Insects Keep Falling on My Head (on Sukkot, that is)

Southern Lyctus Beetle Commonly Infecting S'chach

Southern Lyctus Beetle Commonly Infecting S'chach

Yated Neeman has a letter from Rabbi Moshe Wye on a little-discussed halachic issue for Sukkot:  Insects falling from your s’chach into your food. [See note below.] The Hebrew text appears on the Jerusalem Kosher News blog.  I summarized the most important points below:

“Permanent” s’chach, usually made of bamboo and stored from year to year, is the most likely to have bugs. S’chach of all types, whether old or new, needs to be checked. Rabbi Wye advises spreading out a white surface such as paper or a tablecloth, holding the branches at an angle, and banging them on the ground. The white surface should then be examined for bugs.

If you see small insects, spray the s’chach with insecticide. A few hours later, shake the s’chach to disperse the dead insects. A brush or vacuum cleaner can help remove them.

Lyctine beetles, dark brown and about three millimeters long, often infest dry s’chach. They chew narrow tunnels under the thin skin of the bamboo stalks, and you can see round holes on the outside of the stalks. If  you find these, use a professional exterminator and ask for a guarantee. If the infestation is large, don’t use the s’chach at all.

To store s’chach from year to year, spray with insecticide, let dry completely, and wrap in a sealed waterproof plastic bag. Check again after opening.

Note: During the week-long festival of Sukkot (Tabernacles) beginning October 2, observant Jews eat and often sleep in a temporary booth, called a sukkah. The roof is made of branches or other vegetation, known as s’chach. Aside from hygienic issues, bugs, whether dead or alive, are not kosher.

Related posts:

Don’t Bite the Bugs: How to Avoid Insect Infestation in Food (at CookingManager.Com)

Sukkah Weather

Entertaining Obituaries and Yated Neeman

Check out the 2016 fashions at Hydrochic modest swimwear.

Comments

  1. We just discovered that our yard is infested with termites.
    Isn’t that a nice way to start succoth – not!

  2. mominisrael says:

    Ariela, sorry to hear that.

  3. ewwwwwww yuck.

  4. Sorry, but I don’t think I will be overly worrying about the possibility of bugs falling from my schach mid-meal. Here is my reasoning. First there is a chazaka that the food is kosher. Second if a bug were to fall and the bug is visible with the naked eye, and can be removed, the food retains its kashrut. So I will be careful to notice what plops into my soup.

    However, what does concern me is the insecticide residue and metabolites that, with any rain(and it has already started to be a wet year in Jerusalem) will find themselves on the table top and possibly in the food. I am much more worried about the poison that I know to be a danger versus the rare possibility of an unnoticed bug fall.

  5. mominisrael says:

    Phyllis: hi!
    Hamekubal: The idea of putting up s’cach infested with tiny insects doesn’t bother you?

  6. mominisrael says:

    Well, I certainly agree with you about the rain and insecticides.

  7. Honestly, no it doesn’t. Part of that comes from having grown up in the mid-atlantic area, where bugs were simply part of Succot. Work also required me to spend two Succot in the deep South, and you should see the bugs there. Aside from that, halachicly there is no basis for this worry. It is much like the NYC water issue, which should be noted that the Roshei Yeshivot of the Mir, Torah Vodaas and BMG all said was nonsense.

    The only difference is that there even if you bought into it, you simply installed a safe water filter. Here we are talking about the use of insecticides. Which are a problem for a number of reasons. First both the residue and the metabolites are water soluble. Which means that rain water can spread the toxins. Every insecticide currently available is toxic to humans, either in its standard form or its metabolites(what it breaks down into over time). Finally insecticides are extreme ground water contaminates, which is why farmers in Israel are prohibited from using them, and we have to check everything for bugs(and can’t get kosher raspberries).

    I have small children who want to put everything in their mouths, plant life coated in insecticide concerns me far more. When everything is weighed, the environmental impact and the danger to human life vs the off chance possibility of bugs in my schach. I will take the latter.

  8. mominisrael says:

    Mekubal, I don’t think it’s the same as the water. I don’t believe that many rabbis would permit eating 3mm bugs that fell into your food as they are clearly visible to the naked eye. I don’t know if you are required to examine and exterminate your s’chach, but if it is infested I think that could lead to halachic problem. I share your concern about insecticides.

  9. I can’t see using insecticide on our schach, thats for sure. ON the other hand, a basic inspection and sanity check for bugs seems reasonable.

    But if we can’t see them in a basic check when we get the schach rolled out, i’m not going to worry further. And if i did see anything, i’m tossing it and buying a new one – maybe its wasteful but hey, someone can recycle my bug infested one if they wanted.

    What’s interesting to me is that I never even thought to worry about this before. Then again, I wash and eat all sorts of vegetables without worrying overly much so I guess bugs and I get on well 🙂

  10. mominisrael says:

    Thank you, great suggestions.

  11. A basic check, some shaking out. If there is a problem hose off the schach, that should take care of an infestation.

    Never intended to say that any Rabbi would suggest that you could eat a bug. At the same time, hopefully you would see anything that falls.

    If you are really concerned two things that will work equally well without the environmental impact is bleach and water, or depending upon your means and the amount of schach, rubbing alcohol.

  12. There’s a further point here. A succah with schach is not exactly a new thing. Bugs, falling leaves, dust, debris, bees, moths, all are a regular part of having a lit up sukkah (even if the lighting is only candles or oil lamp) and eating/semi living outdoors in a non-sealed environment (such as a tent).

    Our ‘technology’ of the sukkah, or rather of the schach, hasn’t really changed ever. Ok, you want to say rolled up mats are new, but bundles of dried schach are not.

    My point is…what’s with the sudden chiddush? If checking your schach for bugs was a serious issue, why wouldn’t it be mentioned in over 2400 years of halachic tradition, or over 900 years of printed (or hand written) halachic material?

    And forget the schach, items like gnats in the honey are much more normal.

    Rather it’s just a given…I’m eating outside, I guard my consumables against intruders of all sizes.

  13. Akiva makes a very good point. Often when I ask why we are more scrupulous in certain things than Jews were in the past, I am told that we have better technology now and we have to take advantage of it. Insects do not fall into this category, since I am sure that bugs that are microscopic are not forbidden to eat.

  14. mominisrael says:

    Three millimeters is not microscopic. I don’t see R. Wye’s suggestion as a halachic directive. I have heard him speak before on bugs in food. He has some kind of lab or workshop where he compares different ways of checking for and eliminating bugs in food, and then advises on the best method. He then shares what he has found to be the most effective. It doesn’t mean it’s the only way or the only approach.

  15. Rabbi Wye has a Lab were he devises methods for checking foods. A a point of reference, I have been a mashgiach in times past for several Kashrut agencies including the OK, OU, and in Israel the Eida Chareidis. Each of those agencies considered his methods too extreme. I would add to that the checking if s’chach is no halachic imperative, though a possible infestation of bugs directly over your dining area may be something you want to think about. My only issue really is with his methods of resolving the issue.

  16. this is just too gross for me!

  17. And what about bees for those of us with various bee allergies?
    I always turn the plates over when setting the table, only right side up when starting to serve.

  18. Hate to say I saw this comming, however the Pashvelim are now up. Rabbi Weiss has opened a business to “kasher” your s’khakh for you. They have the most wonderful full color photo of a beetle in soup to go along with it. Unfortunately it makes me doubt the issue all the more.

    Though I am betting that in a year, maybe two varying rabbis will be insisting that s’khakh be certified kosher and offering to do the certification for a not so modest fee.

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