In this week’s parshah we read about the devastating effect of a misunderstanding. The Jewish people thought Moshe was due back one day earlier then his actual return.1 As a result of their miscalculation, they made a Golden Calf, the effects from which we are still suffering.2

In fact, the first sin ever committed—the eating from the Tree of Knowledge—was also committed as a result of a misinterpretation. Eve told the serpent that G‑d had forbidden them to even touch the Tree of Knowledge. In fact, G‑d had only told them not to eat from the tree.3 Eve, of her own accord, added the prohibition against touching. According to the Midrash,4 it was this misunderstanding that actually led to the sin of consuming from the tree.5

This article contains ten common halachic misunderstandings with possible explanations as to where these myths come from.

Myth # 1:

The two foods of mishloach manot (gifts of food given on Purim) must be foods on which different brachot (blessings) are recited.

Fact:

The two foods may even be the same type of food prepared differently. In fact, the Code of Jewish Law6 gives an example of two portions of meat as acceptable for Mishlo’ach Manot.7

Possible source of myth:

If two foods are combined in such a way that they become one, to the extent that only one blessing is recited on them, then they only “count” as one of the portions of mishloach manot.

Myth # 2

A knife (or other silverware) that can into contact with unkosher food must be koshered by burying it in a flowerpot for a day (or three).

Fact:

A knife that was used to cut something non-kosher that was cold (or a meat knife that was used to cut cold cheese) may be kashered by sticking it into hard earth ten times in ten separate spots.8 (Cleaning it well with an abrasive material is also acceptable. When koshering a serrated knife in which food may be trapped, one must sharpen the knife to clean it or heat it over a fire in order to cleanse the ridges.) However, if the knife was used for something hot or sharp-tasting, it should be koshered by immersion in boiling water (after consulting an Orthodox rabbi, as a higher form of purging may be required as well).9 When koshering it in boiling water, it is generally necessary to wait 24 hours before kashering.10

Possible source of myth:

It would seem that the practice of keeping silverware in earth for a day is a combination of the concept of stabbing it in earth and waiting 24 hours before doing a regular kashering.

Myth # 3:

One may not have a gentile at their Pesach Seder.

Fact:

One may not invite a non-Jew to a Yom Tov meal unless Shabbat coincides with that Yom Tov. The reason for this is that one may inadvertently cook for the non-Jew on Yom Tov, which is forbidden. On Shabbat when one may not cook in any case, it is permitted to invite a non-Jew.11 If the non-Jew comes without being invited, one may feed him on a regular Yom Tov as well but may not cook or heat up food for him. There is no distinction between the Pesach Seder and other Yom Tov days in this regard.

Possible source of myth:

A gentile may not participate in eating the Paschal lamb in the era of the Holy Temple.12

In addition, to commemorate the Paschal lamb, it is not considered proper to share the matzah from the Seder plate with a non-Jew.13

Myth # 4:

One may ask a gentile to reheat chicken and rice in the oven on Shabbat as long as the gentile eats from the food as well.

Fact:

This is forbidden according to all opinions. If one did this, the food is forbidden to eat until after Shabbat. Once Shabbat is over, one must wait the amount of time it took for the food to heat up (bichdei Sheya’aseh), and then eat it.14

Possible source of myth:

In some cases, one may benefit from work a gentile did for his own benefit. Cooking, however, is not one of those cases because we fear the gentile may cook extra food for the Jew.15

Myth # 5:

During Shiva, a mourner may not eat meat or drink wine.

Fact:

A mourner may eat meat and drink wine.16 (The Talmud17 says that the mourners should not drink more than ten cups of wine, as they will become drunk.)

Possible source of myth:

An Onen (one whose close relative is not yet buried) may not eat meat or drink wine.18

In addition, during the Nine Days (the 1st to the 9th of Av), which a time of collective mourning for the Jewish people, it is forbidden to eat meat or drink wine (with the exception of Shabbat).19

Myth #6:

The Giraffe is a kosher animal but we do not eat it because we do not know where to slaughter it.

Fact:

Most opinions believe that the giraffe is a kosher animal.20 Some say that this is the animal the Torah refers to as “Zamer.” Others say that although it may be kosher, we should not eat it as we have no tradition that it is kosher.21 In any case, if it is kosher, it may be slaughtered on any part of the neck.22

Possible Source of Myth:

The fact is that we don’t eat giraffe. This is probably just because it is a rare jungle animal.

Myth # 7:

It is best not to handle money or repay debts on motzei Shabbat (Saturday night), as it is a bad omen.

Fact:

It is forbidden to say: “I will not handle money on motzei Shabbat because this is a bad omen.” This is an idolatrous practice.23

Possible source of myth:

It is possible that it is, in fact, a bad omen to start the week by expending money. One who is worried about this may delay the payment to another time but should do so by excusing himself in a different manner. It is forbidden, however, to say expressly that one is doing this to protect from a bad omen. That is considered an idolatrous practice.24

Myth # 8:

If one talks after washing for bread before eating bread, he must wash again.

Fact:

If one has a short conversation that does not distract one from the meal they are about to start, they need not wash again.25

Possible source of myth:

It is best not to interrupt at all between washing for bread and eating bread. If one interrupted for a lengthy period of time and was distracted from the meal completely, he should wash again.26

Myth # 9:

If one goes to the bathroom in middle of a bread meal, one need not wash his hands again in a ritual manner.

Fact:

If one goes to the bathroom in middle of a bread meal, one must wash his hands in a ritual manner and should recite the blessing of al netilat yadayim, but without G‑d’s name.27

Possible source of myth:

Lack of knowledge.

Myth # 10:

One may use a food utensil one time before immersing it in a mikvah.

Fact:

On may not use a food utensil even one time before immersing it in a mikvah.28

Possible source of myth:

One may use a disposable food utensil without immersing it in the mikvah if one intends to discard it after one use. (If one plans to use a disposable utensil several times and then discard it, they need not immerse it since it doesn’t have the status of a permanent vessel.29)

The best antidote to ignorance is education. Let us educate ourselves and others so that we can observe the entire Torah properly.