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Justifying OU-Certified Dairy English Muffins

A Possible Problem With Dairy English Muffins

Chazal (Pesachim 36a) decreed that bread must be pareve, lest we eat dairy bread with meat or meat bread with dairy. Accordingly, since dairy English muffins are bread, they should be forbidden by virtue of this rabbinic decree.

Two Exceptions to the Rule

However, the Gemara records that if one bakes the bread “k’ein tura,” then the prohibition does not apply. The Rishonim offer two explanations for this phrase. Rashi (s.v. K’ein Tura) translates the phrase to mean “like the eye of an ox,” which is an example of something that is small. Rashi explains that one may bake a small amount of bread that is not pareve. The reason for this exception is that since the small amount of bread will not linger in the house for a considerable amount of time, one will not forget that it is dairy or meat.

On the other hand, the Rif (Chullin 38a) and the Rambam (Hilchot Maachalot Asurot 9:22) translate “k’ein tura” as “similar to an ox.” This means that one shapes the bread in an unusual form, such as like an ox, to indicate that the bread is meat (if it was kneaded with meat gravy). The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 97:1) rules leniently in accordance with both interpretations. Thus, one may bake dairy (or meat) bread if either one bakes a small amount or he shapes the bread in an unusual manner.

1988 Justification of the OU Practice To Certify Dairy English Muffins

The Rama (ibid) thus explains the common practice in his area to bake dairy bread for Shavuot and bread kneaded in meat gravy for Shabbat. He explains that these breads are shaped differently than conventional bread and are considered a small amount of bread. Rav Menachem Genack stated (in a shiur delivered at Yeshiva University in 1988) that it is for these reasons that the Orthodox Union certifies English muffins as kosher, despite the fact that they are dairy. He explains that their form differs from standard bread and that each portion is eaten at one sitting (in contrast to a loaf of bread).

A 2006 Update From the OU

At the present, both dairy and pareve English muffins are commercially available. As such, the unique shape of an English muffin does not currently alert one to the dairy status.

This reasoning of eating in one sitting has been rejected as well because muffins are typically sold in packages that should be viewed as one unit. A package of muffins is certainly more than one serving.

Currently, the primary justification to certify dairy English muffins is that the dairy component is less than one part in 60, which is halachically insignificant (bitul b’shishim). Ordinarily, the OU does not certify a product that contains a non-kosher ingredient, even if used in small proportions, because, halachically, we are not permitted to intentionally nullify a non-kosher entity. (This is known as bitul issur lichatchila.) Dairy English muffins are not comparable because the milk component in and of itself is permissible, and when it is mixed in the batter at low levels, the milk does not attain a prohibited status (as noted by the Chochmat Adam 50:4). As such, preparation of dairy English muffins is justifiable.

Follow Through From the OU About Eating With Meat

It is nonetheless inappropriate to eat a dairy English muffin with meat. This type of situation is known in halacha as a “davar she’yeish lo matirin” (a situation that can be rectified without having to rely on bitul [nullification]). Since the “dairy” English muffin can be eaten with pareve or with dairy food, the muffin has a permitted use without bitul.

Ordinarily, dairy ingredients are batel if mixed with 60 times their volume of pareve ingredients, since it is a mixture of dissimilar items, and the rule that an ingredient that is a “davar sheyeish lo matirin” is not batel only applies to mixtures of similar items (min bimino). However, when the dairy component is an integral ingredient in the product, it is considered to be a similar item with the rest of the mixture. Since the dairy ingredients in the English muffin might be considered necessary and integral to the muffin, it is proper to avoid eating it with meat.

Rabbi Jachter’s New Thoughts in 2020

After thorough discussion with congregants at Congregation Shaarei Orah, students at Torah Academy of Bergen County, it seems that the original OU justification merits revisiting in 2020.

A June 2020 internet search for pareve English muffins indicates that they are not widely available. They are certainly not well known. Internet discussions dating to 2007 indicate that pareve English muffins do not taste very good, explaining their lack of popularity.

The Aruch Hashulchan (Y.D. 97:7-8) writes that when something is well known that it is meat or dairy, this prohibition does not apply since there is no serious concern for a mistake. Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yalkut Yosef p.845) rules that cheese bourekas are a contemporary example (in Israel cheese bourekas are typically made in a triangle to distinguish between meat and dairy bourekas).

Within the Modern Orthodox Jewish community it is well known that English muffins are dairy. As such, the original OU justification has resurfaced and may be used as a lenient consideration.

In addition, the idea of English muffins being batel b’shishim seems questionable since the small amount of dairy adds flavor. The milk ingredient seems not to be nullified due to the Rama’s ruling (Yoreh Deah: 98:8) that something that adds flavor is not nullified even in 60 parts. On the other hand, the Rama’s rule only applies to a food that is inherently prohibited (as opposed to milk, which is prohibited only if mixed with meat).

The mevatlin issur l’chatchila issue is also debatable. Acharonim debate whether one may add a tiny amount of milk to bread when the bread will nullify the little drop of added milk. The Gilyon Maharsha (97:1) and Kaf HaChaim (Y.D. 97:5) rule strictly, as they reason that since Chazal forbade kneading dough with milk, adding milk to dough constitutes the halachic equivalent to adding milk to chicken. Just as one is forbidden to add a drop of milk to chicken, so too he may not add a tiny drop of milk to the dough.

On the other hand, the Nachalat Tzvi (97:1) and Keneset HaGedola (Techuvot number 136) rule leniently. They argue that there is a fundamental distinction between the prohibition of eating milk and chicken together and the prohibition of adding milk to dough. Milk and chicken are forbidden without exceptions. Adding milk to dough is forbidden only when there is concern that a forbidden mixture will result. However, Chazal made some exceptions to this rule, such as when the bread is baked in an unconventional size or form. Accordingly, the prohibition does not apply in a case when there is no concern for a result of a forbidden mixture of meat and milk. Thus, when one adds only a miniscule amount of milk to the bread, the prohibition does not apply since the bread nullifies the bit of milk. Yalkut Yosef (Y.D. 92-97:10) and Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (following the ruling of his father Rav Moshe, as reported by Rav Schachter) rule in accordance with the lenient view.

Conclusion

Most Orthodox Jews are well aware of that English muffins are dairy and should not be eaten with meat. However, I have heard reports that mistakes are made by the few who are not aware of this. In such a case, the Aruch Hashulchan (Y.D. 97:7) recommends the dairy component be kept to less than one sixtieth of the food item. Therefore, the OU policy to certify English muffins only if the milk quantity is less than one sixtieth of the product is quite sound. Although there is a downside to both lenient approaches (that most know it’s dairy and keeping the milk content to less than one sixtieth), the combination of both approaches justifies the OU policy to certify dairy English muffins.


Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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