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On the Other Hand

Chaim Bermant

'Banning Breaded Water' (14 May 1993)

I shall have to watch myself.

There is a hebrew  adage, al tiftach peh lasatan, ‘Do not open your mouth to the devil’. I am not worried about the devil, and I don’t suppose he is too worried about me, but I am worried about the Rabbis. No matter how light hearted my intentions or bizarre my ideas, they pounce on almost everything I utter as if it were holy writ – and before I know what has happened, it is part of halacha.

There is in existence a Secret Socity for the Prohibition of Just About Everything (and the Banning of Almost Everything Else). A few years ago, while commenting on the work of the society , I mentioned that a growing number of Jews were becoming vegetarians and were escaping rabinnical scrutiny – and, of course, rabbinical levies.

I asked whether the rabbis were quite sure that lettuce was kosher. Hardly had my question appeared in print when I learned that a kibbutz was marketing ‘kosher’ lettuces grown in sealed plastic bags under rabbinical supervision. (This struck as entirely appropriate, because most rabbis these days are grown in sealed bags, or are bottled under strict supervision.)

More recently – in fact only last month – I raised the question of whether tap water was kosher for Pesach. I now have the answer. It is not – or, at least, not if it comes from the Lake Kinneret  (also known as the Eea of Galilee).

Rabbi Moshe Aryeh Freund, who is head of the strictly Orthodox Eda Charedit Beth Din in Jerusalem – and who, as such, could lay claim to being vicar general of the Secret Society – has discovered that fisherman on the lake use bread as bait and has therefore forbidden it’s water for the purpose of drinking on Pesach. This may explain the expression, ‘Cast thy bread upon the waters,’ but it does not quite explain Rabbi Freund’s attitude.

The amount of bread used is miniscule, while the Lake Kinneret is fairly large. On a rough estimate, I would say that the proportion of bread to water would be in the region of 1:613,000,000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000,000 (give or take a trillion).

Rabbi Freund, however, has no sense of proportion – or rather, the claims that the halacha has none. ‘Even a single crumb makes the Kinneret unfit for drinking,’ he has said. (Henceforth, no doubt,  the Sea of Galilee will be known as the Bread Sea, yam halechem, to distinguish it from the Dead Sea, yam hamelach.)

I suspect that Rabbi Freund may have read the parable of the loaves and the fishes, wherein, according to St Matthew and St Mark, five small loaves were enough to feed 5,000 men (so were two fishes, but they could have been Leviathans). A loaf in the Galilee clearly went a long way, and possibly still does, so that Rabbi Freund may have a point. And as the Kinneret feeds the national water carrier, it means that tap water in Israel cannot be used over Pesach. (I should perhaps add that , given the meagre toilet facilities around the Kinneret, there are worse things than bread that may be cast upon the waters, but I understand they pose no problem as far as kashrut is concerned.)

No one has raised the possibility of using matzah, or even shemurah (specially supervised) matzah, as bait, but Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, the former Sephardi Chief Rabbi, who is a corresponding member of the Secret Society, has adopted a less stringent attitude and has ruled that, whilst tap water may be used, it should be filtered before being drunk.

The fact that the water is already filtered by the Mekorot water company is apparently neither here nor there, possibly because the water engineers may eat their sandwiches over the water (and perhaps even in the water). Water bottles should do well in Israel, and filter makers even better.

In case those of you who live in the London area think that you are all right, I should add that I have seen a whole line of anglers using bread as bait whilst fishing in a reservoir  which feeds the Thames Water Company – and the same could apply to almost everywhere else. No wonder Moses struck a rock to arrange his own water supply.

But what about the fish who actually swallow the bait? Perhaps I shouldn’t ask, because if I do, the Secret Society may move into action, and you can be sure that a month hence – and certainly a year hence – you will be told from the pulpit that you cannot eat fish either, even if they have fins and scales and cloven hooves and chew the cat (though, from my understanding of wild life, it is usually the cat who chews the fish).

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