Treif plate mixed with the rest of the set
Rabbanit Chanital Ofan
She'elaA ceramic plate became non-kosher, and before we were able to have it koshered, it was mixed among other dishes from the same set and was now indistinguishable. What do we have to do with the set?
In this case, since the dish was ceramic and cannot be koshered even according to the more stringent opinions (such as the Tosfot) the dishes do not require koshering, as indicated in the Shulhan Arukh in section 102.
If the mixed dishes are made of material that can be koshered and the process does not involve significant financial loss or effort, the dishes should undergo the koshering process, based on the Taz. However, if the material cannot be koshered or if the process would require significant effort or incur financial loss, the dishes may be used without being koshered.
The following teshuva sets out the sources and arguments in detail and discusses the various ramifications that lead to our conclusion. Read on for a complete analysis of the question and answer.
The Law of Nullification (ביטול ברוב)
According to a concept in the laws of food mixtures, “one [item mixed] in two [others] is nullified in the majority” (Gittin 54b). This concept is repeated in several places throughout the Talmud, among others in Hulin 11a (and 98b), where the sugya clarifies that in a mixture of dry items of the same kind (מין במינו), such as a chametz matza mixed with non-chametz matzas before Pesach – the unkosher item is nullified in the majority. The Talmud explicates that this law of ruling based on the majority is derived from the pasuk in Shemot 23:2, אחרי רבים להטות; just as the minority position in a court is nullified in light of the majority, the minority of a non-kosher food item is nullified if it is in the majority of kosher food. The case you describe is a ‘dry’ mixture, and involves a plate that is identical to the others (מין במינו), and these are factors for leniency.
The Law of an item whose prohibition will eventually end – (דבר שיש לו מתירין)
There is one exception to the rule of nullification in the majority: the case of something which is currently prohibited, but the prohibition will end with time. If an item that falls under this category is mixed with other similar items, the prohibition is not nullified, since over time the prohibition will end without nullification. Until that time comes, the entire mixture is deemed prohibited. This law is called דבר שיש לו מתירין – ‘An item whose prohibition will eventually end.’
An item that falls under this halakhic category cannot be nullified even in a majority of one in a thousand (Beitza 3b; 39a), since it can be permitted in another way.
According to this rule, there is room to debate whether a dish that can be koshered is a דבר שיש לו מתירין: since the dish can be koshered through hagala in boiling water, perhaps its prohibited state is not nullified in a majority.
Can Porcelain be Koshered?
The application of this debate would depend on whether a ceramic plate can, in fact, be koshered. The Talmud states that an earthenware dish cannot be koshered, since the flavor becomes trapped in the dish and cannot be removed. This is derived from the pasuk in Vayikra 6:21, “the earthenware vessel in which it is cooked shall be shattered” (Avoda Zara 75b; Pesahim 30b and Rashi s.v. אינו יוצא מידי דופנו).
As to the status of a ceramic (porcelain) dish, according to some halakhic positions in a case of significant financial loss, a porcelain dish may be koshered with boiling water, since the production of modern porcelain dishes often includes materials such as glass and metal that can be koshered.
According to Shailat Ya’avetz (part I, section 67), modern porcelain does not trap the flavor of food like earthenware ceramic. Sefer ha-Itur (vol. I, 14:3) permitted koshering porcelain by a triple hagala: pouring boiling water on the dish three times, after the dish had not been used for 24 hours. Hakham Zvi (Responsa, 75) permitted the dishes to be used without hagala once 12 months had passed. Shiurei Knesset ha-Gedola compared porcelain to glass which does not have to be koshered at all according to the Shulhan Arukh (Orah Haim 351:26) and can be used for milk and meat interchangeably (Hagahot Beit Yosef, Orah Haim 351:30).
However, many other halakhists believe that porcelain is similar to earthenware and cannot be koshered (e.g. Responsa Radbaz, vol. III, 301), and this became the common ruling.
Is a vessel that becomes permissible by hagala considered דבר שיש לו מתירין?
Regardless of the discussion above, even if the plate was made out of a material that can be koshered, such as metal, it may not fall into the category of a ‘prohibition that will eventually end,’ since lifting the prohibition by koshering all the dishes involves a significant effort.
The Rashba (Torat Habayit Hakatzar 4, 38a; Ha’arokh 38b) argues that any prohibition whose correction involves significant financial burden cannot fall into this category.
The Shulhan Arukh ruled accordingly (Yore De’ah 102:3) and in the Laws of Koshering and Tevillat Keilim (122:8). The Rema cites the Rashba’s position that this allowance stems from the concern for significant financial loss of hagala for all the dishes.
Using all dishes simultaneously
The Taz (102:108) argues that any leniency relates to each individual dish, since when using any one of the dishes one may assume that the specific dish is not the one that is non-kosher. However, when all the dishes are used simultaneously, the concept of nullification in a majority cannot be applied, since one of the dishes being used is certainly non-kosher! Therefore, according to the Taz the allowance of nullification cannot be relied upon as a replacement for koshering the dishes, since at some point all the dishes may be used simultaneously; however, this allowance may be relied upon temporarily until all the dishes can be koshered.
The Taz’s stringent approach is based on the Shulhan Arukh (109:1); the Rema (ibid.) also agrees that this stringency should be applied lechatchila. Section 109 discusses dry mixtures of identical items (מין במינו), such as kosher and non-kosher pieces of meat mixed without being cooked. In this case, every piece of meat is judged individually.
Since the pieces fall under the category of ‘dry’ (because no flavor passes from one to the other), the mixture should be susceptible to nullification in a majority; however, in this case the Rema’s ruling follows Tosefot’s stringency, according to which the Rabbis prohibited one to eat all the meat since one of the pieces that will be consumed is certainly not kosher.
The Taz accepts the Rema’s stringency and applies it to a mixture of dishes.
The plain meaning of the Shulhan Arukh and Rema (102) indicates that they are not concerned with this stringency in the case of a mixture of dishes, but only with regard to other mixtures; their lenient approach is founded on a number of assumptions:
a. Tosfot’s stringency was formulated as debatable: “perhaps this should be prohibited to the individual.” The Rema therefore only prohibited eating them all at once, but was not concerned with permitting the mixture to be consumed in case it will be eaten at one time.
b. The use of dishes by different people, even simultaneously, is not considered ‘simultaneous.’ Each individual may assume that the dish before them is kosher.
א. After 24 hours, the flavor ‘swallowed’ by the dish is considered defective (פגום) and cannot spread the prohibition to the food on the dish. While a non-kosher dish should not be used, the prohibition is relegated to a rabbinic prohibition (מדרבנן).
According to this logic, the Arukh ha-Shulhan (102:18) rules against the Taz. Based on the Maharshal (28) and the Shakh’s (108) ruling, he writes that the prohibition is lifted after 24 hours. He applies this approach to ‘all the significant Ahronim,’ and argues that even according to the position that one random dish out of the pile should undergo hagala, this cannot be done with an earthenware dish, and is therefore not required.
 Based on the Rosh, Avoda Zara 2:23, who argues that in the past earthenware was primarily made of dirt, which would contain the prohibited flavor, without the possibility of ejection.
 The Rosh and Tur (Hulin 7:32) permit the entire mixture to be eaten; the Rashba (Torat ha-Bayit ha-Arokh, vol. 4, 1:17) permits the mixture to be consumed by one person, as long as all the pieces are not consumed at once. Conversely, Tosfot (Hulin 100a, s.v. בריה, and Semag, Lavin, 140-141 s.v. שנינו) prohibited the mixture from being eaten by one individual, even in stages. Rashi (Avoda Zara 74a, s.v. תרתי) and Maharam argued that one random piece should be discarded (or given to a non-Jew) and not eaten at all. The Shulhan Arukh cited the Rashba without attribution, and mentioned Tosfot’s position as ‘some say.’ The Rema is stringent based on Tosfot’s position, against Rashi and Maharam.