Tzvi Adams writes: Many people today assume that leafy vegetables must be thoroughly washed and inspected before eating to ascertain that tiny insects such as aphids, spider mites and thrips are not present. Rabbi Moshe Vaye, in his encyclopedic Bedikat HaMazon KaHalacha (3 vol./Heb.), has educated the public to the fact that minuscule insects are common in nearly all greens and finds legal support for their prohibition from respected poskim from centuries ago to modern times. On the other hand, Rabbi Eitam Henkin’s Lechem Yehiyeh L’achla provides reasoning for a more lenient attitude. Using technical halachic argumentation, Henkin makes an excellent case for a more relaxed approach to bedikat tola’im. Perhaps the route to reaching the halachic truth is to step back and take a broad historical assessment of this topic. I argue that the rabbis of the Mishna, Talmud, and medieval era ignored these tiny insects and ate the greens without careful rinsing or inspection. This lenient halacha continued until the 17th century when some rabbis wrote of the existence of very small bugs in salad greens. I posit that this new trend in halacha was due not to a new phenomenon in nature but to new discoveries in science:
The Scientific Revolution of the 16th – 18th centuries which produced the compound microscope and improved magnifiers, the discovery of life at the micro-level, the study of entomology and biological pest control, made rabbis more alert for smaller creatures crawling on their food.
I will demonstrate that though many rabbis of the recent centuries clearly forbade even tiny lettuce bugs, many Jews ignored these warnings and continued to eat garden greens with no concern for the presence of small insects. This lenient practice changed only in the last several decades in the modern age of ‘chumra’tism.
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