife would call it spoiled; a cheese maven would call it flavorful. Historically, flavorful cheese took about six months to age. The longer the cheese aged the harder it became. In Italy today, one can find some […]