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Shabbat Parashat Naso 5776

Ask the Rabbi: Products Containing Minute Quantities of Non-Kosher Food

Rabbi Daniel Mann

Question: I want to use a homeopathic allergy medicine that contains some apis mellifica, which is trace quantities of crushed honeybee. Is this permitted?


Answer: There is disagreement on the topic of alternative medicine. Extreme opinions are rarely right. Some treatments under the umbrella of alternative medicine are helpful, and some are quackery and serve as a placebo at best. There is also a significant category of medicines and treatments (homeopathic or conventional) whose efficacy is unclear or varies from person to person. We are not in the position to take a stand on which treatments fall into which category. This general disclaimer has added significance in the case of ingesting something non-kosher as a medication. There is significant room for leniency when ingesting non-kosher items in a not classic manner of eating for the medicinal needs of the sick (Pesachim 25b; Shulchan Aruch and Rama, Yoreh Deah 155:3). Not only do many cases of allergy not qualify as sick, but the Rama (ibid.) requires that a medicine must be proven effective for leniency to apply; this is rarely if ever true of homeopathy. So let us look at the kashrut of the ingredient in question.

Bees are sheratzim and thus not kosher, even though their honey is (Rambam, Maachalot Assurot 3:3). It is permitted to eat honey into which taste from parts of bees enters, because the taste is assumed to be negative (Shulchan Aruch, YD 81:8). One could say that this is only true when bee parts fell in accidentally, but that if one purposely put them in, he thereby gives them importance, thus preventing bitul (nullification) due to its bad taste (achshevei – Chulin 120a). Many poskim (including Igrot Moshe, Orach Chayim II:92, Minchat Shlomo II:65) say that if the purpose of the non-kosher food is not related to its food qualities but just medicinal ones, achshevei does not apply.

In this case, we ostensibly have a simpler reason for permissibility - homeopathic solutions use trace quantities of the active ingredient, so that there is usually sixty times more kosher than non-kosher (see Shulchan Aruch, YD 98:1). On the other hand, bitul is supposed to come about by accident, whereas it is forbidden to add kosher material to arrive at criteria for bitul (Shulchan Aruch, YD 99:5). If this is done, the bitul is disqualified, and the food remains forbidden for the person who did the bitul and those for whom he did it (ibid.). Ostensibly, in this case, that is the consumers of the apis mellifica.

However, bitul is disqualified as a penalty for the sin of nullifying the forbidden food. If the food was put into a mixture in which it is batel by a non-Jew, who is obviously not forbidden to make that mixture, there is no reason to penalize him, and it is permitted, according to most opinions, for a Jew to buy the product (see Badei Hashulchan 99:38).

If the company is owned by Jews but the act of nullification was done by non-Jews, the matter is not simple. On the one hand, the Beit Yosef (YD 99) says that if a Jew asked a non-Jew to do bitul, the Jew cannot eat it (or sell it to profit from the bitul – Rama ibid.). On the other hand, even if a Jew did bitul, the Taz (99:9) says that if he did not realize it is forbidden for him to do so, the mixture is permitted. 

Apparently, the product in question has an edible base (including alcohol), whose kashrut we cannot confirm, and thus ingesting may be forbidden due to the inactive ingredient. This leads us to an interesting question. Would it be permitted to give a hasgacha to this product? The Badei Hashulchan (to 99:5) says that this is forbidden because the rabbi becomes a partner in the nullification process through his instructions. However, this is logical only in a case where the rabbi has them do the process according to his instruction. If, though, the regular process renders the mixture kosher by bitul, formal halacha should allow him to inform the public of this fact. However, formal hechsherim are not generally given in such cases (see Igrot Moshe, YD II:41).
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