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Pesach: Alcohol and Alcohol Byproducts


In preparation for the upcoming holiday of Pesach, we will use this space to provide our readership with contemporary halachic issues.


The Torah prohibits keeping any edible chametz in one’s house or possession over Pesach. Even a mixture containing only a minute amount of chametz is prohibited (see Rema, OC 447:4; Mishna Brura 35; Chazon Ish 119:12). One must either dispose of it before Pesach, or sell it to a non-Jew.


Some of the most common chametz issues we face today concern the issue of alcohol. While throwing a bag of noodles into the pre-Pesach bonfire is no big deal, for our last bottle of single-malt whiskey it’s a totally different story!


Moreover, the nature of some alcohol compounds leads to questions concerning many alcohol derivatives, including pure alcohol, perfumes, deodorants, cosmetics, and even vinegar.


What is the connection between alcoholic products and Pesach? Which products should be discarded before Pesach, and which may be kept but not used? How inedible must a product be to be permitted? These questions, and 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, OC 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, then separating the alcohol from (some of) the water using a process of distillation. This produces whiskey containing 30-95% alcohol.


All halachic authorities agree that whiskey produced from one of the five grains is considered chametz (see Shulchan Aruch, YD 92:8, 123:24; Mishnah Brura 442:4).


Corn Whiskey


Whiskey made from corn or another non-chametz grains may also be chametz for various reasons. One reason 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 not one of the five chometz grains but rather kitniyos (such as corn), the water could be from 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 producing whiskey, it is considered a davar hama’amid (a foundation), rendering the product chametz (see Shulchan Aruch 442:5 and Mishna Brura 442:25).


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




An important byproduct of alcohol is vinegar, which is used in food production (pickles, olives, salad dressings, etc.). 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, because 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 chametz. Yet, Pesach certification is required for edible vinegar due to concern of chametz in factory equipment.


White distilled vinegar is more complex because it is derived from distilled alcohol, and the origins are hard to trace. Chametz products may also be present in the initiating process. Distilled vinegar is used in many foods and a special Pesach certification is essential.


Most vinegar products are not produced specifically from chametz-based alcohol, and therefore many rabbinic authorities maintain that although uncertified vinegar cannot be used on Pesach, there is no need to destroy it. It should, however, be sold to a non-Jew with the rest of the chametz. Even those who customarily destroy all “chametz gamur” (“straightforward chametz,” such as beer and whiskey), can rely on the sale of chametz vinegar.


Changeable Chametz


What is the status of pure grain-based alcohol? On the one hand, pure alcohol is inedible, and we might argue that no chametz prohibitions apply to it. However, by undergoing a common physical change – distillation – the alcohol can become fit for consumption. Is such alcohol permitted over Pesach?


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


This question was also discussed by authorities of previous generations (see Shearim Metzuyanim Be’halachah 112:8). Some opine that only the current status of the item determines its status, while others maintain that the ability to restore the 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.


Most contemporary authorities rule stringently on this question (see Mikraei Kodesh 54; Chazon Ish, YD116:3 (see 23:1); Sefer Hilchos Pesach 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 Pesach.


Denatured Alcohol


Many products, such as cologne, hair spray, deodorant, and cleaning agents 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?


Most authorities agree that even though chametz that can be reconstituted is chometz, here there is no need for stringency.


This is learned from the Gemara (Psachim 45b): “a mass of sourdough that was set aside as a chair” is permitted on Pesach. 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 halacha is ruled by the Rambam (Chametz U’Matza 2:9) and by the Shulchan Aruch (OC 442:10).


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


Therefore, apparently these products are permitted on Pesach and can be used without special certification. This argument has been raised by Rav Rubin (Moriah Vol. 30, 5-7, p. 171, citing also Rav Nissim Karelitz) who strongly questions the more stringent ruling of Shut Divrei Malkiel (Vol. 4, no. 6) comparing perfume to whiskey.


Anointment = Drinking


The sourdough chair cannot, obviously, be eaten, because by eating an item that has been designated for non-edible purposes one effectively re-designates it for eating. This concept is referred to as achshevei. The chair regains the status of a food item and the full stringency of chametz on Pesach.


Does this concept also apply to sichah (anointing)? On Yom Kippur sichah is equal to drinking. Could it also be forbidden to use a chametz-based ointment, soap, or other products, because then they would receive the status of a food?


This discussion has several angles. In general, the application of these products does not amount to sichah, which involves rubbing oil into skin — unlike application of deodorant, perfume, or even soaps. It would apply only to lotions and moisturizers.


Even when they are rubbed into the skin, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggros Moshe, OC Vol. 3, no. 62) rules that chametz pharmaceutical creams can be used on Pesach. He distinguishes that one says that sichah is equal to drinking if it was done for pleasure or comfort, but not if done for medical reasons.


Contemporary Rulings


The Mishnah Brura (Biyur Halocho on 326:10) says that if it is possible it is better to be stringent and avoid non-kosher soaps all year round out of concern that using them is equal with drinking. The same principle applies to chametz soaps, creams and lotions.


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 cancels out any prohibition concerning soaps and creams (Ma’or Ha-Shabbos Vol. 2, 30:6) because they are completely inedible. Additionally, all chametz elements in creams and lotions cannot be restored to their original state.


As noted, Rav Moshe Feinstein also ruled leniently concerning creams and soaps for non-pleasure uses. Rav Moshe is also the source (cited by Rav Shimon Eider) for cancelling all halachic concern for toothpaste on Pesach because it is inedible.


The concern of achshevei also does not apply to toothpaste, since no one intends to swallow it (Mishnah Brura 442:45, citing Magen Avraham, based on Terumas Ha-Deshen). Nonetheless, Rav Eider reports that Rav Moshe recommended using kosher-certified toothpaste since it is readily available.


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. Sometimes, it synthesized from chemicals.


Currently, it is cheaper to produce alcohol from corn or potatoes than from chametz grains. Therefore, most cosmetics do not have actual concerns for chametz.


This joins the general permission to use deodorants, soaps, perfumes etc. on Pesach without special certification, as ruled by most authorities.


Despite the above, the custom is to prefer kosher for Pesach certified dishwashing liquid. Many kashrus guides include a broad range of kosher l’Pesach products, ranging from paper plates to hair spray and even glue. When it comes to Pesach, stringencies are accepted and praiseworthy.


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