Last week (see www.koltorah.org) we presented the various opinions regarding the Halachic status of denatured alcohol that is manufactured from grain. This week we shall present the varied opinions regarding the status of cosmetics and toiletries that contain denatured alcohol made from grain.
Cosmetics and Toiletries that Contain Denatured Alcohol
Later twentieth-century authorities continue to debate this issue not only regarding pure denatured alcohol but even regarding products that contain denatured alcohol. Rav Gedalia Felder forbids owning on Pesach cosmetics that contain denatured alcohol. Although he acknowledges the possibility to be lenient, he rules strictly based on the potential to chemically render these products as edible and based on the stringent rulings of Teshuvot Sho’eil U’meishiv and Teshuvot Levushei Mordechai that we cited last week. On the other hand, many observant Jews are lenient in this matter. Indeed, Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yalkut Yosef, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch p. 585 in the 5760 edition) and Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (cited by Rav Yosef Adler and many others) adopt the lenient approach. In fact, Teshuvot Chazon Nachum (46) writes that although he perceives that the common custom is to be strict in these matters, a Rav who rules leniently should not be criticized.
Rav Shimon Eider (Halachos of Pesach pp.25-26) develops a compromise view on this topic that is practiced by many people. He writes, “Many Poskim hold that this problem of alcohol only concerns medications, cosmetics, toiletries and the like that are in liquid form.” He writes that this concern applies to cologne, pre-shave and aftershave lotion, mouthwash, and spray and roll-on deodorants. He writes, though, that some liquids are incapable of being reconstituted and rendered edible and thus may be used even if they contain grain alcohol. He writes that these products include nail polish, hand lotion, shoe polish and paint.
We should note that there is also another potential reason to be lenient in these matters. Rav Eider notes that the alcohol in the product might be synthetic and not grain alcohol. It is reported (see Rav Doniel Neustadt, The Monthly Halachah Discussion pp. 187-188) that even the manufacturers are often unaware as to whether the alcohol in a product is grain or synthetic alcohol. Manufacturers use whatever appropriate product available for the lowest price at a particular time. They often do not have information about the origin of the alcohol that is present in a product that they manufactured six months before one purchased it. Moreover, completely denatured alcohol cannot be reconstituted. Thus, it is possible that even the grain alcohol in a product might not be forbidden even according to the stringent approaches of Rav Moshe Feinsteinand Rav Zvi Pesach Frank that we cited last week.
Although Rav Eider and Rav Neustadt urge one to be strict in this matter since it is a Safek Dioraita (an uncertain matter regarding a biblical prohibition, which is conventionally resolved stringently), one could suggest a lenient approach to support those who follow the lenient approach of Rav Soloveitchik and Rav Ovadia Yosef. One could argue that a Sfek Sfeikah (a “double doubt,” regarding which we rule leniently even regarding a biblical prohibition) exists regarding this issue. First is that perhaps the lenient approaches to denatured alcohol are correct. Second, is that it is very possible that the alcohol contained in the questionable products are not forbidden even according to the strict opinion. This seems to be the approach of Rav Yaakov Kaminetzky (that was cited last week) at least in case of urgent need. In fact, if a majority of alcohol that is used in such products is either synthetic or completely denatured (and is not forbidden even according to the strict opinion), then one might be permitted to rely on the Rov (majority; Kol Diparish Meiruba Parish, see Shulchan Aruch Y. D. 110:2). Indeed, Rav Ovadia Yosef (see Yalkut Yosef ad. Loc.) rules leniently about this matter regarding Israeli products since most of the denatured alcohol contained in Israeli products is synthetic.
On the other hand, the strict approach might argue that the Halacha is usually strict in regard to Chametz on Pesach and the normal lenient Halachic mechanisms that are conventionally applied throughout the year are not applied to Chametz on Pesach. For example, we do not rely on Bittul Bishishim (nullification in sixty times the volume of the forbidden item; Shulchan Aruch O.C. 447:1), Ashkenazim do not rely upon Notein Ta’am Lifgam (Rama O.C. 447:10), and we are concerned that Reicha Milta Hee even Bidieved (see Mishnah Berurah 447:13). Similarly, one might argue that the mechanisms of Sfek Sfeikah and Rov should not Lichatchilah (initially) be relied upon in the context of Chametz on Pesach.
There is a great debate among Halachic authorities regarding whether one may use cosmetics and toiletries on Pesach if they contain inedible Chametz. Cogent Halachic arguments can be made for each side. One should consult his Rav for guidance on how to conduct himself in preparation for Pesach. 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.