By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
No, this article is not about Kashrus. It is about another Torah halacha. Exo, is a startup company based in Silicon Valley that sells protein bars. And while it is true that the Exo protein bar is most definitely not kosher, this article is about the concept of Bal teshaktzu – making oneself disgusting. The Exo protein bar, by the way, is made out of crickets.
Gross? No question. And it may be a bit shocking that investors have backed this venture thus far to the tune of $5.6 million in financing thus far. Why has so much money been invested in this venture when the majority of Americans are so thoroughly disgusted by it? These investors believe, no doubt, that with the right marketing, these views can be changed.
Our concern, however, deals with probing the nature of this prohibition of Bal teshaktzu. Indeed, the classical case of Bal Teshaktzu as discussed in the Torah, as the Torah tells us (Vayikra 11:43), “You shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing that creeps about, neither shall you make yourselves unclean with them, that you should be defiled.” The prohibition is listed as negative Mitzvah #179 in the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos and is found in Shulchan Aruch YD 116:6.
NOT JUST BUGS
The prohibition of Bal Teshaktzu is not restricted to bugs and creepy crawly things. It is violated whenever someone consumes something completely disgusting – such as anything with vomit in it, or a disgusting liquid.
BIBLICAL OR RABBINIC?
There is, however, a debate as to whether this prohibition is Rabbinic or biblical (See PMG 13:1 who cites various views in this debate). The Bais Yosef (YD 116 “V’assur”) is unsure as to whether the Rambam’s view is that it is Rabbinic or whether it is Biblical and it is just that one does not receive malkos – lashes – for violating it, rather receiving makas mardus – Rabbinic lashes.
The Sefer Yereim (#73) holds that the violation is biblical as does the TaZ. Most other Acharonim, however, hold that it is Rabbinic (See Levush YD 116:6, Ritvah Makos 16a). Thus, whenever, the Talmud cites the verse in the Torah (as in Shabbos 90b and Makkos 16b) it would be considered, an Asmachta according to this view, an allusion. Yet there is more to it than this. Some are of the opinion that it is only Rabbinically forbidden when the item is disgusting only to him. If the item is considered dsgusting according to most people – then it is still considered a Torah prohibition (See Shoel UMaishiv MB Vol III #122). The Shoel UMaishiv’s opinion, in fact, is a bit more nuanced. He compares it to the laws of Chol HaMoed, where the parameters are left to Chazal to determine what are the borders of the Biblical violation.
And it is not just the food that could be considered a violation of Bal Teshaktzu. Martha Stewart fans take note: Bal Teshaktzu can be violated in the manner of eating, such as with one’s hands, as well as from very disgusting vessels (YD 116:6).
FOR MEDICAL PURPOSES
There is, of course, an exception to the violation of Bal Teshaktzu. When done for medicinal purposes, there is no violation (See PMG 384:3, Pri Chadash 81:3).
NOT GOING TO THE BATHROOM
Holding it in when one must use the bathroom is also a violation of Bal Teshaktzu, as the Gemorah in Makkos 16b states, but here it depends upon how badly one must go. In Orech Chaim 92:2 the Shulchan Aruch writes that if one has such an urge in the middle of Shmoneh Esreh one delays until one finishes the prayer. The Ramah qualifies this as only if it is a minor urge. If it is a strong one than one stops the Shmoneh Esreh. There is also a debate in halacha as to whether the prohibition applies to passing water as well or whether it is limited to the excretion of solid matter. The Mishna Brurah (3:31) rules that it applies to both. There is no prohibition in these areas regarding non-liquid and non-solid states.
There is also an exception to the prohibition if one delays on account of seeking a place that would be more Tznius (Mishna Brurah ibid).
What if someone has to go to the bathroom but other people are davening Shmoneh Esreh and one would have to walk in front of them? The Aishel Avrohol (Botshash Siman 102) writes that one is certainly permitted to do so, in order to avoid violating Bal Teshaktzu. It would seem that if there is another way around, one should take that one, however. Parenthetically, Rav Elyashiv zatzal once ruled (see Chashukei Chemed Megillah 22b) that one may rely on this Aishel Avrohom to permit returning a Sefer Torah to a room where people are in the middle of davening.
BACK TO THE EXO BAR
So, matters of Kashrus aside, will a change in attitude about how revolting consuming crickets might be, remove the prohibition of Bal teshaktzu on these bars? The answer is that it would not, because the verse talks about this very case. The debate as to whether it is Rabbinic or biblical only revolves around the applications of the violation on matters beyond bugs, but all would agree that the bug consumption itself is forbidden and not subject to majority opinion or not. Of course, the protein bar is completely forbidden on account of Kashrus issues, this article was merely a discussion of the additional prohibition of Bal Teshaktzu.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.