Over the past several decades the kosher industry has grown considerably. Food companies recognizing the profitability of the kosher market have pursued kosher certification in an effort to increase marketability and sales of their products. What has been especially remarkable is that the pursuit of kosher certification has not stopped with food. It is not unusual to find nowadays a hechsher on non-food items. Are there really any viable kashrus concerns with something that is inedible? This article will focus on dishwashing soap.
There is extensive debate about soap found in poskim, although the discussion centers around soaps applied to one’s skin. As we will see, soaps used on one’s body are actually more complicated halachically. The Beis Yosef quotes a position of the Orchas Chaim that one should refrain using soap that is manufactured from animal fat. The basis of the Orchas Chaim’s position stems from a discussion in Talmud , 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 takes the position that the stringency of viewing shtiya as sicha applies only to Yom Kippur. Moreover, Tosafos also quotes Rabbeinu 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 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 concluded that animal fat based soaps should be permitted. However, his son-in-law, the Taz disagreed, 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 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 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 Chodosh is based on a gemara in Avodah Zarah . According to the gemara, non-kosher meats that rot and become inedible lose their status as a food, and are no longer prohibited . The Aruch HaShulchan 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 .
The common custom nowadays is to use permit all soaps, even when containing non-kosher materials . Although there are Gedolei Yisroel, past and present, that are known to have been privately cautious in this area, vigilance from soaps is considered a chumra. The accepted practice amongst the masses is to use all soaps.
Concern over using soaps that may contain chometz derivatives during Pesach is discussed amongst contemporary gedolei haposkim as well. Pesach is more stringent than the rest of the year, in that noticeable chometz is permissible only when it is rendered nifsal meachilas kelev (inedible to a dog), although chometz that is mixed with other non-chometz substances (betaroves) is permissible when it is not edible for a person . Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv shlita is quoted as recommending people to be stringent in this area during Pesach, and not apply these soaps to one’s skin, even when the substance is nifsal meachilas kelev and one is not vigilant all year round . However, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt’l were lenient on this issue regarding both Pesach and the rest of the year.
The primary basis of prohibiting animal fat based soap, which is to view their application to one’s body as ingesting, does not apply to dishwashing soaps. Moreover, because of its unpalatable nature, dishwashing soap can not be considered a food. Since dishwashing soap does not have food status, based on gemara Avodah Zarah 67a, it can not be considered non-kosher even when containing non-kosher components. Moreover, this should apply to during Pesach as well, since these soaps are clearly nifsal meachilas adom and even meachilas kelev.
A lenient position based on the gemara in Avodah Zarah should apply even if dishwashing soap would contain non-kosher components in significant proportions. However, it is interesting to note that in reality the likelihood that a soap would contain non-kosher or animal derivatives is very minimal .
Like all other issues, consumers should consult their Rabbonim for direction.
Rabbi Bistricer is a Rabbinic Coordinator at the Orthodox Union, and is an expert in various areas of Kashrus.