(Mosaica Press, 2021)
Reviewed by: Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein
A prominent Talmid Chacham recently said to me that one-third of all sources cited in contemporary Sefarim are either non-existent or misquoted. Many authors simply copy out lists of sources from other Sefarim, but don’t actually bother to look up the sources that they cite. But—Rabbi Yehuda Spitz is different. He is a meticulous scholar who always checks up his sources and goes well beyond that as well. After years of in-depth research and writing, Rabbi Spitz has finally presented us with his first English book. The bulk of this masterpiece of Torah scholarship comprises of updated versions of various essays that Rabbi Spitz published over the years in major Jewish publications all over the world, plus new never-before-published articles on additional topics.
The first few chapters of this 31-chapter book discuss the laws of Basar B’Chalav (“Meat & Milk”), focusing on various details like how long one ought to wait between eating food of one disposition and the other, plus additional safeguards put in place to distance a person from — God forbid! — violating the Torah’s prohibition of Basar B’Chalav. Rabbi Spitz devotes a chapter to the requirement of waiting six hours between eating hard cheese and meat, elaborating on what exactly constitutes “hard cheese” vis-à-vis this Halacha. In a later chapter, Rabbi Spitz clarifies the Halachic status of genetically-engineered meat, demonstrating a fairly impressive understanding of the scientific processes used in its production and offering the most comprehensive analysis of the issue to date.
Rabbi Spitz also offers expositions that cover various historic Halachic controversies over the Kashrus status of the Buffalo and Zebu (whether they should be classified as a chayah or behemah), the stincus Marinus (whether it serves as an exception to the Talmud’s assumption that every fish with scales also has fins), and gid hanashe (whether the sciatic nerve is only on male animals or even on female animals). Rabbi Spitz’s pop culture references, humorous subtitles, and particular predilection for alliteration make reading this book entertaining, and his historical tidbits and interesting side points make it all the more informative.
In one his most entertaining and informative essays, Rabbi Spitz also provides us with a history of the Kashrus supervision over Coca Cola, explaining all the possible concerns and how they were addressed, while also managing to make references to all of Coca Cola’s various slogans. He also devotes much attention to Barton’s Candy and Jello-O, teaching us about the various ways of producing gelatin and which ones are considered Halachically-acceptable. In these chapters, Rabbi Spitz not only wears the black hat of a Torah Scholar investigating Halachic conundrums, but also dons his biologist belt and chemist goggles.
For those who think about Pesach year-round, Rabbi Spitz offers much food for thought concerning the ban on kitniyos (“legumes”) and whether it applies to such relatively new products as potatoes, corn, cottonseed oil, and quinoa. Like all of his other essays, Rabbi Spitz quotes from the leading Halachic authorities of our generation and even corresponded with various Kashrus agencies around the globe.
Of course, no contemporary Halachic work on food would be complete without chapters on Chalav Yisrael, Pas Yisrael, and Chadash. Have no fear, Rabbi Spitz’s respective chapters on those topics do not disappoint! He does not shy away from controversy, but tackles these topics head on, offering an honest look at the relevant sources. Other chapters in this book discuss various intricacies of the rules of bittul (“nullification”), kashering, pasteurization, and even mayim acharonim.
Rabbi Spitz consistently presents multiple sides to every issue, yet one can often discern his own final opinion on the matter. He generally presents his own conclusions with a soft tone and does not typically discredit those with whom he ultimately disagrees—a rare sign of humility in our combative times. Rabbi Spitz further shows his humility and openness to learning from others by mentioning the random people who provided him with the various sources or pieces of information that he adduces. At the same time, when accepted works like the Badei HaShulchan or Chelkas Binyamin come to mistaken conclusions, Rabbi Spitz is not afraid to point out their mistakes.
If I had to criticize Rabbi Spitz’s work, I would make an issue of him using technical terms or quotes from Halachic works transliterated from Hebrew without always clearly defining them. He doesn’t do this too often, but in some ways, it still makes the book a bit too complicated for the novice reader who is not already familiar with the various Halachic principles in play. Additionally, Rabbi Spitz’s carefully-crafted footnotes sometimes contain long lists of sources and authorities that read like name-dropping and do not really offer anything extra. That said, most of the time, his lists of sources do add to the discussion at hand.
Rabbi Spitz was clearly influenced by his illustrious rebbeim. For instance, his use of humor in helping his readers and students digest the loads of information that he presents mirrors the inimitable teaching methods of his mentor, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Lerner (author of Shemiras HaGuf VeHaNefesh). Rabbi Spitz’s inquisitive methodology follows that of his teacher Rabbi Yonason Wiener (posek for Yeshivas Ohr Somayach and member of Badatz Shearis Yisrael), who has scientific inquiry in his blood. And finally, Rabbi Spitz’s impatience for excessive stringencies and unjustified leniencies matches that of his rebbi, Rabbi Yaakov Blau (a prominent dayan on the Badatz Eidah Chareidis), who always provided a balanced voice on any subject he weighed in. Needless to say, Rabbi Yehuda Spitz is also influenced by his esteemed father, renowned Kashrus expert, Rabbi Manish Spitz, whose opinions and insights are quoted on a variety of topics.
As Rosh Chaburah of the Ohr LaGolah program at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Jerusalem, Rabbi Yehuda Spitz helped trained a generation of frontline professionals involved in kiruv, chinuch, rabbonus, and kashrus. He is often consulted as an expert in various Halachic topics, and has been interviewed as an authority on such radio shows as Kashrus on the Air with Rabbi Yosef Wikler and Halacha Headlines with Mr. Dovid Lichtenstein. This reviewer looks forward to seeing future books by Rabbi Spitz on the rest of Yoreh Deah, Orach Chaim, Even HaEzer, and other areas of Halacha.