Chametz Mixtures and Pet Food-A Bold and Controversial Approach-Part II by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


Last week we noted that the standard approach in the Orthodox community for decades has been that one should not serve one’s animals pet food that contain Chametz on Pesach. However, we set forth an argument permitting serving pet food containing Chametz, provided that the grain content of the pet food is less than fifty percent. Our motive for endeavoring to discover a lenient approach is the fact that many pets become seriously ill in response to a change in their diet, which in turn creates a significant disruption to a family.

We cited the rulings of Chacham Ben Zion Abba Shaul and Chacham Ovadia Yosef who permitted feeding fish food containing Chametz on Pesach since the Chametz content is less than fifty percent and is unsuitable for human consumption. I argued, with support from Rav Dov Lior, that the same should be allowed for dog food.

Rav Schachter’s Response and a Possible Reply

I presented my approach to Rav Hershel Schachter and Rav Mordechai Willig for their review. Rav Schachter’s was surprised even by the ruling of Chacham Ovadia and Chacham Ben Zion regarding fish food; he stated that it was possible that even fish food is Ra’ui LeAchilat Adam. He argued that it is possible that people would regard pet food as edible, if they did not know it was pet food. He cited Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach who suggests (Teshuvot Minchat Shlomo 1:17) that just because we moderns are “finicky” (Mifunakim is the Hebrew word that Rav Shlomo Zalman uses) and regard certain items to be disgusting, this does not necessarily give us the right to classify these items as unsuitable for human consumption. As evidence, Rav Shlomo Zalman cites the Rambam (Hilchot Tumat Ochlin 10:2) who writes that human ear and nose excretions, as well as human urine, are considered suitable for human consumption.

However, a possible response to Rav Schachter’s insight is the information posted at “Pet food is not made for human consumption. Most pet food is made from food humans won’t stomach, slaughterhouse leftovers such as organs, blood, and offal like the trim from hides (an indigestible but harmless filler)”. This appears to clarify and confirm the intuitive supposition that pet food is not Ra’ui LeAchilat Adam.

The Difficulty of Defining Ra’ui LeAchilat Adam

An example of the challenge of defining what is Eino Ra’ui LeAchilat Adam is the dispute between Poskim of the modern age regarding pure denatured alcohol. Rav Zvi Pesach Frank (Mikra’ei Kodesh 54) and Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe O.C. 3:62) rule that pure denatured alcohol is considered suitable for consumption. Rav Moshe explains that it is regarded as edible since “there are those [indigent alcoholics] who drink this with only slight additions and modifications.” On the other hand, Teshuvot Minchat Elazar (5:37 in the 5756 edition of Emet Publications) rules that essentially pure denatured alcohol is not considered suitable for consumption (though he notes that the common practice is to be strict about this matter). The Minchat Elazar does not believe that Ra’ui LeAchilat Kelev is determined for the entire community by the aberrant behavior of marginal members of society. The Halacha in general refers to such a situation as Batla Da’atan Eitzel Kol HaBeriyot (see, for example, Shulchan Aruch O.C. 168:6 and Yoreh De’ah 198:1). Rav Yosef Adler told me that Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik agrees with this approach, as we noted in last week’s article.

Rav Shimon Eider (Halachot of Pesach p. 25 footnote 90) cites that he heard that Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rav Aharon Kotler and Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky agree with Rav Moshe’s approach regarding denatured alcohol. Accordingly, Rav Doniel Neustadt (The Monthly Halachic Discussion p.187) concludes that the majority of Poskim rule strictly about this matter. However, Rav Yosef Rottenberg of Baltimore notes that the problem with oral reports such as these (that are not supported by a written responsum), is that it is difficult to determine whether these great authorities meant their rulings as “bottom line Halacha” (Ikar Hadin) or simply as a Chumra (stringency). In fact, Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky is cited in Emet LeYa’akov on the Shulchan Aruch (p.200) as being lenient on this matter in case of very great need.

Rav Willig’s Response

Rav Willig also questioned even Rav Ovadia and Rav Ben Zion Abba Shaul’s assessment that fish food is not Ra’ui LeAchilat Adam. He suggested that perhaps with a bit of cooking or adding some onions, the food would be marginally edible for humans. We may add that the Halacha indeed has such a concept of animal food which is marginally edible for humans and is considered fit for human consumption. I refer to “Karshinim”(a type of bean), an item frequently mentioned in the Mishna and Gemara. Halacha regards the item as edible for humans, and it can even become Terumah (Terumot 11:9).

Rav Gedalia Felder (Yesodei Yeshurun 6:227) adopts a similar approach. He cites the Gemara (Eiruvin 28b) that states bitter almonds are considered edible since they can be rendered edible by roasting them. Raw spaghetti that can be rendered edible simply by cooking it appears to be a modern analogue to the Gemara’s bitter almonds. Accordingly, if something can be rendered edible by a simple process, it is considered edible even before this process occurs. Interestingly, Dayan Yitzchak Weisz, Teshuvot Minchat Yitzchak 9:42, seems to use this principle to permit using a frozen Challah for Lechem Mishneh.

On the other hand, Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzinsky (Teshuvot Achiezer 3:31: addressing the question of the permissibility of a medicine that contains an inedible non-Kosher ingredient) writes (based on the Chavat Daat 103:1) that we consider the potential of an inedible item to be reconstituted only if it “Omeid Likach,” that this is what normally occurs. Thus, raw spaghetti is considered to be edible since it is normally cooked. Similarly, the Torah forbids using yeast on Pesach even though it is inedible, since it normally facilitates baking bread. Thus, one could argue that pet food is not analogous to bitter almonds since very few people modify pet food for consumption purposes.

Conclusion – Rav Baruch Gigi of Yeshivat Har Etzion

I also presented my approach to Rav Baruch Gigi, the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion, who is a Talmid Chacham and Poseik of stature. Rav Gigi agreed with my assessment, supported by both common sense and the website cited above, that pet food does not meet the Shulchan Aruch’s definition (Orach Chaim 442:4) of “Ma’achal Kol Bnei Adam,” food that everyone would eat.

Nonetheless, Rav Gigi cautioned not to rely on this leniency unless it is a case of considerable need. Considering this limitation and the skepticism of Rav Schachter and Rav Willig about the lenient approach, pet owners should strive to find an alternative to serving their animals pet food that contains Chametz. Such alternatives include selling the animal to a non-Jew and placing the animal in the non-Jew’s home for the duration of the holiday or feeding the pet Chametz free pet food year round. However, if a viable alternative cannot be found, one can argue that it is permitted to serve pet food that contains Chametz content of less than fifty percent, and is purchased before the time Chametz becomes forbidden to benefit from (the fifth Halachic hour of the thirteen day of Nissan). As we concluded last week, one should consult his Rabbi for a ruling about this challenging issue.

Sefer Yonah, Part I: Tarshish Co-Authored by Rabbi Chaim Jachter & Binyamin Jachter ‘17

Chametz Mixtures and Pet Food – A Bold and Controversial Approach by Rabbi Chaim Jachter