In Masechet Avodah Zarah (66b) there is a debate regarding whether a Yisrael can smell non-Jewish wine. Abaye forbids it as he equates smelling the wine with drinking it; while Rava permits it as he maintains that there is no substance in fragrance (reichei lav milta). The Gemarah attempts to links this debate with the following Mishnah (10:3):
If one removed hot bread from an oven and put it over the mouth of a jar of trumah wine - R' Meir forbids it [to be eaten by a non-kohen], but R' Yehudah permits it. R' Yosi permits it if it is wheat [bread], but forbids it if it is barley [bread] as barley is more absorbent.
The Gemarah in Masechet Pesachim (76a) tries to link another debate to this Mishnah. There the Gemarah discusses the status of kosher meat that has been cooked in an oven with non-kosher meat (neveilah). Rav maintains that the mixture of the smells cause the meat to become assur. Levi argues however, that the kosher meat remains kosher as there is no substance to smells.
Rashi (Pesachim 76b) equates the cases brought in Avodah Zarah and Pesachim. In other words, in both cases, the argument is simply related to the status of smells. Abaye and Rav hold that the smells are significant, while Rava and Levi hold that reichei lav milta. He further explains that whenever there is a debate between Rava and Abaye the Halacha always accords to the opinion of Rava (except for the few known exceptions). Consequently, in the above cases the Halacha would be like Rava, and by extension Levi.
The Ba'alei Tosfot have two problems with Rashi's understanding. Firstly, Rava elsewhere does appear to consider smells seriously. In Pesachim, Rava ruled that fish that was cooked in the same oven as meat cannot be eaten with food containing milk. Secondly, if the cases in Avodah Zarah and Pesachim were truly equivalent then they would have been mentioned in the same place.
The Ba'alei Tosfot continue to explain that in truth Abaye could agree with the opinion of Levi. In Avodah Zarah Abaye prohibits smelling the wine; since the person is directly benefiting from the smell of the wine it is as if he is drinking it. In Pesachim however, the smell is entering into another object (the other meat) and Abaye there may agree with Levi that the smell is not significant. Similarly Rava could agree with Rav in Pesachim yet maintain that there is more room to be lenient in the case in Avodah Zarah as the potent smell is somewhat damaging as it enters his body. They therefore conclude that the Halacha is like Rav in Pesachim and Rava in Avodah Zarah. (See the Tosfot for a more complete explanation of how they understand the Halacha.)
The Ramban (Avodah Zarah 76b) agrees with Rashi and equates the cases in the two gemarot and responds to the first of Tosfot's questions. He explains that the reason why Rava prohibits eating the fish that was cooked alongside meat with food containing milk is not connected to his position on the status of smells. Rava's stringent ruling in this case is a result of a rabbinic decree (a gezeirah). He explains that there are two reasons for this stringency. Firstly, unlike the other case above, since anyone can readily smell the meat and milk it would appear as though one is eating meat and milk together. In the other cases, the smell of the prohibited product is not recognised as being prohibited by a third party without them being informed of the true source of the smell. Secondly, in general the Rabbanim were stricter with the issue related to meat and milk as they were readily abused.
[NB: this is merely a “snapshot” of the issue. See the cited sources for a more thorough understanding of this topic.]
Receive our publication with an in depth article and revision questions.
Listen to the Mishnah Shiurim by Yisrael Bankier