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Shabbat Parashat Tetzaveh 5776

Ask the Rabbi: Timtum Halev Part II

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: Is there timtum halev [approximately, spiritual pollution of the heart] when one ingests non-kosher food in a halachically valid manner, e.g., based on bitul (nullification)? 


Answer: Last time we saw sources and analyzed possible causes of timtum halev.


How much should timtum halev concern us? Many halachot assume that, even if timtum halev exists without wrongdoing, it is not a serious normative factor. One is not required to stop a child from eating non-kosher food (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 343:1). Certainly, if one sees a child ingesting poison, he would have to save him! (The claim that the above is “only” on a halachic level, but that one must save the child (see Pri Chadash, Yoreh Deah 81:26) is difficult).

If 49 pieces of treif meat get mixed up with 50 pieces of kosher meat, bitul (sometimes) enables the eating of all the pieces (Shulchan Aruch YD 109:1) (some have the stringency to remove some meat to avoid the appearance of impropriety – Rama ad loc.).  When treif gravy falls into a larger amount of kosher food and lower its quality of taste, it is permitted to eat the combination (ibid. 103:2). In neither case do poskim raise timtum halev. In fact, it is a machloket if it is permissible to refuse to eat food that is permitted based on bitul (see Pitchei Teshuva, YD 116:10 and a distinction in Mishneh Halachot VII:104). (Bnei Yisaschar (II, p. 95) views the circumstances as a divine mandate to bring tikkun of the issur). If Reuven sold non-kosher food to Shimon, who ate it, Shimon gets a full refund if the food was forbidden from the Torah and has to pay if it was only Rabbinically forbidden (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 234:2-3). The main reasons given (see S’ma, Shach ad loc.) ignore timtum halev as a factor. Thus, it seems clear that on a normative level, when the eater lacks guilt, there is either no timtum halev or it is halachically insignificant.

There is a normative halachic source that warns about timtum halev. The Rama (YD 81:7) says that one who has a choice should not have a baby nurse from a non-Jewish or not kashrut-observant wet nurse. This is apparently based on the Rashba (see Torat Chatat 65:11), who says that a non-Jewish woman’s milk is kosher, but it is pious to avoid due to concern for the baby’s future spiritual health. Also, the Chatam Sofer (Shut, OC 63), after justifying sending a shoteh child to a non-Jewish center at which he had the best chance at improved mental health, advised not to send him due to timtum halev (many argue or limit the ruling). Even if these are ‘extra-halachic’ advice, why do they come up where they do?

One cannot always reconcile exceptional rulings with the rules. However, these cases, especially the Rama’s, have unique factors. A baby’s basic sustenance on an ongoing basis is from nursing during a crucial point of development in which he lacks performance of mitzvot and has few other things that counteract timtum halev. (Yabia Omer VIII, CM 11 does not accept these distinctions, as he sees the Rama as reason to prefer, if possible, to have blood infusions from kosher-eating Jews. The Netziv (Devarim 6:11) and Torat Hayoledet (42:(2)) do raise the distinction between chance and ongoing exposure to problematic foods.)


Practical Recommendations: While some compare eating non-kosher food to poison (see Mesilat Yesharim 11, who addresses a case in which there was halachic concern). However, apparently one dose does not “kill.” Rather, the more one is exposed, the worse for the person. Several things cause timtum halev (see Mishheh Halachot ibid.) and other similar concepts (e.g., ruach ra’ah in food touched before netilat yadayim), and many things rectify problems of the spirit. The average person should trust halacha to factor in this element in a balanced manner and need not factor timtum halev into his halachic decisions (concern for possible sin is serious enough). One who strives for spiritual near-perfection might need to factor in even the finest points, but this response is not geared for such unique people.

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