Musings while Milking

My Orthodox aunt and uncle came for Eldest Son’s naming (about 6 weeks ago) and when they came out to the farm on Sunday they wanted to buy some eggs. I pulled a carton out of the refrigerator and said, “I think these are from yesterday.” Fresh, I meant.

“Well, we’d probably rather not have ones from yesterday,” they replied gently.

Of course; I wasn’t thinking. They were produced and gathered on Shabbat. So I got a carton from the day before and we were set.

Tonight, though, I was thinking: the hens lay when they will. They don’t do it at our direction nor certainly under our control. So what if, like today, we don’t get around to gathering the eggs until after sunset? What if you gather eggs that were laid on Shabbat but not gathered until after three stars? I bet there’s a discussion somewhere in the halakhic literature that permits these eggs to be used by observant Jews. After all, my reasoning goes, while we feed and house the hen, we do not force her to lay on Shabbat, any more than we can force her to lay on other days. She lays when (and to some extent where!) she will, and the eggs we collect today could really have been laid at any time: before, during, or after Shabbat. In fact, collecting eggs Friday noon and then not later in the day makes it almost certain that we have eggs that were not laid on Shabbat; and that could be any or all of them. (Even though realistically most were laid today.)

And it’s also a case of waste: letting 14% of the eggs laid in a week go to waste is a shame and a shandaBal tash-kheet is the mitzvah that cautions against wasting (it’s the same mitzvah that’s called upon to support Reduce, Re-use, Recycle). So there’s a Torah mandate not to waste.

With the goats it clearer: You have to milk your goats. It’s a matter of fulfilling the mitzvah of tsa’ar ba’aley chayim, not causing unnecessary pain and suffering to living creatures. Again, though, are you going to waste the milk? I just don’t think so.

A friend of ours, who lived on kibbutz many years ago when she was young, told me that they used to talk on her (secular) kibbutz about the ways that the Orthodox kibbutzim would manage their agricultural duties. (In those days kibbutzim really were collective farms, unlike today when many survive on light industry and tourism, if they are even collectives at all any more.) Apparently, while it is not permitted to carry many categories of things in public on Shabbat, it is permitted to carry a k’li, meaning here not a vessel but a utensil. So they’d put a spoon in the milk and carry it back to the kitchen.

You may shake your head and say, “Why bother?” But imagine that you’re sure that this is our best understanding of what God wants. If that’s obvious to you, then you do it.

But I’m not sure, and so even as a choosing adult I am not a halakhically-observant Jew. Which is a whole discussion in itself. But I respect the surety of others. And I think about these things, sometimes, while I’m milking and gathering eggs, under the full moon frosted by clouds and moisture in the air.