On Pesach, our family discussed the marvelous products of food science available now- items that have no grain or kitnios but look and taste exactly like bread. With a palette of various root starches and quinoa, and the use of chemicals and appliances that can make smoke into a brittle foam, making kosher for Pesach ersatz white bread and bagels and pizza is becoming practically quotidian. The illusion improves every year; a friend told me that at one of the programs where kosher for Pesach beigels were offered, he saw a guest wash and say hamotzi on his shehakol bagel.
I was told that before Pesach, Rabbi Elefant was interviewed on a Jewish radio station in New York, and he said that one factor in the OU allowing quinoa was that quinoa is the only reasonable alternative to rice for making sushi, and if they couldn't make sushi, the caterers that run Pesach programs would lose a lot of money- ergo, hefsed meruba and the decision of the OU to be mattir. It's easy to self-righteously say that such chametz replacements are inappropriate, and not in keeping with the spirit of the issur chametz. But who among us doesn't have Shick's seven layer cake, or rainbow cookies? They look like chametz too. Our Mexican cleaning lady, who has gone through eighteen Pesachs with us, was shocked when she saw them. But by now, we're all pretty used to them, and to other pseudo-foods, such as Bacos.
Instead of merely reacting instinctively, let's think about what issues may be relevant, and then decide whether the issues are problematic.
1. Mar'is Ayin- it is assur to behave in a way where a reasonable observer might think you are doing a sin.
2. Foods that the Torah prohibited are disgusting, and foods that mimic them ought to be equally disgusting to the Jewish sensibility. Eating them diminishes our refinement, it makes us callous.
3. If one eats what looks and tastes like a prohibited food, it weakens the psychological barrier and increases the likelihood he will eat real issurim.
4. Issurei achila serve to create a vital psychological and social barrier between us and the gentiles, and without that barrier, our sense of separateness, our unique identity, will be attenuated.
Issue 1. Mar'is Ayin.
The Gemara (Kerisus 21b) says that if you serve a container of fish blood, you must make it evident that it is not from an animal by floating some scales in it. The Maharshal in Kol Habasar says that similarly, when you serve chicken in almond milk, as was the local minhag on Purim, you must have some blanched almonds in or near the milk so that nobody mistakes it for real milk. The Rama in 87 argues with the Maharshal and says that this is only necessary by meat, not chicken, which is at worst an issur derabannan. This is why some caterers put placards next to coffee whitener at a fleishikeh meal.
Even more lekulah, the Pri Chadash (there in YD 87 on the Rama) holds that we don't prohibit based on Maris Ayin beyond what we find explicitly prohibited in Chazal. True, many poskim disagree (such as Reb Moshe in the Igros OC 3:25 and the Maharik 115 and poskim brought in the Shaarei Teshuva OC 460:10,) but in any case, everyone agrees that all that matters is that people not make the mistake of thinking that what you're eating is treif. The fact that it looks and tastes treif doesn't matter. If everyone realizes that it is not really what it looks like, there is no problem of Mar'is Ayin. This is why Pesach beigels and white bread, and soy bacon, and pepperoni and cheese pizzas, are all muttar.
Issue 2. Foods that the Torah prohibited are disgusting, and foods that mimic them ought to be equally disgusting to the Jewish sensibility. Eating them diminishes our refinement, it makes us callous.
Rashi in our Parsha brings from the Torah Kohanim the following:
And I have distinguished you from the peoples, to be Mine:
If you are separated from them [through your observance of Torah], you will be Mine, but if not, you will belong to Nebuchadnezzar and his kind.
Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah says: How do we know that a person should not say, “I find pork disgusting,” or “It is impossible for me to wear kilayim,” but rather, one should say, “I indeed wish to, but what can I do-my Father in heaven has imposed these decrees upon me?” Because Scripture says here, “And I have distinguished you from the peoples, to be Mine”-your very distinction from the other peoples must be for My Name, separating yourself from transgression and accepting upon yourself the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. — [Toras Kohanim 20:128]
If so, there is nothing wrong with saying you'd like to eat all these things that are assur, and if you can find a way that you can eat them without an issur, it is fine.
True, the Rambam says this only applies to chukim- מצוות שמעיות- and maybe bugs are different. After all, we have Reb Yishmael (BM 62a) that says
What about blood? The Seforno puts blood in the desirable column, too. From Devarim 12:25-
Issue 3. If one gets used to eating what looks and tastes like it's assur, it weakens the psychological barrier and increases the likelihood he will eat real issurim.
We have what I call the Shibuta rule. The Gemara in Chulin 109 brings a conversation between Yalta and her husband, Rav Nachman, which teaches that everything that for everything that is assur there is an equivalent that is muttar..
Anyway, that is everyone's complaint about making an Eiruv. Kids will grow up carrying on Shabbos, and they'll never learn to be careful, and they'll end up carrying without an eiruv. This concern never stopped anyone from building an eiruv. It's just געבורטשעט.
Also, let's remember that the Gemara in Kerisus we brought above in Issue 1 says it's muttar to consume a container of fish blood, so long as the mar'is ayin problem is removed, and nowhere does anyone say that one should avoid it for reasons of mussar.
Issue 4. Issurei achila serve to create a vital psychological and social barrier between us and the gentiles, and without that barrier, our sense of separateness, our unique identity, will be attenuated.
I want to point out that precisely in the Rashi that says how important it is to be culturally separated from the Gentiles, Rashi brings the Toras Kohanim about liking Chazir and only not eating it because of Hashem's commandment.
There does not seem to be any problem at all eating things that look and taste like they are assur, so long as what's going on is clear and there is no mar'is ayin issue. The Gemara in Kerisus says there's no problem serving a container of fish blood; Rav Nachman gave Yalta udder meat to satisfy her desire to taste basar b'chalav.
What we need now is a practical and profitable application of this concept. We need a restaurant that is dedicated to providing the Treif experience to Orthodox Jews. Imagine a menu that offers pepperoni pizza, pork chops, cheeseburgers, shrimp or lobster salad, clam soup, bouillabaisse with all different kinds of mieseh shrotzim, bagels and white bread on Pesach... the list of chazerai is endless.
- We could add the half-raw Tartimar Tartare Burger, served with Italian wine- a nice citrusy Trebbiano Toscano. This would be large enough to satisfy the weight requirement of the half-raw meat (a tartimar) that makes a person a Ben Sorer U'Moreh. The din of Ben Soreir u"Moreh, of course, only applies if the person who eats it is thirteen years old, and he bought the meat with money he stole from his father. For everyone else, being a zolel v'sovei is not a problem. And the truth is that a Tarteimar of meat is really not that much- not more than nine or ten ounces of meat as served.
- If members of the wait staff are married women, we would have them wear Sheitlach that are indistinguishable from natural hair.
- During sefira, glatt kosher a cappella sefirah music will be played.
A good business plan needs a name. What shall we call this restaurant? (Dr. Nachum calls it a bistro. Maybe he's right- It's more of a tapas thing than a formal sit down.)
Here are some thoughts.
1. Naval, subtitled Birshus HaTorah. If we go with Naval, the accent should be on the Val, to make it sound French. Nah-Val'. Maybe NaValle, in cursive script.
2. HaKol Be'Ha'arama Nishma.
3. Kosher Triple Treif.
4. Mar'is Ayin.
5. Abizraihu (אביזרייהו).
6. Reshock. (That's Kosher, backwards.)
7. My favorite- FLAG Kosher. FLAG stands for Fress Like A Goy.
Someone told me that I'm thinking too small. An idea like this shouldn't be limited to a restaurant- it should be a line of food that specializes in imitation maachalos assuros, festooned with hechsheirim. (To add to the kashrus standard, it will not have a sell-by date, and it will have a little trans-fat, because what do the doctors know.) FLAG Kosher- Coming soon to your local grocery store!
But we can still have a restaurant. We will call the restaurant The FLAGship.
This is a real opportunity. As H. L. Mencken (not related to Rabbi Yaakov) is quoted as having said, "Nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public."
There are a few more points that ought to be added.
Nobody wants to eat imitation poisonous or rotten or malodorous food. The fear and revulsion caused by the real thing results in a similar revulsion at an imitation. Many people feel that treif food is repugnant. After all, Chazal say that מאכלות אסורות cause טמטום הלב, and if they cause טמטום הלב, if eating them is so injurious to the soul, then one ought to be repelled by even looking at them or anything that looks like them. However, as we have discussed long ago, טמטום הלב is not at all simple. Although many say that it comes from the nature of the treif food, many others (Reb Moshe and the Briskers) say that it is a result of the issur, not the nature of the food. If it's muttar, it's not מטמטם את הלב. If it's just the issur and not the nature of the food, food that looks like treifus should not be repulsive.
Furthermore, one might say that the Toras Kohanim brought in Rashi above teaches a tremendous lesson: when the Torah prohibits a food, it is not that the food is horrible. The food is fine, but we won't eat it because we listen to the Ribono shel Olam, we are disciplined, not superstitious. So now, here's an experiment. Two people are faced with some tremendous yeitzer hara, and the yeitzer hara is very attractive and seductive, refined, intelligent, and perfumed- think about what Yosef HaTzadik faced. Both people are kadosh and tahor. One person's life-long scrupulous avoidance of issurei achila reflects a visceral disgust of issurim. The other person was equally scrupulous, but he always felt that issurim are attractive and enjoyable, but he avoided them because the Ribono shel Olam told him to stay away from them. Now they are both faced with a dvar issur that is a supreme physical and mental pleasure. Which one of them is more likely to overcome his yeitzer hara?
But you have to wonder. I think that the only attraction of these ersatz issurim is the thrill of the illicit. If a person is happy and proud to be a member of the Mamleches Kohanim, why would he have even be interested in tasting things that are assur? If you're happy in your marriage, why are you even thinking about other women? What is the thrill in experiencing what Gentiles experience? Are there not enough kosher foods that we can eat that we need to duplicate things that are assur because of the thrill? Is this another case of והאספסוף אשר בקרבו התאוו תאוה? Wanting to eat these things may not be a problem, but it may be a symptom of a problem.
There is something to be said for לא שינו את שמם/לשונם/מלבושם, even regarding things that are muttar, simply because of the cultural barrier. Rabbi Yissochor Frand came across a most remarkable validation of this concept, as follows:
The following is excerpted from a column by the rabbi of a Reform congregation in Miami, Florida:As the Ramban says, there is a spectrum from Halacha to Mussar, but it is a mistake to think that Mussar is less important than halacha. Sometimes, an act can have a small onesh but can cause terrible spiritual damage. And finally, even if you have a great deal of knowledge of Torah, there's no substitute for seichel hayashar.
"We think that intermarriage leads to assimilation, but it is the other way around. We marry people like ourselves. The average middle-class Jew is as different from the average middle class Gentile as your average Hutu is different from your average Tutsi. I know Rabbis aren't supposed to say things like this. We are supposed to fight assimilation tooth and nail. But to be honest I am about as assimilated as you can get. Put me in a lineup of the average middle class goy [sic] and the only way you could tell us apart is to play a Jackie Mason tape and see who laughs. The truth is our kids don't intermarry. They marry people just like themselves. People who eat stone crabs marry people who eat stone crabs."
The rabbi has it exactly right. People are not intermarrying. They are marrying people exactly like themselves. The reason why a strictly religious person would not contemplate marrying a non-Jew (or vice-versa) is because they are so different. Those who follow the Rabbis' safeguards live in an environment nearly as different from that of the average middle class American non-Jew, as either of those environments are different from that of the average Tutsi. The cross-cultural divide is too great. The groups are too different from each other, so they do not intermarry. It would be like marrying someone from a different planet. But if someone eats like them and talks like them and dresses like them, then it is not intermarriage at all. It is marrying within one's own kind.