A generally accepted halachic principle is that the Torah was not given to angels. As such, halacha is only applied within normal human capabilities.

A classic example is that one is not required to use a magnifying glass to check for bugs in greens. We don't consider anything beyond the eye?

My question is: If a person did use a magnifying glass and did see a bug, would that bug be permissible to eat?

Are there any (classic) sources that discuss this question? (Any application of this idea)

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    An obvious question then is why mashgichim use lightboxes. – Tzvi Apr 24 '11 at 23:13
  • Good point. I always assumed that's because you placed yourself in a darker environment. If you would be outside (in G-d's natural light), you would be able to see the bugs better. The lightbox compensates for that. – YDK Apr 27 '11 at 17:49
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    YDK, I fail to see what your question is: There are microscopic bugs in water. If you took water and looked at it under a microscope and then asked a poseik if you can drink it, there is no real poseik in the world who would forbid it. – Yahu Apr 27 '11 at 20:12
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    IIRC there's a Halacha that you don't have to check eggs at night; that may be a good place to start some research. – Danny Schoemann May 11 '11 at 9:21
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    i think you misunderstood the issue - the machmirim here are referring to when one can see something but is not actually discernable as a bug - if you can see it with a microscope then one should be machmir (many dispute this though). but almost no one holds if one can't see anything w/o use of microscope - it is not considered to exist!! see this thorough article -ohr.edu/this_week/insights_into_halacha/5043 – cmb Jul 31 '12 at 8:36

After doing a google search, I found this excellent, well sourced piece from the OU. According to the article, written by rabbi Dovid Bistricer, poskim fall on both sides of the issue.

Those in favor of using microscopes to "change" the halacha:

R' Yaakov Emden (She'ilas Yaavetz 2:124) allowed microscopes to check for insects in rice, forbidding that which can only be seen with a microscope.

R' Moshe Stern (Shut Be'er Moshe 5:16) allows the use of a microscope to see if letters which appear connected in a sefer torah are in fact so, but rejected its use to pasul the letters.

The Chazon Ish (Acc to R' SZ Aurbach in R' Y. Neuwirth's SSK (3:37)) forbids insects identified with a microscope.

R' YS Elyashiv is quoted (source needed) as forbidding insects identified with a microscope if those insects will be readily identified in the future w/o a microscope, but permits those that won't be.

Others were unable to fathom how something could be permissible to one and forbidden to another depending on whether one owned a microscope:

Tiferes Yisrael (Avoda Zara 2:7:3) says that the Torah only recognizes what can be seen by the naked eye and forbids fish where the scales are not discernable without a microscope (and would presumably permit bugs of a similar nature).

R' Shlomo Klugar (Tuv Taam Vadaas KA 2:53) rejected R' Y Enden.

R' Avraham Danzig (Binas Adam 34).

R' YM Epstein (Aruch Hashulchan 84:36)

R' Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe Yore Deah II 146) rejected using a microscope to check the sqareness of Tefillin.

R' Moshe Shternbuch (Teshuvos v'Hanhagos 1:628 and 3:323) invalidates stam writing where the letters appear to be touching, although a microscopic view has them separated. He quotes the Tschbeiner Rav (Dovev Meisharim (1:1) as having the same position.

Rav Shmuel Vosner (Shut Shevet haLevi 7:122) permits eating microscopically viewed bugs if they cannot be seen by the naked eye.

R' CO Grodzenski is quoted (source needed) as permitting microscopic bugs.

R' SZ Aurbach (quoted in SSK 3:37) permitted eating microscopic bugs.

R' YS Elyashiv permits microscopic bugs if they will always remain microscopic.

I haven't read the above from their original sources.

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    Perhaps you should summarize the relevant portions here. – Hod - Monica's Army Feb 9 '12 at 4:17
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    @HodofHod, done. – YDK Feb 12 '12 at 5:14
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    To be fair Rav Moshe Stern is relying on a microscope LeKula to permit the sefer torah. It's not clear how that would necessarily relate to the issue of bugs. – Double AA Feb 12 '12 at 5:14
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    .....and +1'ed for a great answer! – Hod - Monica's Army Feb 12 '12 at 5:23
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    @DoubleAA, good call. Read my italicized edit to the Debreciner after reading his teshuva. – YDK Feb 12 '12 at 16:15

About bugs - the halacha is that you cant eat it if it is large enough to be visible to the naked eye. This is regardless of whether it is camouflaged or hidden.

  • If a mashgiach can see a small black spec that could be a piece of dirt, or could be a bug. It is large enough to be visible, so if it is a bug, then you can't eat it (and a light box or magnifying glass can be very useful in telling the difference.
  • Same thing with a small green bug that is hidden in the folds of some Romaine lettuce. If the bug is big enough so that if it was all alone on a white sheet of paper you could see it, then the fact that you cant see it because it is hard to distinguish between the folds of the lettuce (or within the head of broccoli) does not make it permissible to eat.

The bug seen under a magnifying glass would only be permissible to eat if without the magnifying glass you could not possibly see it at all. According to this page this is equivalent to 0.1mm.

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  • Thamks, Yaakov. It's strange that we quantify measurements that may be subjective, although we do so by the amah as well. – YDK May 16 '11 at 5:43
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    Yaakov: how do you know that a visible bug doesn't mean a bug that you could recognize as a bug with the naked eye? Maybe that black spot that only turns out to be a bug under the microscope is halachicaly still dirt? According to you, everyone who checked food 500 years ago would have no way of knowing which black dots were bugs and which were dirt! Were they really all eating shkatzim veramasim!? – Double AA Feb 9 '12 at 3:49
  • @DoubleAA I think his point is that if it might be a bug, you'd have to remove it. If you are eating dirty lettuce, most likely you are eating forbidden bugs. – Seth J Feb 9 '12 at 13:41
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    @DoubleAA I agree that a source would be helpful. – Seth J Feb 9 '12 at 16:17
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    That page quotes R Shlomo Zalman Aurbach, the Achiezer and Shevet Halevi in accordance with my position. Since this answer is unsourced, and I believe wrong, I give it a commented -1. – Double AA Feb 9 '12 at 22:43

of course yes, like you mentioned before: the torah was given to human beings not to angels. in our case it means that the kind of bug that is forbidden is the one the human can see.

If you hold that you need to check with a utensil, someone using an microscope wouldn't eat anything.

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    Thanks, Avraham. Yahu, who made a similar point, brought a great application to back it up. – YDK May 15 '11 at 4:12

The unequivocable answer is - no! if they can not be seen by the naked eye, they are not considered to exist period. Interesting I just saw another great article by the author of the photogrey issue on this exact topic - with dozens (if not more) of sources and here's the link. This rabbi Spitz must really know his stuff!

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    cmb, Welcome to Judaism.SE, and thanks very much for sharing that interesting and relevant essay! Please consider registering your account, which will give you access to more of the site's features. – Isaac Moses Feb 12 '12 at 15:07

There is absolutely no problem with eating microscopic creatures that, if they were large enough to see with the naked eye, would be forbidden as non-kosher.

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    Since you're posting this as an answer to the question, I assume you mean "...even if you've seen them with a lens". As always, a source for this claim would be invaluable. – msh210 Feb 9 '12 at 15:17
  • I'm not understanding the question. Are you saying that, although it is normally permitted, it might become forbidden if you happened to look through a microscope? So, if two people are sitting together, with a cup of yogurt, and one takes out a microscope and looks at the yogurt and sees that it is filled with bacteria, it would then be forbidden to him, but it would remain permitted to the other fellow? – LazerA Feb 9 '12 at 16:28
  • That's what the question above asks (though about insects rather than bacteria), yes. You're answering: I would love to see the answer cite a source. Or at least an argument. Right now, it's a bare claim. – msh210 Feb 9 '12 at 17:55
  • If that is the question, then I believe it is based upon a fundamentally flawed premise, which is what I was pointing out in my previous statement. – LazerA Feb 9 '12 at 21:55
  • Pardon me, but I don't see that you pointed out a flaw. I only see that you repeated the premise with a question mark after it. – msh210 Feb 9 '12 at 22:09

The Gemara (Ketubot 9) says that if you say know something is Asur, even though the Torah says it is Mutar, it is Asur. For example, if there are two Edim that say that the meat from "X Shechita Center" is kosher and you walk in and see they are shooting the cows in the head instead of "shechting" them, you are a not allowed to eat it even though everyone else is Kosher for everyone else (heard from my 10th grade Rebbe). The same would apply here.

EDIT:The reason I believe this applies here is because in theory the bugs would be Asur. I think the only reason they aren't Asur is because you can't see them- now you can see them, why should they be Mutar? The same in the cow case, if you didn't see them shoot him in the head, you could have relied on the Kashrut and you probably wouldn't have been responsible for anything (probably means Tzarich Iyun).

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    It seems to me to be different from the you-see-them-shoot-the-bull case: here, what you see isn't something necessarily asur but, rather, microscopic insects. The question then is whether they're asur. This answer doesn't seem to resolve the question. – msh210 Feb 9 '12 at 5:47
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    @msh210 Indeed, I think the issue is not whether it is revealed to be Asur because now you can see it, but whether it was ever Asur because it was not in the same class of things that are Asurim. – Seth J Feb 9 '12 at 13:55
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    May Gd protect you from learning about the billions of creatures you eat and that live inside of you daily. – avi Feb 9 '12 at 14:02
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    @avi don't remind of that...High school science classes have taught me all I need to know about that. – Hacham Gabriel Feb 9 '12 at 14:07
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    As always, a source for an halachic claim (in this case, "in theory the bugs would be Asur. I think the only reason they aren't Asur is because you can't see them") would be invaluable (or am I to understand that "I think" denotes a conjecture?). – msh210 Feb 9 '12 at 22:07

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