By Rabbi Noah S. Sheinkopf
The facts concerning the manufacture of gelatin have not always been presented accurately to rabbinic authorities and to kosher consumers.
Despite numerous authorities ruling permissively and granting certifications as far back as 100 years ago, at some point, seriously mistaken notions entered the conversation. The oft repeated ones allege that “the raw material is not sufficiently dried out,” or some “meat is left on the bones or hides” or that “some meat flavor still remains in the final product.” As a result, several authorities wrote that although, in principle, gelatin can be deemed kosher they hesitated to approve it as such because of these misstatements.
As a kosher certifier specializing in gelatin, I believe I can speak authoritatively on the subject of its raw materials and manufacturing process. Without proceeding further, I wish to assure the reader that gelatin is produced exactly as the process is summarized under GELATIN by my father, Rabbi David Sheinkopf.
If the people circulating these rumors would step forward, I would inquire as to which gelatin plants they personally visited and with which plant managers and/or quality assurance managers they have actually consulte.
I have personally inspected seven different gelatin plants in the process of production and I have never seen nor heard what they describe. But, in preparation of this article and to verify my knowledge, I contacted two very knowledgeable associates within the industry and asked for summary statements confirming what I have repeatedly observed in my inspection visits.
Their combined response follows:
Bones are crushed and cleaned with water of 75°C for 20 minutes. They receive an acid treatment in HCl (hydrocloric acid) for about two days followed by a lime bath (calcium hydroxide) for about three months. The acid and lime treatments remove all substances including, meat, fat, grease and minerals, What remains is the native collagen matrix. The lime process also eliminates all flavors.
Hides go from the slaughterhouses to the tanneries where they are treated with NaOH (Sodium Hydroxide) to remove hair, fat and meat if still present. They are completely clean with no meat residues as raw material for the production of either leather or gelatin. In both cases residue of meat is not tolerated.
If not 100% identical in every detail, what is described in connection with bones is essentially the same procedure as written in the responsum of Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzienski more than 80 years ago (Achiezer III:33 no. 33:5) and in subsequent responsa by: Rav Shmuel Pardes (Avnei Shmuel, Berurei Halacha #19); Rav Simcha Elberg (HaPardes (July 1952); Rav Yosef Konvitz (Divrei Yosef) I, p. 172); Rav Moshe Nosson Nota Lemberger (Ateres Moshe, Y.D. I:42,43) and Rav Yirmiyahu Menachem Kohen (V’Herim Kohen, II:31).
As for the claim that “adding meat makes a better product,” the authorities responded:
This is completely false. The gelatins produced by the gelatin industry are pure. Meat would represent a foreign body to us. Its use would be counterproductive. Any “contamination” with meat proteins would produce a cloudy/turbid/colored solution whereas a gelatin solution is super transparent and hardly colored (slightly yellow).
So where are all these reports coming from? On what basis are these claims being made? What do these anonymous sources, supposedly “familiar with the gelatin industry” know that I and the gelatin executives I contacted do not know?
It is disturbing that these rumors still persist today when information is readily available to everyone.
Very often one will read or hear that “most authorities” or a “majority of authorities” or even "the overwhelming majority of authorities” prohibit gelatin, or similar statements. How do we know this? How has this been determined?
When I ask this question the usual response is: “The major kosher agencies do not certify gelatin products made from non-ritually slaughtered animals.” Nobody is denying that assertion The question is: Are the policies of the kosher agencies actually reflecting the halachic positions of the “overwhelming majority” or even “simple majority” of the authorities on this issue?
I hereby present a list of the halachic authorities I am aware of who permit gelatin. They include:
1) Rav Yehuda Leib Tzierlson, Lev Yehuda #3.
2) Rav Chaim Ozer Grodzienski, Achiezer, III:33; Avnei Shmuel, pp. 10-11.
3) Rav Dovid Tzvi Hoffman, Melamed L’Hoil, Y.D. , nos. 24 & 35 (by inference).
4) Rav Shmuel Pardes, Avnei Shmuel, Berurei Halacha, #19.
5) RavYosef Konvitz, Divrei Yosef, I. p.17
6) Rav Simcha Zelig Reuger, Kovetz Moriah, issue 400-402, pp. 76-77.
7) Rav Yehuda Leib Graubart, Chavalim Baneimim, IV:23.
8) Rav Yitzchak Burstein, Mataamei Yitzchak, II: 24-25.
9) Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin, HaPardes ( July 1952); Edut L’Yisrael, p. 177.
10) Rav Yehuda Leib Seltzer, HaPardes (July 1952); Vezot Lihuda, O.C. #26.
11) Rav Simcha Elberg, HaPardes (July 1952).
12) Ravi Nisan Telushkin (Chabad), Taharat HaMayim, I:54.
13) Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, Intro. Tzitz Eliezer, IV.
14) Rav Eliezer Waldenberg, Intro. Tzitz Eliezer, IV; Tzitz Eliezer, XX:33.
15) Rav Koppel Kahana, Teshuva B’Inyan Gelatin (1966) (by inference).
16) Rav Moshe Nosson Nota Lemberger, Ateret Moshe, Y.D. I:42-43.
17) Rav Ze’ev Bidnovitz, Divrei Ze’ev, XVIII:12.3.
18) Rav Yitzchak Glickman, Kol Torah, Shana 13, Choveret 4.
19) Rav Yirmiyahu Menachem Kohen, V’Heirim Kohen, Y.D. II:31; Y.D. IV:40.
20) Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, Har Tzvi, Y.D. #83.
21) Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Kovetz Teshuvot, #73.
22) Rav Yisroel Ya’akov Fisher, Even Yisroel VIII:56.
23) Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul, Ohr L’Tzion, #32 (by inference).
24) Rav Ovadya Yosef, Yabia Omer, Y.D. VIII #11.
25) Rav Shlomo Amar, Shema Shlomo, Y.D. V:12.
26) Rav Yechezkel Roth, Emek HaTeshuva, III:67 (by inference).
27) Rav Nachum Wiedenfeld, Hazon Nachum, #61.
28) Rav Moshe Levi, Tefilla L’Moshe, Y.D., #4.
29) Rav Almog Levi, Avnei Levi. Y.D., #1.
30) Rav Yitzchak and Rav Ya’akov Mekayis, Ohr HaHalacha, Kuntres, #3. Dr. Marc Shapiro (Scranton University), called to my attention HaPardes (August 1942) in which its editor, Rav Shmuel Pardes, cites the approvals of:
31) Rav Avraham Y. Kook.
32) Rav Shlomo Nosan Kotler.
Although he did not actually write on this topic, I must add my grandfather, one of the most prominent rabbonim of his time, who certified bovine gelatin:
33) Rabbi Moses D. Sheinkopf.
To my knowledge, the number of responsa that reached the conclusion that Jewish law prohibits gelatin does not nearly approach the number of those that approve it.
My purpose in writing this supplement to GELATIN is to provide some balance to an issue that, for decades, has been dealt with in an unbalanced manner.
In light of the fact that so many halachic authorities do permit gelatin, it is surprising that, when people involved in kashrut write about it, they usually refer to it to as treif. Often we will see written that gelatin “is not approved.” What that means is that the kashrut agencies developed a policy not to approve gelatin.
And that is their right. But it is not accurate to imply that authorities in general do not accept gelatin. Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, Rav Yechezkel Abramsky, Rav Eliezer Waldenberg, Rav Moshe Nosson Nota Lemberger, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Rav Ovadya Yosef, Rav Yechezkel Roth, and many others on the list, are not names in the world of halacha that casually can be overlooked or dismissed. And these gaonim all permitted gelatin even after Rav Aharon Kotler issued his prohibitive ruling.
In addition, it is noteworthy that Rav Ovadya Yosef took Rav Kotler to task for what he had written, arguing that certainly the Shulchan Aruch (code par excellence for the practice of Jewish law) maintains that neveilla bones are not forbidden. This is based on the latter’s ruling (Y.D., 99:1) that neveilla bones (hard, marrowless) combine with permissible food to nullify the forbidden. The Be’er HaGolah (loc.cit) cites as the sources for this ruling: R. Samson of Sens, Commentary to Ter.5:9; R. Shmuel b. Aderet, Mishmeret HaBayit, Bayit Re’vi’I 6a; and R. Asher b. Yechiel Rosh, Hull. 98a-98b.
The Yad Avraham (Y.D. 99:1) states explicitly that according to the Shulchan Aruch, the bones of neveilla are not forbidden without mentioning any dissenting opinion.
The Shulchan Aruch’s ruling is further confirmed in the codes of Aruch HaShulchan (Y.D. sec. 13) which also equates neveilla hides with neveilla bones, and in the code of Chachmat Adam (Klal 52) which permits all inedible substances of non-kosher origin.
As for Rambam’s ruling in M. Asur. 4:18, which to some seemingly implies a rabbinic prohibition for eating neveilla bones or hides, see Maggid Mishnah (loc.cit) which traces the source of this ruling to the Mishna, Hull:117b. Here neveilla bones and hides are included among items that contract tum’at achalim when joined to an olive’s bulk of neveilla. Deriving issur neveilla from issur tum’ah, Rambam assigns a rabbinic prohibition to the eating of neveilla bones or hides but, again, when joined to an olive’s bulk of neveilla. Detached from the forbidden meat, neveilla bones and hides, are free even from rabbinic issur.
Thus, Rambam and Shulchan Aruch are in accord with regard to neveilla bones/ hides free of meat, which is exactly how these raw materials are processed for gelatin (and collagen). (See Rav Y.L. Seltzer, HaPardes (July 1952); Vezot Lihuda, O.C. #26. Also, for an alternative interpretation: Rav M.N.N. Lemberger, Ateres Moshe, Y.D., I:42-43.
My hope is that the reader will appreciate to a greater degree than he has in the past that the dispute over gelatin is like so many other halachic disputes. Whether the issue is chalav akum, or using electric shavers, or using a municipal eruv on Shabbat, there have been great poskim on both sides of the issue. But with regard to gelatin, the full scope of the authorities who permit it has never truly been presented to the public.