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.
“Is it permitted
to drink beer in a tavern?”
“May I purchase
vegetable oil from a non-Jew?”
“Does pure honey
present any kashrus issues?”
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.
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
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
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
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
How do we
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.
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.
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).
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
– 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,
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.
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.
(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).
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
(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
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.
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.
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.
of vegetable oil without proper oversight can also be the cause of severe
safety issues, as the following story indicates:
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
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 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.
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.
(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
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
Since honey is
edible raw, cooking honey does not create a prohibition of bishul akum.
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.
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
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.
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.