Does Nullification Ever Apply to a Mixture of Equal Types?

Provided courtesy of Real Clear Daf

This came up this week on Thursday’s daf (100a). The Gemara there discusses a case where a piece of nonkosher meat fell into a pot that contains kosher pieces of meat and gravy. Rabbah bar bar Chanah rules that if the total volume of the kosher pieces and gravy is sixty times the volume of the nonkosher piece, the pot’s contents remain kosher. The categorical nature of Rabbah bar bar Chanah’s ruling implies that it applies even if initially there were only two pieces of meat in the pot--the nonkosher one and a kosher one--and the other contents were added later. As long as enough kosher food to nullify the nonkosher piece was added later, the mixture is permitted.

Rav there strongly objects to this implication and bases his objection on two points. First of all, once the original nonkosher piece transferred forbidden flavor to the kosher one, that second piece is itself halachically deemed an inherently nonkosher piece. Furthermore, Rav objects, we cannot use the principle of nullification here since the kosher pieces of meat are of the same type as the nonkosher piece. As the Gemara proceeds to point out, Rav clearly adopts the view of R’ Yehudah, that nullification doesn’t apply when the two elements of the mixture are of the same type. Thus, Rav objects that we cannot nullify the nonkosher piece with the kosher pieces.

R’ Safra wonders why Rav needed the first point in order to ask his question. Even if the first piece doesn’t render the second piece an inherently prohibited piece, the first piece itself should still ruin the entire mixture given the halacha that equal types cannot nullify each other?

Abaye answers that we’re dealing with a case where after it made contact with one other piece, the original nonkosher piece was removed. Thus, were it not for the fact that the second piece was rendered inherently forbidden, the mixture would be permitted.

The Rishonim ask that it’s not clear how Abaye answered the question. For consider: even if the second piece doesn’t become inherently forbidden, it certainly absorbed forbidden flavor from the first piece. Therefore, given that nullification doesn’t apply to this kind of mixture, the mixture should be forbidden in any event?

The Ran answers that R’ Yehudah’s teaching that there’s no nullification by equal types was never intended for our case where the piece in question also emits a permitted flavor. I thought long and hard about the Ran’s answer and initially its rationale completely eluded me. For the Ran is not denying there is a forbidden flavor in this mixture, and, as he emphasizes in his question, we’re dealing with the opinion of R’ Yehuda who doesn’t apply nullification to equal types. Thus why should it make any difference that there is also permitted flavor in the mixture--the whole point of R’ Yehudah’s teaching is that in a mixture of equal types, we never nullify the prohibited matter, no matter how much permitted matter there is!

But all of this got me thinking more about R’ Yehuda’s teaching and led me to a possible understanding of the Ran’s answer. It appears that R’ Yehuda’s view that nullification doesn’t apply to a mixture of equal types is not founded on any logical notion of the laws of nullification but is purely a Scriptural decree. For in a mixture of say a thousand kosher pieces and one nonkosher piece, what would be the logic not to disregard the nonkosher piece? In fact, even in a case where the proportions are such that we can actually taste the forbidden piece, the commentators struggle to explain why a simple majority doesn’t suffice to disregard the nonkosher piece (see Rashba 98b “And the Raavid..”). In our case then, where clearly the taste of the nonkosher piece is completely imperceptible, what could be the question? By what logic should that one piece prohibit everything else?

You will recall from Tuesday’s daf (98b) that R’ Yehuda derives his view from the verse that discusses the bull-blood and goat-blood that were mixed together during the Yom Kippur service. Since the Torah still refers to the goat-blood as a separate entity--in spite of the fact that there was more bull-blood in the container--we learn that if the two elements in the mixture are of the same type, nullification doesn’t apply. I submit that this is purely a Scriptural decree and thus we have to abide by the rule of only applying Scriptural decrees when we have all of the same conditions of their original context. Therefore the Ran very reasonably asserts that since in our case we find a facet that isn’t found in the original case of the decree--the fact that the same piece that emits the forbidden flavor also emits a permitted flavor--we therefore do not apply the decree, and instead revert to the default assumption that since the forbidden taste is completely imperceptible, it halachically doesn’t exist.