The Case of Milk in the Sugar Bowl

 The Case of Milk in the Sugar Bowl

Standing in shul at the hot water urn between Mincha and Maariv, a Styrofoam* cup of tea in my left hand and a clean plastic spoon in my right, I’m ready to dig into the jumbo-sized sugar bowl, when I stop in my tracks. “One minute,” I mutter to myself, “this sugar is lumpy and in all likelihood some previous coffee-drinker dipped his milchig (dairy) spoon into this same bowl. I had a fleishig (meat) lunch a little while ago, so I need to wait six hours before having milk—which is why I took a pareve (neutral, i.e. neither milk nor meat) drink in the first place … will this milchig sugar make my tea milchig?”

I look closer. Maybe it was plain coffee or tea that clumped the sugar, in which case, there’s no problem. “Nah,” I argue, “coffee or tea would discolor the sugar, so this is probably milk. Actually, I see a few white drops on the rim of the bowl, so it must be milk, and it can’t be batel b’shishim (nullified, by sixty parts to one) because it’s visible…

“Now, I know that the milk in this sugar will dissolve in my cup of hot tea so it’s no longer visible, but the dispensation of bitul b’shishim applies only if it happens b’dieved (ex post facto), not if I intentionally put the milchig sugar in. What should I do?”

The rule is ein mevatlin issur l’chatchillah (a prohibition cannot be nullified preemptively, i.e. intentionally). Therefore: we may not choose a fleishig spoon to mix milchig coffee, add water or other ingredients to fleishig soup to increase its volume in order to overwhelm something milchig that fell into it, or even mix a drop of milk into a boiling pot of water if we intend to cook meat in it later. 

But the man at the coffee urn mixing a minute amount of milk into pareve tea is not attempting to nullify an issur—since there is no issur (prohibition) to mix milchig with pareve which will never become fleishig. Even if the pareve tea later does become fleishig, it is permissible to add the sugar now, since he has no desire for milk in his tea, and would actually prefer undiluted sugar. The milk is thereby nullified in the pareve drink and the fleishig drinker may have a sweetened tea.

*See Halachah # 458: Are Styrofoam cups kosher?

Practical Halacha: One minute a day. By Horav Yosef Yeshaya Braun, shlita, Mara D'asra and member of the Badatz of Crown Heights.