A Non-Jewish Nanny, and Halacha


By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com

She is perhaps the most famous non-Jewish nanny in world history and she has a popular Instagram account which has amassed some 20,000 followers in just three weeks.  She talks about tznius clothing, lashon harah, cholent recipes and checking lettuce for tola’im. Most of her followers are orthodox Jews, but she does have some non-Jewish followers as well.

Our concern is the theoretical halachic ne’emanus of someone such as her checking romaine lettuce and the like.  Our question is, theoretically  would she be halachically believed to forbid foods that we had assumed was kosher and would she theoretically be halachically believed to permit that which we had assumed was not kosher?


The reason why there is a specific issue of halachic reliability is no different than the protocols that pharmacists have when releasing medicine.  In many areas, a pharmacy cannot take back opened drugs that were dispensed to the public and left the possession of the pharmacist or its employees.  The same is true in matters of halacha and kashrus.


So is a gentile believed to forbid a food item that we had assumed was kosher?  The short answer is “no.”

The Rashba (Vol. I #243), who represents the mainstream view writes in a responsum that, with the exception of testimony regarding an agunah – a woman whose husband’s whereabouts are not known, we do not find that the Torah granted admissibility to such testimony regarding halachic matters.  This is true even to prohibit that which was initially considered permitted. An example:  Let’s say an airline had a stewardess who told Yeshiva boys and Seminary girls that the fruit on the airplane came from Israel (and are thus forbidden because of shmittah or tevel) when most fruits in the world do not come from Israel.  They would not forbidden in eating the fruit.


There does seem to be a dissenting view, however. Rabbi Shlomo Luria (Yam Shel Shlomo, Chulin 8:65) writes that a gentile is believed to say that a vessel being sold to a Jew was still in use that day (and therefore has more stringent laws associated with it). This seems to indicate that, to a certain degree, even on a biblical matter, a gentile is believed to forbid something with a previously accepted status. Should our returning children then be stringent and not eat the fruit?

Both the Shach and Taz, however (YD Chapter 122 subparagraph 4), take issue with this Yam Shel Shlomo. Notwithstanding the opinion of the Yam Shel Shlomo, it seems that most authorities reject or severely restrict his position. One can therefore assume that the normative view is the one espoused by the Rashba mentioned earlier.


There is another case, however, which sheds further light on our case. There is a Torah prohibition in slaughtering two animals on the same day where one is the offspring of the other. The Shulchan Aruch (YD 16:11) discusses a case where a gentile informed a Jewish purchaser that the two animals that were just sold were actually related. Generally speaking, the statement would not have halachic significance, unless one has a special relationship with the seller and believes him. If he does believe him, the Shulchan Aruch rules that it is, in fact, forbidden. The term used by the author of the Shulchan Aruch is “Ee mehemin lei-if he believes him.”

Clearly, the three families (and many others as well) have enormous trust in Adrianna.


Another issue that plays a central role in the believability of gentiles in Jewish law is the idea of masiach lefi tumo-where information comes out in incidental conversation. While, generally speaking, a gentile is not believed even if the information came out in incidental conversation (see Shach, YD 98:2), the Vilna Gaon (EH 17:125) explains that according to some authorities, when the information comes out incidentally, a gentile is believed to forbid something, but not to permit it.


What if the gentile is incurring a loss through his statement? Is his statement more admissible? The Taz (YD 316:4) writes that it is. The Taz cites a long case where a gentile entered into negotiations concerning the sale of a cow and would have certainly gained more money had his statement not been believed. The Taz explains that the reason he is believed is not because of his statement, but rather the additional indication to the veracity of his words that is entailed in the fact that he is losing money. Normally, this would indicate a believability, but let us recall that the Taz only stated his words regarding incidental conversation, and this case is not incidental but purposeful.


There is also something in halachah known as raglayim le’davar -legs, or further indication to the matter. The Maharam Lubin, in a response (#66), writes that when there is raglayim le’davar, or further evidence or indication to the matter, the gentile is believed. For example, if a gentile has just examined the stomach of a cow and finds a nail, when he approaches the Jew with the bloody nail in hand, he is certainly believed that he found it there. In our case if the circumstantial evidence is there, then there is certainly room to consider the accusations. One must, of course, be very careful to ensure that the circumstantial evidence was not merely placed there to throw suspicion upon the owner because of some side feud or motivation. On the other hand, care must be taken not to quickly believe an explanation that may not be true.


In previous times (see Chullin 97a), we relied upon the testimony of an expert chef to tell us whether a non-kosher or a dairy item was inserted into a mixture. Nowadays, however, this has fallen into disuse, perhaps because there is a debate as to whether the expert is only believed in incidental conversation or in general.  The operative principle permitting one to rely on an expert chef was the fact that such a person would not sully his or her reputation by something that is disprovable.


Many Poskim have stated that it is possible to create a mirsas situation, where the gentile would be afraid that violating a rule may result in his or her dismissal.  This can, according to many Poskim, be created with a video camera set in the kitchen.


There is a fascinating halachic innovation made by one of my Rebbeim, Rav Yisroel Belsky zt”l.  He once created a chazakah, so to speak, which allowed a kashrus agency to rely on gentiles in checking eggs for blood.  If a financial reward is offered to the workers for every egg that they find which contains a blood spot – it would be permitted to rely on them.  This is on account the chazakah.  Eventually, the innovation was discontinued.  Why?  Apparently, one of the company workers was a diabetic who carried around a lancet.  The incidence of blood found in eggs was significantly higher during this period.  Rabbi Belsky decided to discontinue the innovation.


All this up until now discusses the admissibility of a gentile’s word regarding a Biblically forbidden matter. When we are discussing rabbinic matters, there is a debate as to whether a gentile is believed in incidental conversation. The Trumas HaDeshen and the Shach rule that he is believed, while the Pri Chadash rules that he is not.


There are a number of underlying issues involved in this area of halacha.  It is best addressed by one’s own Rav or Posaik.  The above article was a discussion relevant sources.

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