Join Date: 07-18-04
Hell, in NYC, even the water isn't kosher. Apparently it's full of little bugs.....
From Sunday's NY Times.. The Water's Fine, but Is It Kosher?
November 7, 2004
By JOSEPH BERGER
When rabbis in Brooklyn spotted a tiny crustacean swimming in New York City's tap water last spring, the ensuing
debate about whether it rendered the city's water unkosher seemed like an amusing, but esoteric dispute in a particularly exacting Jewish enclave.
But in the months since, the discovery has changed the daily lives of tens of thousands of Orthodox Jews across
the city. Plumbers in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens have been summoned to install water filters - some costing more
than $1,000 - and dozens of restaurants have posted signs in their windows trumpeting that they filter their water.
As a result, an entirely new standard is being set for what constitutes a kosher kitchen.
"I don't want people in the community to be uncomfortable in my home," said Laurie Tobias Cohen, executive director
of the Lower East Side Conservancy, explaining why she put a filter on the faucet of her Washington Heights apartment.
The issue has created the perfect conditions for a Talmudic tempest, allowing rabbis here and in Israel to render sometimes conflicting and paradoxical rulings on whether New York City water is drinkable if it is not filtered. As with the original Talmudic debates, the distinctions rendered for various situations have been super-fine, with clashing judgments on whether unfiltered water can be used to cook, wash dishes, or brush teeth, and whether filtering water on the Sabbath violates an obscure prohibition.
The creature, a crustacean known as a copepod that comes in several species, is found in water all over the world and is perfectly harmless. But it is a distant cousin of the dreaded shrimp and lobster, shellfish whose consumption violates the biblical prohibition against eating water-borne creatures that lack fins and scales.
The prohibition refers only to species that can be seen with the unaided eye - not, say, an amoeba - and the
question of whether the copepod is indeed visible is central to the dispute. Some are so small as to be
invisible, while others can grow to a millimeter and a half in length, large enough to be seen in water as small white specks.
The tumult is confined largely to New York because it is one of the few cities that is exempt from federal filtering requirements. Boston and Seattle are also exempt, but they have nothing like the city's numbers of Orthodox. In New York City, there are 331,200 Orthodox Jews, a third of the Jewish population, according to a 2002 study done for UJA-Federation of New York.
The sure winners in this theological tizzy are plumbers and water filter entrepreneurs.
"We've had a 500 percent increase in sales," said Houston Tomasz, vice president of Sun Water Systems of Fort Worth, Tex., which manufacturers the Aquasana filter, whose full-house version can cost more than $1,500 installed. "Not everyone was a kosher Jew. When you start talking about visible bugs in water, Jews aren't the only people who care."
In Brooklyn, a landlord started a firm overnight that he called Eshel Filters. In September just before the Sukkot holidays, when many Jews invite neighbors over, the company installed 30 filters a day ranging in cost from $99 to $1,150. Its motto: "The bug stops here."
The controversy is indicative of deepening religious conservatism in the American Orthodox world. William B. Helmreich, a professor of sociology and Judaic studies at the City University of New York Graduate Center, said that "in a society where people feel via the Internet and television their very values are under constant attack, there's a need for people to reassert their level of religiosity, and one way this is done is by discovering new restrictions which give people the opportunity to demonstrate their adherence to their faith."
For generations, the most pious Jews - even revered rabbis like Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Moses Feinstein - drank unfiltered New York water with no evident concern. But six months ago, a group of Brooklyn rabbis were examining some lettuce imported from Israel that was supposed to be bug-free, but which appeared to have insects on its leaves. After an investigation, they determined that the "bugs" had arrived after the lettuce was washed in New York City water, and said that in the right light they could see the telltale specks with their own eyes.
At some point, a delegation of rabbis took a field trip to the city's reservoirs and asked officials some detailed questions about the origins of the water and the copepods. (Of the three reservoir systems, only one - the Croton - is in the process of introducing filtering, with a plant that will cost an estimated $1 billion but will not be completed before 2010.)
The question lingered unresolved by a major communal authority until the Orthodox Union, which certifies as
kosher 275,000 products in 68 countries, weighed in last August after checking some water samples.
"When they saw the first sample they didn't feel it reached the threshold of being visible," said Rabbi Menachem
Genack, the rabbinic administrator for the Orthodox Union. "What changed people's minds is when they saw a sample taken from a pond and saw them scooting around. Those are beyond the threshold."
The Orthodox Union recommended that restaurants and caterers under its supervision filter their water before
using it in drinking and cooking, a policy that quickly was adopted by many homes as well. The policy considered different practical possibilities. Dishes may be washed by hand in unfiltered water, it said, if the dishes are towel dried or left to drip-dry without puddles of water in them.
But it also said water should not be filtered on the Sabbath because one of the 39 varieties of work forbidden
by the sages includes "selection," or sifting of food, like separating wheat from the chaff or raisins from a noodle pudding.
The organization issued the policy to make sure even the most stringent consumers would be satisfied that what they
were eating was kosher to the highest standards. But a debate continues within its own rabbinical ranks about how
the filtering policy should be applied in ordinary homes, and some rabbis have suggested the filtering frenzy may
have gone too far.
Rabbi Yisroel Belsky, one of the leaders of Torah Vodaath rabbinical seminary in Brooklyn and an important voice on Orthodox Union kosher matters, said in an interview that there was no requirement to check for things that were impossible to see in the years before microscopes.
"If everybody goes around thinking that whoever doesn't filter water is actually eating things that are treyf," he said, using a Hebrew word for unkosher, "there will probably be all kinds of disputes between individuals and marriage problems that can cause a cleavage."
Many Jews have been left confused. Fran B., a marketing manager for a software firm who asked that her last name be withheld, said she did not want to tear up the granite countertops in her Manhattan apartment to install a filter under the sink, so she lugged bottled water from the supermarket. "On the one hand, I'm drinking bottled water, but on the other hand I'm eating at friends' houses who have never even heard of this," she said.
Others are perplexed about whether to filter at all, filter on Sabbath, or filter for purposes of cooking, washing dishes or brushing teeth.
"The difference in opinions is driving a lot of people crazy," said Rabbi Ephraim Buchwald, director of the National Jewish Outreach Program in Manhattan, who hauls bottled water to his apartment so he will not have to filter on Sabbath. "You can't imagine what a turmoil it is."
In an article in The Jewish Press, David Berger, a professor of history at the City University Graduate Center and a rabbi, said, "The notion that God would have forbidden something that no one could know about for thousands of years, thus causing wholesale, unavoidable violation of the Torah, offends our deepest instincts about the character of both the Law and its Author."
Rabbi Moshe Dovid Tendler, who is a professor of biology and of Talmudic law at Yeshiva University, said he spotted the telltale specks only after first looking at copepods through a 60-power dissecting microscope.
But having seen them, he said he thought they should be filtered out. Nevertheless, he does not believe the filters should be turned off on Sabbath - Jewish law already allows people to pick algae or other vegetation out of water. And he certainly does not worry about whether pious Jews who drank unfiltered tap water in the past sinned.
"The hidden things belong to God," he said. "We are responsible for what we see. If you don't know about it and don't see it, then it doesn't exist. So those who drank the water before were drinking kosher water."