Shabbat Parashat Shelach| 5766
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Question: In the case of tequila with a worm in the bottle, is the worm batel b’shishim (nullified by the presence of 60 times more permitted material than forbidden)? Does the fact that a worm is repulsive to eat make a difference, as appears in Yoreh Deah 104:3?
Answer: We assume your question is based on halachic curiosity. An article on the OU website, “Hard Truths About Hard Liquor,” explains that tequila requires a hechsher (rabbinic supervision) irrespective of the worm that some brands put in. If there is a hechsher, there will not be a worm. Your question raises interesting issues in the rules of ta’arovet (mixture between permitted and forbidden materials), some of which we will discuss.
We will distinguish between two situations. Let us first deal with a case that the worm was removed, and the question is about taste that might have been absorbed in the drink. There is a rule of kavush k’mevushal, that when a solid soaks in liquid for 24 hours (in some cases, less) they exchange taste (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 105:1). However, in this case, this is not a problem, because the volume of the tequila is certainly 60 times the volume of the worm.
There is a concept of berya, that a whole organism, dead or alive, is not batel b’shishim (ibid. 100:1). However, that applies only to the organism, which has a special importance because it is a whole unit, not to the taste that it emits (ibid.:2). We now move to another issue. One may not set up a situation where bitul is needed to render the food kosher, and if he does so purposely, no one may eat the food (ibid. 99:5). Here the worm should not have been put in. However, assuming non-Jews, who are not obligated in the laws of kashrut, set up the situation without Jewish encouragement, this is not a problem (Rama, YD 122:6). Therefore, if the worm was removed, the fact that it had been there would not deem the tequila non-kosher.
We now move to the case that the worm remains. If it is a full worm, there is the issue of berya, which we mentioned. We cannot accept your suggestion that bitul should occur because of a worm’s repulsiveness for three fundamental reasons. The Shulchan Aruch you refer to goes as follows; “Unseemly things that a person is repulsed by, such as ants, flies, and mosquitoes, which everyone stays away from because they are unseemly, even if they are mixed into a stew and their body dissolves into it, if the permitted food is more than the forbidden food, it is permitted. However, if one can check and pass through a strainer, he should check and pass through a strainer.”
Firstly, this halacha applies only when the object does not remain as a berya (see Beit Yosef ad loc., Shulchan Aruch 101:4 and Shach 101:7). Secondly, a food’s status as repulsive depends on the context and the medium in which the forbidden food is mixed. Although we find a worm repulsive in an alcoholic beverage, there are apparently people who do not mind it. (There are halachic discussions about the status of a worm, the medium of alcoholic drinks, and the issue of something that is repulsive to some and not others, but we will skip them.)
The most fundamental point is that in when one can discern the forbidden object within its medium, there is no ta’arovet at all. After all, why do the laws of bitul apply? It is because the Torah did not require us to discard a lot of permitted food because a little forbidden food “infested” it. However, in a case that one can remove the forbidden food, the rationale for bitul is missing. This concept is almost certainly Torah law and is at least a rabbinic requirement for ta’arovet (see Taz, Orach Chayim 632:3 & Sdei Chemed, vol. I, pg. 443). That is why the Shulchan Aruch (104:3) required straining the food to remove flies. This is even clearer when one can easily identify and remove the worm. So no matter how repulsive a worm might be, just as one cannot eat it by itself, one cannot drink the bottle of tequila if the worm may also be ingested.
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