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Editorial Correspondence.

Mr. Falkenau’s Letter.

Mr. Editor:

In the December number of the Occident, I have read two communications under the head of “Lard Oil,” both in reply to my remonstrance printed in the November number, I am, therefore, obliged to refer again to my statement, and to explain how I understood it.

In answer now to the first communication, that of the Rev. Mr. Rice, I only consider the first lines of his letter as intended merely to instruct the popular mind, and I would have likewise made no remark in reply to his statement “that Maimonides and the Mishna speak only of the pure extracted oil,” had this been said in the negative style: “Maimonides does not speak of mixed oils.” But what can he mean by such a positive assertion as he uses? He surely does not intend to say that Maimonides speaks only of such oil of which we have positive knowledge that it is pure olive oil by means of Jewish inspectors, or seal, or even chemical tests. Nay, Maimonides speaks of oil made, boiled and sold by gentiles as pure olive oil, and which, having no knowledge of the contrary, we buy as it is for kasher. Mr. Rice next gives an explanation of the text which I cited from Yoreh Deah, 103, § 4 (§ 13 in Siphthe Cohen), and he says: “The authority referred to, treats only of a case where the oil has been boiled in a pot, &c., which is said to spoil the oil, though fat itself does not injure its taste.” But I cannot agree to such an explanation; here is the literal translation of the text:*

“The oil and honey of gentiles, although boiled, are permitted, because the meat spoils the oil and makes it rancid; the same is the case with honey.” I cannot but see that this citation treats of no particular case, but speaks on a general way of the oils and honey of gentiles, although prepared by boiling. In the opinion of one of the authorities speaking here, Maimonides, the pot is, according to our laws, supposed as having been used the same day, and both he and the Beth Joseph agree in the conclusion that “the meat (fat) itself spoils the taste of the oil; and hence the Tore Zahab, commenting on the text: “the same is the honey” (meaning; meat spoils the honey), says: “We nevertheless have often eaten meat with honey, and found it palatable.” (Tur Yoreh Deah 103, Kesef Mishne and Lechem Mishne on Hilch. Ma. As. 17 § 18, 22.)

* We omit the Hebrew, as the learned reader who has the wish can refer to it himself.—Ed. Oc.

When we give a reference on any one subject, and show the place where the law speaks of it, the text of the authorities, especially such as Maimonides and Beth Joseph, deserves and demands to be properly noticed and explained; and in drawing a conclusion from the premises, the spirit of the law has to be regarded. Now on the present subject, the point of spoiling the taste, the deduction of the commentator from the law as laid down in the text is contrary to the above rule; not by reason of a different explanation being given to the passage as cited, but because of the existence of many other authorities in direct opposition to it; and this is all the note (Siphthe Cohen, § 14) attached to the above cited passage, commencing: יש אומרים “But others say,” &c., can indicate.

I now arrive at Mr. Rice’s deduction: “This mixed oil, therefore, is prohibited to any Israelite;” and I must ask him, Do you call this speaking on the subject? Who spoke about “the mixed oil?” The terms in the Occident are “The olive oil of commerce,” “the olive oil of gentiles,” which is in the legal term “the oil of gentiles.” In plain terms, the question has never been, May an Israelite ask for a bottle of “mixed oil,” but may he ask, in a gentile’s store, for a bottle of “best olive oil,” and when told that it is such, may he buy it for kasher as he has done before? From your not explaining yourself more fully, your deduction must appear as an evasion of the question, and people may be induced to think that you mean to say the same thing which Mr. Abrahams declares as his opinion.

Nay, more, your letter leaves one in doubt concerning your opinion with regard to the editor’s suggestions itself. Do you fully sanction it with all its consequences? or do you not? Your letter does not contain any thing which would allow me to infer your real opinion on this point, and, consequently, I do not know whether you favour it or not.

I have proved that you have not argues properly nor drawn correct conclusions concerning my citations, deduction and remonstrance on the subject of the oil of gentiles; consequently I cannot divine your motives, intentions, reasons or right for expressing surprise at my remonstrance, and then censuring me so harshly as you have done, in saying his “deductions are quite incorrect.”

I have too much respect for a man of learning and piety to retort with any severe expression; but in my own defence I have to state distinctly, that it was my intention solely to remonstrate as far as necessary, and to do so in a most unpretending manner. Had it not been for this, I could have said much more, aided by high ecclesiastical authority—the late Rabbi of Wilna, an author of talmudical works, famed alike for piety and learning, high in reputation among Israel—whose writings have been published and republished at Wilna. I will merely extract the following:

שמן זית וכו׳ ולא חיישינן למה שאומרים שמערבין בו בשר חזיר דזה ודאי נטל״פ בו ועוד כמה היתיר׳

“The olive oil, &c., and we need not feel any anxiety about the rumours of admixture with pork, for this would sorely spoil the taste, and there are besides other reasons for declaring this oil permitted.” (Chochmath Adam, Rule 54., Sec. 15.) This authoritative argument reguires no explanation, it speaks for itself, and proves that instead of being “quite incorrect,” I am not only “quite correct,” but also quite lawful; it shows that high ecclesiastical authorities have been aware of such rumours for more than a score of years, before even the Occident was in existence.*

* But not before the present mode of purifying “lard oil” was discovered.—Ed. Oc.

The editor’s suggestions is nothing like a commercial experiment, that one could say, that “it could do no harm in a religious point of view, to have the bottles sealed.” For his motives are stated, the object is pointed out, it is religion, it is a purely religious suggestion, it has religious consequences, and is in all respects an ecclesiastical matter. And this suggestion has been stated in a manner, as if never a single word about olive oil were mentioned in the laws, as if only the manner of inspection belonged to the authorities of the Synagogue, but about the suggestion itself not the least inquiry needed to be made, nor any thing like sanction were required for it; and lastly as if no ecclesiastical mind had ever heard or known any thing like an apprehension of admixture with pork. And since all this almost is proved to be the reverse, it was the duty of every Israelite to put the matter in a truer light than it had been presented by the editor. This I did at the time, as far as I deemed it necessary, and gave the Occident an opportunity of defending itself against the charge of willful disregard of the received authorities, since it was but an innocent, slight inadvertence in a suggestion proposed with the best intentions and the purest and most religious motives.

I now address myself to Mr. Abrahams, the writer of the other communication, and I openly confess, that I cannot reproach him with any thing like an evasion of the question; he is perfectly clear in calling the thing by the right name, and stating another it ought to have according to his opinion; and he accordingly draws his conclusions from the premises he has laid down. But that I can by no means agree with him either in his argument or conclusion, I have already shown above, and I desire of him merely to read the oft cited passage from Yoreh Deah, 103, with its commentaries, and to learn therefrom on what principles נותן טעם לפגם “imparting a vitiating taste” is founded, and what is said concerning it. But I desire him particularly to revert to his own citation: “But when intentionally done even with a thousand times the quantity, the whole is unfit for Jewish use.” (Yoreh Deah, 99, § 5.) The contrary is the case. The passage cited by Mr. Abrahams plainly says: “That (notwithstanding the mixing is done intentionally) the whole is fit for all Jews except the person who does it, or in whose behalf it was done with his knowledge;” I copy from the text 

מותר אדם כל ולשאר (ואסורים וכו׳) בשבילו שנתבטל למיוכל שלוהוא אם עצמולמבטל אסורבמזיד ואם 

“And if intentionally (mixed or augmented) it is prohibited to the person who has done so, if it is his, and to every one for whose sake it was done (designedly) with his knowledge; and they are forbidden to sell, &c.; but to every one else it is permitted.” (Yoreh Deah, 99, § 5.) The noted attached to the text expound different cases of even unintentional augmentation

It must be evident from this that Mr. A. has mistaken the true sense of the very passage cited by him: consequently, my position is rather strengthened than otherwise by this reference; though it is in fact quite out of place in the question under discussion.

In the above, Mr. Editor, I have made use of the permission you have extended to me to reply to the communications of Messrs. Rice and Abrahams, and requesting its insertion, I remain,

Very truly yours,
Jacob J. M. Falkenau.
New York, Dec. 23d, 5605.

Note.—The above letter came too late for the January number; we insert it as a matter of justice; but we must beg to be excused from inserting any thing farther in relation to the subject of lard oil, believing that our readers have enough of a discussion in which learned men so entirely and widely differ. The question appears to us to be limited down to a single point. There was formerly some discussion among Rabbins whether or not we could purchase oil from gentiles, although there might be some suspicion of a mixture. But no one could readily be deceived by the admixture of simple lard or fat with olive or rape seed oils; in consequence of which the opinion became general that there was no harm in purchasing any sort of such oils, since the mixture of fatty substances would spoil the taste, which would bring them under the general rule that where an admixture spoils the taste it does not prohibit the permitted substance with which it is mixed, in consequence of which the whole can be lawfully used. In this point of view Mr. Falkenau is undoubtedly correct. But we spoke in our note to Judge Noah’s communication of a new state of things, of which the Rabbi of Wilna, Maimonides and Beth Joseph knew probably nothing, we mean the preparation of lard oil as practised in this country; and as it was alleged that this new product was extensively mixed with olive oil, we thought and think so yet, that the new circumstance altered the case entirely, and that had we competent ecclesiastical authorities, they would at least institute inquiries, and probably prohibit, after due reflection, the ordinary oils which are bought at random from gentiles. But as we have no such authority in this country, we merely offered, on our own responsibility, a suggestion in good faith, and to yet think that if acted upon it would be perfectly legitimate, though it were already a res adjudicata by many and greatly learned Rabbins. We repeat, the inspection and sealing of olive oil would be a good thing, even if the mixture which we now probably often obtain might be lawfully used. We did not wish by this suggestion to contradict the great lights of our people, especially as we are so little acquainted with the many nice questions which the laws of prohibition present, and we are thus, as we think, always safe to refuse using that which we do not know as perfectly lawful.

We must note here an error which crept into Judge Noah’s letter, vol. ii. p. 348, fourth line from bottom; for “would be 12 drops of this liquor, to 14 spoonfuls of oil,” read “to four teaspoonfuls;” this correction of an important error was communicated to us by Mr. Dreyfous (at present in Cincinnati) who was present at the experiments of Professor Reed.