Av 5761 – Kosher Soap

1 Av 5761

L’chvod HaRav:

We are careful to keep our eating utensils from contacting anything Treif and we use only “kosher soap” when washing dishes… so why are we so “liberal” when it comes to washing our hands, using ANY soap (most of which are far from kosher) – when we use our hands to handle the food that we eat?

Thank you for your help!

Name & Seminary withheld upon request

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Dear Name Withheld,

Thank you so much for your interesting question. I must admit that at first I was skeptical and didn’t think that non-Kosher hand soap was such a problem, but I checked my encyclopedia and, lo and behold, it is true that the primary ingredients in bars of soap (such as Dial and Ivory, etc.) are animal fats (primarily pork)! It seems that the reason that we are more stringent regarding dish soap is because there is often a residue left on the dishes and pots and pans, whereas hand soap we are careful to wash and wipe them better. According to Halacha, something that has been wiped away is just as good as if it has been washed away. Based on this, if a person knows that they always rinse away any residue of soap from their dishes, they need not be concerned about only using Kosher dish soap.

It is important to note that since soap is inedible, any ingredients in them would not be considered technically non-Kosher, since this only applies according to Halacha to edible ingredients. Therefore, even those who are stringent to only use dish soap with a Hechsher do so as a Chumra, but not because they are technically obligated to by Halacha.

However, I happened to meet with Rabbi Moshe Heinemann Shlit”a tonight and I asked him your question. He said that, in fact, he remembers that his Rebbi, Rav Aaron Kotler Zatza”l would only use Kosher hand soap (made by Rokeach), and that he heard that the Vilna Gaon also was stringent not to use soap made from non-Kosher animal fats. Therefore, although the prevailing custom is to be lenient, at least regarding hand soap, there certainly is room for a person to be stringent regarding this, if they wish to be.

I would just like to add that this issue is not limited to soap. A byproduct of the soap making process is glycerin, which is a primary ingredient in many toothpastes and mouthwash (and many other items, it often pops up where you’d least expect it, such as in dry roasted peanuts and cigarettes!). Although it may be argued that these are also not consumed “Derech Achila”, in the normal manner of eating, our Chaza”l teach us that consumption of non-Kosher products creates “Timtum HaLev” (I prefer loosely translating this as “clogging of our spiritual arteries”). In this day and age, when we look around and see such confusion and lack of common sense even among “our own” circle of Kashrus observers, it seems to me to be entirely appropriate for a person to be careful only to use such products that are certified to only use glycerin from plant sources. Two excellent examples that come to mind (in the U.S.) are “Adwe” products, and “Tom’s of Maine” products (available on the internet and in many health food stores).

Take care,
Rabbi Aaron Tendler