9. Soaps and Cosmetics

Poskim disagree whether body ointments that contain ĥametz may be used on Pesaĥ. While soaps, shampoos, and creams are not made from ĥametz, they sometimes contain grain alcohol or other ĥametz derivatives, leading to queries about their status on Pesaĥ.

Some say that applying an ointment is equivalent, by rabbinic enactment, to drinking. Consequently, even if the ĥametz in these products is not fit for a dog’s consumption, it retains the status of ĥametz because it is suitable for anointing, and thus it is forbidden to use them on Pesaĥ. Accordingly, one must use soaps, shampoos, and creams that are kosher for Pesaĥ.

Others maintain that the Sages only equated the application of ointment to drinking with regard to Yom Kippur and anointing with oil consecrated as teruma (priestly gift). All other Torah prohibitions relate to eating alone, not anointing. Although it is forbidden to derive benefit from ĥametz, the ĥametz in these products was rendered unfit for a dog’s consumption even before Pesaĥ began and thus lost the status of ĥametz. It is therefore permissible to derive benefit from them and apply them to the body during Pesaĥ.

Since this dispute relates to rabbinic law, the halakha accords with the lenient opinion, and meticulously observant individuals act stringently.

Distinctions must be made between four gradations of products containing ĥametz, of which the middle two are subject to dispute:

  1. Toothpastes must be certified kosher for Pesaĥ because they are flavored and thus like any other food product.
  2. Creams that are absorbed into the skin, flavorless lipstick, and perfumes that contain alcohol need not be certified kosher for Pesaĥ, in keeping with the lenient opinion, since they are not fit for consumption and generally do not contain ĥametz ingredients. Nonetheless, many choose to be stringent and buy creams and perfumes that are certified kosher for Pesaĥ.
  3. Soaps and shampoos warrant even more room for leniency because they are designed to clean, not to be absorbed into the skin. Nevertheless, some are stringent.
  4. Detergents, shoe polish, and the like do not require any kosher certification. Even dishwashing detergents need no certification because their taste is foul. Even if these substances were mixed with ĥametz, its taste was befouled before Pesaĥ and it is no longer considered ĥametz.[11]

[11]. The Rishonim disagree about the principle that equates anointing with drinking: some apply it only to Yom Kippur and teruma oil, while others hold that it applies to other prohibitions, though only on the rabbinic level. The question  arises with regard to soap made of lard, and many Aĥaronim tend toward stringency if the item is for enjoyment and leniently if it is needed for health reasons (see Yeĥaveh Da’at 4:53). They incline toward leniency if the lard’s taste has been befouled (AHS YD 117:29). Regarding Pesaĥ, there is a more stringent aspect, namely, that one is forbidden to derive any benefit from ĥametz, but there is also a more lenient aspect, namely, that the ĥametz lost its status when it became inedible before Pesaĥ, making it less strict than something that had been forbidden from the outset. In practice, Responsa Sho’el U-meishiv 3:2:146 states that one may keep soap that contains ĥametz over Pesaĥ since its taste has been befouled. It does not address whether or not the soap may be used on Pesaĥ. Responsa Divrei Malkiel 4:24:43 states that one may not use cosmetics that contain wheat-derived alcohol, since the alcohol helps spread their scent and is thus significant. The alcohol is not batel since it can be isolated from the rest of the mixture. Responsa Divrei Naĥum §56 states that the law follows the current situation, namely, that the taste of the ĥametz has been befouled, and the mixture is thus permissible. Ĥazon Ish, Demai 15:1 suggests that only something edible may not be used as an ointment. Igrot Moshe OĤ  3:62 rules leniently in the case of an ointment that contains ĥametz that is used for health purposes. Bedikat Ĥametz U-vi’uro 2:43 summarizes the topic and rules stringently unless it is uncertain whether a product contains ĥametz, in which case one may be lenient. It seems to me that even those who rule stringently should distinguish between fat-based soap and contemporary soaps: fat-based soaps are absorbed in the skin and may be considered ointments, whereas contemporary soaps merely clean and remove dirt from the body, but are not absorbed into it. I have thus distinguished between ointments and creams, which are absorbed into the body, and soaps and shampoos, which are not (though hair conditioner may be more akin to an ointment). In practice, I heard from R. Nachum Rabinovitch that he rules leniently regarding all products unfit for a dog’s consumption, as did his mentor, R. Pinchas Hirschprung. This is the opinion of R. Dov Lior as well.

In reality, the vast majority of cosmetic products produced in Israel do not contain wheat-derived alcohol. Even the majority of products produced abroad do not contain wheat-derived alcohol, since it is more expensive than potato-derived alcohol. However, a few products in fact contain wheat-derived alcohol, and according to the stringent views one should not use them on Pesaĥ. Still, when one has a product and is not sure whether it contains wheat-derived alcohol, even if he is normally stringent he may be lenient, based on a combination of several uncertainties and doubts.

Another issue arises regarding the use of products that contain wheat germ oil, which is a source of Vitamin E, since it is unclear whether liquids exuded by wheat are considered ĥametz. According to Rav Kook (Oraĥ Mishpat p. 129), even if these liquids are forbidden, they were already batel be-shishim before Pesaĥ and are not ĥozer ve-ne’or on Pesaĥ. Moreover, many authorities maintain that even if this liquid was considered ĥametz, since it is not fit for consumption it loses its status as ĥametz. Another issue arises regarding lotions, although it is not certain that wheat starch-based lotions are considered ĥametz, and moreover they are inedible. Therefore, in practice, one may be lenient and use any cosmetic product not fit for consumption.

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