Our series on basar b’chalav will shift now to focus — not on dishes but on their covers – what happens if the meat and dairy pot covers are mistakenly exchanged? What is a day-old lid, and what happens if it is placed on the pot of the opposite kind ? When do pots and their covers require haga’ala? When is haga’ala unnecessary? Can the food remain kosher while the top becomes treif (unkosher)? Some are customarily more scrupulous with covers than with pots. What is the reason for it, and is this custom still relevant today? What can be done if the mixed-up cover is made of glass? Can the cover of a pressure cooker be more halachically complicated than others? Of this and more in the coming article.
Utensils in Halacha
In this week’s article we’ll continue our preparation for Shavous by studying the halachos of basar b’chalav. This week we will focus on covers – what happens if pot covers got mixed up by mistake and a dairy lid was used to for a meaty pot or vice versa? But first, a short review of the relevant halachos:
A dairy utensil is one used for hot dairy foods. The same is true for meat. The status of a utensil used with hot meat or dairy depends on when it was used: within the first twenty-four hours of use it is called ben yomo, literally meaning ‘on its first day’. Cooking the opposite food category in this utensil renders both the food and the utensil not kosher. A utensil not used within the past twenty-four hours is called eino ben yomo – literally ‘not within its first day’. Cooking the opposite food in this b’dieved, post action, the food remains kosher, but the pot requires haga’ala before further use, whether for meat, dairy, or pareve.
Earthenware cooking utensils cannot undergo haga’ala. Metal utensils can, and glass – according to Sfaradi authorities koshering is unnecessary, and according to Ashkenazi custom — impossible. In extenuating circumstances some opinions allow for koshering glass. Many pots are manufactured today with glass covers to allow viewing the cooking process without lifting the cover, making this halacha especially relevant.
Another detail that requires mention is sharp foods – since they enhance even old flavors, when using sharp foods in a utensil which was not used within the past twenty-four hours the old flavors are “refreshed” and can render both pot and food unkosher, despite not having been used in the past twenty-four hours.
In light of these halachos, what happens when the pot covers get mixed up? How crucial is the mistake and can it be corrected?
Mixed Up Covers
Two pots sit on the cooking range, one meat and other dairy. Both reached boiling, and after lifting the covers they were mistakenly replaced on the opposite pot (here’s a tip: don’t buy pots of the same design for meat and dairy!). The mistake was realized right away, and the cover was immediately lifted. What happens to the pot and food?
Since the cover is “within its first day”- ben yomo, and in placing it on top of the opposite pot it received the steam of the opposite food, it transfers the flavors between them. This causes the pot, cover, and food to be treif (Rama YD, 93:1). In case the mistake was subsequently corrected, all utensils and contents are unkosher.
A cold ben yomo pot cover also renders everything unkosher, provided it remained on the pot long enough to for steam to reach the lid and shed back its absorbed flavors (Rama YD 93:1). The Shach defines here (footnote 5) that the ‘sweat’ must reach the temperature of yad soledes bo – too hot to touch (at least 47⁰ Celsius.)
If the status of the cover is unknown because its use in the last twenty-four hours is uncertain — the food remains kosher, but the lid still requires koshering.
When the food in the mixed-up pot was cold and only the cover was hot, both pot and cover remain kosher, but the top layer of the food if it is a solid should be removed and discarded in case drops of the opposite category have fallen on it.
If the food is cold liquid (soup, for example) the food remains kosher because we assume the droplets that fell are less than one-sixtieth of the dish.
The Pri Megadim (93:SD4) writes that even if the food in the pot was pareve – if both the pot and the cover were used within the past twenty-four hours the food is unkosher. However, if one of them was not used within the past twenty-four hours the food remains kosher.
Pot, Cover, and Food
If the pot and cover are rendered unkosher they require koshering according to the koshering process for utensils that appeared in our pre-Pesach articles: metal and iron necessitate immersion in boiling water; earthenware, enamel and ceramics must be discarded.
Glass pot covers require no koshering according to Sfaradi poskim (although since most have a metal ring around the lip, the metal requires koshering). Ashkenazi poskim are split regarding koshering heat resistant glass: Rav Eliyashiv (Kovetz Teshuvos III chapter 81:2) permits koshering through immersion in boiling water, but Rav Moshe Feinstein (Hilchos Pesach of Rav Eider, chapter 13:47) rules that even heat resistant glass cannot be koshered. If this will cause great monetary loss or discomfort the question should be presented to a rabbi.
Cover vs. Pot
Is the halacha for pot covers more scrupulous than those of pots? And what is the status of this scrupulousness – halacha, custom, or myth?
The Rama (YD 93:1) notes an ancient custom of always considering pot covers ben yomo (as if they were used within the past twenty-four hours), causing food and pot to be unkosher in every case of hot mixed-up pot covers.
The Rama questions this practice and, in his work Darkei Moshe (YD 93:1), writes there is no source for it. He notes that the author who first mentions it is not a renown halachic authority.
Despite doubting the halachic grounds for this custom, the Rama, writes (YD 93:1) that he personally was always scrupulous to consider pot covers ben yomo.
Practically, when the question involves a non-day-old pot cover the case should be presented to a rabbi, who might permit the food in combination with another reason such as a large monetary loss, or if the food was prepared in honor of Shabbos, etc.
The Achronim present several explanations for this custom, however they are strained and some authorities, such as the Levush, disagree completely. Almost all contemporary poskim agree this custom is generally irrelevant nowadays, but there are several less-common scenarios where this custom applies.
Reasons for the Custom
Several Achronim try to explain how this custom took root:
The Taz (YD 93:2), Shach (YD 93:4), Pri Chadash (YD 93:5), and others quote the Maharshal’s explanation for this custom. It was instituted because pots were once manufactured with cone-shaped covers with a sharp vertex, making cleaning impossible. A meaty cone-shaped pot cover always retained some fatty substance stuck in the vertex. Only flavor is considered nosen ta’am lifgam (transferring adverse flavor – see last week’s article for further details) after twenty-four hours old, but for actual food, more time is necessary. Food pieces or fat need to actually turn putrid or rotten to be considered nosen ta’am lifgam. This laid the ground for considering every cone shaped pot cover as having a little piece of food stuck on.
Another explanation is suggested by the Bach and Pri Megadim: pot covers in the past were made of dried out dough. Since the halachos of absorbed flavors only apply to non-edible substances, it became accepted to see the halachos of absorbed flavors as applying only to the pots, not to their covers.
Sharp Food Coverings
Rabbi Yonason Eibeshitz (Kreisi 93:6) suggests another reason: the only time pots were covered was for cooking sharp or fermented foods, when the cover was necessary to retain the sharpness or sour flavor. Since sharp foods ‘renew’ old flavors, even those which have passed the twenty-four-hour mark, it becomes accepted to always see covers as having been nused within the lastless than twenty-four hours old.
Contemporary poskim rule that since the reason for the custom is known and generally irrelevant – we cover all pots, regardless of what’s cooking inside; our covers are not edible, nor are they cone shaped — there is no longer reason to be especially scrupulous with pot covers. However, when the cover is difficult to clean (such as a pressure cooker), there is room to apply this custom.
The Taz (YD 93:2), Shach (YD 93:4), and Pri Chadash (YD 93:5) who see the reason for the custom as that of the Maharshal (difficult to clean) explain that even for narrow or covers with grooves we must first approximate how much residue or food is stuck in the unreachable cervices, and calculate if there is enough food in the pot to cancel it.
The Taz opines that it is enough if there is sixty times more food than the remaining dirt in the cover, and the Shach opines there should be sixty times sixty-one, i.e. 3660 parts more food than residue.
The Achronim (Rabbi Akiva Eiger, glosses on the Shulchan Aruch 93; Chavos Da’as, Biurim 2; Aruch Hashulchan 16) write that since the issue with pot covers is a scrupulousness and not the mainstream ruling, therefore, even for a hard-to-clean pot cover the Taz’s opinion can be relied upon for leniency — if there is sixty times more food than residue, and the cover has not been used within the past 24 hours, the food remains kosher.
Sharp Food Pots
If, for some reason, one has a pot used exclusively for sharp foods, its cover has the status similar to that mentioned above by Rabbi Yonason Eibeshitz.
How long do pots remain meat or dairy? Does a narrow pot cover with impossible-to-clean crevices ever reach a stage when it isn’t meat or dairy? The Shevus Yaakov’s discussion (volume I, 21) on how long old food particles continue treifing utensils is cited by the Pischei Teshuva (YD 93:3):
Wine casks used for producing non-kosher wine lose the flavor that was absorbed in them after twelve months. This, writes the Shevus Yaakov, only applies to flavors absorbed via soaking in cold items, however flavors absorbed through heat are never canceled without proper koshering.
(The Chacham Tzvi’s opinion sees all absorbed flavors as cancelled after twelve months, but his opinion is not l’halacha. It is, however, relied upon when there are other reasons to be lenient.)
When fat has been stuck in the crevices of the pot cover for more than two months it loses its status and flavor and no longer treifs the food in the pot below because the fat spoils.