In recent weeks, some neighbourhoods of New York’s water supply have been infested with bugs. Some communities decided to stop drinking tap water, as there is a clear prohibition of eating insects. Is this the correct path?

Halachah MiTzion with Rabbi Baruch Plaskow

Bugs in My Water

Rabbi Herschel Schachter of the RIETS institution suggests that in fact there is no halachic problem with drinking this water. He suggests that the Torah only forbade that which one can see with the naked eye and does not prohibit that which can only be seen with microscopic vision. Even those people, who are well trained in the realm of insectology, would fail to recognize these organisms without the aid of scientific apparatus. This idea has many ramifications throughout the halachic universe. Here are just a few examples:

1) Electricity on Shabbat.

The Chazon Ish suggests that any use of electricity violates a biblical prohibition of “building” on Shabbat. In his analysis, there is no difference between building a house and building an electric circuit. Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach in his famous response to the Chazon Ish posits that for sure creating an electric circuit is not prohibited because of “building”, since one cannot see that which has been built and the Torah is only interested in that which can be seen. Rabbi Aurbach is stringent however for other reasons.

2) Laws of Kashrut

We are constantly in contact with living organisms. In the air we breathe and the foods we eat. Indeed, one of the reasons given for the prohibition of boiling water on Shabbat is that it kills organisms in the water and therefore improves its quality. Of course, this does not prohibit the regular eating of foods for the dame rational that is mentioned above. That is the Torah was given to people and not to angels and these organisms cannot be seen by the naked eye.

However, this does not mean that one may not need to wash greens before their consumption. To the contrary, insects commonly found on these items can indeed be seen by a trained eye.

In conclusion, the Torah does not expect us to be overly pedantic to the point that we prohibit upon ourselves items that previous generations may not even have had the technology to recognize. Therefore, many rabbis proclaimed that one might indeed drink from the water supplies of New Yorkwithout any hesitation or doubta