There is much debate as to whether cosmetics and toiletries must be Chametz-free in order to be used on Pesach. In the following essays we hope to clarify the points of contention and outline the Halachic basis for both the lenient and the strict approach to this issue. In subsequent issues we will further address this issue and the issue of medicines for Pesach.
Talmudic Background – Eino Ra’ui L’achilat Kelev and Achshevei
The Gemara (Pesachim 21b) states that if Chametz is burned before Erev Pesach one is permitted to benefit from it on Pesach. Tosafot (ad. loc. s.v. Charcho) clarify that the Gemara applies only if the bread was thoroughly burned to the extent that it is no longer fit for eating even for a dog. Tosafot cite in this context the Gemara (Pesachim 15b) that permits bread that has become moldy if it is not fit even for canine consumption (Ra’ui L’achilat Kelev). The Gemara explains that in such a case the bread is likened to “mere dust.”
A similar rule applies to all forbidden foods, as the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 67b-68a) states that the Torah forbids only food that is fit for human consumption. Regarding Pesach, however, we are stricter, as we require that the Chametz be not even worthy for canine consumption. This is consistent with the Halacha’s very strict approach to Chametz on Pesach, as for example, regarding the prohibition to own Chametz and the fact that Chametz is never nullified in a mixture. The Ran (13b in the pages of the Rif s.v. Tanu Rabbanan) and the Magen Avraham (442:14) explain that Chametz that is fit for canine consumption has the potential to ferment bread. Hence, it is forbidden similar to yeast, which the Torah specifically forbids for Pesach.
The Rishonim, though, debate as to whether it is forbidden to eat Chametz that is no longer Ra’ui L’achilat Kelev. The Rosh (Pesachim 2:1) cites opinions that believe that one may even eat such Chametz. However, he rejects this opinion and rules that one may only benefit from such Chametz (as explicitly stated in the Gemara), but eating it is forbidden. By eating it, one has “upgraded the food” (Achsh’vei) from a non-food item to a food item. The basis for this ruling is the Gemara (Sh’vuot 24) that rules that if one swears not to eat an inedible item and subsequently eats it, he has then violated his oath because he has upgraded (Achsh’vei) that item. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 442:9 and see Mishnah Berurah 442:43) rules in accordance with the Rosh. The Taz (O.C. 442:8) clarifies that Achsh’vei creates only a rabbinic prohibition. The Sha’agat Aryeh (74), Minchat Kohen (Ta’arovet 1:9) and Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 442:30) agree with the Taz.
The Shulchan Aruch (ad. loc. 442:10) permits writing on Chol Hamoed Pesach (when permitted, see Shulchan Aruch O.C. 545) with ink that was cooked in barley beer in the course of its preparation. The Mishnah Berurah (442:45) adds that this is permitted even though the scribes might absentmindedly put the quill in their mouth (as was common in the pre-modern age). The Mishnah Berurah (based on the Magen Avraham, 442:15, who cites the Terumat Hadeshen 129) explains that Achsh’vei applies only if one intentionally eats the item. Furthermore, the Shulchan Aruch (ad. loc. 442:9 and see Mishnah Berurah 442:42) permits using Chametz as a place to sit (even though we are forbidden to even merely benefit from Chametz) if one has smeared the Chametz with clay. The Mishnah Berurah explains that smearing the Chametz with clay removes the Chametz from the status of food. The Taz (ad. loc.) seems to imply that one even may benefit from this Chametz. The Sha’ar Hatziyun (442:72), however, writes that the smearing of clay merely excuses one from the requirement to remove this Chametz from his home. The Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 442:30), though, clearly indicates that one is permitted to benefit from such Chametz, as implied by the Taz.
Is Pure Denatured Alcohol Considered Eino Ra’ui L’achilat Kelev?
It is often difficult to determine what is considered Nifsal Mei’achilat Kelev. In fact, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Teshuvot Minchat Shlomo 1:17) suggests 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. For example, 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. Rav Shlomo Zalman is unsure whether definitions of Ra’ui L’achilah are subject to change depending on the standards of each generation.
An example of the challenge of defining what is Eino Ra’ui L’achilat Kelev 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 L’achilat 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 HaB’riyot (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.
Rav Gedalia Felder (Yesodei Yeshurun 6:227) cites the Gemara (Eiruvin 28b) as a proof of Rav Moshe’s approach. This Gemara states that 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 (Dayan 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 pure denatured alcohol is not analogous to bitter almonds since most people do not modify denatured alcohol for consumption purposes.
Rav Shimon Eider (Halachos 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 his 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 L’Yaakov on the Shulchan Aruch (p.200) as being lenient on this matter in case of very great need (especially since the alcohol might be synthetic as we shall explain later).
We should note that even grain alcohol might not be regarded as Chametz on a biblical level. Some Poskim (cited in Shaarei Teshuvah 442:3) argue that alcohol is Zei’ah B’alma (mere sweat; see Brachot 37a) and is forbidden as Chametz only on a rabbinic level. Although the Mishnah Berurah (442:4) rules that the consensus opinion classifies grain alcohol as a biblical prohibition, Rav Yehuda Amital (the Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion) told me (in a conversation in 1986) that the lenient opinions might be utilized as a Snif Lihakeil (a lenient consideration) regarding the question of owning products that contain Chametz (this is also the opinion of Rav Chaim David Halevi, Techumin 3:69; also see Biur Halacha 489:10 s.v. Af who considers the lenient opinions in the context of the laws of Chadash)
The Potential to Restore Denatured Alcohol
The alcohol in cosmetics and toiletries is not pure alcohol. Rather, it is significantly modified and rendered unsuitable for drinking as a beverage. This is done so that the companies that use such alcohol in their products do not have to pay liquor tax. I have been informed that the United States Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms and Tobacco is quite strict (even stricter than the Internal Revenue Service) and monitors the sale of alcohol extremely carefully. Thus, in order to avoid paying alcohol tax, companies strictly ensure that the alcohol they use for such products is denatured and rendered unsuitable for drinking as a beverage. However, certain chemicals may be added to reconstitute the alcohol and render it drinkable as a beverage. The question is whether the Halacha considers the denatured alcohol that is contained in cosmetics and toiletries according to its present state or according to its potential state of restoration.
We should note that the question of whether an item’s status is determined by its present state or its potential state arises in numerous Talmudic and Halachic debates. For example, see Rashash to Kiddushin 63a s.v. Lihachi Nakat, regarding the questions of being Makneh Davar Shelo Ba Liolam and Anavim Habetzurim Kibetzurim Dami. Another example is the debate between the Magen Avraham (82:2) and the Chatam Sofer (Orach Chaim 89).
The Poskim that we cited in the previous section addressed pure denatured alcohol. Rav Moshe (as we cited above) rules strictly in this matter, as Rav Moshe considers the practices of indigent alcoholics who will drink such alcohol with only slight modifications. Rav Zvi Pesach (ad. loc.) cites a debate among many of the great early twentieth-century Poskim regarding the question of whether the Halacha considers the potential chemical restoration of denatured alcohol to render it suitable for consumption as a beverage by the mainstream of society.
Rav Eliyahu Klatzkin (Divrei Eliyahu 5) rules stringently and Teshuvot Atzei Halevanon (17) rules leniently. Teshuvot Minchat Elazar also rules leniently citing Tosafot, Pesachim 46b s.v. Ho’il, (the second Tosafot of this heading on this page). Tosafot notes that the Mishnah (Pesachim 28a) permits one to benefit from Chametz that a non-Jew owned during Pesach, even though the Jew potentially could have purchased the Chametz from the non-Jew. Teshuvot Minchat Elazar specifically permits using one’s car during Chol Hamoed Pesach even if the gasoline is mixed with denatured alcohol that can potentially be restored to edible form by a chemical process.
Rav Gedalia Felder presents a proof to the lenient approach from the aforementioned Halacha regarding Chametz that was smeared with clay. He notes that the Shulchan Aruch permits one to own such Chametz even though the Chametz can easily be restored to its status as food. However, one might reply that the smearing with clay only permits one to own such Chametz but not to benefit from it, at least according to the aforementioned opinion of the Shaar Hatziyun. However, Rav Felder’s proof seems to be compelling according to the aforementioned view of the Aruch Hashulchan regarding the Chametz smeared with clay.
We should clarify that the fact that the Shulchan Aruch permits using on Chol Hamoed Pesach ink cooked in beer even though the ink can be chemically reconstituted, does not constitute a proof to the lenient opinion on this matter. The technique of chemical reconstitution was not available during the time of the Shulchan Aruch. Thus, the stringent opinion would seem to argue that this lenient opinion of the Shulchan Aruch no longer applies, because of the current availability of chemical reconstitution.
Rav Zvi Pesach cites two other reasons why one should be strict about this matter. First, is that one of the great late nineteenth-century Poskim, Rav Yosef Sha’ul Natanson, (Teshuvot Sho’eil U’meishiv 1:1:141) rules that the exemption of Eino Ra’ui L’achilat Kelev applies only to items that are normally consumed. Since these items are consumed only when they are edible the prohibition to consume them does not apply if they are not fit even for canine consumption. However, if the item is not meant for consumption, argues Rav Natanson, the prohibition to own and benefit from them (if they contain Chametz) applies even if they are inedible.
Rav Zvi Pesach, though, writes that he does not find this line of reasoning to be persuasive, and he notes that Rav Natanson seems to contradict himself in another responsum (Teshuvot Sho’el U’meishiv 3:2:148) where he permits soap to be used on Pesach since the Chametz in the soap is inedible. Moreover, we mentioned that the Shulchan Aruch permits ink that was cooked in barley beer to be used on Pesach. Accordingly, most Poskim do not accept Rav Natanson’s strict approach, although some consider it as a reason to be strict when possible about such issues on Pesach (see, for example, Rav Gedalia Felder, Yesodei Yeshurun 6:227).
Rav Zvi Pesach presents another reason to be stringent in this matter. He cites Teshuvot Levushei Mordechai (O.C. 86) who argues that the category of Nifsal L’achilat Kelev is irrelevant to alcohol, as dogs would not consume even conventional alcohol that humans regularly drink. Teshuvot Minchat Elazar (ad. loc.) challenges this argument by responding that even dogs can potentially acquire a taste for alcohol just as alcohol is an acquired taste for humans.
Rav Zvi Pesach Frank concludes that one should not use pure denatured alcohol as fuel for cooking (apparently a common practice in the early twentieth century) on Pesach. For further discussion of this debate see She’arim Mitzuyanim Bahalacha (3:78-79).
Next week IY”H and B”N we will further examine this issue and in a subsequent issue we shall IY”H and B”N review the application of the principles we outlined in this essay to the Pesach use of medicines that contain inedible Chametz.