– Author: Rav Bentzion Shor
As mentioned in the shiur, the halacha is that the taste of a forbidden food is forbidden (ta’am k’ikar) on a Torah level, and there is no difference whether one eats the forbidden food itself (known as mamasho – the substance) or eats a permitted food which absorbed the taste (ta’am) of the forbidden food. However, Rashi‘s opinion is that the taste of a forbidden food is only prohibited on a rabbinic level. According to this opinion there is a significant difference between eating the forbidden food itself and eating its taste: The first violates a Torah prohibition with the punishment being lashes from the Torah (if performed intentionally with witnesses and a warning), while the second is much less severe, as it is a rabbinic prohibition, and therefore is punishable by rabbinic lashes alone.
Another more practical ramification between the two prohibitions according to Rashi is in a case of doubt. Since the halacha is that one should be stringent when dealing with a doubtful case in regards to a Torah level prohibition, yet one may be lenient when dealing with a doubtful case of a rabbinic decree, the halacha will be different with regard to the two prohibitions in cases of uncertainty whether one will in fact violate the prohibition.
What is Defined as Taste?
However, differentiating between the two categories of prohibitions according to Rashi raises the question of what is considered the actual forbidden substance and what is “only” considered taste. The Gemara brings a few examples of cases where there is only taste. The best example which is agreed upon by all is that of forbidden taste that is absorbed in a pot and is then transferred through cooking to a permitted food. Another example is that of grapes which were submerged in water to the point where the water absorbs the flavor of the grapes, even if the grapes remain intact and are removed from the water. In this case, the water has the halachic status of grapes, and therefore are forbidden for consumption to a nazir.
These examples are relatively straightforward. What would happen though in a more complex scenario? Are there other examples of forbidden taste, and if yes, what are the guidelines to determine what is actual forbidden food and what is just taste? We will explore the different approaches to this issue within the opinion of Rashi.
Ta’amo ve’lo Mamasho (taste without substance)
The Gemara in Avoda Zara quotes a statement of Rabbi Yochanan:
“[Forbidden] taste without substance – is prohibited, but is not punishable by lashes.”
According to Rashi this statement means exactly what said above – forbidden taste is only a rabbinic decree, and therefore there is no Torah-mandated lashes for a transgression.
Rashi then gives us insight into his definition of “taste” when he writes the following:
“Such as milk that fell in a pot [with meat], or forbidden fat that was liquified [in a pot] and is not recognizable.”
Clearly, Rashi holds that these cases are also considered to be ones of taste alone. But is this so? Can it be that actual milk or fat that is added to a pot is defined as taste alone?
The first approach among the Acharonim is that Rashi’s definition of taste includes even an actual substance that falls into the pot, as long it is rendered unrecognizable. Support for this approach can be found from a statement of Rashi in Pesachim where he defines “taste” when it comes to basar v’chalav (a mixture of meat and milk) as:
“Meat which was cooked in milk, and the meat is intact, but the taste of milk was absorbed in it [the meat].”
Even though the meat has absorbed actual milk, since the milk is unrecognizable, it is only considered to be “taste.”
This approach to understanding Rashi is strongly supported by Tosafot. He too understands that Rashi defines milk that was absorbed into the meat as constituting taste alone and was troubled by this, since there is actual milk inside the meat and not only taste!
Some have rejected these proofs by claiming that Rashi may not have been referring to actual milk absorbed in the meat, but rather the “taste” of milk. According to this approach, Rashi in Avoda Zara was discussing a case where hot milk fell into a pot and caused absorption of the milk into the pot. It then imparted that taste of milk into meat that was later cooked in the same pot. Likewise, Rashi in Pesachim was not referring to liquid milk, but rather solid milk (such as cheese), and therefore no milk was actually absorbed by the meat; only the taste of the cheese.
Nevertheless, there are other proofs that support the original approach. Rashi writes that wine that was absorbed in bread is considered “taste” – seemingly reinforcing the position that liquid that was absorbed and is no longer recognizable is indeed defined as taste. Further, the Mishna in Chullin discusses the scenario of a drop of milk that fell on a piece of meat in a boiling pot. The Gemara there discusses the difference of “taste” versus substance, thus demonstrating that absorbed liquids are no longer considered a substance but only taste.
To sum up this approach, Rashi holds that not only taste (as from pots) is considered “taste”; but even any substance that is no longer recognizable is also defined as “taste.”
On the other hand, there are those who disagree with the above approach to Rashi’s position. The Rashba quotes the opinion of Tosafot (mentioned above) that only meat that imparted flavor to milk is considered “taste” (as the meat is intact, and only taste has transferred to the milk), but milk that was absorbed in the meat is considered actual substance. The Rashba then states that Rashi is of the same opinion as Tosafot!
Some claim that the Rashba could not actually have meant that Rashi is entirely of the same opinion as Tosafot, since Rashi writes explicitly (in Avoda Zara and Pesachim) that milk that is absorbed in the meat is defined as taste only. Rather they explain that the intention of the Rashba was that Rashi agrees with Tosafot on the general definition of “taste” with no substance, but not on the exact details.
This claim though seems quite weak since the Rashba writes elsewhere that Rashi and Tosafot both agree that milk absorbed in meat is considered actual substance and not only taste. The question is how does this understanding of Rashi fit with the different proofs which we saw above in favor of the first approach (that even substance that has been absorbed and is unrecognizable is considered taste only)?
The Nachalat David deals with this at length and attempts to prove that the second approach is indeed correct: Even according to Rashi, substance that was absorbed is considered substance and not just taste, even though it seemingly conflicts with Rashi’s words in numerous places. He explains that originally (in the hava amina) the Gemara did not consider that taste alone could be forbidden; rather only actual substance was an issue. The Gemara (even at this stage) accepts that wine that is absorbed in bread is forbidden to a nazir, proving that absorbed liquid is considered to be actual substance and not just taste. So we must explain that this is definitely Rashi’s opinion as well.
Other proofs for this approach are:
- A) Rashi brings the case of grapes that were submerged in water as an example for the concept of taste with no substance, and not that of absorbed liquid.
- B) Rashi in Chulin writes that “taste” can only be relevant when the source of the forbidden taste is removed, hence absorbed liquid must be considered more than simply “taste.”
The Nachalat David also rejects the proofs of the first approach using four arguments.
- A) He says that the Gemara in Chullin which brought the discussion of “taste” within the context of the Mishna concerning milk that was absorbed in meat was simply because the Mishna determined that there has to be recognizable taste in the piece of meat – something that is crucial for the discussion regarding “taste”.
- B) When Rashi writes that wine that is absorbed in bread is considered “taste”, that is only in reference to combining the bread with the wine in order to reach the appropriate measurement which is required to be liable for punishment, but the wine itself is nevertheless considered to be actual substance.
- C) The Nachalat David claims that Rashi’s statement that defines “taste” when it comes to basar v’chalav as milk that was absorbed in meat is a misprint. He proposes that Rashi’s real intention was for the opposite scenario – meat that fell into boiling milk and gave taste to the milk. According to this, it is clearer why Rashi mentioned that “the meat is intact”, meaning that no part of the meat dissolved in the milk (which would make it an issue of substance); rather, only taste was imparted into the milk.
- D) As for Rashi in Avoda Zara who explicitly writes that milk that falls into the pot is considered “taste”, the Nachalat David quotes his Rebbi – Rav Chaim of Volozhin – that contradictions between Rashi’s writings from two different tractates do not pose an issue, as Rashi often explains the same passage in the Gemara in two different ways when cited in two different tractates.
A powerful proof for the approach of the Nachalat David can be found in Rashi in Zevachim. Rashi writes explicitly there that fat that was liquified and absorbed in a piece of meat is considered actual substance and not only taste. This proof, however, was not mentioned by the Nachalat David. Perhaps he holds that if one can’t learn anything from cross-tractate contradictions, one cannot learn anything from cross-tractate proofs either.
In summary, this second approach explains that according to Rashi only actual taste – such as taste that was absorbed in a pot, or taste imparted by food that remains intact (such as grapes in water or meat in milk) – is defined as taste, but substance or liquid that is mixed in a mixture can never become only “taste” even when it is unrecognizable.
Liquid Absorbed in a Solid
The last approach that we shall explore is that of the Ran and the Yad Yehuda. The Ran writes that according to Rashi, the entire discussion of “taste” is limited to where there is no actual substance in the mixture. The Acharonim were troubled by this, though, since Rashi clearly holds that milk or forbidden fat that fell into the pot are also defined as only taste.
The Yad Yehuda, based on the Chidushei HaRan, proposes a distinction. He proves that Rashi meant that the milk or fat that fell into the pot were actually absorbed in the meat. Unlike two liquids that are mixed together, where one is no more intrinsically prominent than the other, when a liquid is absorbed in a solid the solid is the only extant entity, while the liquid is nowhere to be found. Therefore, a liquid such as milk, wine or liquified fat that is absorbed in a solid, such as a piece of meat or bread, loses its status as a substance and is defined as taste only.
Support for this approach can be found in the formulation of Rashi in Pesachim, who emphasizes that “the taste of milk was absorbed in it [the meat].”
On the other hand, the Yad Yehuda finds it hard to understand that taste that is transferred from a solid food – such as grapes or a piece of meat – is defined only as taste, since something must have come out from the solid in order to give taste. He proves from Rashi that even in the case where grapes were submerged in water until the water received the taste of the grapes, there is some substance from the grapes in the water, and therefore reaches the conclusion that according to Rashi, meat that imparts taste to milk is defined as actual substance and not as “taste”.
In other words, liquid that is absorbed in solid is defined as only taste, while any other method of taste transfer (aside from taste that is transferred from the pot during the cooking) is considered actual substance.
To summarize, we’ve explored three approaches in defining “taste” (as opposed to substance) according to Rashi’s opinion.
- A) Anything that becomes unrecognizable
- B) Only taste that is transferred from a body of food that remains intact
- C) Only liquid that is absorbed in a solid
The primary difference between the approaches is how to define when a mixture of milk and meat is considered “only” taste, and when it is considered actual substance. According to the first approach, both milk that was cooked with a piece of meat as well as meat that absorbed milk would only be an issue of “taste.” According to the second approach, only milk that was cooked with a piece of meat is considered “taste,” and according to the third approach, only milk that was absorbed in a piece of meat is considered “taste.”
Even though this discussion is not practical on an everyday level, as we hold that both substance and “taste” are considered to be the same level of prohibition, the importance of being exact and precise when studying the writings of the Rishonim in general and Rashi in particular is certainly clear from here.
 Chullin 98b s.v. “לטעם כעקר”. This is also the opinion of the Rambam (Ma’achalot Assurot 15:2-3), Ramban (Chullin 98b s.v. “אלא לטעם כעיקר”), Ran (on the Rif, Chullin 35b), and perhaps even the Rashba (see Pri Megadim, Yoreh De’ah 98).
 As for the differences between Torah lashes and rabbinic ones, see Rashi, Chullin 141b s.v. “מכת מרדות”, Tosafot, Nazir 20b s.v. “רבי”, Responsa of the Rashba 4:264, Ran on the Rif, Ketubot 16b, Magen Avraham 496:2, Pri Chadash O.C. 495:2.
 Avoda Zara 7a
 Pesachim 44b, Nazir 37a
 However, we will see later on that not all agree with this.
 However, see Tosafot there for a different interpretation.
 S.v. “כל שטעמו”
 Known as chelev; See the Commentary of the Ramban on the Torah, Vayikra 3:9.
 Bach (Y.D. 98), Minchat Kohen (Sefer Hata’arovot I:2-4), Pri Chadash (O.C. 442:1), Pri Megadim (Introduction to Hilchot Pesach, Part II a).
 s.v. “בשר וחלב”
 Avoda Zara 67a, s.v. “אמר רבי יוחנן”
 Tosafot was not troubled by the second section of Rashi – that liquefied chelev that was absorbed in the meat is only considered taste – since the chelev changed form before being absorbed (Pri Chadash ibid.).
 Pri Chadash, ibid.
 Pri Chadash, ibid.
 Pesachim 44b s.v. “מפת ומיין חייב”
 Torat HaBayit Ha’aroch 4:1
 Beit Yosef, Y.D. 98, Minchat Kohen ibid.
 Mishmeret HaBayit 4:1
 Pesachim 43b.
 Pesachim 43a, Nazir 37a
 Pesachim 44b, s.v. “טעם כעיקר”
 44b, s.v. “מפת ומיין חייב”
 Pesachim 44b, s.v. “בשר וחלב”
 The Nachalat David does not approve of the rejection of the Pri Chadash (mentioned above) that Rashi was talking about cheese, as he does not think it is compatible with Rashi’s wording.
 Yad Yehuda 98:6 (Perush Ha’aroch).
 97b, s.v. “עד שיבלע”
 This is a major difficulty for the other approaches, though see the responsa of the Oneg Yom Tov, chapter 80, who goes into great detail to resolve the question.
 The Nachalat David claims that even chelev that is liquified in a pot cannot be defined as taste only, as what is the difference between liquified chelev and milk?
 There are other approaches as well not mentioned in this article due to the major difficulties that they raise, such as the approach of the Beit Yosef, Y.D. 98.
 Ibid. as well as in Chidushei HaRan, Chullin 98b
 Yad Yehuda 98:6 (Perush Ha’aroch)
 Ran on the Rif, Chullin 35b
 Bach, ibid., Minchat Kohen, ibid.
 Avoda Zara 67b, s.v. “כל שטעמו”
 His argument is that if the milk or fat were mixed into the gravy, either bitul (nullification) would occur if the gravy consisted of fat (min b’mino), or if the gravy consisted of other substances, there would be an obligation to remove the fat – see the ruling of the Rema, Y.D. 98:4.
 In fact, Tosafot (ibid.) quotes Rashi as saying that the milk fell into the meat, unlike our version that says that the milk simply fell into the pot.
 Pesachim 44b, s.v. “בשר וחלב”
 Pesachim 44b, s.v. “חייב”
 The sole function of the “taste” here would be in order to achieve sufficient quantity so as to be liable for a penalty.