The etymology of the word perfume is of Latin origin, and is a hybrid of two words “per fume”, which means “through smoke”. Perfumes were first created in the Middle East many centuries ago, and eventually spread its way throughout Europe. Today perfumes are an integral part of the booming cosmetics industry.
Perfumes are very complex, and the art of perfumery is a highly complicated and secretive process. Perfumes have many components, and substances in perfumes that provide its scent are known as aromatic compounds. These compounds may be of either plant or animal origin and can obtained through a process known as extraction, which often uses alcohol as a medium to remove the material used for the scent. The possible non-kosher sources these aromatic compounds could be derived from, as well as the potential of alcohol used in the extraction process, present interesting questions regarding the kashrus of perfumes all year round, as well as Pesach specifically.
A discussion about perfume’s kashrus status is not found in poskim. However, there is a debate about a similar type of inedible product, soap. The Beis Yosef (Yoreh Deah 117) quotes a position of the Orchas Chaim that one should refrain from using soap that is manufactured from animal fat. The basis of the Orchas Chaim’s position stems from a discussion in Maseches Yoma 76b, which compares “sicha” (anointing) to “shtiyah” (drinking) on Yom Kippur. According to the Orchas Chaim, since animal fats are forbidden to consume, they should not be applied to one’s body. The Orchas Chaim asserted that the stringency of viewing “sicha” like “shtiyah” would apply throughout the entire year. However, many Rishonim did not agree with the Orchas Chaim’s position. Tosafos in Yoma (77a) takes the position that the stringency of viewing shtiya as sicha applies only to Yom Kippur. Moreover, Tosafos in Niddah (32a) quotes Rabeinu Tam as positing that the stringency of viewing sicha like shtiyah is limited to oil. Furthermore, since the gemara in Pesachim writes that it is forbidden to apply issurei hana’ah to a wound, it is implicit that other types of prohibitions that one may derive benefit from would be permitted. The Rashbah is also quoted by the Beis Yosef (Yoreh Deah 123) as taking a lenient position on this matter, although it seems that his leniency was restricted to someone ill.
There is disagreement amongst early poskim about whether animal fat based soaps should permitted or not. The Bach (Yoreh Deah 117) concluded that animal fat based soaps should be permitted. However, his son-in-law, the Taz disagreed (see Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 117:4) except in instances when a person was not well. The Shach in his commentary on the Taz, Nekudos HaKesef, references to many authorities that permitted the use of animal based soap. However, the Shach comments that he has witnessed some act vigilantly, and refrain from using animal fat based soaps. The Shach concludes that the preferred practice is to abstain from using these soaps. The Rema writes (see Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 326:10) that is prohibited to use wash one’s hands with soaps or other types of fat on Shabbos. The implication of the Rema is that during the week it is permitted. However, the Vilna Gaon, commenting on the Rema, cites the authorities that are stringent on this matter. The Chofetz Chaim in his commentary, Biur Halacha, writes that that the prevalent practice is not like the Vilna Gaon’s position. However, the Chofetz Chaim concludes that if one has a choice between an animal fat based soap, and soap that does not contain animal fat, one should use the latter and abstain from the former.
The Pri Chodosh (Yoreh Deah 117:4) is quoted as taking a lenient position on this issue. According to the Pri Chodosh inedible soaps, even when manufactured from animal fats, are permissible. Once the animal fats are not edible they are no longer considered non-kosher. Therefore, inedible, animal fat based soaps may be rubbed on one’s body, even if their application is considered tantamount to ingesting them. The position of the Pri Chodsoh is based on a gemara in Avodah Zarah (67a). According to the gemara, non-kosher meats that rot and become inedible lose their status as a food, and are no longer prohibited1. The Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Deah 117:29) echoes the position of the Pri Chodosh, . The Aruch HaShulchan writes that since nowadays soaps are completely inedible, previous discussions amongst earlier authorities are moot, and they may be used without hesitation. According to the Aruch HaShulchan disagreement amongst poskim regarding this topic are limited to edible soaps, not the inedible ones .
Perfumes may smell nice, but there is no question that their taste is less than palatable. Nevertheless, according to some poskim perfumes that contain non-kosher derivatives may not be used. Furthermore, perfumes that contain kosher ingredients, but chometz alcohols, would be considered problematic during Pesach. Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv shlita is quoted as recommending to be stringent in this area during Pesach, even when a substance is nifsal meachilas kelev and one is not vigilant all year round (see Haggadah shel Pesach-Maran Yosef Sholom Elyashiv p.269. Also see Pesachim 45b, and Rosh’s commentary at the beginning of the third perek of Pesachim), However, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l (see Igros Moshe Orach Chaim 3:62) and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt’l (see Meor HaShabbos 2, michtavim 29:6) were lenient on this issue regarding both Pesach and the rest of the year.2.
There is also a discussion amongst contemporary Rabbonim about whether chometz alcohol contained in perfumes may be considered nifsal meachilas kelev since it can be separated from the rest of the mixture, with the use of sophisticated machinery, back to its original properties. The debate centers around a position of the Chavas Da’as (Yoreh Deah 103:1)3, who writes that if a non-kosher component is contained in an inedible mixture, but can be separated and considered edible upon removal, the heter of nifsal meachila does not apply and the mixture is prohibited. Rabbonim who have taken a lenient position with this issue contend that the Chavas Da’as’ ruling does not apply to extraordinary circumstances or complicated procedures that ordinary people can not perform themselves. This may be compared to checking fish for scales or vegetables for insects with the use of a microscope (see Tiferes Yisroel Avodah Zarah 2:7:3, Shut Tuv Ta’am VeDa’as Kuntres Acharon 2:53, Igros Moshe Yoreh Deah 2:146), with the exception that anyone can check fish or vegetables with a magnifier. The separation of alcohol from perfume can only occur in a laboratory setting (see Berachos 25b) .
As with all other issues, consumers should consult their Rabbonim for direction.
1. See Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 103 and 122.
2. See Shut Shevet HaLevi 2:48 and Shut Yechaveh Da’as 4:43 for alternate explanations about the point of disagreement between previous authorities.
3. Also see Chazon Ish Orach Chaim 116:7-8