Reprinted with permission from the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society Number XXX
The pharmaceutical industry commonly packages medicines in gelatin capsules. This presents potential complications in taking many medications since the practice of Orthodox Jews in North America1 is to follow the opinions of Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Aharon Kotler and Rav Pinchas Teitz, who rule that gelatin is not Kosher. Of course, if life is in danger, there is no question that the gel-caps may be taken. The question is whether someone who is not dangerously ill, such as someone with a headache, may take aspirin in a gel-cap.
In order to properly answer this question, we must review the extensive Halachic literature concerning gelatin. We will then review the decisions of contemporary Halachic authorities regarding the permissibility of taking gel-caps for those who are not dangerously ill.
The Halachic Status of Gelatin
The McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology (1992) defines gelatin as “a protein extracted after partial hydrolysis of collagenous raw material from the skin, white connective tissue, and bone of animals.” The source of gelatin is almost always non-kosher animals or animals that have not been slaughtered according to the dictates of Jewish law. Since in the manufacturing process of gelatin the raw materials are rendered inedible (as they have been placed in acids and then evaporated),2 perhaps this process renders the resulting product Kosher, despite its non-Kosher origin. This question is of major importance because many food products such as yogurt, ice cream (see Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah II:32), jello, and marshmallows contain gelatin.
There are five major issues involved in the question of the Halachic status of gelatin. We will presently address each of these issues:
1. Since some gelatin is derived from bones, Halachic authorities have focused on the Kashrut status of bones from non-Kosher sources. On one hand, Rambam based on the Torat Kohanim (Leviticus 11:8) states (Hilchot Maachalot Assurot 4:18), “One who eats from a non-Kosher source its skin, its bones, its sinews, its horns, its hooves, its nails…even though it is forbidden, he is excused from punishment because they are not fit for consumption.” Rambam indicates that bones are forbidden at least rabbinically.3 On the other hand, Tosafot (Avoda Zara 69a s.v. Hahu) questions the commonly accepted Halachic practice of the time to eat bee honey that had bees’ legs mixed in. Rabbeinu Tam’s explanation of this practice is that since the bees’ legs are “mere bones,” they are permitted. Rosh (Avoda Zara 5:11) adds that the bee’s legs are “mere dust,” and hence they are not included in the prohibition of eating bees.4 Apparently, Tosafot and the Rosh believe that there exists no prohibition to eat bones of non-Kosher animals.
Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky (in a responsum published in the introduction to the fourth volume of Rabbi Eliezer Waldenburg’s, Tzitz Eliezer) and Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski (Achiezer III:33:5) try to reconcile these seemingly opposing views by maintaining that the Rambam believes that only “soft bones”5 are prohibited, while hard bones are permitted. However, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 2:27-end) and Rabbi Aharon Kotler (Mishnat Rabbi Aharon 1:16-17) reject this distinction and believe that the Rambam’s prohibition applies even to hard bones. Accordingly, Rabbi Abramsky and Rabbi Grodzinski (who suggests other reasons for a lenient ruling) rule that gelatin derived from hard non-Kosher bones is permissible, and Rabbi Feinstein and Rabbi Kotler believe it is prohibited.
It should be noted that according to Kashrut experts, in this country there is no commercially available gelatin derived from hard bones. In fact, the Halacha considers pig skins (from which most gelatin is made) to be fit for human consumption (Chullin 122a).
2. A second lenient approach is to state that since gelatin has changed its form from its original state – bones or skin – then it can be said that it is a new entity (פנים חדשות) hence, its previous non-kosher status is no longer relevant and it is now kosher. The source for this leniency is the opinion of Rabbeinu Yonah, cited by the Rosh (Berachot 6:38) regarding the status of musk. The Rosh writes, “Rabbi Zerachia Halevi (the Baal Hamaor) forbade eating musk out of concern that it originated from blood, and Rabbeinu Yonah explained that it might be permitted because it is a ‘mere secretion;’6 even though it originally was blood we are not concerned with this, because we are concerned only with its present status.” At the conclusion of his citation, the Rosh expresses some reservations about the former’s lenient approach.7
Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski (Achiezer 3:33:5), Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (Torah She-Ba’al Peh 5753 pp. 23-25), and Rabbi Eliezer Waldenburg (first comment to Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky’s responsum on gelatin mentioned earlier) both apply Rabbeinu Yonah’s ruling8 to gelatin because it has changed its form from its original form of bones and skin. Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky, however, did not believe Rabbeinu Yonah’s lenient ruling could be applied to the case of gelatin. He writes (at the beginning of his aforementioned responsum):
It is clear that gelatin derived from bones9 is not a “new creation” which has changed from one form into another by a chemical process. Gelatin is the same product that existed in the bones beforehand. All the chemical means used in the manufacturing process of gelatin are used only to separate other materials present in bones that would negatively impact on the quality of the gelatin. Hence, it is not appropriate to apply Rabbeinu Yonah’s lenient ruling to gelatin derived from non-kosher sources.10
3. The third possibility for leniency is that the gelatin becomes inedible during its manufacturing process. The Talmud records that non-Kosher foods that become inedible lose their non-Kosher status.11 Although for Passover use the food must become inedible even to a dog to be considered permissible,12 regarding other areas of Torah law most authorities believe that when food becomes inedible for human consumption it is no longer non-kosher.13 Accordingly, Rama (Yoreh Deah 87:10) cites from the Shibbolei Haleket (2:34) that “the stomach lining that is occasionally salted and dried and becomes likened to a tree and is subsequently filled with milk is permissible since it has dried and become ‘mere wood’ as it does not retain any drop of meat.”14
The Shach (Yoreh Deah 114:21) applies this rule to the general practice in his time to consume saffron (Karkom) produced by non-Jews (“those excellent people who are strict regarding this matter are few,” he writes) despite the concern that the non-Jewish producer introduced some non-Kosher dried-out meat into the product. He justifies the practice by stating that “in these lands, the saffron is as dry as wood; therefore, even if a strand of dry meat was introduced to the food, we do not have to be concerned, as the Rama explained in Yoreh Deah 87:10.”
A major question, however, is the status of non-Kosher food that becomes as dry as wood but later becomes edible again. Four major authorities have ruled leniently on this matter. The Shach indicates that the food does not regain its non-Kosher status. He writes, “Even though occasionally the saffron will contain a moist strand [of meat], this is because it was stored in a cold and wet environment, and perhaps originally it was as dry as wood.”15
Rabbi Yechezkel Landau (Noda Biyehuda, Yoreh Deah 26) also indicates that the food does not regain its previous non-Kosher status when it is rehydrated. He endorses the practice of German and Polish Jewry of his time to partake of a drink in which the gullet of a non-Kosher fish is placed to settle the sediments and to make the drink clear. His approval is based mostly on the fact that the non-Kosher component is dry and therefore loses its non-Kosher status. He does not regard the fact that the gullet is placed in water and thus rehydrated as relevant. Pitchei Teshuva (Yoreh Deah 87:20) cites Teshuvot Tiferet Tzvi as permitting red ants that are dried and then used to color drinks.16
Finally, the Aruch Hashulchan (87:43) rules leniently on this matter. The Ritva (Avoda Zara 39a, s.v. Hatam) clearly supports the lenient view.
On the other hand, many prominent authorities rule that “dry as wood” non-Kosher products that become rehydrated regain their former status as non-kosher. Pri Megadim (Yoreh Deah 87, 33, and 103) and Teshuvot Chatam Sofer (Yoreh Deah 81) rule strictly on this matter.17
Contemporary authorities are divided on how to decide this matter. Rabbi Chaim Ozer Grodzinski (Achiezer 2:11 and 3:33:5) and Rabbi Zvi Pesach Frank (Har Zvi, Yoreh Deah 83) rule leniently,18 Rabbi Aharon Kotler (Mishnat Rabbi Aharon 1:17) marshals many talmudic sources to prove that the strict opinion is correct, and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah I:37 and II:27) concludes that the matter is in doubt and hence prohibited because it may not be Kosher (Safek Issur). Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin (Edut Leyisrael pp. 176-177) decides this issue in an interesting manner. He writes that bones of non-Kosher animals that are converted into something edible remain permissible since they were originally permitted.19 However, Rabbi Henkin believes that the question of edible non-Kosher food that was rendered inedible but subsequently made edible has not been resolved, and therefore one should be strict.
Accordingly, four opinions emerge regarding gelatin that is rendered inedible during its manufacture. Rabbi Frank believes it is permissible regardless of its origin, Rabbi Henkin believes it is permissible if it comes from hard bones,20 Rabbi Feinstein regards gelatin as forbidden because of doubt, and Rabbi Kotler seems to believe that gelatin derived from non-kosher sources is certainly forbidden.21
4. Rabbi Kotler advances the creative and persuasive argument22 that even according to the opinion that once gelatin has been rendered inedible it remains permissible even if restored to being edible, gelatin would still be forbidden because it is analogous to yeast.
Yeast,23 explains the Chavat Daat (Yoreh Deah 103:1 Biurim), is forbidden even though it is not fit for human consumption because it can impact upon and improve other foods. Since “this is its purpose,” it is biblically forbidden. Chavat Daat states that this rule applies not only to yeast, but also to anything similar.
Hence, argues Rabbi Kotler, even if gelatin is considered inedible, it is biblically forbidden, as “its purpose” is to improve other foods. The lenient opinions would probably reply that the analogy to yeast is inaccurate because unlike yeast, the purpose of the bones and skins from which the gelatin is extracted is not to improve other foods. Moreover, the aforementioned lenient opinions of the Shach and Noda Biyehuda clearly do not accept the approach of Rabbi Kotler.
5. Rabbi Kotler raises another reason to forbid consumption of gelatin from a non-Kosher source: the concept of Achshevai. This refers to the rabbinic24 prohibition against consuming inedible foods. The fact that one consumes it indicates that he regards it as food.25
Rabbi Grodzinski and Rabbi Frank rule that Achshevai is not a relevant concern for gelatin because this principle does not apply if the forbidden inedible object is mixed with edible Kosher food. It is forbidden only if it is consumed by itself. By consuming inedible items mixed into food one does not indicate that he considers them to be food. This would explain the medieval practice endorsed by Tosafot and the Rosh of eating bees’ honey even if bees’ legs were in the mixture because the legs were inedible. Eating this honey did not constitute a forbidden act of Achshevai because one did not eat the bees’ legs alone.
Rabbi Kotler argues that Achshevai does apply to gelatin. He writes that the analogy to the bees’ legs case is inaccurate. In that situation,
the bees’ legs were not intentionally mixed into the honey. However, in our case, the gelatin is intentionally added to the food product and thus the prohibition of Achshevai applies. Note that the previously mentioned Shach (concerning saffron) and Noda Biyehuda (concerning fish gills) appear to contradict Rabbi Kotler’s thesis. In addition, Rabbi Kotler does not cite a source to substantiate his assertion.
Conclusion Regarding Gelatin
We have seen that there are four opinions regarding gelatin:
1) It is always permitted, 26
2) It is permitted when manufactured from hard bones,
3) It is forbidden because of doubt, and
4) It is forbidden because of certainty.
The accepted practice among Orthodox Jews in North America is to consider gelatin derived from non-Kosher sources as not Kosher.27
Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky, who permits gelatin produced from hard bones, nevertheless adds another reason to forbid consumption of gelatin even if it is produced from hard bones. He28 notes a public policy concern to forbid eating a gelatin product:
Since until now (1951) it has been accepted that gelatin is forbidden…it is not an unwarranted fear that if we will issue a responsum permitting gelatin, it will strengthen the hand of those who profess the erroneous view that Halacha is in the hands of rabbinic decisors, as is clay in the hands of the artist. Regarding an analogous situation, the Rabbis stated, “Do not strengthen the hand of the [heretical] Sadducees” (Yoma 40b) who, Rashi explains, claimed that the Rabbis ruled according to their whims.
The Halachic Status of Gel-caps
We have seen that food that is inedible is permitted on a biblical level but forbidden rabbinically because of Achshevai. However, almost all rabbinic authorities rule29 that Achshevai is not a concern when consuming medicine. When an individual consumes medicine he does so for healing purposes and does not regard the medicine as food.
Accordingly, since gel-caps are tasteless and taken for medicinal purposes, it would appear to be permissible to ingest them. Moreover, since the gelatin has not been introduced to food and has become a component of an edible substance, the opinions that led Rabbi Feinstein to rule stringently do not apply. Also, two of Rabbi Kotler’s primary concerns are not relevant to gel-caps. The issue of Achshevai is not a concern with medicine according to almost all authorities, and gel-caps are not analogous to yeast since their purpose is not to improve other foods. Therefore, Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin writes30 (Edut Leyisrael p. 177), “It is common practice to ingest [medicine wrapped in gelatin] capsules. It appears that what is relied on is the evaporation [of the gelatin during its production, rendering it inedible] and the fact that one does not intend to consume [the gel-caps] as food.”
Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Rosh Kollel of Yeshiva University, informed this author that Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik told him that it is permissible to ingest a gelatin coated medicine tablet. Rabbi Waldenburg (Tzitz Eliezer 10:25:20 2) also rules permissively. Moreover, Rabbi Schachter believes that even one who wishes to take medicine for relief from minor pain (מיחוש בעלמא) is permitted to ingest a gel-cap31. Of course, if one has an alternative, he should avoid the gel-cap in favor of medicine that does not contain non-Kosher ingredients. One should make a reasonable effort to seek such an alternative (Rama, Yoreh Deah 155:3).
1. The Israeli Rabbinate follows the opinion of Rabbi Zvi Pesach Frank, Rabbi Eliezer Waldenburg, and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef that gelatin is permissible. One who plans to move to Israel and wishes to know whether he may rely on this lenient approach after his move to Israel should consult a competent Halachic authority.
2. The McGraw-Hill Encyclopedia of Science and Technology describes the manufacturing process as follows:
Collagen, the precursor of gelatin, is pretreated for 10-30 hours with a 1-5% mineral acid for type A gelatin production or 35-90 days with a lime slurry for type B gelatin production. Type A gelatin exhibits the isoionic point at ph 7.0-9.5, whereas type B gelatin, due to domination in the liming process, exhibits the isoionic point at 4.8-5.2…. Type A gelatin is manufactured from frozen and fresh edible-grade pig skins [Rabbi Shimon Eider informs this author that almost all the gelatin currently produced in the United States is produced from edible grade pig skins] or from bone ossein. Most of type B gelatin comes from bones. Most edible gelatin is of type A but type B gelatin is also used…. The bone pieces are first demineralized in 4-7% hydrochloric acid for 7-14 days before liming after pretreatment with either acid (type A) or lime (type B), the materials are washed and are subjected to four to five 4-8 hour extractions at increased temperatures of 131º-212ºF. The extracts, containing 3-7% gelatin, are filtered, concentrated in a vacuum evaporated, chilled and extruded as noodles, and dried at 86º-140ºF. The dry gelatin is then ground and blended to specifications.
It is important to note that there is currently a firm that manufactures Kosher gelatin from Kosher animals that meets the standards of both Rabbi Aharon Kotler and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein. This author has been informed that the major Kashrut certifying agencies in this country will certify gelatin manufactured according to these standards as Kosher.
3. Rabbi Aharon Kotler (Mishnat Rabbi Aharon I:16-17) seeks to demonstrate that the prohibition is biblical in nature. He asserts that even though the Sifra excludes bones from the prohibition of Neveilah (a Kosher animal that has not been slaughtered in a Halachically proper manner) they are biblically prohibited because of the principle of “Yotzei Min Ha-tamei, Tamei” (Bechorot 5b), “That which emerges from what is forbidden, is forbidden.” He states that when the bones are not fit to be eaten, then there exists no biblical prohibition to eat them (Achila Shelo Kederech Hanaatan, see Pesachim 24b and Rambam Hilchot Maachalot Assurot 14:10-11). However, if they are rendered fit to be eaten, such as in a food product containing bone gelatin, the biblical prohibition of Yotzei Min Ha-tamei, Tamei applies.
4. For Talmudic examples of the principle that when a prohibited substance is reduced to dust the prohibition ceases to apply, see Temura 31a and Pesachim 21b.
5. A source for this distinction can be found in the comments of the Shach, Yoreh Deah 99:1, and the sources cited therein.
6. See Chullin 116b and Bechorot 7b.
7. Poskim debate the validity of Rabbeinu Yonah’s lenient opinion; see Taz, Orach Chaim 216:2; Magen Avraham 216:3; Chatam Sofer commenting on that Magen Avraham; Har Zvi, Yoreh Deah 102; Rabbi Hershel Schachter, Mesorah 1:54-56. Also see Mishkenot Yaakov, Yoreh Deah 34, for an application of this ruling.
8. Rabbi Yosef seeks to demonstrate that Rabbeinu Yonah’s ruling is accepted as normative. In Yechaveh Daat 2:62, he applies Rabbeinu Yonah’s ruling as a consideration to permit the use of citric acid derived from Chametz for Passover use. He urges one to be strict on this matter, but this does not contradict his lenient ruling on gelatin. The reason for this is that Poskim in general are exceptionally strict regarding Passover laws (Chumrah D’chametz).
Rabbi Grodzinski applies Rabbeinu Yonah’s ruling only in a case when the product became completely dry in the manufacturing process and was thus rendered “mere dust.” This approach is based on the Ran (Avoda Zara 16b in the pages of the Rif, s.v. Misrach).
9. It is clear that his logic applies equally to gelatin derived from skin.
10. Rabbi Avraham Rappaport (a rabbinic judge who served on the London Rabbinic Court) appears to persuasively prove the correctness of Rabbi Abramsky’s assertion, in his essay on gelatin which appears in the Memorial Volume published in honor of Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky pp. 525-527.
11. Pesachim 2la, and 45b, and Avoda Zara 67b-68a.
12. Pesachim 45b and Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 442:9.
13. Biur Halacha 442:9 s.v. עד שאינו ראוי; Aruch Hashulchan 442:30, Achiezer 3:31:4, the many authorities cited by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, Torah Sheba’al Peh 5753 pp. 17-20. See, however, Noda Biyehuda I Yoreh Deah 26 and Har Zvi, Yoreh Deah 83 who require the food to be rendered inedible even to a dog.
14. The Shach (Yoreh Deah 87:33) comments on this Rama that the same rule applies to dried intestines, but initially should not be done (i.e., it is permitted only after the fact when the product has been made). The reason given by Acharonim for this limitation is the concern that the product has not become sufficiently dry to be considered “mere wood” (see Teshuvot Rabbi Akiva Eiger 207 and Teshuvot Chatam Sofer 81). Some authorities contend that this concern is not relevant when a product is thoroughly evaporated in a modern manufacturing procedure. See also Noda Biyehuda (Yoreh Deah 26) for a discussion of this comment of the Shach. Rabbi Grodzinski (Achiezer 3;33:5) contends that the Shach’s ruling does not apply to hard bones.
15. It is unclear why the Shach regards the policy to be strict on this matter as praiseworthy. One possibility is tile concern that perhaps the meat in the Karkom was not as dry as wood. The other possibility is that he believes it is best to avoid relying on and extending the Rama’s rule.
16. A contemporary analogy is carmine, an insect product that is thoroughly dried and then used as a coloring agent. This author was informed that the major Kashrut agencies in this country have a policy to rule strictly and not to certify a product containing carmine.
17. Also see Chavat Daat (103: Biurim 1), who distinguishes between a non-Kosher product that has disintegrated and become inedible and a non-Kosher product that has become inedible because bitter items are added to it. In the former case, its non-Kosher status cannot be restored. However, in the latter case, if the bitter items are subsequently neutralized and the food becomes edible again, its non-Kosher status is restored. Rabbi Avraham Rappaport (Memorial Volume to Rabbi Yechezkel Abramsky, p. 527) suggests that since the collagen and ossein from which the gelatin product is taken are never rendered inedible by the acid or lime in which the skin or bones are placed, the manufacturing process of gelatin is analogous to the situation in which the non-Kosher item did not disintegrate but rather became inedible due to the bitter item added to it. Hence, according to the Chavat Daat, gelatin should regain its former non-Kosher status.
18. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (Torah Sheba’al Peh 5753, pp. 21-33) endeavors to demonstrate that the consensus of authorities follow the lenient opinion. It is important to note that Rabbi Frank’s lenient ruling regarding gelatin explicitly applies even to gelatin derived from pigskin. Interestingly, Rabbi Frank suggests that a chemist should be consulted to determine if a food product has become unsuitable for canine consumption. Other authorities, however, do not mention this requirement and seem to believe that a layman’s judgment is sufficient in this matter.
19. Rabbi Aharon Kotler strongly rejects this opinion in his essay on the Halachic status of gelatin.
20. This may to be the opinion of Rabbi Grodzinski, though, because of differing considerations.
21. At the beginning of Mishnat Rabbi Aharon (1:16) Rav Aharon Kotler writes, “I have demonstrated that [gelatin] is forbidden according to most opinions, and even according to the minority opinion there is no clear manner to permit [gelatin].”
22. Ibid. 1:17.
23. For a summary of the sources regarding yeast see Biur Halacha 442:9, s.v. Chametz Shenitapesh.
24. See Mishna Berura 442:43 and Aruch Hashulchan 442:30, citing Taz 442:8.
25. The Rosh (Pesachim 2:1) articulates this prohibition, and it is accepted as normative (Mishna Berura 442:43 and Aruch Hashulchan 442:30). However, the Rosh cites opinions that do not believe that there exists even a rabbinic prohibition to consume inedible objects. The Talmudic source for this concept is in Shavuot 24b.
26. If in the future, the process to manufacture gelatin changes and the bones or skins are not rendered inedible, then Rabbi Frank would say that gelatin is forbidden, but Rabbi Yosef and Rabbi Waldenburg might still believe it permissible because its form has been changed (Rabbeinu Yonah’s lenient ruling).
27. Rabbi Kotler (Mishnat Rabbi Aharon 1:16) rules that gelatin from a kosher source is considered Pareve and Rabbi Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah I:37 and II:27) rules that gelatin produced from the skin of a Kosher animal is considered Pareve.
28. This appears in his responsum on gelatin, mentioned earlier. Rabbi Waldenburg’s comments to this responsum are added. He too accepts this aspect of Rabbi Abramsky’s essay, unlike other sections of the responsum to which he does not hesitate to express his disagreement.
29. Igrot Moshe, Orach Chaim 2:92; Chazon Ish Orach Chaim 116:8; Tzitz Eliezer 6:16, 7:32:8, 10:25:20; Yechaveh Daat 2:60; Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Minchat Shlomo 17 following Rama, Yoreh Deah 155:3 and Yad Avraham commenting on this text. The opinion of Shaagat Aryeh (responsum 75) that Achshevai applies even to ingesting medicine appears to be a lone opinion (although Rabbi Grodzinski does take it into consideration (Achiezer 3:31)).
Two excellent essays (written in Hebrew) discussing this matter have been recently published: Rabbi David Heber (Mesorah 7:91-96) and Rabbi Yoezer Ariel (Techumin 15:348-362).
30. From Rabbi Henkin’s writings on this issue (Edut Lcyisrael p. 177) we see that he was aware that the commercially available gelatin would be forbidden according to his approach, as it is not derived from hard bones.
31. Even Rabbi Auerbach (Minchat Shlomo 17), who raises the possibility that one who suffers only a slight ache might not be permitted to ingest tasteless non-kosher medicines, might rule leniently regarding gel-caps. This is because regarding gel-caps, there exist a ספק ספיקא, a double doubt. First, perhaps even one who has a slight pain is permitted to ingest non-kosher medicines. Second, Rabbi Feinstein regards gelatin as a Safek Issur, something that is forbidden because of a Halachic doubt. However, according to the approach of Rabbi Kotler who considers gelatin to be certainly forbidden, it is possible that gel-caps may not be permitted for someone suffering only a minor degree of pain.