Beer, Oil and Honey

In honor of
Chanukah, I present an article that includes the Gemara’s questions
about the kashrus of vegetable and olive oil.

Photo by Inga Galkinaite from FreeImages

Question
#1: Beer

“Is it permitted
to drink beer in a tavern?”

Question
#2: Oil

“May I purchase
vegetable oil from a non-Jew?”

Question
#3: Honey

“Does pure honey
present any kashrus issues?”

Answer

Because of
concerns about inappropriate interaction with our surroundings, Chazal
implemented several important gezeiros, including bishul akum,
the prohibition against eating food cooked by a non-Jew, and pas akum,which, under certain circumstances, prohibits bread baked by a non-Jew. The
Mishnah and Gemara discuss whether oil, honey and beer are
included in these gezeiros, a topic that is highly educational.

Beer

Our opening question
was: “Is it permitted to drink beer in a tavern?” The Gemara (Avodah
Zarah
31b, see also Tosafos s.v. Mipnei) states that it is
prohibited to drink the beer of non-Jews and quotes a dispute between amora’im
why this is so. Rabbi Yitzchak prohibits it because of concerns of
intermarriage, whereas Rav Nachman prohibits it because of concerns about
product contamination.

The Gemara
then mentions the opinions of several amora’im, some of whom held like
Rabbi Yitzchak, that the reason for the prohibition is because of concerns of
intermarriage, and others who held like Rav Nachman, that there are
contamination concerns. For example, Rav and his son Rav Chiya held like Rav
Nachman; however, they explained that not all individuals need to be concerned.
This is because the hops in the beer serve as a medicinal antidote that helps
many people.

On the other
hand, the Gemara reports that Rav Papa would purchase beer from a tavern
and carry it outside the door of the store and drink it there, whereas Rav
Achai would bring the beer home first and drink it there. Both of them held
that the prohibition was because of intermarriage; once the beer is removed
from the jurisdiction of the non-Jew, it is permitted. In other words, we are
no longer concerned about the social interactions that might result. If the
concern was because of product contamination, what difference would it make
where one drinks it? The Gemara explains that Rav Papa and Rav Achai
both agree that it is permitted to drink beer of a non-Jew once it is removed
it from his premises. Rav Achai added a personal chumra: not to drink
the beer until he came home.

Why is beer
different?

There is a very obvious question here: The other
prohibitions that Chazal instituted because of concerns of social
interaction, such as bishul akum and pas akum on cooked foods and
bread, are not dependent upon where you are. Why does the prohibition concerning
the beer of non-Jews apply only in the non-Jew’s home or business?

Among the rishonim, we find several
approaches to explain this question. I will present just one approach, that of
the Tosafos Rid (Avodah Zarah 65b), who explains that, in the
other instances, the main concern is that you will find the foods produced by
the non-Jew to be very tasty, and this eventually might lead to inappropriate
social interactions. However, in the instance of beer, the concern is not the
food, but the socializing itself, and prohibiting drinking the beer where the
non-Jew lives and works is a sufficient safeguard to prevent inappropriate
activity. (Those who would like to research this question more extensively are
referred to the commentaries of the Ramban and theRashba, Avodah
Zarah
31b.)

How do we
rule?

We have a
general halachic rule that, among the tanna’im and amora’im,
the halacha follows the last authority who voiced an opinion. The reason
for this rule is that, when a great Torah scholar analyzed the differing
earlier approaches to a question and decided a certain way, we may rely on his
diligence in analyzing the topic carefully, including the rulings and
considerations of those who preceded him.

Historically,
the latest amora’im to discuss this topic were Rav Pappa and Rav Achai,
both of whom ruled that the prohibition was because of concerns about social
interaction, but held that it is permitted to drink beer of  a non-Jew,
once it is removed from the gentile’s place.

Bishul akum

Why isn’t beer
prohibited because of bishul akum? After all, neither barley nor hops
are edible raw — they become consumable only after they are cooked. Thus,
shouldn’t any beer cooked by a non-Jew be prohibited as bishul akum?

This question is
raised by Tosafos (Avodah Zarah 31b s.v. Vetarveihu), who
explains that beer is permitted because it is not considered something that
would be served on a king’s table. Tosafos presents a second answer:
that the brocha on beer is shehakol. This teaches us that, from a
halachic standpoint, the most important ingredient in the beer is not
the grain, because then its brocha would be mezonos, but the
water, and water is not prohibited as bishul akum because it is
drinkable without being cooked (see also Avodah Zarah 37b; Tosafos
Brachos
38a s.v. Hai; Mishnah Berurah 204:16).

The brew
that made Bavel famous

Tosafos then rules that the prohibition applies both to beer
made from grain, like our beer, and to the beer made from dates that was common
at the time of the Gemara.

In the time of
the Mishnah and Gemara, two varieties of beer were generally
manufactured:

Babylonian beer
– which was made from dates and hops. (Yes, this beer was Kosher lePesach!)

Medean beer –
which also included a small percentage of barley malt (Mishnah Pesachim
42a; Gemara, Pesachim 42b). This latter type of beer was
prohibited as chometz, although it had the status of ta’aroves
chometz
, a product that contains chometz, rather than chometz
gamur
, unadulterated chometz. Our beer, in which the main ingredient
after water is barley malt, is considered chometz gamur (Rosh,
Pesachim
3:1).

Kashrus of beer

Does beer in
today’s world require a hechsher? According to the information available
at the time that I am writing this article, beer today usually is made from
only the following ingredients: barley malt, hops, and water. None of these
ingredients presents a problem. However, there can be halachic problems
of flavored beers and of chometz she’avar alav haPesach. Check
labels for any mention of flavors added. Many breweries are coming out with
specialty brews that have additives; even if you recognize the name of the
company, don’t assume that all its varieties are kosher. 

Therefore,
unflavored beers, domestic and imported, with no additives
listed on the ingredient label, are acceptable even without a hechsher,
as long as there is no problem of chometz she’avar alav haPesach, and
you drink them in the comfort of your own home or anywhere outside the non-Jew’s
house or business. This applies also to non-alcoholic and dark beers.

Oil

The Mishnah
(Avodah Zarah 35a) states as follows: “These items of a non-Jew are
prohibited [to eat], but benefit is permitted from them: milk, bread, and oil.
Rebbe and his beis din permitted the oil.”

Tosafos notes that it is unclear whether these last words
(“Rebbe and his beis din permitted the oil”) are part of the Mishnah,
or whether they were added later, and that it was not Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi and
his beis din who permitted oil of non-Jews, but his grandson, usually
called Rabbi Yehudah Nesiah (see Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 36a s.v. Asher
and 33b s.v. Ba’a).

This Mishnah
leads us to many questions. Why was the oil of non-Jews prohibited and,
assuming that it was, how could Rabbi Yehudah Nesiah (or his grandfather Rabbi
Yehudah Hanasi) permit its use?

The Gemara
quotes a dispute in the first generation of amora’im, between Rav and
Shmuel, in which Rav holds that the original Mishnah contended that the
oil of non-Jews was prohibited as an injunction created by the Biblical Daniel,
and Shmuel holds it was prohibited because this oil was refined in non-kosher
pots. Based on a verse in the book of Daniel (1:8), Rav understands that Daniel
had implemented a gezeirah, similar to the prohibitions against wine of
a non-Jew, that banned consuming oil processed by non-Jews. In the time of
Daniel, this prohibition applied only in the cities, but, later, the beis
din
of the students of Shammai and Hillel extended the prohibition to ban
this oil even outside cities.

Shmuel contended
that the reason why the tanna kamma of the Mishnah banned the use
of oil processed by non-Jews was due to a kashrus concern that existed
in his day. Since oils were usually prepared at home, there was concern that
even 100% pure vegetable oil might have been heated in non-kosher vessels, thus
rendering the oil treif.

Both approaches
need to be explained. If the prohibition was a takanah instituted by
Daniel and by the students of Shammai and Hillel, how could the beis din
headed by Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi/Nesiah permit it? There is a halachic
principle that once a takkanah has been implemented, it can be overruled
only by a beis din that is greater both in knowledge and in numbers,
which was not the case in this instance. And if the oil was prohibited because
it was refined in non-kosher pots, why did the later beis din allow it?

Releasing
the gezeirah

The Gemara
concludes that whenever Chazal make a gezeirah, it is binding
only when the Jewish people observe it. If most of the Jewish people do not
observe the gezeirah, it is not binding. Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi/Nesiah and
his beis din researched and discovered that the gezeiros
prohibiting non-Jewish oil were never observed by the majority of people. That
being the case, the beis din of Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi/Nesiah could
rescind the gezeirah.

Regarding the
possibility that the oil was manufactured in non-kosher equipment, the Gemara
explains that this was actually a dispute between the earlier great leaders,
who prohibited the oil of non-Jews, and the beis din of Rabbi Yehudah
Hanasi/Nesiah, which permitted it.

Let me explain:

The Gemara
(Avodah Zarah 67b) quotes a dispute between tanna’im whether nosein
ta’am lifgam
(literally, something that provides a bad taste) is prohibited
or permitted. If we assume that nosein ta’am lifgam is prohibited, oil
that a non-Jew processed in his own equipment is prohibited because his
equipment was previously used for non-kosher. However, if nosein ta’am
lifgam
is permitted, then food cooked in a pot that was not used in the
last 24 hours is usually permitted, even when the pot was previously used for
non-kosher. (Note that it is always prohibited le’chatchilah to cook
food in such equipment.)

On this basis,
although it is prohibited to use a non-kosher pot, food that was cooked in it
using only kosher ingredients may remain kosher, since there is a possibility
that the pot had not been used for the last 24 hours, and, even if it had been,
the non-kosher cooked within the previous 24 hours may have contributed an
unpleasant taste to the kosher food (see Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 35b
s.v. Miklal).

The earlier Mishnah
held that nosein ta’am lifgam is prohibited and, therefore, oil
purchased from non-Jews may not be used. But since the accepted ruling is that nosein
ta’am lifgam
is permitted, the beis din of Rabbi Yehudah
Hanasi/Nesiah ruled that it is kosher.

Modern
vegetable oil

From a kashrus
perspective, in the modern world, vegetable oil is indeed a very sensitive
product. Vegetable oil is often refined on equipment that produces non-kosher
animal shortening or fish oils. This equipment is not cleaned between
productions, and there may be very high percentages, much higher than the ratio
of bitul, of residual animal shortening on the equipment when the
vegetable oil is produced. There is also the possibility that the oil is
shipped in trailer trucks that previously held a non-kosher product. For these
reasons, reliable kosher supervisory agencies are careful about which sources
of vegetable oil they allow for use, and they have developed a system to make
sure that the oil is transported in a way that does not render it non-kosher.

Deodorization

Most fats, even
after refining, have characteristic flavors and odors, and vegetable fats,
especially, have a relatively strong undesirable taste. In order to produce a tasteless fat, these oils may
undergo deodorization. Unfortunately, if the deodorizing equipment is used also
for animal shortening, this process makes the vegetable oil non-kosher.

The processing
of vegetable oil without proper oversight can also be the cause of severe
safety issues, as the following story indicates:

Toxic Oil
Syndrome was the name given to a disease outbreak in Spain in 1981. Its
first appearance was as a lung disease with unusual features: though the symptoms initially resembled a lung infection, antibiotics were ineffective. The disease appeared to
be restricted to certain localities, and several members of a family could be
affected, even while their neighbors had no symptoms. Following the acute
phase, a range of other chronic symptoms were apparent. Eventually, the cause
was traced to the consumption of rapeseed
oil
(canola is a safe and edible variety
of rapeseed) that had been intended for industrial use, not for human consumption.
It had been imported as cheap industrial oil, was subsequently refined and sold
as “olive
oil
” by street vendors, and then used on salads and for cooking by the
unsuspecting victims. The commonly accepted hypothesis states that toxic
compounds added during the refinement process, used to denature oils intended
for industrial use, were responsible for the illness.

Honey

Honey has been
used as a food for thousands of years, and, until the advent of sugar refining,
it was the most common food sweetener. To produce honey, bees suck nectar from
flowers and deposit it into a special honey sac. Inside the sacs, enzymes
contained in the bee’s saliva convert the nectar into honey, which the bees
store in a honeycomb until they need it for food, or until the hive is raided
by a two-legged forager. The nectar is never “digested” by the bee,
but rather transformed into honey.

Is honey kosher?
We know that milk and eggs of non-kosher species are non-kosher, so why is
honey considered kosher? Regarding this question, the Gemara (Bechoros
7b) records a dispute between the tanna kamma and Rabbi Yaakov. The tanna
kamma
contends that honey is not produced by bees, but is simply modified
plant nectar, unlike milk and eggs that are produced by the non-kosher species.
For this reason, he rules that honey is kosher.

Rabbi Yaakov
permits honey for a different reason: He contends that although there is indeed
a universal rule prohibiting extracts of non-kosher species, a special
Scriptural allusion excludes honey from this proscription.

The Mishnah
(Avodah Zarah 39b) rules that honey may be purchased from a non-Jew and
eaten. The Gemara (ad locum) questions why this is true,
concluding that the three possible concerns why it should be prohibited do not
apply to honey.

1. Admixture of
non-kosher ingredients.

The Gemara
concludes that we are not concerned that someone may add a non-kosher
ingredient to honey, because any non-kosher product will ruin the taste of the
honey.

2. Bishul
akum

Since honey is
edible raw, cooking honey does not create a prohibition of bishul akum.

3. Non-kosher
equipment

The Gemara
concludes that the non-kosher flavor in the equipment would create a nosein
taam lifgam
flavor in the honey, which is permitted.

Today, honey is
an expensive commodity that is easily adulterated. However, the ingredients
that are commonly used to adulterate it, such as sugar, sorghum syrup, molasses
or corn sweetener, are kosher. As a result, we are not required to be concerned
that the honey was adulterated with a non-kosher ingredient.

Every year
around Rosh Hashanah, Israeli newspapers contain reports about unscrupulous
companies selling adulterated honey. Certainly, one should be careful to
purchase honey and not an adulterated product, particularly since one has no
idea what the manufacturer may have added. However, from a strictly halachic
point of view, the various cheaper sweetening ingredients used to
adulterate honey, such as corn sweetener and molasses, are kosher; so it is
difficult to imagine serious kashrus problems resulting from this
unscrupulous practice.

We should note
that “honey flavoring” and “flavored with honey” do not mean the same thing.
“Honey flavoring” means a natural or synthetic flavoring that is meant to taste
like honey, and could indeed contain non-kosher ingredients. Any food item,
such as a sucking candy, that contains honey flavoring should have a reliable hechsher.

Conclusion

Based on the
above information, we can gain a greater appreciation of how hard it is to
maintain a high kashrus standard. We certainly have a greater incentive
to become educated kosher consumers who better understand many aspects of the
preparation of kosher food, and why it is important to ascertain that products
have a proper hechsher. We should always hope and pray that the food we
eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands.




Non-Edible Oils for Lighting the Menorah

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How is olive oil produced?

There are approximately seven hundred olive varieties, or cultivars, whose distinctive tastes and aromas are developed and marketed, just as viniculture develops distinctive varieties of fine wine. Specialty olive oil producers have mastered the methods whereby they breed, grow, and produce their oil. The highest quality olive oil is produced by painstakingly harvesting the fruit by hand to assure that it is not damaged, even though this method drives up the cost tremendously. Olives for quality oils are picked and milled within hours, to minimize oxidation and enzymatic reactions, which leave unpleasant tastes and odors in the oil and decrease its taste and fragrant qualities. These bouquet oils, like vintage wines, compete among connoisseurs for their taste. These oils are the Rolls-Royce of the olive industry and are sold privately or in gourmet shops, similar to the way one would acquire vintage wines.

Olives are almost unique among oil sources in that olive oil can be consumed in its crude form without refining. Almost all other edible oils: soy, canola, corn, cottonseed, peanut, palm, etc. require extensive refining using heat and chemicals to make the oil palatable. Furthermore, unrefined olive oil conserves most of its nutrients, whereas refining often destroys them.

What is extra virgin oil, and what is virgin oil?

The oil produced by the methods described above is called virgin or cold-press oil. The term cold press can have many meanings, but in common parlance it refers to oil that is extracted without heating the olives or the use of chemicals. However, one should bear in mind that the term "cold press" actually has no legal meaning. Someone selling refined oil as cold press would be violating an industry standard, but cannot be prosecuted for violating the law. It is also important to note that the term virgin oil has no legal meaning in the United States, although there are many countries in the world where the term has a legal meaning. In those countries, someone selling refined olive oil as virgin oil can be prosecuted for violating the law. However, someone selling refined oil as virgin olive oil in the United States is exempt from prosecution, either civil or criminal.

There are four categories of virgin oil: extra virgin, virgin, ordinary virgin and virgin lamp oil.

Extra virgin oil

The official Italian standard for extra virgin oil is that its taste is excellent and has no defects, and that the oil has an acid content of less than 1%. The lower the acid content, the better the taste. Extra virgin oil is the Cadillac of the olive industry.

Virgin oil is not required to meet as high a standard for taste, but still has a positive taste profile, and contains acid content of up to 2%.

Ordinary virgin oil

Never heard of this? There is a reason why – either its taste is considered inferior or its acid content is greater than 2%. These are the Chevies of the olive industry. Usually, this oil undergoes further processing, which is called refining, to remove the excess acid and make it more palatable, and the resulting product should not be called virgin oil, but should be sold as "refined olive oil" or "olive oil" missing the adjective "virgin." Technically, if the oil is exclusively refined olive oil it may not be sold as "olive oil," but if it is a blend of "refined olive oil" and "ordinary virgin" oil it can be called "olive oil." This is the type of olive oil that is used in canned sardines packed in olive oil.

Virgin lamp oil

The most inferior category of cold press or virgin oil is called virgin lamp oil, or sometimes by its Italian name – lampante. This is oil whose taste is considered inedible, and therefore will probably not be used for food, but more likely for kindling or other non-food use. This raises a very interesting observation, since the Torah was more concerned that the oil used for kindling in the Menorah in the Mishkan should be only of the highest quality and was less concerned about the quality of oil used to produce the korbanos mincha, the meal offerings. This curiosity is not lost on the Midrash

In the custom of the world, if someone has bad oil, he kindles it, and his good oil he cooks with. In the ohel moed and the Mikdash, one did not do this. Only the purest oil went for lighting, and the second quality went for the menachos (Midrash Tanchuma, Tetzaveh 6).

Olive oil for kindling

Olive oil for kindling is usually refined from inferior oil not considered acceptable for human consumption. Is there any halachic problem with use of this oil for kindling Chanukah lights?

The earliest source that I found who discusses this issue is the Rashba, in his Toras Habayis (Bayis IV, Shaar I, page 28), the work he wrote, as the title suggests, as a handbook for proper household mitzvah observance. In his discussion about kashrus, he mentions the case where someone discovered a mouse in the oil he had intended to use for food, and whether this oil can now be donated to illuminate a shul. The Rashba compares this to the Talmudic discussion that results from the prophet Malachi’s (1:8) derisive rebuke: “And when they offer a blind animal as an offering, have they perpetrated no evil? And when they offer a lame or sick animal, is this not evil? And if they offered it to their idol, would he accept it or view it favorably?” We see from this verse that it is unacceptable to offer an inferior item in the Beis Hamikdash. The Gemara then derives from this verse that one may not use inferior items for Kiddush or to perform other mitzvos. One should use only quality items for serving Hashem, not items for which one has no other use. The Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 154:19) specifically includes the oil one uses for Ner Chanukah under this prohibition.

Returning to our mouse in the cooking oil, the Rashba concludes that if the oil is halachically not kosher, one may not use it to illuminate the shul, similar to the prohibition against use of a sick or otherwise inferior animal as a korban. However, if the oil is halachically permitted to eat, such as when the rodent parts can be filtered out, one may kindle this oil in shul. The rationale appears to be that one is not attempting to pawn off inferior items by using them for a sacred purpose, which is the despicable activity that Malachi decried. When one could use the item for oneself, but chose not to, it is appropriate to use it for a mitzvah.

Other authorities prohibit lighting shul lamps with this contaminated oil even when it is halachically kosher and one could eat it (Magen Avraham 154:19, quoting several earlier authorities). These authorities contend that serving Hashem with an item that one personally considers disgusting is prohibited.

Based on the above discussion, I have heard people say that they use oil that one cannot or would not eat, either because of kashrus concerns or because of health concerns, for Chanukah lights. It is very common to find olive oil sold as “not for human consumption,” or “for kindling only” either because the solvents or other chemicals used to extract or refine the oil are not food grade, because this oil was produced from inferior olives or in a way where the oil tastes bitter, or the oil was not necessarily prepared in the most sanitary environment. Are we indeed required to purchase the far more expensive food-grade olive oil for the menorah?

But we may argue that in this case, the oil does not have a disgusting appearance, as opposed to Malachi’s lame and blind animals. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 154:12) implies that it is a concern only if the oil appears to be disgusting: If you found a mouse in the oil meant for synagogue use, if it is disgusting, one may not kindle it in the synagogue.

In addition, Malachi’s lame and blind animals would be unable to be worked and therefore may have no other suitable use other than being offered as korbanos ­­-– and perhaps this is exactly the prophet’s concern.

Several authorities permitted kindling Chanukah lights with oil that is too bitter for consumption (Ben Ish Chai, Vayeisheiv 12; Kaf Hachayim 673:11). It seems to this author that our case is comparable to their ruling, and that it is permitted to purchase lamp oil for one’s menorah.