Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Prohibition of Water - an appeal to reason

JPress - an article by Dr. David Berger

Date: Wednesday, November 17 2004

A halachic ruling prohibiting New York City water was recently formulated by Rav Dovid Feinstein shlita and signed by Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv shlita and Rav Pinchas Sheinberg shlita. It affirms that once copepods can be seen as moving entities in the city's reservoirs, they remain prohibited even when they are not discernible in tap water.

Since water is so basic a substance, it is hardly necessary to point out the seriousness of this ruling. Even in an urban setting, it is easy to envision realistic scenarios involving jeopardy to the health of especially vulnerable observant Jews, not to speak of lesser but nonetheless deeply troubling consequences.

There are rabbinic decisors of stature who disagree with this stringent stance, relying on an attested and respected opinion recorded by earlier authorities that the water is permissible if the organisms in question are not discernible. (This is apart from the ruling by at least one distinguished rabbi that the copepods are permissible because of the halachic status of reservoirs.)

I make no pretenses to any standing in a debate among poskim on such a question, but I believe it is important to underscore certain considerations with the hope they will help encourage the latter authorities - while maintaining the highest reverence for the great rabbis who hold a stringent view - to keep the halachic discourse on this matter alive.

There is strong reason to believe that the presence of these crustaceans in the city water supply is not a new phenomenon - and that the almost universal, instinctive reaction that water imbibed over the years by a host of tzaddikim and talmidei chachamim must be permissible does not deserve to be dismissed as irrelevant.[...]


  1. Qitzur SA 46:31: Springs and rivers that have an established history (chazaqah) that there are worms in their water, it is prohibited to drink from them you filter it. Even post-facto (bedi'eved), if you cooked with that water, there is reason to prohibit... You can't soak meat in this water or wash food in it, because the worms stick to food.

    32: When you filter the water, you must be careful to filter using a cloth (mapah) that is incapable of passing even the smallest of smallest worms.

    Doesn't that really sound similar?

    Looking at the next se'if, to give you an idea of scale:

    33: Vinegar that has gotten wormy is prohibited even with filtering, because even the smallest of the smallest worms that come into being [prohibited size] in vinegar can pass through any cloth. It is better not to filter it... [for reasons that if I quoted would detour this discussion into topics of abiogenesis and halakhah. -mb] It is better to first boil the vinegar and then filter it, because after the worm dies through the boiling, it won't pass through the filter.

    It would seem to me that the assumption that this is simply creeping chumrah-ism is not necessarily so. I would have to know that the QSA's ruling was a minority opinion back in "the old country" before I would make that assessment. Right now it looks like this ruling is what they did back in 1849.


  2. Here is the Aruch HaShulchan on the same, but he even addresses the idea of microscopic creatures vs. those that are visible only with intense looking:

    At about the time of the article, I published a response to it, here.


  3. See December 15, 2004 letter by Yaakov Lach and response by Dr. David Berger, linked below.

  4. The language of the Qitzur appears to be quite distinct from R"D David Berger's assumption about the halakhah. If the river has a chazaqah, then the water from it is prohibited. I'm not sure if the Qitzur is amenable to this kind of diyuq. However, it does look like he's saying that the river's infestation affects the cup of water's kashrus.



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