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Kashrut re:gelatin and rennet


Rabbi David Sperling

Tammuz 1, 5774
I am confused regarding your response to the question re: kosher gelatin. It was my understanding that kosher gelatin in a dairy product would be derived from fish bones and thus pareve. Isn’t the justification that you provided regarding the processing of the item to the point of being inedible, the one that the conservative movement has used to justify the eating of cheese containing rennet? Rennet is also an animal product which has been processed to the point of being inedible in its present form and is arguably a chemical as compared to a meat product. Cheese which has a reliable hechsher cannot have rennet though because it is a meat product. Are there orthodox rabaim who would permit the use of animal based rennet in cheese provided it was from a kosher animal that had been slaughtered properly? Thank you
Shalom, Thank you for your question. The concepts and laws surrounding both gelatin and rennet are both fascinating and complex at the same time. Let's see if we can get a general overview in the short framework this media allows us. Gelatin is the subject of much debate in halacha (as opposed to rennet). The opinions that allow gelatin use base themselves (in part) on the logic that the non-kosher bones used in the gelatin have been made non-edible in the manufacturing process. Things that are inedible are not considered as food, and thus the gelatin should be considered as kosher. But because the gelatin is in fact added to the food and eaten at the end of the day, many rabbis rule that this type of inedibility does not remove the original non-kosher status of the gelatin. Hard cheese, on the other hand, is a completely different story. The rennet added to milk in order to create the reaction that makes cheese is not sufficiently changed that it would loose its original meat status (this is also due to the fact that gelatin comes from the bones which have a different status than the rennet that comes from the enzymes on the stomach lining). As such, there will always be an issue as to the source of the rennet. If though the rennet is from a kosher animal that was properly slaughter, its use in the making of cheese will be allowed. There will be no issue of meat and milk as the kosher rennet is of such a small amount it will be halachicly nullified – which is not the case with non-kosher rennet which because of the severity of non-kosher foods can never be considered nullified. Because of the need for kosher rennet the early rabbis made a degree that ALL (hard) cheeses need kosher supervision for them to be allowed. That is, above and beyond the regular checking that is needed to certify that a product is kosher, kosher cheese manufacturing requires that a Jewish kosher supervisor be present during the manufacturing process. This is true not only if the cheese is made with animal rennet, but even cheeses made with vegetable or artificial rennet, the rabbis ruled that it must have full supervision for it to be allowed. I am not knowledgeable of what the conservative movement says about cheeses – but the Shulchan Aruch (the code of Jewish law) is very clear that hard cheeses need to be manufactured with total Jewish supervision, and it is not enough just to know that the ingredients are kosher. This ruling is followed by all orthodox communities around the world, and hasn't changes for these last thousands of years. I hope this brief overview will be of some help to you – Blessings.
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