As we realize most forcefully on fast days, food is a very central part of our lives. So central, that the very first instruction of Hashem to humankind, given to Adam HaRishon in Gan Eden, related to eating—albeit a special kind of eating, from the Eitz Hadaas Tov Vara—but still to eating.
Many halachos relate to food: laws of reciting berachos; obligatory eating on Shabbos, and forbidden eating on fast days; as well as many halachos relating to dietary laws. Rather than halachos relating to eating, however, in the present article we will discuss food itself, and specifically the respect with which we need to treat food.
As a central aspect of human life, we are duty bound to treat food, and even more so bread—the staple of human diet—with respect. But to what extent? How should bread be discarded? What are the different elements of the respect that Poskim mention? How are other foods to be treated? And what about different non-eating customs performed with bread?
These questions, among others, are discussed below.
Respect for Bread
Based on a baraisa (Berachos 50b), the Rambam (Berachos 7:9) and Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 171:1) rule several laws concerning the respect that we need to show for bread.
For instance, one should not pass a cup of wine over bread, because the wine may fall on the bread and make it inedible. Likewise, one should not place raw meat on a piece of bread, since this, too, is likely to ruin the bread. Similarly, one must not support a bowl of liquid with bread, for fear that the liquid will spill on the bread and ruin it. Although these halachos are mentioned specifically concerning bread, the Mishnah Berurah (171:3) writes that they apply also to other foods.
Clearly implied by these principles, as the Shulchan Aruch makes clear, is that when it comes to other uses of bread, which are not likely to lead to it becoming dirty or ruined, it is permitted to use bread for non-eating purposes. Thus, it is permitted to use bread as a cover for food, since the bread will also be eaten as part of the dish—as some caterers do in covering soup with a cover made of bread (see Peri Megadim, M.Z. 171:2; Mishnah Berurah 7).
It is also permitted to use carved-out bread as a bowl for soup, provided that the bread is generally consumed together with the soup and is not merely wasted in the process.
Based on the wording of the Rambam, the Aruch Hashulchan (171:2) writes that it is permitted to perform human functions with bread, even if the bread becomes spoiled, when this is not done by way of destruction or disrespect.
For instance, he writes that it is permitted to use wine as a cleansing agent, to use oil as ointment, and to use bread for medicinal purposes by dipping it in wine and placing in on a person’s infected eye (as we find in Shabbos 108a). Although this surely will ruin the bread, he explains that it is permitted since this is done in a respectful way (for medicinal purposes) and not by way of destruction. He adds that for the same reason it is permitted to wash one’s hands with wine if the potency of wine is required to remove dirt, or if one does not have water.
The Mishnah Berurah, however (see Biur Halacha 171), after citing a similar approach from the Magen Avraham, takes issue with the specific ruling concerning washing one’s hands with foods. He argues that washing hands with foods is a disrespectful action, and that doing so is therefore forbidden even if water is not available. Concerning mayim acharonim, for which the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 181:9) writes that one may use any liquid (when water is not available), the Mishnah Berurah writes that one must not use wine because of its special importance.
However, the Mishnah Berurah explains that even acts that are disrespectful to foods are permitted when they serve a human purpose and the use has become a generally accepted practice—which is why it is permitted to use foods as cleaning agents, where this is generally accepted practice.
It is therefore permitted to use a lemon as a stain-remover, since this is a generally accepted practice and of course serves a human purpose. Children may likewise make a paste from flour and water to play with since this is a regular and accepted practice and doing so satisfies a human need (see Shut Avnei Yashfei 1:34:1-2).
Poskim likewise mention a range of medicinal uses of foods which are permitted based on the same logic (see Magen Avraham 171:1, and Mishnah Berurah 171:4). While some Poskim write that one should refrain from using food as medicine today, since non-food medicines are readily available (see Piskei Teshuvos 171:5), the general practice is to be lenient in uses such as treating sunburn with cucumber, getting rid of a sty with a hot hard-boiled egg, or soothing irritated skin by applying avocado.
There are of course many ramifications from these principles. By way of example, it is permitted to clean one’s plate with bread if one’s intention is to eat the bread (with the residue from the plate; see Magen Avraham 170:20; Mishnah Berurah 170:34-35)—but not if one’s intention is only to clean the plate and not to eat the bread.
Throwing Food and Bread
Based on the Gemara and Poskim mentioned above, it is forbidden to throw food in a way that will cause the food to be ruined. However, if the food will not be ruined, it is permitted to throw food (see Shulchan Aruch 171:1; Mishnah Berurah 171:9).
However, bread is an exception to this rule. Because of its special importance, it is forbidden to throw bread even if it will not get ruined by being thrown (based on the Gemara above, as ruled by the Shulchan Aruch). Thus, the Magen Avraham (167:38) and Mishnah Berurah (167:88) rule that one must refrain from throwing slices of challah to participants at the Shabbos table after reciting the beracha on their behalf.
Note that upon seeing food on the floor one must pick it up and not pass it by and leave it there (based on Eruvin 64a; see Magen Avraham 171:1; Chayei Adam 45:6; and others). The Levush (180:3) writes that this applies only to a kezayis of food, and not to a smaller amount—a principle that will also apply to the above matter of throwing bread.
The Gemara (Pesachim 111b) notes further than hanging bread causes poverty—though perhaps this will not apply to hanging bread which is in a schoolbag since one is not directly hanging the bread. Thus, it is not a good idea to hang bread even in a plastic bag.
Discarding Leftover Bread
It is permitted to discard crumbs that are less than the size of a kezayis. Although there is, strictly speaking, no prohibition against doing this even in a disrespectful manner, nevertheless, it is not advisable since if one discards crumbs in a disrespectful manner it leads to poverty. The Shulchan Aruch (180:4) mentions this (see Shabbos 143a; Chullin 105a; Tosafos, Berachos 52b), and it is certainly a widely followed custom.
The Magen Avraham (180:3) notes that it is permitted to throw crumbs in water, and only discarding them in a disrespectful way—for example, by stepping on them on the floor—falls under the custom mentioned by the Shuchan Aruch (also noted by Mishnah Berurah 180:10). Note that the Shaarei Teshuva cites Mahara Galanti that if the sum total of the crumbs is more than a kezayis, a full prohibition will apply on discarding the crumbs disrespectfully.
Based on these halachos, many are careful not to discard pieces of (edible) bread that are larger than a kezayis directly into a garbage can with other dirty things. Instead, one should wrap the bread separately before discarding it in the garbage. While some note that this should also be done even for pieces of bread smaller than a kezayis (see Vezos Haberacha p.18), it does not seem that this is the general custom.
As noted, it is permitted to discard bread into water, and this is not considered disrespectful to the bread. Thus, it is permitted to place bread into water as part of the tashlich ceremony. Those who are concerned for the throwing of the bread into the water can use stale bread, unfit for human consumption, for which the problem does not arise.