First posted on The Times of Israel at: http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/shmini-bugs-in-paradise/
Baal Haturim Leviticus: Shmini
Bugs in Paradise
The laws of keeping Kosher can at times seem complex and involve much minutia. One can paint in broad strokes the basic laws: no mixing of meat and milk products, kosher mammals must have split hooves and chew their cud, they must be slaughtered and checked according to strict guidelines, kosher fish are only those that have scales and fins, and a few other fundamental guidelines.
However, matters get interesting when we start mixing things, when we deal with modern manufacturing processes, when there are doubts and uncertainty about what exactly we are eating. Then the Rabbis in all their glory attack the subject matter with encyclopedias worth of details, arguments, counter-arguments, decisions and responsa.
One interesting detail is that in some mixtures a rule of thumb is that if there is less than one sixtieth of the offending substance in the mixture (which is not a lot), the entirety of the mixture is permissible to eat. However, a curious exception is bugs. Any food or mixture of food that has even a tiny bug makes that food prohibited.
The Baal Haturim on Leviticus 11:29 adds an unexpected explanation as to why. He writes that snakes are included in the group of insects, bugs and general “creepy crawlies” (sheretz is the exact Hebrew word) that are prohibited. And because the snake is considered so repulsive we can’t allow any of it, not even a little bit, no matter how big whatever it’s swallowed into is, to be consumed. The snake implicates all other bugs in this prohibition, making life more challenging for all those people checking for bugs in the food we eat, but ostensibly also making it better to eat.
May we stay clear of bugs and snakes in our lives and in our food.
To all those who were so careful to avoid chametz (unleavened bread) throughout Pesach.