“One who makes dough from wheat flour and rice flour, if it bears the taste of wheat it is liable for challah (i.e. a portion of it must be separated and given to a kohen) and a person may use it to fulfil his obligation (of eating matza) on Pesach...” (Challah 3:7)
The Rosh (an early Talmudic commentator), when commenting on Gemara Zevachim (78a-b), cites the reasoning for the ruling in this mishnah as being related to the principle of ta’am ke'ikar (“The taste of a particular food is akin to the food itself”). Thus, since the aforementioned dough mixture possesses the taste of wheat it is considered to be wholly made of wheat for the purposes of challah and matza.
The question that must be addressed is where does the Mishnah and/or halacha derive the principle of ta’am ke’ikar. We will examine one piece of Gemara which provides some relevant background to the issue, recognising that its conclusions may not be final and that in its entirety this is a far larger matter with a number of variable factors.
The Gemara in Pesachim (44a-44b) cites a Beraitah (Tanaic teaching) which derives the principle of ta’am ke’ikar (TKI) from the Torah. The pasuk quoted is Bamidbar 6:3 which relates to the specific prohibitions affecting a Nazir.
“From new or aged wine shall he abstain, and he shall not drink vinegar of wine or vinegar of aged wine; anything in which grapes have been steeped he shall not drink, and fresh and dried grapes he shall not eat.” (Artscroll translation).
Reads the beraitah: “‘Anything in which grapes have been steeped’ comes to make the taste of an edible object akin to the object itself; if grapes were steeped in water and the water gains the taste of wine, the Nazir would be liable for drinking (a kezayit of) this liquid. From here one may apply this principle to all other halachic matters..."
Thus we see from the Torah equates water infused with the taste of wine with wine itself - that taste is equivalent to food matter. It must be noted that although scientifically the process of steeping involves the transfer of actual particles from the grapes to the water, since these particles are not visible they are regarded as “taste” rather than food matter in halachic terms.
The Gemara however presents this teaching only in the name of the Sages. Rabbi Akiva disagrees on the Biblical source for TKI. He cites the pasuk in Bamidbar 31:23 as the Biblical Source. This pasuk deals with the purification for kashrut purposes of metallic vessels taken by Bnei Yisrael as spoils following their victory against the Midianites: “everything that comes into the fire - you shall pass through the fire and it will be purified...” The pasuk teaches that Bnei Yisrael were commanded to purify the vessels in the manner in which they were used by their Midianite owners. For example, those vessels (such as grills) which would have absorbed the taste of the Midianite food over a fire had to be purged through fire. This was needed to ensure that the food that Bnei Yisrael would cook using these vessels would not become tainted by the non-kosher flavours which had been absorbed from the use by their former Midianite owners. According to Rabbi Akiva, this is the source for TKI from the Torah.
Notwithstanding this Tanaic dispute, this issue is subject to much further discussion. Due to further complications with regards to the appropriate use of the hermeneutical principles of the Torah and the strength of the linkages between the aforementioned exegeses and their source-p’sukim, the notion of taste being equivalent to food matter may in many cases, according to some opinions, be of Rabbinic legislation. The quantity from which taste is regarded as significant in a mixture is a further point of halachic controversy.
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