Kosher Soap

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Although it might sound somewhat funny, making an effort to use only exclusively kosher soap for washing one’s body is not without merit.[1] From ancient times right to this very day, soap is frequently manufactured from animal fats and other non-kosher sources. Even the famous Ivory brand of shower soap which claims to be more than 99% pure may contain beef and pork substances. 

While it is true that with the exception of actual consumption, one is permitted to derive most other forms of benefit from non kosher items, soap may be an exception to this rule. [2] Indeed, it is permitted to do business with non-kosher items, play football with pig skin footballs, and even use candles made from non-kosher sources for the Shabbat or Chanukah lights. [3] 

To better understand why soap is an exception to this rule, it is necessary to recall the restrictions of Yom Kippur. The distinctive restrictions of Yom Kippur consist of not eating or drinking, washing, anointing oneself, wearing leather shoes, and engaging in marital relations. [4] Among the reasons that anointing is forbidden on Yom Kippur is due to its relationship with drinking, a concept known as “Sicha K’shtiya” in halachic literature. It is taught that smearing [oils on one’s skin] and drinking are two comparable activities.[5] As such, many authorities have broadened the Sicha K’shtiya concept to assert that the use of non-kosher soaps is comparable to drinking non-kosher beverages and should be likewise forbidden.[6]

Those who dismiss the concerns raised regarding the use of non-kosher soap base themselves upon the view that the principle of Sicha K’shtiya is only relevant to pure oils, not to other items smeared upon one’s skin, such as animal fats.[7] Another lenient consideration has it that since Sicha K’shtiya is primarily a rabbinical enactment, there is no reason to extend it from its Yom Kippur related origins. Yet other authorities dismiss any concerns on using non-kosher soaps because no one would ever consider eating them due to their awful, inedible taste.[8]

Although the consensus of contemporary halachic authorities is to permit the use of any soap,[9] there are eminent authorities who strongly urge the use of only certified kosher soaps.[10] Furthermore, although most authorities dismiss the concerns regarding the use of non-kosher soap for washing one’s body, many individuals are nevertheless careful to use only kosher soap for cleaning one’s dishes and other eating utensils.[11]


[1] This post is based on “What’s the truth…about kosher soap” by Rabbi Ari Zivotofsky, cited at: http://www.ou.org/publications/ja/5764/5764winter/LEGALEAS.PDF

[2] Pesachim 21-23, Rambam Ma’achalot Assurot 8:15

[3] Beit Shlomo O.C. 108,109

[4] Yoma 73b

[5] Shabbat 86a, Yoma 76b, Rambam Teruma 11:1, Rambam Ma’aser Sheni 3:10, 7:17

[6] Taz Y.D. 117:4

[7] Tosfot Nidda 32a

[8] Aruch Hashulchan Y.D. 117:29

[9] Aruch Hashulchan Y.D. 117:29, Biur Halacha O.C. 326, Igrot Moshe O.C. 3:62, Be’er Moshe 3:87, Yechave Da’at 4:43

[10] Kaf Hachaim Y.D. 117:15, Taz Y.D. 117:4, Vilna Gaon cited in Biur Halacha O.C. 326

[11] Igrot Moshe Y.D. 2:30

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com

53 comments

  1. Are you sure that the authorities you cite in support of this stringency were talking about the type of highly processed soap that we use nowadays? As you note, the Aroch (not Aruch!) Hashulchan felt that the machmirim were only concerned with lard-like soap in which the issur is b’ein. If so, it could be that no-one would be stringent with our soaps.

    Another thing – you write that “it is permitted to do business with non-kosher items”. It most decidedly is not. I assume you were referring to non-kosker non-food items.

  2. You might be right about our soaps today, but then again, even our soaps do include non-kosher ingredients as mentioned in the post.

    Re: Business with non-kosher food items

    There is a lot of misunderstadning and misinformation there. I go through all the sources and opinions on this topic in my next sefer which is due out after 9Av.

    Ari Enkin

  3. Thankfully here in Israel the badatz certifies the laundry detergent, bleach, degreasing sprays and toilet bowl cleaners. It’s scary to think what ehricher yidden might end up eating otherwise.

  4. by “based on” you mean “a summary of”?

  5. …Not sure what the difference is or what youre trying to get at.

  6. A few years ago, I attended a seminar led by two rabbis from OU Kosher at which the topic of kosher certification for non-food items came up. The rabbis explained that the reason the OU often certifies such items has nothing to do with halakha: rather, it is the manufacturers themselves who request such certification for branding and marketing purposes — i.e., so that they can advertise as many of their products as possible as kosher. The OU itself, according to the rabbis who led the seminar, would not require certification for such items, just as they would not require certification for plain, unflavored bottled water.

  7. I’m sorry, but R’ Enkin it seems like you didn’t even read fully the sources you quote from. You looked in Mafteiach HaGadol (or maybe just Zivotofsky) and didn’t bother to read the whole teshuva. The Deberciner and Reb Ovadya (and I might add R Wosner also; at the moment I can’t recall what R Moshe wrote) all say that the shittohs that hold sicha kshtiah the whole year would permit modern soaps. IIRC Beir Moshe say specifically that the soaps of the Mishna Brurah were different and edible (it seams not have been the case, nonetheless this is what they write). But our soaps which are pagum even he would agree is permitted. Yichaveh Daat says something like לא ירד בעל הביאור הלכה לחילוק זה.

    Yes there are people that are makpid on it, but it’s not because they understand the halachic issues, but rather because they read it in the Mishna Berurah. There is no halachik reason for it nowadays. It is possible to come up with a chassidus if one hold that there is timtum halev even after pigemah, but I have never seen anybody makbid on it.

    You should also mention that Rabbeinu Tam’s distinction between fats and oils should be seen in the larger sense. In greek and roman times people would anoint themselves in the bathhouse for hours everyday. They were so entrenched in this custom that foregoing for even one day was considered innuy. Consequently sicha kshtiah is only applicable to oils that they would leave in the skin which are were considered to have been absorbed into into the bones. Animal fat tend to be more viscous and are not used in the same way, but as soaps that are meant to be applied and then promptly washed off; hardley being absorbed in the same fashion.

  8. Anyone paskening on this issue in regard to modern soap would be wise to understand the science and history — there has been farr too much bad science in 20th century psak (Pyrex comex to mind).

    See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soap particularly the history section.

  9. Ephrayim-

    Thank you for your feedback, but I dont think that there is anything wrong or inaccuare in my last two paragraps along with the sources cited. Yes, I could have gone into more depth and detail as you have, but I chose not to.

    And yes, there is hardly a source in my posts or books that I have not perosnally gone through.

  10. “A few years ago, I attended a seminar led by two rabbis from OU Kosher at which the topic of kosher certification for non-food items came up.”

    This apologetic from them is pretty well known by now, but the OU should be ashamed of themselves for doing this. Among other reasons, for making kashrut seem ridiculous to Jews, and for fueling antisemitic conspiracies about the “kosher tax.”

  11. …there are eminent authorities who strongly urge the use of only certified kosher soaps.[10]

    R’ Enkin. I believe your citation of Kaf Hahayim Y”D 117:15 in note 10 is preempted by his comments in 117:14 where he seems to say that the chumra does not apply where the soap is nifsal me’achilat kelev (the same point made by the Arukh hashulhan you cited, and by those authorities quoted by Ephrayim above).

    It should also be pointed out that from YD siman 117 and on, the comments in Kaf Hahayim (including the note you cite) were actually written by a young Rav Ovadia Yosef after R’ Yaakov Sofer was niftar in 1939. (As is well known, ROY and the the Sofer family have since formed two factions in the Sephardic world that have two very different approaches to halakha). The aforementioned chiluk is a good explanation for reconciling R’ Ovadia’s remarks in Kaf Hahayim and those in Yehave Da’at.

  12. S:

    “This apologetic from them is pretty well known by now, but the OU should be ashamed of themselves for doing this. Among other reasons, for making kashrut seem ridiculous to Jews, and for fueling antisemitic conspiracies about the “kosher tax.””

    agreed. except that for many jews it doesn’t make kashrus seem more ridiculous, but rather more complicated. for many (i will include myself here), once one sees a product with a kashrus symbol there is often an assumption, however incorrect it may be, that the product requires a hashgocho and those brands without a hashgocho should be avoided. this is particularly a problem around pesach time. i think this is the biggest problem with the OU’s policy.

  13. as a historical aside, i’m pretty sure i remember seeing advs for kosher soap in mid-19th c. american newspapers.

  14. Jacob-

    Thats neat! Thanks!

  15. Surprised about the last sentence in the article. I would have thought using non-kosher soap (or detergent) for dishwashing would be le’chatchila prohibited, especially in hot water.

  16. Is the possible heter that the soap is pagum and inedible?

  17. Scott:

    perhaps rokeach was a pioneer in being the first to mass market kosher soap using modern manufacturing techniques, but i’m pretty sure he wasn’t the first in america to sell kosher soap

    rokeach didn’t start until 1870 and he didn’t immigrate to america until twenty years later. the advs i think i saw were in american newspapers in the 1850/60s

    interesting link btw

  18. Diswashing soap with a hechsher is comical according to many. I know some who are makpid on this, but my belief is that this is a humra that one can either embrace or reject. Keritot 21a holds that an inedible item cannot be impure. It says there that the general rule of tumah is that tumah is anything normally eaten only by people is Tamei as long as a dog could eat it. A food is not initially Mekabel Tum’ah unless it is fit for people. Since things like soap, calcium derived from seashells, etc. are inedible, there should be no problem with their consumption.

  19. The other problem with the OU’s policy for items that don’t need a hechsher is the creation of a “boy who cries wolf” situation for other products. If at least some products that don’t need hashgacha, people think, nevertheless receive a hechsher, how many products exist that don’t have a hechsher but are still kosher?

    So it’s not only a matter of making kashrus a joke; it’s a matter of eroding credibility.

  20. MiMedinat HaYam

    bottled water has two issues — the bottling line is often used for grape derived flavors, so it requires kashering. (though most water bottlers are exclusively for water, the smaller ones, and or the repackagers may not be. so the question to ask the ou is do they really check for that?)

    second, the ou claims all its carbonated water without a “p” are kosher for pesach too (issue is source of co2 is mostly chometz derived, unless checked out. though it could be “chometz shenishtaneh, though the only mention of this in halacha is “kitniyot shenishtaneh.”)

  21. MiMedinat HaYam

    rokeach was supposedly the first in america, though the rokeach family was supoosedly the first in europe, too. i believe there are pix with caption (which should include dates) on the ajlegacy site.

    if soap Can be awful inedible taste, it can be made otherwise (bubble gum flavor for children).

    business with non kosher food — i heard both ways, and anticipate your next book.

    you dont discuss any diff between liquid and solid soaps.

  22. With peaches back in season at the produce markets in New York, I am once again seeing an OU on one particular brand of peach.

  23. MMY:

    “rokeach was supposedly the first in america”

    per my comment above, i’m almost certain this isn’t true.

  24. Abba:

    I’m not claiming you are wrong but below is an excerpt from the Bklyn Eagle’s obit for Israel Rokeach from 8/12/1933 –

    “Israel Rokeach, Philanthropist, Dies at Age of 92

    First Kosher Soapmaker in America — Town in Palestine Named for Him

    Israel Rokeach, founder and president of I. Rokeach & Sons,Inc., and contributor to a number of philanthropies, died yesterday in
    the Jewish Hospital after several weeks’ illness. He was 92.

    Born in Russia in 1841 Mr. Rokeach came to the United States
    in 1890 and started his business in the cellar of a building on Market St., on the lower East Side of Manhattan, where he manufactured the first kosher soap made in America. His business grew year by, year, until, in 1929, the firm moved into a $1,000,000 plant at 240 Wythe Ave….”

  25. “per my comment above, i’m almost certain this isn’t true.”

    Seconded.

  26. Arguably, he was the first to have some kind of kosher certification, as opposed to merely declaring himself kosher. Famously, he had R. Yitzchak Elchanan certifying his soap back home.

  27. MiMedinat HaYam

    bklyn eagle — hagiographic. unless it was in the nytimes. (intreresting, the nytimes obit for the chofetz chaim, dating to approx the same time) has the story about him being a “shopkeeper” that closed his store when … we now know rav eliezer silver z”l had that put in the nytimes (as well as pressed the nytimes to have the obit altogether.)

  28. i will hopefully verify my memory when i get home thursday night. i’m pretty sure i saw the advs in the occident or sinai from mid 19th c. (btw cholov yisroel also discussed by early 1870s in american hebrew press.) perhaps rokeach in the 1890s was the first in america to mass market it or use modern manufacturing techniques. or as S notes the first to get an official hashgocho. or simply he was recorded as the first as one of those historical quirks. (as JR marcus said, never claim someone/something was the first, because then surely someone will point to an earlier occurence)

  29. MiMedinat HaYam

    chofetz chaim obit in nytimes http://query.nytimes.com/search/sitesearch/#/chofetz+chaim/from19300101to19401212/

    approx a month after r rokeach.

    2. i think he came up with the “embossing” “kosher” (or rokeach) in the soap.

  30. MMY:

    “2. i think he came up with the “embossing” “kosher” (or rokeach) in the soap.”

    i will certainly not dispute that he was the first to come up wth embossing rokeach in soap 🙂

  31. I’m old enough to remember the Rokeach kosher dishsoaps. They produced one soap with red printing for fleishig dishes and one with blue printing for milchig. This was at a time when almost no one used cholov yisroel or glatt meat, and even frum homes used the ingredient list to decide if a product was or wasn’t kosher – in the absence of reliable hashgachot (except for Heinz ketchup and vegetarian beans).

  32. Abba:

    Your memory does serve you correctly. From Page 2 of the Occident 4/2/1866:

    Soap, כשר

    The subscribers respectfully informs the public that they have commenced the manufacture of Kasher Soap, which has been long a great desideratum to religious households. Orders from town and country promptly filled.
    HAMMERSCHLAG & AMRAN
    1209 Hancock Street, near Girard Avenue, Philadelphia

  33. JACOB:

    whew! i’m not crazy (at least not in this context)
    presumably it is from p. 2 of specifically the occident advertiseer rather than the occident itself
    hammerschlag and his brother in law (?) werner david (?) amram (not amran) also sold kosher sausages and salted and smoked tongue (mail order also). they also had a matza bakery (amram’s son david werner amram–the bibliographer– in an obit referred to it as the first [?!] matzah bakery in philadelphia)

  34. wrt to the original post about bathing with kosher soap:
    lady judith montefiore’s cookbook (the first in english) contains a recipe for skin conditioner: honey, rose water, wheat and . . . asses milk
    note that among her goals was to provide anglo jews with directions in how to be modern and kosher at the same time. she doesn’t say in the hakdama who her posek was and who permitted the use of asses milk in a skin wash.
    (there is nothing in the book about dish soap)

  35. “(the first in english)”

    sorry, the first kosher cookbook in english

  36. MiMedinat HaYam

    abba — i’m sure mikve yisrael was the phirst matza bakery in filadelfia. perhaps the first commercial, and or first bakery after a long hiatus of importing matzot from ?new york?

    or perhaps the first bakery for hard / flat matzot that lasted more than six hours. (i.e., ashkenazi matzot)

    dont forget, in europe / mideast everyone kashered their ovens and baked their own matzot.

    cholov yisroel — means they milked it themselves. pretty common in those days. they didnt want to get any of lady judith’s mules.

    “and even frum homes used the ingredient list to decide if a product was or wasn’t kosher – in the absence of reliable hashgachot (except for Heinz ketchup and vegetarian beans).”

    it wasnt that long ago that if it said “vegetable shortening” it was considered kosher. the question is why not today? a: higher standards b: veg short is not the same today c: it wasnt just veg in those days?

    please ask the ou historian for a straight, non convoluted, non form letter answer.

  37. Chashash the vegetables weren’t checked for bugs before they were processed into shortening.

  38. MMY:

    perhaps it was the first commercial bakery, although it seems late. or it was the hagiographical resminisces of a son who really didn’t know the history of matzah in philadelphia (just like rokeach really wasn’t the first producer of kosher soap, right

    “or perhaps the first bakery for hard / flat matzot that lasted more than six hours. (i.e., ashkenazi matzot)”

    i’d say this is impossible. sephardim never had a real presence in philadelphia, certainly not a dominant one. (even mikveh israel itself was basically founded as an ashkenazi shul–albeit one that followed sephardi rite. this may have changed later on, but i’m not so sure.)
    and in any case, do you know that in general western sephardim didn’t use flat cracker-type matza? isn’t soft matza really mizrahi rather than sephardi? (i have no idea)

    “cholov yisroel — means they milked it themselves. pretty common in those days.”

    i don’t remember the details, but the discussion in the press was wrt whether or not chalav akum was permitted in america. i don’t recall any mention of people milking it themselves. maybe you’re right, i have no idea. but i do remember for sure advs for kosher cheese at the time.

  39. MMY:

    “means they milked it themselves”

    who had a cow on chatham st?

  40. IH –

    Chashash the vegetables weren’t checked for bugs before they were processed into shortening.

    Any bugs in the shortening would be batel since they aren’t whole.

  41. Dov — I has included and around the comment — without the spaces — but WordPress removed them.

  42. Ugh! included “ironic” looking like html tags.

  43. R’mmh,
    IIRC the test was pure vegetable shortening (not just vegetable shortening) and assumedly even though pure wasn’t 100%, it was batel.
    KT

  44. They produced one soap with red printing for fleishig dishes and one with blue printing for milchig.

    Thus anticipating the toy manufactures who make one version in blue and one in pink in order to get you to buy two when one would do the job…

  45. MiMedinat HaYam

    abba — didnt mrs o’leary’s cow (at siskel and ebert’s theater, prime location) knock over the candle that burned down the city of chicago? legend and satire.

    the truth is, they milked the cows even on the island of manhattan. it wasnt such a big deal. unless you want lady judith’s concotion. which prob wasnt available on the island of manhattan.

    shlomo — different. you dont need two toys, unless your children wont play with their sibling’s toys. besides, blue is for (straight) boys and pink is for (straight) girls.

    also, no big deal having another bar of soap at home; maybe big deal buying two toys.

    IH — vegetable shortening = corn (most probably). no bug issue.

    joel rich — pure, i forgot. the question stands. standards, or inherently non kosher. without hagiograhphia. and is it the same today. (no, i’m not running out to buy nabisco. its kosher anyway. perhaps this is why.)

    regarding batel be’shishim. that only applies if it was added by “accident”. yet, all kashrut agencies use this heter even if added on purpose.

  46. r’mmy,
    I’m not sure the kashrut agencies will give a hechsher if the company is mvatel lechatchilah.
    KT

  47. regarding batel be’shishim. that only applies if it was added by “accident”. yet, all kashrut agencies use this heter even if added on purpose.

    That is not entirely correct. According to the psak of the SA (YD 98:5) something which was added intentionally is only forbidden for the one who added it and for the one for whom it was added. Even if one is of the opinion that adding it for whomever wishes to buy it constitutes adding it specifically for the consumer (see R. Akiva Eger ad loc.) which would thus render the consumer “the one for whom it was added”; still, since kosher consumers are a minority of all consumers it cannot be said that it was added for them, because we follow the majority (see Pischei Teshuva ibid. 122:5).

    Also, in my experience, the opposite of what you wrote it generally true; kashrus agencies rely on bitul far less often than is allowed by halacha.

  48. Sorry for not specifying, that post was directed to MiMedinat HaYam.

  49. “MiMedinat HaYam on June 6, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    regarding batel be’shishim. that only applies if it was added by “accident”. yet, all kashrut agencies use this heter even if added on purpose.”

    Nonsense.Deliberate bitul is not permitted to the one that put it in there or his intended guests.Everybody else can eat it. He can even sell it, at the non kosher price.
    I know of no Kashrut agency that permits a product with bitul, but they have no reason not to.
    Although rav Moshe said no agency should take payment for a hecksher on such a thing.
    However, there’s a huge difference between no hecksher and not kosher.

  50. MiMedinat HaYam

    i guess i’ll defer to more learned opinion.

    but my question re prev generations (into the ’60s and ’70s; and i notice something similar in other countries to this day) accepting prods containing ingredients like pure veg shortening stands. is it not allowed now cause standards changed, or because it really wasnt kosher then? (but we dont rekasher our dishes; prob pagum since we use rokeach blue soap. humor.)

  51. “MiMedinat HaYam on June 7, 2012 at 7:48 pm

    i guess i’ll defer to more learned opinion.

    but my question re prev generations (into the ’60s and ’70s; and i notice something similar in other countries to this day) accepting prods containing ingredients like pure veg shortening stands. is it not allowed now cause standards changed, or because it really wasnt kosher then? (but we dont rekasher our dishes; prob pagum since we use rokeach blue soap. humor.)”

    It was kosher then and kosher now.
    You should read the publication put out by the London Beth Din. The Really Kosher Food guide.
    One of the most reliable BD’s in the world. They permit a whole slew of products based on the ingredient list.
    Here’s one.
    All canned or bottled kosher species of fish in water, brine or vegetable oil, is permitted.
    Analyze the ramifications of all of that, and compare with your local kashrut nonsense.
    Bon appetit.
    Mb

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