Halacha for mercredi 12 Av 5781 21 July 2021

Nullification of Danger-Based Prohibitions

Question: Last Friday, I was standing next to the stove in the kitchen. The was an open pot of fish on the stove and alongside it, I was frying Schnitzel (coated chicken-breast) when mistakenly, some drops of oil from the frying pan flew into the pot of fish. Is the fish still permissible for consumption?

Answer: Let us first begin by explaining the root of the question. In the past, we have explained that it is forbidden to eat fish and meat together. We have explained that the reason for this is based on the tradition handed down to us by our Sages that eating fish and meat together causes illness and danger.

Regarding most food-related prohibitions, such as milk and meat mixtures, blood, and the like, the general rule is that when one of these forbidden foods gets mixed into another food, it becomes nullified by a ratio of one to sixty. For instance, if in our situation we were dealing with a pot of milk (not of fish) into which some drops of meat oil or gravy splashed into, the milk in the pot would have been permissible for consumption since the drops of meat are fairly miniscule and there is certainly more than sixty times the amount of milk in the pot against any meat drops which fell into it. Thus, those meat drops would have been nullified and everything would have been permissible for consumption.

Regarding our question, however, there is another issue we must discuss: Is something forbidden only by virtue of it being a “danger” (as opposed to an actual prohibition) also subject to the laws of nullification by a ratio of one to sixty? Clearly, if poison were to fall into a pot, it would certainly be forbidden to eat any of the food in the pot even if the amount of food in the pot were one-thousand times the amount of poison that fell in, for the laws of danger cannot be compared to the laws of the Torah! If so, it would seem that in our situation, we should not follow the rule of nullification by a ratio of one to sixty.

Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l has dealt with this matter at length over sixty years ago in a response printed in his Responsa Yabia Omer (Volume 1, Yoreh De’ah, Chapter 7). He quotes a great disagreement among the Poskim regarding this matter. Some rule leniently and write that there is no difference between matters of danger taught to us by our Sages and actual halachic prohibitions and just as we rule that regarding matters of Halacha a one to sixty ratio is considered nullified and is permissible, the same applies to issues of “danger”, such as meat and fish, as long as there is at least sixty times more in the mixture, everything is permissible for consumption. On the other hand, there are other great Poskim who rule that regarding matters of danger, there is no room for leniency even if there is nullification by a ratio of one to sixty.

While discussing this matter, Maran zt”l quotes the opinion of the saintly Hagaon Rabbeinu Chaim ben Atar (author of the famous commentary “Ohr Ha’Chaim” on the Torah) in his Sefer Peri To’ar where he writes, based on solid proofs from the Talmud, that the danger of fish and meat exists only when there are flavors of both fish and meat together. However, when one of them is nullified by a ratio of one to sixty and its flavor is completely undetectable in the mixture, there is no concern for any danger whatsoever. Maran zt”l adds that even if we say regarding other matters of danger (such as a snake releasing some of its venom into water) that the rule of nullification by a ratio of one to sixty is not applied, this only applies to tangible dangers like a snake’s venom, poison, and the like; however, with regards to fish and meat where the danger is not as great, one need not be more concerned than other actual prohibitions and a nullification by ratio of one to sixty is thoroughly sufficient.

Maran zt”l proceeds to quote the words of the Responsa Be’er Sheva (Chapter 38) who writes that the danger of consuming fish and meat together only exists in Babylon (Iraq) where the Sages of the Talmud resided, for the nature of the fish in this place was that it caused danger when eaten together with meat, as the Midrash states, “fish originating from Acco are not like fish originating from Spain” which seems to imply that the nature of the fish changes based on the waters of the specific country they come from. Although, halachically speaking, we prohibit mixtures of fish and meat from all countries, nevertheless, regarding the issue at hand where there was a nullification based on a ratio of one to sixty, there is room for leniency. Maran zt”l quotes many more of the great Rishonim and Acharonim who rule leniently regarding this issue, including the Sefer Issur Ve’Heter Ha’Aroch, Ohr Zarua, Kenesset Ha’Gedolah, Peri Chadash, and others.

Summary: Just as with regards to other prohibitions, as long as there is at least sixty times in the mixture against the prohibited item that fell into it, the entire mixture is permissible for consumption, the same applies to a mixture of fish and meat and if some drops of meat oil or gravy splashed into a pot of fish, the drops become nullified by a ratio of one to sixty and the fish remains permissible for consumption.

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