Is it a problem of bal tashchit to throw out edible leftovers if one prefers to do so for no good reason?

  • I have a colleague who will not throw out a crumb of food or tattered beyond repair clothing. Sometimes he eats food well beyond expiration. Since he has smikha, I'll see if he can give me some halakhic references. (He and I have discussed this before so rest assured it will not be insulting to him.) – JJLL Nov 16 '14 at 2:41

This article starts from the point that the Torah Devorim 20:19 prohibits destroying fruit trees during a siege. It goes on to say:

The general prohibition against needless destruction, derived from the verse on fruit trees, concerns not destroying directly or indirectly anything that may be of use to people.

The Talmudic sage Rabbi Yishmael makes another logical inference: if the Torah warns us not to destroy fruit trees, then we should be even more careful about not destroying the fruit itself. Currently, in Israel, Rabbi Moshe Yitzhak Forehand notes that all rabbinic authorities agree, based on this teaching, that it is forbidden from the Torah to destroy edible fruit. This applies to all food that is fit to be eaten, and not only the fruit of trees.

Rabbi Moshe Aaron Poleyeff (1888–1967, Europe and U.S.) wrote that overeating may be a double transgression of bal tashchit—first by wasting food, and second by harming one’s body.Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky (contemporary, Israel) considers taking more food than one can eat at a buffet to be bal tashchit.

So it seems that (in answer to the text of the question) one may not throw out edible leftovers.

The title of the question is “do I have to eat the leftovers”. Whether one should eat the leftovers will depend on whether overeating is involved.

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    "Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky (contemporary, Israel) considers taking more food than one can eat at a buffet to be bal tashchit." The flip side of this problem is - often caterers put out more food than people can eat! I've worked at enough caterers and been to many kiddushim were I've seen them dump huge piles of food directly into the trash. So, I think much of the problem of Bal Tsachit should probably be assigned to the caterer, no? – DanF Nov 17 '14 at 3:07

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