Avodah Zarah

Avodah Zarah 69a: Bugs in the Orange Juice

Avodah Zarah 69a: If a mouse fell into vinegar, does its taste forbid the vinegar? Rabbi Hillel said to Rav Ashi: This once happened at Rav Kahana’s house, and Rav Kahana forbade it. He replied: There the mouse fell into pieces. Rashi: A mouse is forbidden even if the piece is as small as a lentil, just like the minimum size for tumah, and we are afraid that a person will swallow pieces of the mouse along with the vinegar.

Yoreh Deah 104:1: If a mouse was chopped into small pieces and mixed into beer or vinegar, and that beer or vinegar was mixed into a thick food such that it is no longer possible to filter it, it is forbidden. There is no nullification of the prohibited food, because we are afraid the eater may encounter the actual prohibited food without noticing it. Rema: This is only true of one of the eight creeping animals listed in the Torah, but if it is a different prohibition there is no problem.

עבודה זרה סט ע”א: איבעיא להו: נפל לגו חלא, מאי? א״ל רב הילל לרב אשי: הוה עובדא בי רב כהנא, ואסר רב כהנא. א״ל: ההוא אימרטוטי אימרטט. רש”י: לחתיכות דקות קטנות ושרץ איסורו בכעדשה כטומאתו וחיישינן דלמא בולע חתיכות שרץ בהדי חומץ.

יורה דעה ק”ד,א: ואם נחתך [העכבר] לחתיכות דקות והוא בענין שאינו יכול לסננו כגון שנתערב השכר או החומץ במאכל עב הכל אסור ואין שם ביטול דחיישינן שמא יפגע בממשו של איסור ולא ירגיש. רמ”א: ודוקא בשרץ יש לחוש אם נשאר שם שלא יוכל להוציאו אבל בשאר איסורין אין לחוש.

In the fall of 2014 it was discovered that Tropicana orange juice contained citrus scale insects. These insects burrow into the peels of oranges, and normal orange juice, since it doesn’t contain the peel, does not have a problem. But Tropicana enhances the taste of their orange juice by adding oil that was squeezed out of the peel. Unfortunately it seems that they not only squeezed out oil but some of those scale insects as well.

Because of the presence of scale bugs, many of the leading hechsherim banned Tropicana orange juice. Some kashrus experts in Lakewood examined Tropicana as well as other brands of orange juice and came to the conclusion that there are at least one to two fully intact scale bugs in each cup that was tested, or 8-16 per container.

Halacha writer Rabbi Yair Hoffman conducted his own tests by pouring each cup through a Fischer Scientific 62-micron nylon mesh and then placing the nylon mesh over a light box and searching with the naked eye. The testing revealed that each cup of Tropicana Pure Premium had an average of between three and four scale bug parts in the juice that are visible to the naked eye on a light box. This was verified through the use of a USB microscope. About 1 in 20 cups contained a fully intact scale bug. This was after examining four containers purchased in three locations, but admittedly within one week of each other.

Rabbi Hoffman asked the Lakewood inspectors how they were finding intact bugs so much more often. They said that their method was to filter the juice and then examine the pulp left on the mesh filter using a 10x jeweler’s loupe. After finding a bug, they would place it on a light box or index card and then it would be identifiable to the naked eye.

Subsequently, OK Kosher, which gives the hechsher on Tropicana, released a statement that the OK “stands behind the kosher status of all Tropicana juices bearing the OK symbol. In response to recent reports relating to Tropicana juices, the OK tested the juices and also had them tested by an independent and knowledgeable posek, and all agreed that there are no halachic kashrus issues. In addition an independent laboratory tested the juices and found no traces of insects.”

The “tumul” died down only after Rabbi Dovid Feinstein held a meeting of 5 or 6 rabbis in a closed room, and permitted the orange juice based on six reasons, which everyone at the meeting agreed to keep secret.

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky also issued a heter. The question presented to him was whether insects were forbidden if they could be recognized only by experts, and only after removal from the juice and placing on a white background; he ruled that this is not a problem.

[The Rema, in permitting pieces of other creatures aside from the Shmonah Sheratzim, follows Rashi. The Taz asks a simple question on the Rema: True, the Shmonah Sheratzim have the minimum size of a lentil and other creatures would have to be either a k’zayis or a complete organism. But that is only to receive the punishment of malkus. Eating a piece of an insect is forbidden no matter how small the piece may be (חצי שיעור אסור מן התורה). Therefore, the Taz disagrees with the Rema and rules that no matter what creature got chopped up and mixed into a liquid, if the liquid cannot be filtered it is forbidden.

The Shach, however, defends the Rema by saying that small pieces, while forbidden, are botel. If you swallow a piece “without noticing” as the Mechaber says, then the pieces are nullified – unless they can be filtered out. Here the Mechaber and the Rema are discussing a case where they can’t be filtered, because the liquid was already mixed into a food. The only thing that can’t become botel is a complete organism, and Rashi and Rema extend that to a lentil-sized piece of the Shmonah Sheratzim (at least for the purposes of this fear that one might come across the actual piece of issur – see Nekudos Hakesef).

Therefore, in the case of the scale bugs, if one cannot filter the juice, and we are talking about pieces of bugs, this depends on the dispute between the Rema and the Taz. Given the Shach’s support, there might be room to follow the Rema and be lenient. But there are two problems with this: 1) The Rema and Shach only permit it when it can’t be filtered, but here the orange juice can be filtered if one obtains the right tools. 2) It is not just pieces of scale bugs – testing with the naked eye revealed complete bugs in a significant minority (5%) of cups.   

This brings us to the question: what is the threshold of a מיעוט המצוי – a minority that is common enough to warrant checking? Is 5% enough to be a problem? Even if not, perhaps a bug visible only through a magnifying glass while still in the pulp, but visible when placed on its own, is forbidden. In that case, those inspectors who found a bug in every cup were correct and this is not a case of minority at all.  

There is also the question of whether these bugs are considered visible at all. To be forbidden, does a bug have to be recognizable as such to an average person, or is recognition by an expert enough? The Mishnah Berurah’s language (473:41) is unclear on this point. He says, “In the species chazeres which is called “salatin” (lettuce) during Pesach season there are very often small insects that are not recognizable to people with poor eyesight. Therefore, one who does not have special people with Yiras Shomayim to check should rather use horseradish…” The first sentence implies that as long as people who don’t have poor eyesight (i.e. average untrained people) check the lettuce and don’t find insects, it is permitted. The second sentence implies that even if only “special people” (i.e. trained experts) can recognize it, it is forbidden.

The Rema in Yoreh Deah 84:6 says that what appears to be a black spot on a fruit is forbidden because it is actually a bug in an early stage of growth. Only an expert would know that, yet it is still called recognizable.

Here the scale bugs were recognizable only to experts, and there was the additional factor that none of them could be seen while in the juice, and most of them could be seen only after being removed from the filter with the aid of a magnifying glass and placed on a white background. This seems to have been R’ Chaim Kanievsky’s reason for being matir, and may have been one of R’ Dovid Feinstein’s reasons as well.]

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