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Throwing out bread

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Rabbi David Sperling

Tammuz 8, 5782
Question
Is it permitted to throw out bread? Are you supposed to wrap it or double wrap it, or should you wait until it gets moldy?
Answer
Shalom, Thank you for your question. The Talmud (Berachot 52b) states “Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Bread crumbs that are less than an olive-bulk in size, one may destroy them with his hand without violating the prohibition against ruining food.” The size of an “olive” is, according to many opinions, 28 cubic centimeters – roughly the size of half a slice of bread. From this we learn that in relation to large pieces of bread that one wants to dispose of, it is forbidden to just throw then in the garbage, as that is forbidden as “destroying food”. However, if the bread is already inedible, then there would be no sin of throwing it away, as one would not be ruining it – it is already ruined. So if the bread is already moldy, or so stale that one would not eat it, there is no problem of throwing it away into the garbage bin. We will discuss later what to do with left over edible bread. But first, based on what we have learnt, in relation to crumbs less than this size, apparently there is no prohibition of throwing them away. However, the Talmud (Chullin 105b) relates the following “And Abaye further said: At first I would say that this practice that people collect the crumbs of bread after a meal is due [merely] to cleanliness. But the Master subsequently said to me that it is because leaving them is bad for, (i.e., it can increase), a person’s vulnerability to poverty. [The Gemara relates:] There was a certain man who was pursued by the ministering angel of poverty, but the angel was unable to impoverish him, as he was exceptionally careful with regard to crumbs. One day that man broke his bread over grass, and some crumbs fell among the blades of grass. The angel said: Now he will certainly fall into my hands, as he cannot collect all the crumbs. After the man ate, he brought a hoe, uprooted the grass, and threw it into the river. He subsequently heard the ministering angel of poverty say: Woe is me, as that man has removed me from my house, i.e., my position of comfort.” From this the Shulchan Aruch (Orech Haim 180,4) rules that “Even though one is permitted to destroy crumbs of bread that are less than the size of an olive, none the less it can increase a person’s vulnerability to poverty”. The reasoning here is apparently that a person who shows disregard even for crumbs of bread which sustains mankind, needs to be taught a heavenly message by having them become poor and then really appreciating every piece of bread (Zohar). The commentators note that from the story from the Talmud we can learn that crumbs may be disposed of in the river. The main thing is not to throw them on the floor where people will tread on them (Mishna Brurah). Because of this, some people have the custom of not throwing even these crumbs into the garbage bin directly, as they understand that to be a disgrace to the bread. Instead, they wrap the crumbs in a bag or napkin, and then place them in the bin. (Or they run them down the drain). However, from the letter of the law, as long as one does not throw them on the ground where people walk, it is permitted. (And even letting them fall on the ground would not be forbidden, just strongly advised against). Now we can turn to what one should do with left over bread that is bigger than the size of an olive? Here we are dealing with a real prohibition, and not just a negative practice (that can lead to poverty). Here, ideally, one should use up the bread and eat it. (I recall my parents’ generation turning every piece of left-over bread into pudding). However, just as one is forbidden to destroy food for no reason, it is forbidden to “waste” one’s body, and eat when one has no desire to do so. A person is not a garbage bin! So, if one has extra left-over bread and has no desire to eat it (and one is not in a position to share it with other hungry people), then we will have to find a way to dispose of it without disgrace. If it can be feed to animals, that would be the next best thing. If not, then putting it in a compost container would be fine – however, this should be done in a way that does not directly “destroy” the bread by making it inedible. As soon as bread would be put into a compost heap it would not be eaten – so rather, it should be wrapped (in paper) and then put in the compost. Another alternative would be to again wrap the bread (or put it in a bag) and then put it in the garbage bin. Here too, whilst one is throwing the bread away, because it is wrapped up, it is not considered as directly destroying or disgracing the bread. This is a common way to dispose of left-over bread in many homes. Some people do “double wrap” their bread before throwing it away – but one wrapping is acceptable. Some people put their leftover bread in a plastic bag and then leave it next to the garbage bin in the street, or just leave the bread itself, unwrapped, on a wall next to the bin (or on the lid or side of the bin). One can see this practice in many religious neighborhoods in Israel. However, in my opinion, this is not an acceptable practice. Firstly, in many cases the bread gets spilt out onto the ground, and is disgraced and destroyed way more than if it had been placed in a bag and then put in the bin itself. Secondly, it often makes more work for the garbage me and street cleaners. Blessings.
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