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Alcohol and its Products on Pesach

The Torah prohibits keeping any edible chametz in one’s house or possession over Pessach. Even an item containing only a weak mixture of chametz is prohibited (see Rema, Orach Chaim 447:4; Mishnah Berurah 35; Chazon Ish 119:12). One must either get rid of it before Pessach, or sell it to a non-Jew.

Some of the most common chametz issues we are faced with annually are matters of alcohol. While we might not feel so bad about throwing a bag of noodles into the pre-Pessach bonfires, this is often not the case for our last bottle of single-malt whiskey!

Moreover, the chametz nature of some alcohol compounds leads to questions concerning many alcohol derivatives, including of course pure alcohol, and ranging from perfumes and deodorant through vinegar.

In the present article we will discuss some of the halachic issues about alcohol on Pessach. Why are alcoholic products problematic on Pessach? Which products should be discarded before Pessach, and which can be kept but not used? How inedible must a product be, to be permitted? These questions, among others, are discussed below.

Beer and Whiskey

If barley is soaked in water under proper conditions, it ferments into beer. Because the barley is immersed in water for more than 18 minutes, beer is chametz (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 442:5).

Beer contains approximately 5% alcohol, making it a relatively mild alcoholic beverage. Drinks with higher alcohol content are made by allowing the grain to ferment, and then separating the alcohol from (some of) the water using a process of distillation. This produces whiskey containing 30-95% alcohol.

The consensus of halachic authorities is that whiskey produced from one of the five grains is considered chametz (see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 92:8, 123:24; Mishnah Berurah 442:4).

Corn Whiskey

Even whiskey made from corn or another non-chametz grains may be chametz. One reason for this is that the water remaining after distillation (“backset”) is often used in making other kinds of whiskey. Thus, even if the grain used in creating the whiskey is kitniyos (say, corn), the water used might be from a chametz whiskey.

Another reason is that before fermentation, the non-chametz grain’s starch is broken-down into individual glucose molecules, a process traditionally carried out by barley malt. Since the chametz barley malt plays a crucial role in the creation of the whiskey, it is considered a davar hama’amid (a foundation), rendering the product chametz (see Shulchan Aruch 442:5 and Mishnah Berurah 442:25).

As such, all types of whiskey should be considered chametz unless they are specifically certified as kosher for Pessach.

Vinegar

An important byproduct of alcohol is vinegar, which is used in many foods (such as pickles olives, salad dressings, and so on). Vinegar is created from alcohol by a process of re-fermentation, and the primary concern is thus the source of the alcohol.

Of course, malt vinegar is chametz, for it derives from malt or beer. In contrast, wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar are made from wine and apple cider, and don’t involve any chametz. Yet, Pessach certification is required if the vinegar is to be used in food, because of concern about the use of chametz equipment in the production.

The question of white distilled vinegar is more complex, because it is derived from distilled alcohol, the origins of which are hard to discern. There is also concern about the use of a chametz product in initiating the fermentation process. Distilled vinegar is used in many foods (such as the foods mentioned above), and these require special Pessach certification.

The majority of vinegar products are not from specifically chametz-based alcohol, and therefore many rabbinic authorities advise that although uncertified vinegar cannot be used on Pessach, there is no need to destroy the vinegar. It should however be sold. Even those who are careful to destroy all items of “chametz gamur” (“absolute chametz,” such as beer and whiskey), can rely on the sale of chametz vinegar.

Fixing Up the Chametz

What is the status of pure grain-based alcohol? On the one hand, pure alcohol is not fit for consumption. Since it is inedible, we might argue that no chametz prohibition will apply. However, by undergoing a common physical change – distillation – the alcohol can become fit for consumption. Is such alcohol permitted over Pessach?

Poskim debate the status of items that are unfit for consumption, but can be fixed and made fit for consumption by means of cooking (e.g. distillation) or by adding certain ingredients to them.

This question was also discussed by authorities of previous generations (see Shearim Metzuyanim Be’halachah 112:8). Some of them opine that what counts is the current status of the item in question, and others argue that the ability to restore an edible condition renders the item prohibited. The question has received much attention in recent times, in particular as a result of technological advances in food engineering.

The majority of contemporary authorities rule stringently on this question (see Mikraei Kodesh 54; Chazon Ish, Yoreh De’ah 116:3 (see 23:1); Sefer Hilchos Pessach p. 25, citing Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky). Accordingly, pure grain-based alcohol should be sold or disposed of  before Pessach.

Denatured Alcohol

Many products, such as cologne, hair spray, deodorant, cleaning agents, and others, use denatured alcohol as an ingredient. Denatured alcohol is alcohol mixed with small quantities of various chemicals or substances that render it inedible. What is the halachic status of these products?

In this case, it appears that even those authorities who rule stringently concerning chametz that can be reconstituted, will concede that there is no need for stringency.

The reason for this is a teaching of the Gemara (Pessachim 45b) whereby “a mass of sourdough that was set aside as a chair” is permitted on Pessach. The Gemara adds that the sourdough chair was coated with clay, meaning that it was designated for sitting by a concrete action (Shaar Ha-Zion 442:67). This halachah is ruled by the Rambam (Chametz and Matzah 2:9) and by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 442:10).

Perfume, deodorant, and similar products, have clearly been set aside for purposes other than for eating. Moreover, a concrete action has been performed with these products – adding the extra ingredients – to designate them for this purpose.

Therefore, it seems clear that these products are permitted on Pessach, and they can be used without the need for special certification. This argument has been raised by Rav Rubin (Moriah Vol. 30, 5-7, p. 171, citing also Rav Nissim Karelitz). These authorities strongly question the ruling of Shut Divrei Malkiel (Vol. 4, no. 6), who compares perfume to whiskey.

Is Anointment Drinking?

In the case of the sourdough chair it remains forbidden to eat the chair. By eating an item that has been designated for non-edible purposes, a person effectively re-designates it for eating. This concept is referred to as achshevei. The chair regains the status of a food item, and it regains the full stringency of chametz on Pessach.

The question is whether this concept also applies to sichah, meaning anointing. For purposes of Yom Kippur, the halachah is that sichah is considered as drinking. Could it be that it will be forbidden to use a chametz-based ointment, because doing so gives the products the importance of food?

There are a number of reasons why this concept might not apply to cosmetic and other products for purposes of chametz.

One possibility is that in general, the application of these products does not amount to sichah. Sichah involves rubbing oil into one’s skin – which is distinct from the application of deodorant, perfume, or even soaps. It would apply only to lotion such as a skin moisturizer.

A similar consideration is raised by Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggros Moshe, Orach Chaim Vol. 3, no. 62), who rules that it is permitted to use chametz creams on Pessach for purposes such as treating a skin condition. His basic distinction is between enjoyment and pampering the skin, and other purposes.

Contemporary Rulings

The Mishnah Berurah (326:10) rules that one should avoid non-kosher soaps the year round, out of concern that their use is considered as drinking. The same principle will apply to chametz soaps, and likewise to creams and lotions, on Pessach.

However, many authorities, based on the considerations mentioned above, dispute this and rule leniently. The Chazon Ish (Demai 15:1) writes that the entire concept of achshevei does not apply to non-edible items.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, moreover, rules that there is no concern for any prohibition concerning soaps and creams (Ma’or Ha-Shabbos Vol. 2, 30:6), because they are completely inedible. It is noteworthy that the chametz elements of such creams and lotions cannot be restored to their original state.

As noted, Rav Moshe Feinstein also ruled leniently concerning the use of creams and soaps for purposes other than pleasure. Rav Moshe is likewise cited by Rav Shimon Eider as ruling that there is no halachic concern for toothpaste on Pessach, because the toothpaste is inedible.

As for the concern of achshevei, this does not apply to toothpaste, since there is no intention to swallow it (Mishnah Berurah 442:45, citing Magen Avraham, as based on Terumas Ha-Deshen). Nonetheless, Rav Eider reports that Rav Moshe advised using certified toothpaste, since this is readily available.

Different Types of Alcohol

Not all alcohol is chametz. Isopropyl alcohol has no chametz components and even ethyl alcohol (ethanol) is not always derived from grain but is sometimes synthesized from chemicals.

Moreover, it is currently cheaper to produce alcohol from corn or from potatoes than from chametz grains, and therefore the majority of cosmetic and other products do not have actual concerns for chametz.

This joins with the considerations noted above in the general permission to use deodorants, soaps, perfumes etc. on Pessach without the need for certification, as ruled by most authorities.

At the same time, it is common custom to prefer dishwashing liquid with certification. Many kashrus guides include a broad range of products with certification for Pessach, from paper plates through hair spray and even glue. As we all know, when it comes to Pessach there are virtually no limits to how far custom and halachah can go.

Alcohol and its Products on Pessach

The Torah prohibits keeping any edible chametz in one’s house or possession over Pessach. Even an item containing only a weak mixture of chametz is prohibited (see Rema, Orach Chaim 447:4; Mishnah Berurah 35; Chazon Ish 119:12). One must either get rid of it before Pessach, or sell it to a non-Jew.

Some of the most common chametz issues we are faced with annually are matters of alcohol. While we might not feel so bad about throwing a bag of noodles into the pre-Pessach bonfires, this is often not the case for our last bottle of single-malt whiskey!

Moreover, the chametz nature of some alcohol compounds leads to questions concerning many alcohol derivatives, including of course pure alcohol, and ranging from perfumes and deodorant through vinegar.

In the present article we will discuss some of the halachic issues about alcohol on Pessach. Why are alcoholic products problematic on Pessach? Which products should be discarded before Pessach, and which can be kept but not used? How inedible must a product be, to be permitted? These questions, among others, are discussed below.

Beer and Whiskey

If barley is soaked in water under proper conditions, it ferments into beer. Because the barley is immersed in water for more than 18 minutes, beer is chametz (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 442:5).

Beer contains approximately 5% alcohol, making it a relatively mild alcoholic beverage. Drinks with higher alcohol content are made by allowing the grain to ferment, and then separating the alcohol from (some of) the water using a process of distillation. This produces whiskey containing 30-95% alcohol.

The consensus of halachic authorities is that whiskey produced from one of the five grains is considered chametz (see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 92:8, 123:24; Mishnah Berurah 442:4).

Corn Whiskey

Even whiskey made from corn or another non-chametz grains may be chametz. One reason for this is that the water remaining after distillation (“backset”) is often used in making other kinds of whiskey. Thus, even if the grain used in creating the whiskey is kitniyos (say, corn), the water used might be from a chametz whiskey.

Another reason is that before fermentation, the non-chametz grain’s starch is broken-down into individual glucose molecules, a process traditionally carried out by barley malt. Since the chametz barley malt plays a crucial role in the creation of the whiskey, it is considered a davar hama’amid (a foundation), rendering the product chametz (see Shulchan Aruch 442:5 and Mishnah Berurah 442:25).

As such, all types of whiskey should be considered chametz unless they are specifically certified as kosher for Pessach.

Vinegar

An important byproduct of alcohol is vinegar, which is used in many foods (such as pickles olives, salad dressings, and so on). Vinegar is created from alcohol by a process of re-fermentation, and the primary concern is thus the source of the alcohol.

Of course, malt vinegar is chametz, for it derives from malt or beer. In contrast, wine vinegar and apple cider vinegar are made from wine and apple cider, and don’t involve any chametz. Yet, Pessach certification is required if the vinegar is to be used in food, because of concern about the use of chametz equipment in the production.

The question of white distilled vinegar is more complex, because it is derived from distilled alcohol, the origins of which are hard to discern. There is also concern about the use of a chametz product in initiating the fermentation process. Distilled vinegar is used in many foods (such as the foods mentioned above), and these require special Pessach certification.

The majority of vinegar products are not from specifically chametz-based alcohol, and therefore many rabbinic authorities advise that although uncertified vinegar cannot be used on Pessach, there is no need to destroy the vinegar. It should however be sold. Even those who are careful to destroy all items of “chametz gamur” (“absolute chametz,” such as beer and whiskey), can rely on the sale of chametz vinegar.

Fixing Up the Chametz

What is the status of pure grain-based alcohol? On the one hand, pure alcohol is not fit for consumption. Since it is inedible, we might argue that no chametz prohibition will apply. However, by undergoing a common physical change – distillation – the alcohol can become fit for consumption. Is such alcohol permitted over Pessach?

Poskim debate the status of items that are unfit for consumption, but can be fixed and made fit for consumption by means of cooking (e.g. distillation) or by adding certain ingredients to them.

This question was also discussed by authorities of previous generations (see Shearim Metzuyanim Be’halachah 112:8). Some of them opine that what counts is the current status of the item in question, and others argue that the ability to restore an edible condition renders the item prohibited. The question has received much attention in recent times, in particular as a result of technological advances in food engineering.

The majority of contemporary authorities rule stringently on this question (see Mikraei Kodesh 54; Chazon Ish, Yoreh De’ah 116:3 (see 23:1); Sefer Hilchos Pessach p. 25, citing Rav Isser Zalman Meltzer, Rav Aharon Kotler, Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky). Accordingly, pure grain-based alcohol should be sold or disposed of  before Pessach.

Denatured Alcohol

Many products, such as cologne, hair spray, deodorant, cleaning agents, and others, use denatured alcohol as an ingredient. Denatured alcohol is alcohol mixed with small quantities of various chemicals or substances that render it inedible. What is the halachic status of these products?

In this case, it appears that even those authorities who rule stringently concerning chametz that can be reconstituted, will concede that there is no need for stringency.

The reason for this is a teaching of the Gemara (Pessachim 45b) whereby “a mass of sourdough that was set aside as a chair” is permitted on Pessach. The Gemara adds that the sourdough chair was coated with clay, meaning that it was designated for sitting by a concrete action (Shaar Ha-Zion 442:67). This halachah is ruled by the Rambam (Chametz and Matzah 2:9) and by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 442:10).

Perfume, deodorant, and similar products, have clearly been set aside for purposes other than for eating. Moreover, a concrete action has been performed with these products – adding the extra ingredients – to designate them for this purpose.

Therefore, it seems clear that these products are permitted on Pessach, and they can be used without the need for special certification. This argument has been raised by Rav Rubin (Moriah Vol. 30, 5-7, p. 171, citing also Rav Nissim Karelitz). These authorities strongly question the ruling of Shut Divrei Malkiel (Vol. 4, no. 6), who compares perfume to whiskey.

Is Anointment Drinking?

In the case of the sourdough chair it remains forbidden to eat the chair. By eating an item that has been designated for non-edible purposes, a person effectively re-designates it for eating. This concept is referred to as achshevei. The chair regains the status of a food item, and it regains the full stringency of chametz on Pessach.

The question is whether this concept also applies to sichah, meaning anointing. For purposes of Yom Kippur, the halachah is that sichah is considered as drinking. Could it be that it will be forbidden to use a chametz-based ointment, because doing so gives the products the importance of food?

There are a number of reasons why this concept might not apply to cosmetic and other products for purposes of chametz.

One possibility is that in general, the application of these products does not amount to sichah. Sichah involves rubbing oil into one’s skin – which is distinct from the application of deodorant, perfume, or even soaps. It would apply only to lotion such as a skin moisturizer.

A similar consideration is raised by Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggros Moshe, Orach Chaim Vol. 3, no. 62), who rules that it is permitted to use chametz creams on Pessach for purposes such as treating a skin condition. His basic distinction is between enjoyment and pampering the skin, and other purposes.

Contemporary Rulings

The Mishnah Berurah (326:10) rules that one should avoid non-kosher soaps the year round, out of concern that their use is considered as drinking. The same principle will apply to chametz soaps, and likewise to creams and lotions, on Pessach.

However, many authorities, based on the considerations mentioned above, dispute this and rule leniently. The Chazon Ish (Demai 15:1) writes that the entire concept of achshevei does not apply to non-edible items.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, moreover, rules that there is no concern for any prohibition concerning soaps and creams (Ma’or Ha-Shabbos Vol. 2, 30:6), because they are completely inedible. It is noteworthy that the chametz elements of such creams and lotions cannot be restored to their original state.

As noted, Rav Moshe Feinstein also ruled leniently concerning the use of creams and soaps for purposes other than pleasure. Rav Moshe is likewise cited by Rav Shimon Eider as ruling that there is no halachic concern for toothpaste on Pessach, because the toothpaste is inedible.

As for the concern of achshevei, this does not apply to toothpaste, since there is no intention to swallow it (Mishnah Berurah 442:45, citing Magen Avraham, as based on Terumas Ha-Deshen). Nonetheless, Rav Eider reports that Rav Moshe advised using certified toothpaste, since this is readily available.

Different Types of Alcohol

Note all alcohol is chametz. Isopropyl alcohol has no chametz components and even ethyl alcohol (ethanol) is not always derived from grain but is sometimes synthesized from chemicals.

Moreover, it is currently cheaper to produce alcohol from corn or from potatoes than from chametz grains, and therefore the majority of cosmetic and other products do not have actual concerns for chametz.

This joins with the considerations noted above in the general permission to use deodorants, soaps, perfumes etc. on Pessach without the need for certification, as ruled by most authorities.

At the same time, it is common custom to prefer dishwashing liquid with certification. Many kashrus guides include a broad range of products with certification for Pessach, from paper plates through hair spray and even glue. As we all know, when it comes to Pessach there are virtually no limits to how far custom and halachah can go.

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