Are Food Additives Kosher?

The Conservative and Orthodox movements differ with regard to the kashrut of certain food additives.

Because of the chemical changes that take place during processing, the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards (CJLS) has determined that many additives are so totally reconstituted that they may be considered a totally new food (davar ḥadash) and that their origins are therefore no longer of concern (CJLS Responsa 1980–1990, pp. 286–289).

Among the chemical additives considered kosher and pareve by the Rabbinical Assembly are: dextrose, mono-and diglycerides, lactate, lactic acid, lecithin, pepsin, polysorbate 80, propylene glycol, sodium stearoyl-2-lactylate, and sorbitol.

Should one find an additive of unknown origin in a product without a hechsher, it is best to consult a rabbi for advice.

One specific food impacted by the kashrut of additives is cheese, specifically focusing on rennet, an additive which helps the cheese to curdle.

The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly has determined that commercially made cheeses, unless they are mixed with non-kosher ingredients, can be considered kosher even without a hechsher because the rennet or microbial rennet are a totally new food, as noted above (Klein, p. 306).

Yet another difference between many Conservative and Orthodox rabbis in the area of kashrut involves gelatin.

Gelatin is made from dried hide, bones, horns, and hoofs, which are not edible in an unprocessed state. Because the process that reduces them to gelatin essentially creates a new entity, many Conservative rabbis permit the use of gelatin, even without a specific hechsher, in food products (Isaac Klein, “The Kashrut of Gelatin,” in Responsa and Ḥalakhic Studies, pp. 71–88).

Adapted with permission from The Observant Life.

Authors

  • Rabbi Paul S. Drazen z"l

    Rabbi Paul S. Drazen (1951-2018) spent two-thirds of his rabbinic career serving individual congregations and one-third on the staff of USCJ, all the while creating programs and educational opportunities to make Jewish observance and practice clear, accessible, and attainable for everyone.

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  • The Observant Life (Book)

    The Observant Life: The Wisdom of Conservative Judaism for Contemporary Jews distills a century of thoughtful inquiry into the most profound of all Jewish questions: how to suffuse life with timeless values, how to remain loyal to the covenant that binds the Jewish people and the God of Israel, and how to embrace the law while retaining an abiding sense of fidelity to one’s own moral path in life. Written in a multiplicity of voices inspired by a common vision, the authors of The Observant Life explain what it means in the ultimate sense to live a Jewish life, and to live it honestly, morally, and purposefully. The work is a comprehensive guide to life in the 21st Century. Chapters on Jewish rituals including prayer, holiday, life cycle events and Jewish ethics such as citizenship, slander, taxes, wills, the courts, the work place and so much more.

    View all posts

Authors

  • Rabbi Paul S. Drazen z"l

    Rabbi Paul S. Drazen (1951-2018) spent two-thirds of his rabbinic career serving individual congregations and one-third on the staff of USCJ, all the while creating programs and educational opportunities to make Jewish observance and practice clear, accessible, and attainable for everyone.

  • The Observant Life (Book)

    The Observant Life: The Wisdom of Conservative Judaism for Contemporary Jews distills a century of thoughtful inquiry into the most profound of all Jewish questions: how to suffuse life with timeless values, how to remain loyal to the covenant that binds the Jewish people and the God of Israel, and how to embrace the law while retaining an abiding sense of fidelity to one’s own moral path in life. Written in a multiplicity of voices inspired by a common vision, the authors of The Observant Life explain what it means in the ultimate sense to live a Jewish life, and to live it honestly, morally, and purposefully. The work is a comprehensive guide to life in the 21st Century. Chapters on Jewish rituals including prayer, holiday, life cycle events and Jewish ethics such as citizenship, slander, taxes, wills, the courts, the work place and so much more.

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