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Soaps and Cosmetics Kosher for Passover? (And a review of Pesach laws)

How to manage the cosmetics and medicines issue on Passover.


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

Soaps and Cosmetics
The Poskim (Jewish law arbiters) disagree whether body lotions that contain ĥametz (leavened products) may be used on Pesaĥ. While soaps, shampoos, and creams are not made from ĥametz, but
they sometimes contain grain alcohol or other ĥametz derivatives, leading to queries about their status on Pesaĥ.
Some say that applying an ointment is equivalent, by rabbinic enactment, to drinking. Consequently, even if the ĥametz in these products is not fit for a dog’s consumption, it retains the status of ĥametz because it is suitable for anointing, and thus it is forbidden to use them on Pesaĥ. Accordingly, one must use soaps, shampoos, and creams that are kosher for Pesaĥ.
Others maintain that the Sages only equated the application of ointment to drinking with regard to Yom Kippur and anointing with oil consecrated as teruma (priestly gift). All other Torah prohibitions relate to eating alone, not anointing. Although it is forbidden to derive benefit from ĥametz, the ĥametz in these products was rendered unfit for a dog’s consumption even before Pesaĥ began and thus lost the status of ĥametz. It is therefore permissible to derive benefit from them and apply them to the body during Pesaĥ.
The Practical Ruling
Since this dispute relates to rabbinic law, the halakha accords with the lenient opinion. Therefore, creams that are absorbed into the skin, flavorless lipstick, and perfumes that contain alcohol need not be certified kosher for Pesaĥ, in keeping with the lenient opinion, since they are not fit for consumption and generally do not contain ĥametz ingredients. Moreover, the vast majority of cosmetic products produced in Israel do not contain wheat-derived alcohol. Even the majority of products produced abroad do not contain wheat-derived alcohol, since it is more expensive than potato-derived alcohol.
Still, when one has a product and is not sure whether it contains wheat-derived alcohol, even if he is normally stringent he may be lenient, based on a combination of several uncertainties and doubts (See, ‘Peninei Halakha: Pesach’ 8:9).
Usually, after teaching this halakha, I am asked: "Rabbi, what do you do personally?" My reply is: If there is soap or cream Kosher for Passover, we prefer to use it. But if there was no suitable cream in the store, or it was significantly more expensive, or if someone is sensitive to a special soap or shampoo, we use the products regularly used during the year.
Toothpaste and Lipstick
Toothpaste and lipstick must be certified kosher for Pesaĥ because they are flavored, and as a result, are like any other food product.
Does Dishwashing Soap have to be Kosher for Passover?
Dishwashing soap does not need to be certified Kosher for Passover. And even though it comes in contact with dishes, since the taste is completely unfit for consumption – even if these substances were mixed with ĥametz, its taste was befouled before Pesaĥ and it is no longer considered ĥametz. Indeed, if a person had the intention of eating hametz unfit for consumption, since he considered it as food, he transgresses a rabbinic prohibition. But in this case, no one is interested in tasting the dishwashing soap on the dishes, and even if the dishes were not rinsed well and the taste of soap was left on them, there is no prohibition whatsoever.
Q: Why are there kashrut organizations that give certification for dishwashing soap?
A: This is a marketing gimmick of dishwashing soap manufacturers, who think that by doing so they gain an edge on their competitors, and it is extremely puzzling that the kashrut organizations collaborate with them by providing certification, thus using the Torah as a "spade to dig with" i.e. a source of profit.
Medicines on Pesaĥ
Medicines are the subject of some of the most common questions on Pesaĥ. There is concern that pills contain wheat-based starch. The purpose of the starch is to solidify and harden the pills. Had the starch been produced from potatoes or kitniyot, there would be no problem even for Ashkenazim, as for medicinal purposes one may swallow pills containing kitniyot. But what about starch extracted from a type of grain that can become ĥametz?
Flavored Medicines must have Kosher for Pesach Certification
The answer depends on the taste of the medicine: if it is flavored, like syrup, lozenges, or chewables, then one must ascertain that it is kosher for Pesacĥ. In case of doubt, its use is forbidden. Only a dangerously ill person whose medicine does not have a substitute is permitted to take medicine containing ĥametz, because saving a life overrides the prohibition of eating ĥametz.
The Custom of the Stringent not to Take Even Bitter Medicine Containing Hametz
Some meticulously observant people try to avoid even bitter medicines that contain ĥametz. They show concern for the opinion of the few poskim who maintain that medicine is not considered unfit for animal consumption since we deem it significant, and it is thus rabbinically prohibited. Other poskim permit bitter medicines that contain ĥametz starch for one who is bedridden or whose entire body is in pain, but rule stringently for one suffering from mild aches and pains.
The Majority of Poskim Rule Bitter Medicine is Permitted
However, most poskim maintain that bitter medicines containing ĥametz may be taken by any ill person, even only to reduce mild pain, as a prophylactic, or to fortify the body.
Practically speaking, if one is uncertain whether certain bitter or tasteless medicines contain wheat starch, he may swallow them without ensuring that they are free of wheat starch. As we have seen, most poskim maintain that medicines rendered unfit for animal consumption before Pesaĥ may be consumed during Pesaĥ even if they are known to contain ĥametz. Even one who prefers to comply with the stringent opinion on this issue need not be strict if he is uncertain whether the medicine contains ĥametz. This is especially true nowadays, when we know that potato and corn starch are used more widely than wheat starch. Thus, in practice, one may consume bitter or tasteless medicines on Pesaĥ without ascertaining whether they contain ĥametz.
Therefore, it is permitted to take bitter medicines containing wheat starch even for the purpose of easing mild pain, preventing illness, or strengthening the body.
Tasteless Medicines Do Not Require Inspection
From what we have learned, all drugs that are tasteless, even though they are listed as not kosher for Passover, according to the majority of poskim, are halakhically kosher. Practically speaking this is also true, for even the machmerim (stringent) admit that since they are tasteless, the prohibition is of rabbinic status, and as is well-known, in rabbinic controversies halakha goes according to the mekelim(lenient), in particular when they are the majority.
Moreover, this is especially true nowadays, when we know that potato and corn starch are used more widely than wheat starch.

So in effect, on Pesach, one can take bitter or tasteless medication designed to be swallowed, without checking lists to see if they kosher for Passover (‘Peninei Halakha:Pesach’, 8:7).

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