Thursday, January 31, 2008

In defense of one oven

One friend (who will remain nameless to protect the guilty) made the claim that our kitchen is not kosher because we use one oven for milk and meat. Not that it was not in accordance with her stricture. But, that it was not kosher.1. I went ahead and made the claim that the idea that one needed a separate milk and meat oven is one of the piled-on modern chumrot. I underestimated the amount of time that it took to enter halacha. I originally put it at about 40 years (see below), but it turns out that the theory can be traced to a longer-running dispute that I'm not sure how much significance it had for practical halacha.

The Internet has some very good resources. 2

As you can see from the sources (I won't repeat the details, if you want them, see the links above), the primary problem that is discussed in the literature until the Rema (16th century) is cooking kosher and non-kosher in the same oven simultaneously. The Rema inserts that milk and meat and kosher/non-kosher have the same laws, and that consecutive use under the same covering might be problematic because the steam (not the "aroma," which is essentially halachic cooties) from one food might change the status of the other. The ensuing halachic debate revolves around how steam transfers food-gender. Does it only work directly (from one steamy pot to another above it)? Does it work indirectly (from one steaming pot to anything else in the same enclosed atmosphere)? Does it work through enclosures? Does steam embed in the oven? Do all hot things produce steam with the same halachic status?

It also appears that "steam" the Rema is worried about is an actual physical entity, not halachic cooties. It is directly analogized to the condensation that appears on a pot cover. Note also that this explains the Rosh's (13th century)3 seemingly paradoxical conclusion that steam doesn't affect hot pots, where one would ordinarily expect that heat would worsen the transfer: water doesn't condense above its boiling point.

Our approach is never to cook or heat milk and meat in the same oven at the same time, and to allow the oven to cool down before switching genders. It is cleaned if recognizable food particles are present. In practice, it is an implementation of the Aruch Hashulchan's position, but, in theory, it's somewhere between those of the Aruch Hashulchan and Lichtenstein/Feinstein's. The added chumra is that even if the steam from consecutive use is important, we are worried about an actual physical entity. The actual steam from food is evacuated when the door to the oven is opened to remove the food (and the air inside exchanges with the air outside), and that if anything recognizable condenses during the cool-down cycle, it can be cleaned.

As noted in Rabbi Mordechai Broyde's article, the Aruch Hashulchan's position "was the custom in Eastern Europe a century ago."

In fact, three of the four practices with halachic-literature bases ((1) use the same [clean] oven for both, but not at the same time (2) use the same [clean] oven for both, with a 24 hour waiting period OR one hour at maximum temperature in between, (3) use the same [clean] oven for both, covering either dairy or meat liquids,4 (4) not using the same oven for both unless one is double-wrapped) allow the same oven to be used for milk and meat, with only the procedure for their use varying.

The practical implication is that it's possible to have a fully functional and fully kosher kitchen without being super-wealthy. That is, until the chumra police make you need a second oven.

1 Actually, she compared eating at our house to "eating out" (in the Jewishism sense), and effectively treats food we cook as treif. It was later modified to a "lower level transgression" instead of actual treifness.

2 For other resources, one wonders if they deliberately archaize the text ("a housewife should...") in order to sound more "traditional" or "authentic," or if the writers really live in a hole.

3 But didn't I say that this problem isn't discussed until the 16th century? Indeed, I did. The problem the Rosh is discussing is steam emitted directly onto another pot. The question of import here is whether steam that is emitted, condensed, and re-emitted is significant.

4 Reading about this subject has made me wonder whether popular misunderstanding of Rav Moshe Feinstein's position (or the other variants of it) contributes to the idea that one needs two separate ovens. It does require that one designate an oven as "meat" or "dairy" and pareve items that are cooked in it uncovered are considered to have the status of "meat equipment" or "dairy equipment." Yet, still a "meat" oven can be used to cook covered dairy liquids or uncovered dairy solids. Does the concept of designation itself lead people toward acceptance of the strictest opinion?

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Someone actually called your oven treif? I think the whole separate ovens thing is a bit crazy. (And yes, I know I have a "dairy" oven, but that's more because of my housemates. If it were up to me, I'd be using the oven to make deli-roll every Shabbat Or perhaps every day. I'd probably be living off of deli-roll.) Why must we live in a world where a person's value is measured in chumrot?
Your "dairy oven" and some of DW's former roommates' "meat ovens" are the types of cases where I wonder whether footnote #4 applies.

Of course, if it's someone's vegetarianism or something other than halacha that makes you have a dairy oven, it's a moot point.
Oh, that's a great ענין-- the whole thing with the two sugyôs on ריחא, on in פסחים and one in עבודה זרה. And it's one of the only places in Rashi's commentary on the Talmud where he discusses one sugyo in the context of a different one. (Of course, the Tosafists did this all the time.)
And yes, your oven is kosher.
I'm unconvinced that a lot of "frum" people who aren't really educated in how to keep a kosher kitchen (which the majority of us are not) really do a sufficient job keeping their oven's clean.

Though, since my discovery of how effective easy-off is, I've become more proactive in using it.
Oh, the ovens.

We wandered into the oven argument en route from the dishwasher argument. According to the other person, Americans are makil on ovens but machmir on dishwashers, and Israelis reverse.

In adopting Sephardic habits for Pesach, including the American (okay, New Jerseyan) Sephardic rabbinate's recommendations on how to kasher a dishwasher for Pesach, we'd managed to straddle the debate: makil on dishwashers, makil on ovens.

Not entirely sure how we ended up here, but I think I'm impressed with us.
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