On a discussion list in which we participate, a question came up about the kashruth of a certain energy drink. Here is a response that appeared. We reprint with the author’s kind permission.
Keeping with the Kashrut angle alone, there are two major issues:
1. There are those rabbis who opine that any substance that is derived from a non-kosher product, no matter how much chemically or physically changed it has become, remains non-kosher. Others (including yours truly) are of the opinion that once the substance has fundamentally changed, it is no longer non-kosher. Please consult your own rabbi for a definitive ruling.
2. The concept of supervision is a relatively new one, Until a few generations ago, things were prepared at home. The requirements of supervision were derived from existing halachot concerning a gentile worker in a Jewish home. Up until the late 60s, it was the accepted practice to rely on the ingredients list, except for meat products and most Passover products. In the late 60s, there was a shift in the public perception of Kashrut, requiring rabbinic supervision for virtually everything. There were several reasons for this. One, that manufacturing processes were so complex, that one could never be sure what was in a product. Two, that if there were available two products, one with and one without supervision, why not go with the “sure thing”? As companies saw that a hechsher increased sales, more and more opted for supervision. There is no reason in the world that bleach needs a hechsher, but it does sell bleach! Reason three is less noble; rumors and innuendos were circulated containing misinformation and disinformation that government labeling laws were essentially meaningless. It was alleged that 100% vegetable oil could have, according to government regulation, up to 4% animal oil. This is totally untrue. Other such rumors were likewise spread.
Some years ago, I attended a lecture held by the Long Island Board of Rabbis. The guest speaker was the publisher of a Kashrut periodical. He spoke of kashrut problems that even rabbis wouldn’t expect in common products. When he finished, he asked if there were any questions. I raised my hand and commented that all the issues he had mentioned were, according to the Shulchan Aruch, nevertheless Kosher. He said to speak with him privately. I did. He asked me “where are you rabbi?” I answered “Yiddenville”. He said “he people of Yiddenville hired you to tell them that things are not kosher, not that they are kosher!” I was stunned.
When you go to Israel, you will see many foreign products with a label “B’Ishur HaRabbanut HaRashit)-with the approval of the Chief Rabbinate. What does this mean? There is a Rabbanut office in Eilat, where foreign products are checked for their ingredients. If no problem, they are approved. If any questions, a correspondence goes out to the manufacturer requesting further information. I know this first hand, as I was once offered this position, owing to my knowledge of English and French.
On the other hand, there is a real problem for most people in understanding the ingredient labels. This is especially true if one takes the view that derivatives of non-kosher products are still non kosher. For instance, there is the very misleading category of “natural flavors”. Most people assume that raspberry flavor comes from raspberries, banana flavor from bananas, etc. This is totally untrue. A “natural flavor” simply means that it comes from a natural source, which could be vegetable or animal. Whether such an animal product would or wouldn’t be kosher, depends on the above mentioned issue of chemically altered substances.
One prominent rabbi, R. Yitzchak Abadi, has been arguing for decades for a return to a simpler understanding of Kashrut (see www.kashrut.org) He even publishes an annual list of over 1400 products acceptable for Passover without supervision. Of course, many rabbis object to this on the grounds mentioned above. Again, consult your rabbi.
I hope I haven’t made this more complicated for you!
Rabbi Yaakov Siegel