[Avodah] Kitniyot

Kenneth Miller kennethgmiller at juno.com
Fri Mar 29 12:11:13 PDT 2013

R' Micha Berger wrote:

> A third instance, which I think is more logically similar to
> our topic of historical olive sizes is my advocacy and
> elaboration of the shitah (held by my rebbe among others)
> that the reason why bugs you can't see with your eye aren't
> a kashrus issue, and bugs born from microscopic eggs might
> as well be created abiogenically is that halakhah only cares
> about the world as directly experienced, not as we can
> indirectly (eg through instruments or otherwise confirmed
> theory) know it to be.

(wondering out loud....) Does the Torah really not care at all about what we can't experience? Or does the Torah ignore those things as a concession to human nature? Or maybe there's no difference? 

> Here I'm saying that our evolution as a community goes hand
> in hand with the evolution of halakhah. An accepted practice
> that was created via the legal process therefore has
> redemptive power even if the scientific assumptions behind
> it don't match reality. Like the magnifying-glass sized
> bugs, because it's not objective reality but subjective
> experience that changes people.

When you write "An accepted practice that was created via the legal process", that sounds like it refers to d'rabanans. What of d'Oraisas? Does a d'Oraisa have redemptive power if our perception (a.k.a. halachic reality) doesn't match the scientific reality? 

You brought two examples which seem similar, but are actually very different: microscopic creatures and microscopic eggs. Microscopic creatures, in halacha, don't exist, and I suffer no spiritual ill-effects for killing them on Shabbos. I have no problem with that, but the microscopic eggs are another story entirely. 

The physical world encompasses domem (nonliving), tzomeach (vegetation), chai (animate), adam, and Yisrael. Killing something of the first category is impossible by definition, and killing something of any other category would seem to be assur on Shabbos, except for one odd case: lice.

To see the oddity of this case, we do not need to acknowledge the claim of modern science that lice are born just like any other creature. We can already see the oddity through Chazal's eyes: Lice move of their own volition, like any other insect. But because they seem to be born without parentage, they seem to be considered inferior to any other life form, even to plant life, and may be killed on Shabbos.

Amazing! Plant life may not be killed - i.e. cut loose from the ground - on Shabbos. The same for other birds, animals, fish, insects, whatever -- they may not be killed in any manner, not only in way which cause loss of blood (the av melacha of shochet) but by any other means, such as poison. But lice, specifically because they seem to have no parents, *may* be killed on Shabbos. And this made me realize that even plant life has a sort of parentage, in the seed that once had been planted.

I had always thought that productivity was the main criteria for defining "life" - harnessing of energy, transformation of food into body parts, reproduction of future generations. Lice are quite active, but it seems that these are secondary. To be the sort of life form that may not be killed on Shabbos, what you really need are *parents*.

> Or, to put it another way, the "reality" halakhah exists to
> address aren't biological, chemical or physical, they are
> psychological, existential and spiritual. We care more about
> how humans are encountering the world than how the world is.
> Not because of a deprecation of science, but because the
> harder sciences a simply exploring a topic less related to
> changing people into more extact images of the Divine.

We are often told that it is a mistake to think that Mitzvas Kibud Av v'Em is a result of the fact that we do have parents. Rather, HaShem designed humans to have two parents, because otherwise there would be no way to accomplish Mitzvas Kibud Av v'Em.

Perhaps a similar lesson can be learned from the louse. We would think it to be just as important to Creation as any other insect, but perhaps Hashem made its eggs too small to be seen, specifically to teach us the importance of having parents.

Akiva Miller
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