The Halachic Status of Non-Edibles

The bovine gelatin and collagen we certify is produced from inedible bones or hides of cows. Even though the cows are not schechted, the gelatin/collagen produced from their inedible bones or hides is still kosher and pareve. This is because Jewish Law only prohibits forbidden “food” items (“ochel”). But substances that don't qualify as “food” items, like bones and hides, are always kosher (hides are not meat—they are totally different, and Chazal [Sages of the Talmudic era] specifically excluded these types of items from any prohibition). In Jewish law, they are considered to be nothing more than “mere dirt” (“afra b’alma”) or “mere wood” (“eitz b’alma”). They are NOT meat, and they are therefore kosher and pareve. Any extraneous matter like marrow, meat, fat, etc... is thoroughly removed prior to production. Industrial-level gelatin and collagen can’t be made to the companies’ specifications any other way (the proteins in meat are different and will contaminate the collagen), and the companies that produce gelatin have a tremendous amount of specialized equipment to ensure that all traces of unwanted substances are removed. (See "Treatment of Raw Materials.")

At this point, it should be mentioned that the same logic and rationale is what causes even actual non-kosher foods to become permitted once they have been degraded to the point that even an animal wouldn’t eat it (“Nifsal Meachillas Kelev”). Once a forbidden food has been disqualified to such an extent, it is no longer considered “food” and the original prohibition is removed. That’s why even chametz on Pesach loses its prohibition when it has been thoroughly disqualified (i.e. it has been thoroughly burnt). And it is for this reason that many of the foremost Poskim of the 20th century permitted products like Rennet and Junket, which were made from the dried stomach of a cow, and gelatin produced from pigskins. However, it is the policy of our agency that we do not certify gelatin or collagen produced from pigskins.

Returning to the topic of inedible bones and hides, here are several sources from the major authorities of Jewish Law, going back centuries, which ruled explicitly that inedible bones and hides are kosher even when they come from a non-schechted animal (neveilla) or non-kosher animal:

  1. Bais Yosef, Yoreh Deah, the end of Siman 81 where he adopted the position of Rabbaynu Tam (and Rosh, Mordechai and Ran) that donkey bones are permitted. (There is an unfortunate printing error that occurred at the end of this section. The final words of the section, as written, don't make sense. See Chidushay Hagahos who explained that the final few sentences actually belong at the very beginning of the Siman). Bais Yosef was written by Rav Yosef Karo, the same author of the Shulchan Aruch. In Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, Siman 99, seif 1, the Shulchan Aruch ruled, based on Rashba, that bones of neveilla actually combine with permitted food to nullify prohibited food by 60. The later authorities and commentators, such as Levush, Chachmas Adam, and Aruch HaShulchan (all cited after this paragraph) understood the ruling in Shulchan Aruch to be based on the fact that bones and other non-edibles, even of neveilla, have no prohibition attached to them. And this is completely consistent with Rav Karo's ruling in Bais Yosef regarding donkey bones.

  2. Levush, Ateres Zahav (Yoreh Deah), beginning of Siman 99 in explanation of the Shulchan Aruch, where he wrote that the Torah only forbids forbidden “foods,” and that, therefore, dried bones of a neveilla have no prohibition.

  3. Chachmas Adam, beginning of Klal 52 in explanation of the Shulchan Aruch, where he echoed the aforecited Levush, and where he wrote that dried bones of neveilla are permissible.

  4. Aruch HaShulchan, Yoreh Deah, Siman 99, seif 13 in explanation of the Shulchan Aruch, where he wrote that the prohibition of neveilla is only on the meat but not the bones, and at the end of the paragraph he explained that the law for hides is the same as the law for bones.

  5. Chelkas Yoav, Yoreh Deah Kamma, #11, where he wrote, based on Chulin, 77b, that even if the hides of neveilla are made edible, they are still permitted (in truth, although gelatin and collagen powders are ingested with other food, they themselves are never made into an edible substance on their own).

  6. But there are literally dozens of more sources where we find this idea repeated, for example:

  7. Taz, Yoreh Deah, Siman 99, #1 (in explanation of the Shulchan Aruch)

  8. Pri Chadash, Yoreh Deah, Siman 81, seif 27

  9. Machtzis HaShekel, Orach Chaim, Siman 216, s”k #3

  10. Chavas Daas, Yoreh Deah, Siman 99, #2 (in explanation of the Shulchan Aruch)

  11. Korban Aharon to Sifra, Shemini, 8:11

  12. Hagahot Sha’aray Dura, Likutim (d”h “Din Zevuv”)

  13. Maharshal, Ateres Shlomo, Dinay Baytzim

  14. Erech Lechem, Siman 81

  15. Minchas Cohen, Sefer HaTaaruvos, Chelek Sheini, (towards the end of Perek 3)

  16. Minchas Yaakov to Toras Chatas, Klal 65, #2

  17. Chaguras Shmuel to Levush, Siman 81, seif 9

  18. Hagahos of R’ Avraham Azulai to Levush, Siman 81, seif 9

  19. Zera Emes, Yoreh Deah, #48

  20. Sedei Chemed, Ma’areches Nun, Klal 24

  21. Rav Shmuel Landau, the son of the Noda B’Yehuda, Shivas Tzion, She’ala 2

  22. Rabbi Akiva Eiger, in his glosses to Orach Chaim, Siman 475, on Magen Avraham, s”k 5

  23. Tzvi L’Tzadik, commenting on Rema in Y.D. Siman 103, seif 2

  24. Meged Shamayim, Yechaveh Daas, Siman 81

  25. Chevel Yosef, Chadray Deah, Siman 99 (in explanation of the Shulchan Aruch)

  26. Et Sofer, Nossen Ta’am Lifgam, Klal 32, p’rat 1

  27. Yad Avraham, beginning of Yoreh Deah, Siman 99 (in explanation of the Shulchan Aruch)

  28. Mahram Benet, Yoreh Deah, Siman 99 (in explanation of the Shulchan Aruch)

  29. Dalsay Teshuva, Y.D., chelek 2, Siman 99, s”k 2 (in explanation of the Shulchan Aruch)

  30. Darchei Teshuva, Y.D., Siman 99, s”k 5, and Siman 103, s”k 49 (in explanation of the Shulchan Aruch)

  31. Sh”ut Avnay Nezer, Mahadura Sh’niya, Orach Chaim, #15, sec. 6

  32. Zera Avraham, Yoreh Deah, Siman 26

  33. Yeshuos Yaakov, Yoreh Deah, Siman 99 (in explanation of the Shulchan Aruch)

  34. Kaf HaChaim, Yoreh Deah, Siman 99, (in explanation of the Shulchan Aruch)

  35. Tov Ro’ee (collected thoughts of Rav Avraham Yizchak Kook), Avoda Zara, 49a,

  36. Sh”ut Melamed LeHoil, Yoreh Deah #24 and Yoreh Deah #35

  37. Levushay Mordechai, Yoreh Deah Tineyna, # 60, (in explanation of the Shulchan Aruch)

  38. Rav Simcha Zelig Reuger, the Dayan of Brisk, (Kovetz Moriah, issue 400-402, p. 76-77):

  39. Achiezer, vol. 3, 33:5 (in explanation of the Shulchan Aruch)

These authorities don’t mention ANY dissenting opinion in this matter. They all took it for granted that this is the Halacha and that is how they understood the authoritative ruling of the Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah, Siman 99, seif 1. This has been the accepted law for centuries.

There are those who contend that Rambam, Ma'achalos Assuros, Perek 4, Halacha 18 disagrees with this ruling, but taking such a position is very difficult. The authorities mentioned above, a significant number of whom were Sephardim, did NOT cite Rambam as disagreeing with this understanding of the law, which is exactly what we would have expected if they believed someone of Rambam's Halachic weight actually DID disagree. Furthermore, even if it is true that Rambam disagreed, his position was obviously rejected by all of these later authorities in favor of the clear majority of Rishonim, which includes authorities such as Rabbaynu Tam, Rosh, Rashba, Mordechai and Ran, who ruled that non-edibles are always kosher.

The major kashrus agencies are certainly aware of this, however they have decided not to certify any animal by-product unless the animal has undergone schechita. That is their prerogative, but it is an unnecessarily strict position, their “policies” obviously do NOT determine the Halacha and the public should understand that it runs counter to their interests to acknowledge that gelatin and collagen can be made kosher even without schechita. I have no idea what they would respond if they were confronted with the clear, explicit, and unambiguous sources cited above. They may point to a few authorities from the middle 20th century who they wish to follow who didn’t allow these products. What can I say? The overwhelming consensus of rabbinic authorities prior to them, contemporaneous with them, and who came after them over the last 100 years approved these products (a list of around 50 of the ones I have identified is included on this website under the title “How the Poskim Have Ruled”), and the few teshuvos of the rabbis who ruled strictly simply do not stand up to scrutiny. That is not merely my opinion. The former Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rav Ovadya Yosef, expressed those sentiments in his own teshuva on the subject. (Rav Yosef's comments were directed mainly at the teshuva on the topic written by Rav Aharon Kotler. As anyone who studies Rav Kotler's teshuva would see, it was a radically novel departure from how the Halacha was always understood for centuries. It was not only unsupported by earlier authorities but directly contradicted by them.) To briefly explain, those rabbis who did not accept gelatin products typically based their prohibitive rulings on the Rambam cited above. But, as mentioned, this is a very weak Halachic argument for the simple reason that all the earlier Achronim mentioned above took it for granted that non-food items, such as bones and hides are kosher; that is how they understood the authoritative ruling of the Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah, Siman 99, seif 1, and if they thought Rambam disagreed we would have expected at least one of them to say so explicitly. In truth, this ruling of Rambam has been sufficiently explained by a number of authorities in a way in which it is totally consistent with the rulings of the other Rishonim. Even two 17th century Sephardi Achronim, Rav Moshe ibn Chaviv and Rav Avraham ben Mordechai HaLevi, who corresponded with each other in the latter's Ginas Veradim, Orach Chaim, Klal 2, Simanim 15-17, and who apparently accepted that Rambam ruled bones of neveilla are assur, were perplexed by the ruling and had no idea what it was based on. More importantly, both also assumed that even Rambam would agree that if the bones or hides are first treated in a way that removes any “hanoas achilla” (pleasurable eating) from them that they are permitted. This is certainly true with regard to bovine gelatin and collagen where the bones and hides are first subjected to highly caustic chemicals for lengthy periods of time before being dehydrated into a flavorless powder! The rabbis who didn't accept gelatin products didn't consider the fact that the raw materials from which gelatin is produced become utterly disqualified as foodstuffs. This is probably because they never actually inspected a gelatin plant but relied on second hand information from people they trusted who were misinformed.