"You shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping
thing that creeps, neither shall you make yourselves unclean
with them that you should be defiled by them"
(Vayikro 11:43). The Ibn Ezra says: Do not
contaminate your souls that they become filthy and
disgusting, and do not defile yourselves through them, for
it is known that whatever is eaten becomes flesh in the body
of the one who eats thereof.
The Talmud and poskim attribute great importance and
severity to the prohibitions of eating. This finds
expression through practical halacha. If a person is
critically ill on Shabbos, to the extent that it is
permitted to desecrate the Shabbos, and he requires meat but
there is no ready slaughtered meat available, we are
confronted with two possibilities: to slaughter an animal
for him or to feed him nonkosher meat (neveila). In
this instance, the Halacha stipulates that one must
slaughter an animal for him on Shabbos rather than give him
nonkosher meat even though it is readily available.
The Ohr Zorua writes that the reason for this is
because eating forbidden food is something to be condemned.
It is permissible to go to great lengths, including
transgressions, for the patient even though the act of
slaughter could have been avoided since he could have eaten
nonkosher meat because of his mortal illness. Treif
food is disgusting and shameful.
He compares this to a rule that was mentioned, that Hashem
does not cause the righteous to defile themselves with
forbidden food even unintentionally through necessary
circumstances, despite the fact that Hashem will not take
measures to prevent them from sinning accidentally in other
matters, even those stringent enough to be punishable by
The Ohr Zorua adds that the Talmud Yerushalmi
in (Maseches Shevi'is 4:2) brings that regarding
all sins, when circumstances force a person to transgress in
matters of life and death, the rule is: "Let him transgress
rather than be killed." Yet with the sin of forbidden food,
which is most stringent, one should prefer death to sinning.
The Rashbo and Ritvo rule thus as well in their
chidushim to Yevomos 114a.
For example with an infant, while it is permissible to take
a gentile wetnurse still, it is preferable to seek a Jewish
one. Jewish women are, by nature, kinder, for they are used
to doing mitzvos and are merciful and modest by natural
heritage. Thus, the milk they produce is more conducive to
nurturing children who are good-natured and have good
traits. The milk produced by gentile nurses comes from food
that is not kosher, derived from creeping, crawling
creatures which breed cruelty and an evil nature in the
child they feed.
The Talmud tells about Elisha ben Avuya, the master of R'
Meir who eventually became an apostate. The Sages sought to
determine the root that caused a tana of his stature
to deteriorate to such a low spiritual level. They suggested
that this came about from the heretical works he carried
about him even while he was still studying in the beis
medrash. He also sang Greek songs under his breath. The
Talmud Yerushalmi attributes his downfall to a single
weakness that led to the ensuing deterioration and painful
end: Elisha's mother once ate something forbidden while
pregnant with him. It seethed within her like poison and
caused her son to eventually abandon the Torah path. The
Ohr Zorua brings this and warns women in final stages
of pregnancy to keep from all forbidden foods, lest their
children turn sour and evil.
The Rema writes in Shulchon Oruch Yoreh Dei'ah
81:7: A nursing woman should avoid forbidden foods, as
should the child, itself [not be fed them] for they will
have a longlasting effect, even to his old age. The Pri
Chodosh adds there: even though the halochoh rules that
if a minor eats neveilos on his own initiative, it is
not necessary for beis din to go to lengths to take
it away from him. This is from the pure halachic aspect. It
is advisable, in any case, to separate him from it since it
is harmful to his development and will eventually cause him
to leave the Torah path. In these times, people are not as
cautious about this and too many children become wayward.
The majority of the youth in this generation is arrogant and
lacking in internal yiras Shomayim. They are also
impervious to mussar.
The Chasam Sofer writes one particular responsa to a
question addressed to him: I was asked about an orphan of
seven whose father, a member of the congregation, passed
away two years previously. The child does not comprehend
what is said to him, and speaks nonsense, without
understanding what he, himself, is saying. He is not deaf or
mute, rather all of his gestures, actions and conduct
indicate that he is retarded. His father left a huge fortune
in escrow for this only heir, and his relatives have
attempted to have doctors treat him and cure him. The
consensus of all the local doctors is to take the child to
Vienna where there is a special school for retarded children
such as he. There he would receive intensive attention and
his intelligence would be stimulated to the fullest and he
would thrive. And while he might never be on par with the
average person, he could surely become intelligible and self
sufficient at a functioning level.
The question was that since this institution was run by
gentiles and he would not be allowed to have food brought in
from the outside, was it permissible for him to remain
there, since he would surely be eating treif!
After considering the question from many aspects, the Chasam
Sofer comes to this conclusion: The halacha would allow him
to go to that institution for the meanwhile, until he
reaches the age of thirteen and a day, when he would have to
be removed. In any case, since our Sages have taught that
eating forbidden food will eventually cause a person to turn
evil, and are conducive to an evil nature, it might be
better that he remain retarded for the rest of his life!