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Tomatoes cut with a treif knife


Rabbi David Sperling

Av 25, 5773
My not yet 3 year old was suddenly very interested in eating some tomatoes, I brought many food items except for yes tomatoes! Since eating vegetables is a mothers wish I turned to the non Kosher establishment where I happen to meet a friend I quickly thought about the dvar charif part and wanted so badly for him to eat tomatoes that I asked them for some cherry tomatoes. Unfortunately they cut them in two! I felt uncomfortable to return them to the kitchen and ask for whole one’s since they were doing me a favor afterall. I feel so bad afterwards how could I possibly have fed my child treif food. Does the Rabbi have any relief for me or can tell me it wasn’t so bad afterall. Thanks a lot, Sarah
Shalom, Thank you for your question. I hope your son continues to grow strong and healthy, and that you merit to bring him up, together with all your children, to be fine members of Am Yisrael (perhaps one day he will merit to grow tomatoes in the holy soil of Israel!). You are correct in thinking both that care must be taken to feed our children only kosher food, and that there could be problems with food prepared in a non-kosher establishment. I am sure that in the future you will continue to do everything you can to make sure that you can feed your family food that comes from kosher kitchens. However, in times of need, cold foods which in and of themselves are kosher, may be eaten even if they are prepared or served on clean, cold, non-kosher plates and cutlery. Non-kosher taste cannot transfer to the food when the dishes (and food) are cold and clean. There is a major exception to this rule, which is cutting foods with a knife. This is due to two factors. Firstly, when cutting "harif" foods, such as onions and other spicy foods, even a clean, cold knife can transfer the taste absorbed in it into the spicy food. [There are many details to this law – here I can only provide an overview]. Tomatoes are not spicy, and so you had nothing to worry about on this front. The second problem is that the halacha states that a knife retains fat and grease on it (as opposed to other non-kosher utensils which are easily washed). Because of this, one may not use a non-kosher knife to cut even cold foods. However, there are many rabbis (myself included) who rule that today, with our detergents, hot water, and general cleanliness of knives, one does not have to worry that a standard clean knife will have fat on it. (See HaKashrut, Rav Fuchs, 23:25). This being so, in times of need, one may eat cold kosher food even if it was cut with a non-kosher (but clean) knife. Based on this, we can examine your situation. Firstly, if you live in Israel, you needed to first be certain that tithes were taken from the tomatoes. If you live outside Israel, this, of course, is not a problem. Next, if you could have, you should have tried to check if the knife was a clean one or not. If it was clean, then the tomatoes were fine to eat. If, after the fact, you don’t know if the knife was clean or not – you now know what to look for in the future. (My guess is that if the tomato halves looked clean, it was probably a clean knife – but that's only a guess, as it's hard to know without being there and seeing the situation at hand). In relation to feeling bad after the fact – the main part of teshuvah after regret is to learn the halacha, and to try as best one can to be more careful in the future. So, after meriting to learn so much halacha, I am sure that you now should only be filled with the happiness of the mitzvah of teshuvah! Blessings.
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