The Laws of Pesach - Medicines and Cosmetics

  • Rav David Brofsky

 the laws of THE FESTIVALS


In memory of Yakov Yehuda ben Pinchas Wallach
and Miriam Wallach bat Tzvi Donner





by Rav David Brofsky



Lecture #4: The Laws of Pesach

Medicines and Cosmetics



The status of medicines and cosmetics on Pesach is a source of great confusion and controversy.  Many of the questions asked each year regarding chametz relate to the permissibility of medicines and cosmetics on Pesach, as some medicines and many cosmetics contain actual chametz or chametz derivatives.  In this lecture, we will discuss whether one may use these products on Pesach.[1]


Medicines on Pesach


            The kashrut of medicines is an issue relevant not only on Pesach, but all year round.  Many medicines contain non-kosher ingredients, such as magnesium stearate, calcium stearate, and stearic acid, which may be derived from either animal or vegetable sources.  Many liquid medicines contain glycerin, which is often produced from non-kosher animals, and gelatin, which many contemporary authorities view as non-kosher.  In addition, many medicines and vitamins contain wheat starch, wheat gluten, malt extract, or other powders that contain chametz starches, often derived from wheat. 


            We will address this question from two perspectives:


1) Assuming the medicine is not kosher, is ingesting medicine in pill or capsule form considered “eating”?

2) Are medicines that are bitter and inedible prohibited at all?


At the outset, we should note that one who suffers from a life-threatening condition must take medicine, no matter what the ingredients are, in order to preserve his life.  Pikuach nefesh (saving life) sets aside all prohibitions aside from avoda zara, gilui arayot and shefichut damim (idolatry, prohibited sexual relations, and murder). 


Akhila She-Lo Ka-Derekh Akhilatan


            The Talmud (Pesachim 24b) teaches:


R. Abbahu said in R. Yochanan's name: [With regard to] all the prohibited articles of the Torah, we do not give lashes on their account except [when they are eaten] in the normal manner of their consumption.  What does this exclude? Said R. Shimi b. Ashi: It is to exclude [this:] that if he ate raw cheilev (prohibited fat), he is exempt [from punishment].  Others say.  R. Abbahu said in R.  Yochanan's name: [With regard to] all the prohibited articles of the Torah, we do not give lashes on their account except [when they are used] in the normal manner of their usage.  What does this exclude? Said R. Shimi b. Ashi: It is to exclude [this:] if he applies the cheilev of a stoned ox upon his wound, he is exempt; and all the more so, if he eats raw meat, he is exempt.


R. Abbahu rules that one only violates the prohibition of eating or benefitting from prohibited substances when used in the “normal way.” The Rambam (Hilkhot Yesodei Ha-Torah 5:8) writes:


When does the above - that one may be healed using other prohibitions only when [one's life] is in danger - apply? When one uses them in a way which affords satisfaction – for example, when one feeds a sick person insects or creeping animals, or chametz on Pesach, or when one is fed on Yom Kippur.


When, however, [the prohibited substances are used] in a way that does not grant satisfaction – for example, one makes a bandage or compress of chametz on Pesach or from orlah, or when one is given bitter-tasting substances mixed with forbidden foods to drink - since one's palate derives no satisfaction, it is permitted even when no danger to life is involved.


The Rambam rules that one who is sick, but does not suffer from a life-threatening illness, may ingest a prohibited substance in a manner that affords him no satisfaction (she-lo ka-derekh hana’atan).  The Shulkhan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 155:3) rules accordingly.


Is swallowing a pill or capsule considered to be “akhila ka-derekh hana’atan,” or “she-lo ka-derekh hana’atan”?


R. Yechezkel Landau (1713-1793), in his Responsa Noda Bi-Yehuda (Yoreh De’ah  35) cites a gemara (Pesachim 115b), which teaches: “Rabba said: If he swallows matza, he discharges his duty.” R. Landau claims that if one can fulfill the obligation to eat matza through swallowing (without chewing), then swallowing must be considered to be “ka-derekh hana’atan.” Therefore, swallowing a pill or capsule containing a non-kosher substance would be no different than ingesting it normally.


R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Minchat Shlomo 1:17) disagrees, however.  He suggests that while swallowing food, even without chewing, may be considered “ka-derekh akhilatan,” swallowing a pill or capsule, which is not a food item, is not considered to be “ka-derekh akhilatan” and would therefore be permitted for a person who is sick.  R. Auerbach concludes by questioning whether the definition of “sick” here is equivalent to the category of “choleh she-ein bo sakanna” found in the laws of Shabbat, which is generally defined as one who is sick with an illness that is not life threatening, or whether even one who is only slightly ill may take such medicine. 


Although it seems that most posekim agree with the view of R. Auerbach, this reasoning would only apply to someone who is ill, and certainly would not apply to someone suffering from a “meichush be-alma” (slight discomfort) or to vitamins.


Nifsal Me-akhilat Kelev - Medicines That are Not Fit for Consumption


            Medicines containing non-kosher ingredients that are not fit for human consumption should be permitted, based upon the well known Talmudic principle:


Because it has been taught: “You shall not eat of anything that dies of itself [neveila]; you may give it unto the stranger that is within thy gates” (Devarim 14:21)  — whatever is fit for use by a stranger is called neveila, and whatever is unfit for use by a stranger is not called neveila. (Avoda Zara 67-8)


            This passage implies that food substances that are not fit for human consumption are not prohibited.  Furthermore, the gemara (Pesachim 21b) teaches regarding chametz on Pesach that if chametz is severely burnt before Pesach, it is permitted on Pesach: 


Rabba said: If he charred it [in the fire] before its time, benefit [thereof] is permitted even after its time.


Tosafot (ibid., s.v. charkho), along with most Rishonim, assume that this gemara refers to chametz that has been so severely burnt that it is no longer fit even for canine consumption.  They cite another gemara (Pesachim 45b), which teaches:


If a loaf went moldy, he must destroy it, because it is fit to crumble and leaven many other doughs with it… Our Rabbis taught: If a loaf went moldy and it became unfit for human consumption, yet a dog can eat it, it can be defiled with the uncleanness of eatables, if the size of an egg, and it may be burnt together with an unclean [loaf] on Pesach.


As long as this loaf is still fit for canine consumption, it must be destroyed.  However, if the loaf becomes so spoiled before Pesach that it is no longer fit even for canine consumption, then one may derive benefit from it. 


As we noted previously, the Rishonim disagree as to whether this burnt chametz may also be eaten, or only owned.  The Ritva (ibid.) writes that the gemara only mentions hana’ah (deriving benefit) and not eating, because it is not normal for a person to eat burnt bread.  Similarly, the Ran (Pesachim 5b in Rif) explains that “one may even eat this, as it lost its status of bread before the prohibition of chametz could take hold.” Fundamentally, this chametz may be eaten as well.  The Rosh (2:1) disagrees.  He explains:


Some wish to say that not only hana’ah is permitted, but eating as well, as it is akin to dirt.  But this does not seem correct, Even though this person’s intention [to eat the burnt chametz] is nullified in contrast to the intention of most people, still, since he eats it, it is prohibited. 


The Taz (442:8) explains that the Rosh prohibits eating this spoiled chametz, which is permitted to derive benefit from, from the principle of “achshevei." By deliberately eating this chametz, one has elevated its status and has, mi-derabbanan, rendered this chametz fit for consumption.  The Taz and Mishna Berura (43) assume that that Shulkhan Arukh agrees with the Rosh. 


            The posekim discuss whether the principle of achshevei applies to medicines.   


R. Aryeh Leib Gunzberg (1695-1785) writes in his Sha’agat Aryeh (75):


It seems to me that foods and drinks which are not fit for consumption are not permitted even for medicinal purposes, as since one eats it, “achshevinhu” (one elevates its status), similar to what the Rosh wrote… and even though it is not even fit for canine consumption, and it is like the dust of the earth, it is still prohibited…


R. Gunzberg applies the principle of acheshevei to medicines, and thereby prohibits ingesting medicines that are not fit for normal consumption.  Almost all modern posekim, however, including the Chazon Ish (Orach Chaim 116:8), the Yad Avraham (Yoreh De’ah  84:17), R. Moshe Feinstein (Orach Chaim  2:92), R.  Ovadia Yosef (Yechave Da’at 2:60) and R. Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer 10:25) rule that achshevei does not apply to medicines.  Some explain that achshevei does not apply when one’s intent is to attain the medicinal value of the substance.  Some (the Chazon Ish, for example) add that achshevei does not apply to a mixture containing chametz, but only to a piece of chametz that has become spoiled. 


            Incidentally, while the posekim cited above assume that pills and capsules are considered unfit for human consumption, R.  Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (1:17), in a responsa written to R. Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, challenges that assumption.  He notes that the Rambam (Hilkhot Tume’at Okhelin 10:2) includes ear wax, nasal mucus, and urine as edible foods! However, in the original letter (Moriah 75), he comments: “I also do not know why many are so strict regarding this issue.”


            In summary, it seems that the majority of contemporary authorities permit swallowing tasteless pills, even those which may contain chametz, on Pesach.  Some insist that only a choleh, someone who is sick, should take this medicine, and not someone who merely suffers from a “meichush,” such as a headache or another slight discomfort.  Others rule that one may take pills or capsules to relieve any discomfort  (see R. Ovadia Yosef, Yechave Da’at 2:60 and Yalkut Yosef, Hilkhot Mo’adim, p. 362 and Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilkhata 40:74-75, for example.)


            Many posekim, reportedly including R. Moshe Feinstein, distinguish between tasteless pills and capsules and liquid or chewable medicines which contain chametz.  They argue that the latter medicines, which have a pleasant taste, are seemingly prohibited according to all authorities.  Others (see suggest that although liquid medicines and chewable tablets may have taste, they are certainly not considered an edible food item, both because of their taste and because they may be harmful if consumed in large quantities. 


Furthermore, many poskeim distinguish between pills that are medicines and those that are vitamins and food supplements.  Taking vitamins and food supplements, they claim, may be considered ka-derekh akhilatan, and achshevei should apply.  R. Herschel Schachter (Daf Ha-Kashrus 12:2, available at disagrees. He sees no distinction between pills taken as medicines and those that are food supplements; since both are inedible, both should be permitted. 


            Over the past few decades, the kosher consumer has become used to lists, prepared each year, that record the medicines that contain chametz and those that do not.  These lists are certainly valuable in determining which liquid or chewable medicines or vitamins are chametz free and which are not.  Some, however, are careful that all pills and capsules that they ingest are also free of chametz.  Indeed, R.  Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer 10:25:20) writes:


Although tablets and capsules, which contain substances that are not fit for consumption… one may certainly permit one to swallow them on Pesach for medicinal purposes… but the Jewish people are holy, and they seek out every way possible to avoid mixtures containing chametz.


Concern has been raised, however, that some people are being unnecessarily stringent and discontinuing usage of their medicines during Pesach.  Indeed, anyone taking antibiotics, those suffering from high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disorders, seizure disorders, blood clotting disorders, a pregnant woman suffering from toxemia or who is in active labor, and even a person suffering from severe depression must continue taking their medicines on Pesach.  An elderly person with the flu or an infant with fever must also take medication, regardless of its contents. 


Recently, some major Kashrut organizations, such as the OU ( and the Chicago Rabbinical Council (CRC) ( have rejected the use of such lists and ruled that all pills that are swallowed may be taken on Pesach.  Although pious individuals may wish to be stringent in this matter, it seems that the proper communal ruling should be to permit all medicines which come in tablet or capsule form.


In a similar vein, R. Shmuel Eliezer Shtern, a member of the Badatz Chug Chatam Sofer, wrote:


Fear and reticence have penetrated the hearts of pious Jews, and they carefully investigate the medicines that they intend on using during Pesach, that their names appear on the “redeeming list,” so that, God forbid, they don’t encounter a stumbling block, as it has become clear to them that this is akin to eating chametz on Pesach… As a result of this corrupt outlook, many Jews are endangering their lives, as Jews who fear the word of God and take special precautions regarding chametz question why they should use [these medicines]… and they assume that it certainly won’t harm them if they stop taking their medicines for the week of Pesach… And the facts on the ground prove that many older, sick people who need consistent medication suffer setbacks in their physical health….  And I know many people who weeks after Pesach have still not returned to their former health… And therefore I feel obligated to publicize… that those who take medicines for health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, illnesses related to the heart, kidney or other internal organs, and those who suffer from psychological problems may take their medicines without any fear, regardless of whether they appear on the list.  Furthermore, they should not even switch to a similar medicine that appears on the list, as the change may cause complications and medical problems that one may not have anticipated… Those who act strictly are acting oddly (min ha-matmihim), and will one day be accountable for their actions.  (Madrikh Kashrut, Chug Chatam Sofer, 1993)


            One may certainly keep such medicines in one’s procession during Pesach.  As we learned previously, mixtures containing chametz that are not fit for human consumption may be kept during Pesach. 


Cosmetics on Pesach


            Another source of great confusion on Pesach is cosmetics.  Is it prohibited to use cosmetics that contain chametz? The cosmetics in question include creams, ointments, salves, powders, sticks, colognes, perfumes, deodorant in liquid/stick/spray/roll-on form, shaving lotions, eye shadow, eye liner, and blush.  They also include mouthwash, lipstick, and toothpaste.


            As we noted above regarding medicines, the question of the “kashrut” of these products applies year-round as well.  We will therefoer first discuss the broader question of whether one may use non-kosher cosmetics at all.  We will then question whether one should view cosmetics as chametz, or whether they have been spoiled and are no longer fit even for canine consumption.


            The cosmetic products mentioned above can be used in two ways - orally and topically.  Prohibited substances that are still edible may not be eaten, nor may they be placed into one’s mouth with the intention of spitting them out (Rema, Yoreh De’ah  108:5).  However, there should seemingly be no problem applying non-kosher substances to one’s skin.


            The Talmud, however, teaches that at times, we view sikha (anointing) as akin to shtiyya (drinking).  Therefore, just as one may not ingest a prohibited food, it should similarly not be applied to one’s skin.  For example, the gemara (Shabbat 86a) equates sikha and shtiyya on Yom Kippur:


How do we know that anointing is the same as drinking on Yom Kippur?  Although there is no proof of this, yet there is a suggestion thereof, for it is said, “And it came into his inward parts like water, and like oil into his bones” (Tehillim 109:19). 


Furthermore, the gemara (Nidda 32a) elsewhere teaches that anointing with oil produced from teruma is akin to drinking oil from teruma.  Thus, regarding certain halakhot, anointing may be viewed as a form of “consumption.”


            The Rishonim debate whether this principle of “sikha ka-shtiyya” applies to other prohibitions as well.  Rabbeinu Tam (Tosafot, Nidda 32a, s.v.  u-khashemen; Tosafot, Yoma 77b, s.v.  di-tenan) rules that anointing is only akin to drinking regarding the laws of Yom Kippur, teruma, and other issurei hana’ah (substances from which one may not derive benefit).  One may, however, apply other ma’akhalot assurot, forbidden foods, to one’s skin.  Since soaps were, and still are, commonly made from non-kosher animal fat and salt, this question is quite relevant.  Some Rishonim (see Sefer Ha-Teruma 238, for example) rule that it is prohibited to apply these creams and oils for pleasure; it is, however, permitted for medicinal purposes.


            The Rama (Orach Chaim 326:10), in discussing the use of soap on Shabbat, implies that one may use animal fat as soap during the week.  The Gra (Bi’ur Ha-Gra, s.v.  oh bi-she’ar cheilev) accepts the more stringent view, which prohibited anointing with a forbidden substance.  The Bi’ur Halakha (326:10, s.v. bi-she’ar cheilev) observes that the common custom is to permit using soaps from non-kosher animals, although if kosher soap is readily available, it is proper to use the kosher soap. 


            Nowadays, soaps and shampoos are not fit for consumption.  The Arukh Ha-Shulkhan (Yoreh De’ah 117:29) writes that the above debate never applied to inedible soaps.  Furthermore, he also observes that the accepted practice throughout the world is to use soap made with non-kosher ingredients.  R. Ovadia Yosef (Yechave Da’at 4:43) also accepts this distinction, and rules that one may use any soap, even those made from non-kosher substances. 


Assuming that we are not concerned with sikha ka-shtiya and that one may freely apply non-kosher topical substances, we must determine whether cosmetic products may be categorized as chametz, which may not be owned and from which no benefit may be derived.


Many cosmetic products contain alcohol.  While isopropyl alcohol comes from petroleum, ethyl alcohol is made from the fermentation of starch, sugar, and other carbohydrates.  Ethyl alcohol can be produced from grains, which would render it chametz, or from corn or other sources.  In addition, some products contain other wheat derivatives. 


            In order to distinguish between alcohol that is intended for human consumption, which is generally highly taxed and regulated, and inexpensive alcohol used in cosmetics and cleaning solutions, all alcohol not intended for human consumption is denatured, that is, it contains additives which make it unfit for consumption, and even poisonous.  Denaturing does not alter the chemical composition of the alcohol and the process of denaturation can be reversed, although different additives are often used to make this difficult.


            Seemingly, denatured alcohol should be considered unfit for canine consumption. Products containing this alcohol should therefore be permitted to own and use on Pesach.  The Posekim, however, raise a few concerns regarding the permissibility of denatured alcohol. 


            Some insist that denatured alcohol is still considered fit for human consumption.  R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, Orach Chaim  3:62), for example, writes that “there are those who drink this with slight additions and modifications.” Indeed, much of the alcohol used in cosmetics is not “completely denatured,” but “specifically denatured alcohol,” which is less dangerous.  In recent years, prisons have reported that prisoners ingest large quantities of hand sanitizers in order to become intoxicated (see, for example).  Similarly, The Economist (November 29, 2008, p.  13), relating to excessive alcohol consumption in Russia, reports that “moonshine and ‘dual purpose’ liquids, such as perfume and windscreen wash, make up a significant proportion of alcohol consumption.”


            Others suggest that since the process of denaturation can be reversed and the chametz itself was not chemically transformed, the alcohol itself is still considered fit for canine consumption.  R. Tzvi Pesach Frank (Mikra’ei Kodesh, Pesach 54) discusses this issue.  He cites both the Divrei Eliyahu (5), who rules that since the alcohol can be restored, we do not consider denaturation to permanently render it unfit for consumption, and the Atzei Levanon, who rules leniently.  R. Frank concludes that one should not use denatured ethanol as cooking fuel during Pesach.   .


            R. Chaim Elazar Shapira (1871–1937), the Munkatcher Rav, rejects both reasons cited above and rules that fundamentally, denatured alcohol is permitted.  He acknowledges, however, the common custom not to use denatured alcohol.  R. Ovadia Yosef (Yalkut Yosef, Moadim p.  360) and R. Soloveitchik also permit all denatured alcohol on Pesach. 


            It is worth noting that whatever starch or sugar is most readily available in a given country will be used for the production of ethanol.[2]  In America, corn is the main source of ethanol.  In Brazil, if often comes from sugar cane.  In Europe, we generally assume that about half of the ethanol is produced from chametz.


Although the argument to permit perfumes and aftershaves made with denatured alcohol seems compelling, especially since much, if not most, of the ethyl alcohol produced today does not come from chametz, many are still accustomed to sell these products.  R. Shimon Eider (Halachos of Pesach p.  25-26) rules that one should be concerned with denatured alcohol found in liquids, such as perfumes, colognes, aftershaves, mouthwash, and liquid, spray and roll-on deodorant. However, creams and other substances that contain denatured alcohol, such as ointments, salves, powders, nail polish, nail polish remover, hand lotions, shoe polish and paint, are permitted.  Furthermore, powders and other cosmetics, such as powdered and stick deodorants, eye shadow, eye liner, mascara, blush and rough are unfit for consumption and permitted on Pesach.


            R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, Yoreh De’ah 2:30) writes that all dish detergent is inedible; one may use dish detergent that contains non-kosher ingredients year round.  R.  Eider (ibid.) writes that on Pesach, one should only use dish detergent which is approved for use during Pesach. 


There are three more products worthy of discussion: toothpaste, lipstick, and mouthwash.  The Posekim question whether these products are nifsal me-akhilat kelev, and also express concern that they are used near or in one’s mouth.


R. Tzvi Pesach Frank (Har Tzvi, Yoreh De’ah  95), as well as R. Soloveitchik and R. Moshe Feinstein (Eider, p. 27, nt. 108), assume that toothpaste is not edible. Therefore, one need not be concerned if it contains prohibited ingredients.  Thus, the common custom is not to specifically use toothpaste under Rabbinic supervision during the year, despite the fact that most toothpastes contain non-kosher ingredients.  R. Feinstein, however, rules that even though toothpaste is inedible and the principle of achshevei would not apply even if he accidentally swallowed some, on Pesach, one should still, when possible, use toothpaste without any concern of chametz (Eider). 


Some insist that toothpaste, especially toothpaste that comes in pleasant flavors, is considered fit for consumption.  Therefore, even during the year one should purchase toothpaste that does not contain non-kosher ingredients.  Furthermore, some are simply more hesitant about putting non-kosher ingredients, even those rendered inedible, into one’s mouth.


It is customary to use a new tube of toothpaste, as well as a new toothbrush, on Pesach. 


R. Eider (p. 26) includes mouthwash with those liquids that often contain denatured alcohol, which, as discussed above, he believes one should not consume on Pesach.  The Sefer Piskei Teshuvot (442:10), however, assumes that any chametz contained in mouthwash is inedible; one may therefore use unsupervised mouthwash on Pesach.  R. Hershel Schachter (Daf Ha-Kashrus 12:2) also insists that mouthwash (and toothpaste) is inedible and permitted. 


Finally, the Posekim disagree regarding lipstick.  R. Eider assumes that lipstick is not considered to be edible, although he does recommend using a fresh stick for Pesach.  He cautions, however, against using flavored lipstick.  Others insist that one should only use lipstick that is completely free of chametz on Pesach. 


In summary, all varieties of blush, body soap, creams, eye shadow, eyeliner, face powder, foot powder, ink, lotions, mascara, nail polish, ointments, paint, shampoo, and stick deodorant are permitted for use on Pesach – even if they may contain chametz, it is certainly nifsal mei-akhilat kelev.  Many are accustomed not to use liquid deodorants, hairsprays, perfumes, colognes, and shaving lotions that contain denatured alcohol (which appears in the ingredients as “alcohol,” or “SD” [special denatured], or “SDA” [special denatured alcohol]).  The use of lipsticks, mouthwashes, and toothpastes that are not under Pesach supervision is also subject to debate, and some refrain from using them as well. 


Next week, we will discuss the Ashkenazi stringency of not eating kitniyot on Pesach. 

[1] R. Shimon Eider’s Halachos of Pesach, as well as R. Chaim Jachter’s Gray Matter Volume 3, were helpful in the preparation of this shiur. 

[2] I’d like to thank Rabbi Gavriel Price, RC Ingredient Approval Registry at the OU, for clarifying this point.