If I eat an ice-cream, or a burger, or potato chips, then when I put that food in my mouth, chew it and swallow it, I have consumed the food. But even some time after having swallowed the food, and even when there are no evident remnants of the food in my mouth, I can still taste the flavor of that food. The question addressed in today’s daf concerns the halakhic status of “food flavor” and, specifically, whether it is permitted to consume the “food flavor” of a forbidden substance.
Both the sages and Rabbi Akiva take the view that “food flavor” is to be considered as the food itself — or, as they put it, ta’am ke’ikar: “the flavor is like the substance.” However, they disagree about how the principle is derived.
According to the sages, the principle of ta’am ke’ikar is derived from an early rabbinic teaching which states that a nazir, who is forbidden to eat grapes (see Numbers 6:3), may not drink water in which grapes had previously been soaked:
Where one soaked grapes in water and the water has the taste of wine, a nazir is liable for drinking it. From here you derive (the principle of ta’am ke’ikar) with regard to the entire Torah.
Rabbi Akiva agrees with the sages on the principle of ta’am ke’ikar, but instead derives it from the laws of meat and milk (see Exodus 23:19, Exodus 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21). The Torah forbids boiling a kid in its mother’s milk, a process that causes flavor of the milk and the meat to be absorbed into one another. The kid, even when pulled out of the stew, is still forbidden because the flavor of the milk has been absorbed (and likewise the milk, even if separated from the meat, is still forbidden because a meat flavor has been imparted to it). This, Rabbi Akiva argues, is what demonstrates the principle of ta’am ke’ikar — the flavor is like the substance.
Given two derivations of the same principle, one by the sages based on the laws of the nazir, and one by Rabbi Akiva based on the law against boiling a kid in its mother’s milk, the Gemara now wonders why the sages did not use Rabbi Akiva’s source.
The answer given to this question is that the laws of meat and milk are a “chiddush” (i.e. they operate in a novel and extraordinary manner), and we cannot derive general rules from novel cases.
But don’t worry, Rabbi Akiva (who was so particularly lauded for his creativity in deriving laws from the Torah) had another way to derive ta’am ke’ikar. His second derivation comes from the biblical law that was pronounced following the battle with the Midianites (see Numbers 31:23) requiring the Israelites to purify the cooking utensils that had previously been used to cook non-kosher food.
Though Rabbi Akiva’s second derivation is also clever, here too the sages claim that the law of purifying cooking utensils is a chiddush and it therefore cannot be used to derive a general rule. However, Rabbi Akiva did not agree and thus stood by his second derivation.
Yet whichever way it is derived — whether from the laws of the nazir, the laws of meat and milk, or the laws of purifying cooking utensils — the fact that all three proofs are biblical sources strongly suggests that the principle of ta’am ke’ikar (the flavor is the substance) is a halakhic principle with the authority of biblical law.