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Chewing Gum…Bracha or No Bracha?

 

By: Rabbi Ari Enkin 

Although there are differences of opinion on the issue, I’ve always been of the opinion that a bracha must be recited on chewing gum. The Shulchan Aruch states: “On sugar one recites shehakol and shehakol is also recited when sucking sweet sticks.”[1] It seems to me that gum fits nicely into both these categories as it is essentially sugar which is sucked (chewed) for its taste (the sugar). Most contemporary halachic authorities seem to agree with this reasoning and rule that a bracha must be recited upon gum.[2] 

Nevertheless, the sefer Birkat Hashem maintains that gum does not require a bracha. He reasons that a bracha is not recited because the gum’s taste is absorbed into the saliva which is then swallowed. He argues that saliva, albeit flavored, is not something upon which a bracha is ever recited. So too, Rabbi Chaim Tabasky quotes a number of authorities who rule that a bracha is not recited upon gum as it is not considered to be “hana’at achila”, the manner is which food is typically enjoyed. Included in this list of rabbis are: Rabbi Dov Lior, Rabbi Tuvia Goldstein, and Rabbi Seraya Deblitzky, among others.[3] I’ve also recently been told that Rabbi Shimon Schwab would not recite a bracha when chewing gum and that Rabbi Yisroel Belsky rules that hard gum requires a bracha while soft gum does not. However, most other halachic authorities seem to disagree and indeed common custom is to recite a blessing on chewing gum.

That being said, however, I am not yet convinced that sugar-free gum requires a bracha. One reason for this is because sugar free gum essentially has no content that is ingested. The package for the Elite “Must” gum, Israel’s most popular sugar-free gum, states that a piece of gum contains two calories. From a simple survey of the ingredient list it appears that these two calories might only be from the aspartame and coloring content. Now, besides the fact that aspartame cannot be called food, at least not when consumed on its own, these two calories of aspartame are likely completely dissolved in one’s saliva. The swishing of the gum around the crevices of the mouth, especially between the teeth, likely renders this small amount of aspartame (or other caloric content) batel, completely nullified and insignificant, even if it actually does make its way into the stomach, at all. The same argument would not hold true for regular, sugar-filled chewing gum as the sugar content in that variety of gum is much greater than the aspartame content of sugar-free gum. 

Furthermore, although I don’t accept the Birkat Hashem’s argument as it applies to regular sugar filled gum, I do think it makes sense to apply it to aspartame-flavored-saliva from sugar-free gum. It should also be taken into account that there are opinions that a blessing is not recited when tasting, even if swallowing, minute amounts of food.[4] 

Not too long ago I spoke at length with Rabbi Ephraim Greenblatt (Memphis -> Jerusalem) about this. He seemed to agree with my arguments and said they make sense. He concluded our conversation suggesting that one should first recite a shehakol on  another food item with the intent that the blessing serve to cover the sugar-free gum, as well. It is interesting to note that, in a similar vein, the sefer Minhag Yisrael Torah cites an opinion that before smoking tobacco one should recite a shehakol on a food item with the intent to include the cigarette and tobacco.[5] 

Finally, chewing gum must have a hechsher and I have never seen a convincing argument to the contrary.[6] So too, gum must not be chewed on a fast day.


[1] OC 202:15.

[2] Yabia Omer, OC 7:33.

[3] See: http://www.yeshiva.org.il/ask/eng/?id=3131

[4] OC 210:2

[5] Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 210:1.

[6] See: http://www.ou.org/kosher/daf/advanced/gum.html

 

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About the author

Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of “The Dalet Amot Halacha Series” (6 Vol.) among other works of halacha. rabbiari@hotmail.com

 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

33 Responses

  1. Shachar Ha'amim says:

    there are poskim who ruled that unflavored gum can be chewed on Yom Kippur. presumably according to them, no bracha is recited.

  2. Ari Enkin says:

    Shachar-

    I have seen that *already* chewed gum may be rechewed on a fast day. (i.e. chew it the night before, and the next day, on the fast, you can chew it again)

    Is there such a thing as unflavored gum that has aboslutely zero calorie content? Isnt that called, rubber? ;-)

    Ari Enkin

  3. Curious says:

    If sugar-free gum provides no nutrition and is batel, then why not make the argument that is not a halachic achilah and, hence, should at least be allowed to be chewed on a taanis tzibur (I’ll leave Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av out of it)?

  4. Ari Enkin says:

    Curious-

    It’s a good question. But it might just be becasue you are not allowed to intentionally put any food/nutrition in your mouth on a fast day. However, you are allowed to taste on a private (i.e. yartzeit) fast day. So perhaps on this latter type of fast it might actually be ok.

    Ari Enkin

  5. HGB says:

    I once heard an older European Talmid Chacham state that one who is concerned with saying Berachot shouldn’t chew gum at all.

    He saw it as a tremendously undignified habit.

  6. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    “But it might just be becasue you are not allowed to intentionally put any food/nutrition in your mouth on a fast day”

    but one may put any food in one’s mouth to taste it, then spit it out (apparently a halachic definition of “tasting”), on a fast day (presumably without a bracha.)

    2. HGB: there is a story that the chatam sofer would never eat a “sugar cookie” which apparently only has sugar (or at least, per rav enkin, the only nutritive content was sugar) because of the bracha issue.

    3. you seem to define sugar as only being cane sugar. however, there are many diff types of sugar today (and in old times), aspartame being one of them.

    4. as for gum needing a hechsher, there is a legend that when the rav hamachshir of wrigleys passed away, every rav in america applied for the position (i guess it was lucrative and required no / minimal work, at least per standards of those days (or the previous rav claimed it doesnt need a hechsher, since its not consumed; similar to paper / detergent / etc.). wrigleys was so exasperated at the situation, that they never had a hechsher, since.

  7. Ari Enkin says:

    Mimedinat-

    Correction: you may not taste food on a public fast day. Only on a private one.

    Ari Enkin

  8. mitch morrison says:

    on the hechsher question, this is one of my great struggles. over the past 3 yrs, i’ve asked 4 rabbis in hashgacha work this q.. 2 said in truth there’s no need for hashgacha (regular gum, supposedly bubble gum has other issues).. and 2 said it should have hechsher. this is a discussion we’ve had at home.
    be curious what others think…

  9. gest says:

    Isn’t a stick of gum less than a kazayit? Why isn’t that a factor?

  10. mb says:

    “Finally, chewing gum must have a hechsher and I have never seen a convincing argument to the contrary.[6]”
    What do you mean MUST have a hechsher?
    Only 3 food items need a hechsher. Gum is certainly not one of them.
    Perhaps you meant to say gum should not be eaten if it had non-kosher ingested ingredients?
    I seriously doubt if such a thing exists.

  11. yitznewton says:

    I don’t understand the premise that flavored gum could be “eaten” without a bracha, when even smells require a bracha. Also, food tastes are themselves essentially smells (i.e. processed with the same sensory equipment), though perhaps they are considered separate by the Torah.

  12. as says:

    Not very seasonal

    My mashgiach in yeshiva would tell off boys “maaleh geiro is not in this week’s parsha”

  13. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    reb ari:

    SA OC 567 allows “tasting and expelling” on four public fasts except 9av and YK. (spitting is really wrong term — “liflot” would mean expelling.) (and the MB qualifies it to mean liquids, but not necessarily in SA.) Ramoh is machmir (which would mean nothing regarding a bracha, in our context) though at thend of the siman, he explicitely allows chewing and swallowing cinnanmon sticks and “other spices” as well as allowing “sweet wood” if it is expelled. (?chewing tobacco leaves?)

    in looking this up between mincha and maariv, a kollel student who helped me said he once researched the issue of toothpaste and mouthwash (since it is flavored with aspartame or xylitol; and now various mints and etc) and its not too clear.

    i also note (but didnt find the source) discussion permitting putting pebbles in the mouth on YK to wet the mouth, which supposedly helps the fast.

    2. flavoring is also an issue, since it is considered significant, halachically. though i assume there are no problems with cinnamon and sweet flavors, but what about the various “mint flavors”

  14. meir says:

    I don’t have a background in hilchos brachos for hanaa (as opposed to the rest of torah) but why are we focused on what goes down the throat as opposed to what goes in the mouth. if what goes down the throat is the important factor, why don’t we wait to say a brocha until the food is in the mouth (i guess not respectful? but why so different from holding an esrog upside down?)

  15. HaDarda"i says:

    Rav Shimon Schwab chewed gum? I find that hard to believe.

    Also, why should the aspartame be batel? It’s avida l’taama.

  16. Yoni Ross says:

    1. The Birkat Hashem’s reasoning seems lacking. All food is mixed with saliva before swallowing. Would he maintain that driking a few drops of juice doesn’t require a bracha rishona since the juice is absorbed into the saliva which is swallowed?

    2. Rav Belsky’s position on hard vs. soft gum also seems strange. The determining factor as to the hardness of the gum, as I understand it, is the rubber base thereof, which is typically not ingested (for those above grade school). Why that part of the gum, which by itself wouldn’t require a bracha at all, effects the status of the gum vis-a-vis the required bracha, is odd. Even odder is your failure to mention his position within the OU, which gives his position more credence as someone knowledgable in both halacha and food.

    3. The number of calories in sugar-free gum is irrelevant. Water has no calories, and it certainly requires a bracha.

    4. You offer no support for your position that aspartame is a non-food. Would Nutra-Sweet not require a bracha if eaten plain?

    5. Your position regarding the nullification of aspartame is odd, since, as mentioned, all combines with saliva before being swallowed. According to your view, if someone eats a small amount a sugar (which will be completely absorbed by saliva before swallowing), or a larger amount and keeps it in his mouth until it is all absorbed by the saliva, no bracha will be required.

    6. On a fundamental level, your argument regarding sugar-free gum is at least partially based on the amount of aspartame ingested vs. the corresponding amount of sugar in regular gum. However, a bracha rishona is made on a “kol shehu”. Your premise seems to go against this basic law.

    7. “It should also be taken into account that there are opinions that a blessing is not recited when tasting, even if swallowing, minute amounts of food.[4]” The citation you bring for this seems to relate to tasting food for the purpose of checking its flavor. For such tasting, one does not need to make a bracha up to a revi’is. I’m not sure what the relevance is to the current discussion.

    8. You use the OU as a source that chewing gum needs a hechsher. Considering the OU sells hechsherim, inter alia for chewing gum, their opinion is far from unbiased.

    9. “you may not taste food on a public fast day. Only on a private one” There are different halachot for a ta’anis yachid? Sounds like an idea for a future post.

    10. Should one make a “borei pri hagafen” on naturally-flavored grape gum? :)

  17. Ari Enkin says:

    Thanks for the Mimedinat! I look it up again.

    Ari Enkin

  18. Ari Enkin says:

    Yoni-

    Thanks for that! I’ll try to properly respond later today.

    Ari Enkin

  19. Ari Enkin says:

    Hadardai-

    You have a good point. However, batel can also mean that by the time your saliva is done with it, it essentailly doesnt exist anymore.

    Ari Enkin

  20. Ari Enkin says:

    Yitz-

    You dont make a bracha on all smells, and I guess those poskim I cited hold that chewing gum is simply not considered eating.

    Ari Enkin

  21. Ari Enkin says:

    Guest-

    Size isnt really a factor because there is no minimum amount for a bracha rishona.

    “Tasting” however is subject to debate.

    Ari Enkin

  22. Ari Enkin says:

    Dear Mitch-

    Regarding the need for a hechsher on gum please see: http://www.ou.org/kosher/daf/advanced/gum.html

    How could gum NOT need a hechsher? And what is the difference between “regular” gum and “bubble” gum??

    Ari Enkin

  23. Ari Enkin says:

    Meir-

    Because ‘tasting’ does not require a bracha. Only what goes down the throat requires one.

    Ari Enkin

  24. Ari Enkin says:

    Yoni-

    1. It might just be that since juice is “the manner of eating” while he considers chewing gum not “in the matter of eating”.

    2. The reason for Rav Belsky’s opinion is because he holds that one swallows pieces of the hard shell and that is what requires a bracha. Nothing is swallowed with soft gum.

    3. Combined with the view that tasting doesnt require a bracha, there is basis to suggest that these minimal calories might have a status of “tasting”.

    4. It’s more of a chemical than food, no?

    5. True. But combined with the fact that it might be a chemical along with the Birkat HAshem – there might be room for the sevara.

    6. No it doesnt. a) keep in mind the list of rabbis the lechatchila dont require a bracha on gum (for whatever reasons) and b) some hold there is no bracha for tasting,

    7. Gum is essentially for the flavour.

    ……My guess is that you make a bracha on all gum, ;-)

    Warmest regards,

    Ari Enkin

  25. mitch morrison says:

    Ari, on hechsher, i really don’t know.. but know that rabbi abadi and sons don’t require a hechsher on most gums–
    Author: Simon
    E-mail: not available
    Date: 4/12/2009 3:23:00 PM
    Subject: Bubble gum
    Message: Hello
    I’m wondering if Trident or Orbit gum are kosher?
    They don’t have any Kosher symbol on the package
    also if they are K for Pessah

    Thanks and haj sameah

    Reply: yes & yes
    AA

  26. mb says:

    Gum does NOT need a hecksher. It needs to be kosher. Two different things.It’s nearly always kosher. It doesn’t contain pork or crabmeat, does it? Americans are obsessed with Hecksherim

  27. Amshinover says:

    Rabbi berl Wein told me more then once that plain trident gum does not require a hechsher

  28. Yoni Ross says:

    Ari,

    1) That’s a good svarah, but that’s not what the Birkat Hashem says. He says that mixing food with saliva and then swallowing the saliva is not eating. But that’s one of the ways that eating happens. And with a small amount of food, you’re basically swallowing saliva with a little bit of foodstuff mixed or absorbed in it.

    3. Tasting aside (I’ll get to that later) I’m still not clear why you feel the caloric content is relevant. If you think that 2 calories is negligible, bear in mind that it is enough energy to heat a cup of water over 15 degrees.

    4. Since when is the mere fact that something is a chemical enough to absolve us from making a bracha before eating it?

    5. Combining two (in my view) unsupported positions doesn’t make one supported position.

    6a. The list of rabbis who don’t require a bracha on gum is irrelevant. You’re in essence putting forth an argument to support a position, and saying that since many authorities on the matter support the position for completely different reasons, the argument you offered is thus compelling.

    6b/7. It seems that the tasting referred to is not when food is merely tasted and not ingested, but when food is ingested, but for the sole purpose of testing or checking the taste (as in when cooking). Thus, the fact that gum is only chewed for its flavor (i.e., tasted) is not enough to make the “tasting” halacha relevant, since it is not chewed merely to test or check the taste.

    8-10. I win!!!

  29. Ari Enkin says:

    Yoni-

    We’ve got to fight this out by phone one day soon.

    Ari Enkin

  30. Shachar Ha'amim says:

    Ari – since you asked about flavroless chewing gum

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3254709

  31. Ari Enkin says:

    Received today from Rav Chaim Malinowitz:

    “It is poshut to me that you are correct”

    Ari Enkin

  32. Dov says:

    Whoever says gum doesn’t need a hechsher is living in the 1800′s.

    Most flavorings in most products are derived from lots of substances that you don’t want to know about. Many from animal products. Many from petreuleum products. Many are engineered down to their molecular structure.

    I met a few years ago with some professors of food science at the Technion and heard about their technologies for flavorings and fragrances derived from animals among other things.

    Whether such substances are seperated from their animal roots is the subject of a lot of psak, but the animal sources of such items is not obsession, it’s science.

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