Is checking eggs for blood relevant today? A halakhic primer

In the past, it was obligatory to check eggs when opening them, but today the situation is different: All eggs under supervision are not fertilized, So what is the halakha?

Rabbi Eliezer Melamed, | updated: 13:00

מצווה. הרב מלמד
מצווה. הרב מלמד
פלאש 90

Blood in Fertilized Eggs

Q: Do eggs need to be checked for blood? And what should be done if blood is found in them? Is there a difference between regular eggs and organic eggs?

A: In order to answer, we must first explain the halakha concerning fertilized eggs, i.e., the eggs of chickens that were fertilized from a male cock, and from which a chick can develop. This was the most common type of egg in the past.

If such eggs have blood in the place from which the chick’s formation begins, it is forbidden by the prohibition of ‘dam‘ (blood), and the prohibition spreads throughout the entire egg. Some authorities say that this prohibition of blood is from the Torah, for just as the blood of a chick is forbidden from the Torah, so too the blood from which it begins to grow is forbidden from the Torah (Rashba and Rosh), while others maintain that it is forbidden ‘m’divrei Chachamim’ (Rabbinical), since in practice it is not yet the blood of a living animal (Rif, Rambam, R”ah, Sha’arei Dura).

But if the blood in the egg is not in place of the beginning of the formation of the chick, such as when the formation of the egg ruptured one of the blood vessels that enveloped it, there is no prohibition in this type of blood, because it does not belong to the formation of the chick. However, on account of ‘marit ayin’ it must be removed, and the egg is permitted. (‘Marit Ayin‘ (literally “the vision of the eye”) describes rabbinic enactments that were put into place to prevent a third-party viewing one’s actions from arriving at the incorrect conclusion that a forbidden action is permitted).

The Rishonim disagreed as to where the chick begins to take shape. Some say that it is in the yellow interior of the egg called ‘chelmon‘ (yolk) (Rif, Rambam, and S.A. 66: 3); on the other hand, there are those who say that the beginning of the formation is in the outer white part called ‘chelbon‘ (albumen) (R’ah and Rashal). Some say that as long as the blood is in place of the albumen bond, i.e., in the thread that connects the yolk to the top of the egg, only the blood is forbidden but the rest of the egg is permitted, because the formation has not yet begun; when the blood has spread to the yolk core, the formation of the yolk has begun, and the whole egg is forbidden (Rashi and Tosafot). In practice, since wherever there is blood in the egg a fear exists that it is forbidden because of the blood of formation according to one of the approaches, the custom is to prohibit the entire egg (R’ma 66:4; Bach in O.C.).

Is it Obligatory to Check Eggs?

All this, however, if the blood is visible. On the other hand, someone who wants to eat a hard-boiled egg, or make a hole in the egg and gulp it down, does not have to examine it before eating it, since the vast majority of eggs do not contain blood, and as a rule, we follow the majority. But if the eggs are opened in order to make an omelet, or to mix them in a dish or a pastry, since in any case the interior of the egg is visible, one must be strict to check if there is blood in it (B.Y., S.A., and R’ma 66:8). Since if blood is found, the entire egg is forbidden, each egg should be examined in a separate container, so that if blood is found in one of the eggs, it alone will be thrown away, and having to throw away the eggs and the dish they were mixed in with will be unnecessary.

It should be noted that in eggs whose shell is brown (a certain type of hens) there are more brown spots which sometimes also tend to be orange. These stains come from the shell, and are not forbidden, because only what is red as blood is forbidden (Darchei Teshuva 66:22). In fact, white shells causes stains in eggs as well, but since they are white, they are not as visible.

Unfertilized Eggs

If blood is found in an egg that is not fertilized, because it is from a chicken grown in non-male poultry farms, the blood in it is not prohibited – because it cannot be the beginning of the formation of a chick; rather, it is caused by the blood that was ruptured during the formation of the egg. Since this is the case, it is not obligatory to examine such eggs, since only if blood is seen in them, must it be removed (see Iggrot Moshe, Y.D., 1, 36, and Y.O. sect. 3, Y.D. 2, about blood found in eggs about sixty years ago, when the percentage of fertilized eggs in the markets was more than ten percent).

Most Eggs are Not Fertilized

In Israel today, it is forbidden to sell fertilized eggs for health reasons because they contain residues of medicines that are injected into the chickens that lay them. If they want to turn these chickens into egg-laying chickens for edible purposes, according to the law, they have to separate them from the males and wait for about two weeks for the drugs to dissipate from their bodies. The mark for eggs that are allowed for marketing is a stamp, which includes the stamp of the marketer, the date of manufacture, the size of the egg, and the expiration date.

In fact, at least 97 percent of the eggs currently marketed in the State of Israel are supervised eggs with a stamp, and the other eggs are marketed from illegally smuggled produce (from Arabs in Judea and Samaria, or poultry owners who sell eggs in cash to avoid paying taxes). The percentage of fertilized eggs is very small, originating from breeding bands that when successfully smuggled, arrive mainly for industry. Thus, even among eggs that do not have a stamp, there are almost no fertilized eggs.

“Free” and Organic Eggs

Organic eggs and “free” eggs marketed in stores are also eggs that are not fertilized. “Free” eggs are the eggs of chickens grown in ten times the area of ​​the common chicken coop, to prevent causing them grief. In Israel, “free” eggs are less than one percent of all eggs. Organic eggs are the eggs of chickens who have received organic food, have not been sterilized with chemicals, nor have they received the majority of injections.

The Practical Halakha

Since all the eggs with the stamp are not fertilized, there is no need to examine them for blood, and only if blood happens to be seen in them should it be removed because of ‘marit ayin’. Nevertheless, many people still check eggs. There are two possible reasons for this custom: one, they do not know that almost no fertilized eggs are sold anymore, and that all the eggs with the stamp are not fertilized, and if they knew, they would not have checked. The second reason, since it was customary to examine eggs for generations, they continue to check because of ‘marit ayin’, even though this is not obligatory.

Those who buy eggs without a stamp – according to the strict law, they do not have to check, since more than ninety percent of them are not fertilized, seeing as fertilized eggs are more expensive. But there is more room for stringency, since there may be fertilized eggs among them. However, for health and legal reasons it is better not to buy them.

I was assisted by R. Shalom David, a senior member of the Council of the State of Israel’s Chicken Coops