Consuming Gelatin and Gel-caps
When one walks down the aisles in a pharmacy he may see many pills which contain a gelatin coating. This issue involves the discussion of gelatin. Below we will discuss what gelatin is and what its kosher status is, and how it applies to ingesting gel-caps.
What is Gelatin?
Gelatin is a protein which is derived from a naturally occurring protein known as collagen. Collagen is the component of animal connective tissue, bones, sinews and skin. Gelatin does not have any taste to it. Gelatin is widely used in the pharmaceutical industry to coat capsules as well as hold tablets together. In addition, gelatin is used in marshmallows, yogurt, ice cream, jello, to remove cloudiness or haze in apple juice, in gummy bears, throat lozenges, frostings, protein supplements, and sugar glazes.
How is it Manufactured?
The source of gelatin is almost always the bones or hides of non-kosher animals. To improve the quality of the process, the raw material is pretreated by soaking the hard bones in a mixture of lime and water between 70-120 days. Soft bone and hides are treated with a five percent concentration of mineral acids for ten to thirty hours. Gelatin is then extracted from the pretreated material in a process which is like cooking. The bones are warmed in a series of runs at increasing temperatures. Eventually gelatin liquor is formed, which is then filtered and evaporated to remove the water and concentrate the liquor. The liquor is then cooled to form a gel. The gel is dried and cut into desired shapes.
The poskim discuss many reasons why consuming gelatin may be permitted. Each one will be dealt with below.
Bones from non-Kosher animals
The Toras Kohanim says the posuk “from non-pure animals one should not eat their flesh” excludes bones, sinews, and hooves. There is a discussion if there is no issur at all, or if there is an issur d’rabanan to consume the above items. The Rambam is of the opinion that “one who eats from a non-kosher animal, it’s skin, bones, sinews, horns, hooves, or nails, even though they are forbidden, is excused from punishment.” It seems from the opinion of the Rambam that bones are forbidden d’rabanan, while others maintain that he does not seem to imply even an issur d’rabanan. The opinion of Tosfas who talks about permitting bee legs implies that bones are indeed permitted.
The opinion of some poskim is that the Rambam when implying that an issur d’rabbanan exists for bones was referring to soft bones which have some moisture to it, but hard and dry bones are permitted even according to the Rambam.
The Gelatin has changed
The Mishnah Berurah and others say regarding “musk,” which is a byproduct of blood that is found in the neck of a deer, we can consider it “changed,” since the blood is turned into a new entity. Many poskim follow this opinion.
Using the same line of reasoning, some poskim permit the use of gelatin since it is totally
changed from it original state. Others are not convinced that one can draw a parallel between musk and gelatin.
Dried out Stomach / Gelatin
The Rama says an animal’s stomach lining which was salted and dried out so that it becomes like a piece of wood may be filled with milk since it does not retain any taste of meat. The same would apply to gelatin which is completely dried out.
A question which arises is, if a non-kosher food becomes like wood but is later edible does it change the status or does it retains its previous non-kosher status?
Some say that once the product was dried it may not regain its non-kosher status. Ohers are stringent in this regard.
The opinion of the Achiezer and others is to permit the consumption of gelatin. The opinion of Harav Henkin zt”l is that since this matter is not decided one should be stringent. This is the opinion of Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l and others as well. The opinion of the Israeli Rabbinate is to permit the consumption of gelatin, while the Mehadrin kosher certification in Eretz Yisroel do not allow gelatin. The major kashrus organizations in the United States do not allow non-certified gelatin. (The above discussion does not apply to taking gel-caps, as this will be discussed below).
Status of Kosher Gelatin
Gelatin made from a kosher source is considered pareve. Kosher gelatin is gelatin made from fish or glatt kosher beef hides.
Gel Caps – Not in the Normal Manner
One who is sick is permitted to eat a non-kosher food (which is normally ossur b’achilah) in an unusual manner. Based on this, the opinion of some poskim is that swallowing a pill made from a gelatin coating is permitted, since it is for a sick person and it is not the
usual manner of eating. However, there are poskim who maintain that swallowing a pill is the regular manner of consumption. Others are lenient and maintain that swallowing a pill is considered an unusual manner. In addition, even those who are stringent by gelatin, it would not apply to medicines. However, according to the stringent opinion above regarding gelatin, one who only has a headache or slight discomfort should take a pill which has no gelatin or wrap the gel-cap in a tissue (in the next issue we will iy”h continue our discussion on gel-caps).
The above article is reprinted with permission exclusive to VIN News from Halachically Speaking, a monthly publication compiled by Rabbi Moishe Dovid Lebovits, a former chaver kollel of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath and a musmach of Harav Yisroel Belsky Shlita. Rabbi Lebovits currently works as the Rabbinical Administrator for the KOF-K Kosher Supervision. To subscribe to Halachically Speaking via email for free sign up at www.thehalacha.com