Friday, April 26, 2013

Bring Back an Old Prohibition

This store sells products made from Yoshon.
And they accept food stamps too!
Keeping a kosher kitchen is a basic tenet of normative Jewish life. While the rules can be complicated, we all know the basics: which animals can be eaten and which cannot; not to mix milk and meat; meat must be slaughtered and prepared in a precise, exacting manner - if you keep kosher, you know what I'm talking about. But there's another basic law of Kashrut that you may have never even heard of, even though it appears explicitly in the Torah: a law called Chadash (new grain). Essentially, grain planted after Pesach is not kosher until the next Pesach.
No, this isn't some crazy stringency. It's black and white in the Torah, in Parashat Emor.

ט וַיְדַבֵּר ה', אֶל-מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר. י דַּבֵּר אֶל-בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל, וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם, כִּי-תָבֹאוּ אֶל-הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אֲנִי נֹתֵן לָכֶם, וּקְצַרְתֶּם אֶת-קְצִירָהּ--וַהֲבֵאתֶם אֶת-עֹמֶר רֵאשִׁית קְצִירְכֶם, אֶל-הַכֹּהֵן. יא וְהֵנִיף אֶת-הָעֹמֶר לִפְנֵי ה', לִרְצֹנְכֶם; מִמָּחֳרַת, הַשַּׁבָּת, יְנִיפֶנּוּ, הַכֹּהֵן... יד וְלֶחֶם וְקָלִי וְכַרְמֶל לֹא תֹאכְלוּ, עַד-עֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה--עַד הֲבִיאֲכֶם, אֶת-קָרְבַּן אֱלֹהֵיכֶם: חֻקַּת עוֹלָם לְדֹרֹתֵיכֶם, בְּכֹל מֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם.
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: When you come to the Land which I am giving you, and you reap its harvest, you shall bring to the kohen an omer of the beginning of your reaping. And he shall wave the omer before the Lord so that it will be acceptable for you; the kohen shall wave it on the day after the rest day. And on the day of your waving the omer, you shall offer up an unblemished lamb in its [first] year as a burnt offering to the Lord...You shall not eat bread or [flour made from] parched grain or fresh grain, until this very day, until you bring your God's sacrifice. [This is] an eternal statute throughout your generations in all your dwelling places. (Vayikra 23:9-14)
Essentially the Torah teaches us here that we are forbidden to eat any grain planted after the second day of Pesach until the Omer sacrifice is offered in the Beit Hamikdash. If there is no Temple, then we at least must wait until the end of the day that it should have been offered - the second day of Pesach. This prohibited grain is called Chadash (often written in America as Chodosh) which means simply, "new". Thus, the only permitted type of grain is "old" grain, conveniently known as Yashan (or Yoshon)
You might be wondering: if this prohibition is so explicit, how come most people have never heard about it?
Great, wise rabbis, recognizing the extreme difficulty strict adherence to this rule would incur, issued legal leniencies upon which Jews relied to permit them to eat the local bread. Two hundred years ago in Eastern Europe, there wasn't that much grain available to begin with, and often the only flour available was new grain, planted that year. If you really want to understand this issue in a deeper way, many shuirim and articles are available on the web which can explain them, the scope of which are far beyond a simple blog post. (There are numerous articles on the web which explain the issues related to Chadash and the leniencies involved. See here, for example.) Rest assured that the kulot are there, and one may rely upon them.
But they are leniencies. The basic halachah has not changed. The basic prohibition against eating Chadash remains fully intact. And, times have changed for the better. Grain is readily available, and storage options are open to everyone. It's no longer nearly impossible to keep the laws of Chadash. It's simply inconvenient. (Today, if you want to eat only yoshon, you can buy basically any kosher grain product from Pesach through about Rosh Hashanah. After that point, you've got to start checking lists in order to know which grain went into what product. See here. It's rather involved.)
Here in Israel, everyone keeps the laws of Chadash, primarily because the halachic leniencies rely, among other things, on a debate whether the rules of Chadash apply only in Israel (like those of Terumot and Ma'asrot) or also outside of Israel. In Israel, there was never a debate, and all grain in Israel is Yoshon (although someone asked me about products imported into Israel. I'm still trying to find out).
I understand why kashrut agencies didn't originally attempt to require that certified products include only yoshon grain. After all, in their infancy decades ago, they lacked the leverage to make such a demand from major corporations. Moreover, imposing a yoshon requirement might very well have made it impossible for them to certify any widely produced commercial food products. But today these agencies carry great weight, and even if they couldn't insists that all Cheerios come from yoshon grain, they could at least make a run of "yoshon" Cheerios - and many other popular products - and label them as such. Moreover, entire communities could locate the necessary storage to purchase enough grain to last throughout the winter until Pesach (there are plenty of self-storage businesses across the country). With minimal effort, local Kashrut councils could create a co-op allowing consumers the ability to communally purchase, and then share the grain they needed to adhere to this halachah.
I've always been fascinated by the fact that broad communities now adhere to the halachah of Chalav Yisrael - which is a great thing, and should be lauded. People really sacrifice for Chalav Yisrael, especially in communities where finding CY dairy products can be challenging. Yet, for some reason, many if not most of those same people do not make the same effort to adhere to the strictures of Yoshon, for reasons that were never clear to me.
Rabbi Avrohom Pollack of the Star-K, concludes his article about Chodosh by writing,
In fact, a few Rabbis have suggested that there are more compelling reasons to observe chodosh than there are for eating only Glatt Kosher and Cholov Yisroel. Although at this time none of the mainstream kosher supervising agencies are insisting on Yoshon, except in those instances where a caterer, store proprietor, or food manufacturer advertise Yoshon, one never knows what will happen in the future as the Yoshon trend among kosher consumers becomes more pronounced.
I think that's a bit of a cop-out. Do the kashrut agencies wait for consumers before deciding what's kosher and what's not? Why then should the consumer first create demand for what's clearly a halachic value? It's time, to my mind, for Kashrut agencies to take the lead, and return this "old" law to the awareness, and adherence of the general public.