Thursday, February 25, 2010

Mada and Halacha

One of the things that defenders of Poskim who have no knowledge of Mada – meaning worldly knowledge – say is that they don’t need any. In those instances where such knowledge is needed, they will seek experts in the field. I wish that were true. But some Poskim just assume they know the Mada and don’t. They only have a superficial level of knowledge that will lead them to issue an incorrect Psak. They will apply their knowledge of Torah incorrectly.

But it is true that the better Poskim who know their limitations in Mada will indeed seek experts and learn the pertinent Mada before Paskining. That’s what Rav Moshe Feinstein did. For example he asked all of his Shialos about biology to his son in law, Rabbi Moshe Tendler who holds a PhD in the subject.

But not every Posek knows who to ask. Some so called ‘experts’ are incompetent. In some cases Askanim with an agenda will seek ‘experts’ that will provide the Posek with the ‘right answers’.

Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Karp is the major Posek in Kiryat Sefer. That city is an entirely Charedi one – populated mostly by Avreichim who learn in the finest Charedi Yeshivos in Israel – Brisk, Mir, and the like. They will not just appoint anyone as their Posek. They want a learned Charedi Posek with a reputation and a no nonsense approach to Halacha. Rabbi Karp is one of the most trusted Poskim in Israel and is considered one of Rav Elyasihiv’s greatest Talmidim.

It was brought to his attention that salmon and certain other very common and widely consumed fish have worms called anisakis. Worms are not kosher and forbidden to eat. Rabbi Karp has now Assured salmon and other formerly kosher fish.

Not to be outdone, it appears that some kashrus organizations in Lakewood and Monsey (where else!) have said they will follow suit. If the trend continues we will all pretty soon be saying “Remember when lox (smoked salmon) was kosher?”

Of course the fact that the Gemarah has discussed this issue and determined that these harmless hair thin 2 centimter long parasites are permitted - is being completely ignored by Rabbi Karp. From an article by Michael Orbach in the Jewish Star:

The Gemorah states that the “tolayim” (bug) are generated inside the fish “minei gavli,” which literally means generated in the flesh. Rashi and later commentators explain the Talmudic term to mean that a stage of the parasite’s growth is within the fish, and therefore it not considered an insect but a part of the fish. This opinion is confirmed in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 84:16).

Rabbi Karp certainly knows this Gemarah and the Halacha. The problem with it is that Rabbi Karp believes in evolution. He claims that the parasites of that era have mutated – evolving into something other than what the Gemarah discusses. It is therefore now Assur. He has also said that he discussed it with Rav Elyashiv and Rav Chaim Kanievsky who now support the ban. I guess Rav Elayshiv has changed his mind about evolution.

Here is the best line in the article. It is a quote from Rabbi Karp. He was asked how it is possible to say that Chazal ate Treif fish. His answer:

“they did not know what we know and that the fish is assur (forbidden) because we know how the bug works.”

The‘bug’ mutated. Has technology now enabled us to know things that Chazal did not?

Hmmmm….. I remember hearing that question before in another context. Is he saying that Chazal were wrong in matters of science because they did not have our technology? Very Slifkinesque if you ask me.

The OU and the CRC are not buying any of this. Rabbi Chaim Goldberg, rabbinical coordinator of the OU put it well when he said:

“It’s nothing to carp about,” - the OU follows the p’sak halacha (ruling) of Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Voda’as, who holds that, based on the Gemorah, “the question arose approximately 2,000 years ago and was answered at that time.”

Answered? Please! What did Chazal know? (…according to Rabbi Karp)

So what’s the scoop here? Who is right? Should we all be worried that Rabbi Karp is right? Do we follow the Daas HaMachmir? After all there are some real heavyweights Paskining here.

The answer is clearly no. Rabbi Karp is not sufficiently knowledgeable on the Mada of this issue and it is he that should be completely ignored – not the Gemarah. Just as the OU and the CRC are doing. Here is what an expert said about this parasite:

According to Dr. Ted Myers, Alaska’s chief fish pathologist, the science behind the proposed ban is fishy. There is no new parasite, he explained.“Anisakis has been around since before man. It’s one of nature’s greatest achievements as a parasite. It’s pretty effective,” he said.

The worm matures from larvae into the third juvenile stage of its development in the visceral cavity of a fish. The worm only reaches its full development in its definitive host, a warm blooded marine mammal, a narrative that largely confirms the Talmud’s take. Myers also said any large-scale changes in the animal are unlikely.

I wish it could end here. But Rabbi Belsky is flying to Israel to get clarification on the issue. Last time something like that happened is when Rav Aharon Feldman - Rosh HaYeshiva of Ner Israel - flew to Israel to discuss the Slifkin ban with Rav Elyashiv. At the time Rabbi Feldman was a supporter of the Slifkin approach to dealing with matters of Torah and science. We all know what happened next.

The Gadol HaDor had spoken and Rabbi Feldman did ‘a 180’ – claiming that Rabbi Slifkin’s approach was now invalid. This was once valid belief was now tantamount to heresy because Daas Torah has spoken in the person of the Gadol Hador. How did Rav Elayshiv know what was in Rabbi Slifkin’s book – written in English - a language he does not read or understand? Rav Elyashiv lacked an essential piece of Mada. He had to rely on secondary and probably highly agendized sources who supplied him with their versions of what Rabbi Slifkin’s book was about.

Lox and bagel lovers who are of a mind to observe this ban will surely miss this delicacy. Though I too am a lox lover - if I were disposed to observe the ban - which I am not - I'm sure I could handle it. That is not the real issue here. The issue is erroneous Psak based on faulty information. And that further Talibanizes Judaism.

Updated: 4:46 PM CST