Saturday, June 19, 2010

Kashrus Alert: Honey Today is Not Kosher

From YVN (Yeshivishe Velt News):

There is an urgent kashrus issue that has been brought to light by Rav B. Apis - a genuine Talmid Chachom, a Yarei Shamayim, and one of the foremost experts on the subject. Based on his expert scientific research, Rav Apis has shown that honey that is produced today is not kosher.

The Gemora (Bechoros 7b) says "Something that emerges from a non-kosher source is itself non-kosher." Camel's milk is not kosher. Crocodile eggs are not kosher. And is there anything more treif than a bee, which is a sheretz? So why is honey kosher? The Gemara gives two answers. One is that it is based on a derashah. Another is that it is because "brings [the nectar] into its body, and does not produce it from its body." Chazal say that honey is just regurgitated nectar, and does not contain ingredients created by the bee. Rambam rules in accordance with this reason: "Honey of the bee and tzirah is permitted because it is not a product of their body, but rather they bring it into their mouths from the plants and regurgitate it in the hive, so that it will be available for them to eat from it in winter" (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Ma’achalos Asuros 3:3). Any components from the bee would make honey treif; the only reason why parts of bees that are mixed in with the honey do not make it treif is that they are nosen ta’am l’fegam (that if something is only contributing a negative taste to the food, it does not render the food non-kosher). See Sefer Mitzvos HaGadol, lo saaseh 132; Mordechai, Beitzah 2:674; Tur, Yoreh De’ah 81; and Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 81:8.

But scientists today show that honey contains enzymes created by the bees themselves. Bees secrete three enzymes into the nectar: Diastase, invertase and glucose oxidase, which mix with the nectar and turn it into honey. These are secreted from a pair of glands called the hypopharyngeal glands, found in the base of the head of worker bees. And since there is no hetter of nosen ta’am l’fegam (since the enzymes enhance the taste of the honey), the honey is not kosher.

The shailoh was posed years ago as follows: Chazal say that bees do not produce the substance of honey and the scientists say that it is untrue. Who do we follow? The obvious answer to this question is, Ayn lonu ella divrei Chazal! We ignore scientific theory that conflicts with the words of Chazal.

But the question posed to the Gedolei Yisroel today is completely different. We have laboratory experiments that show that bee enzymes are found in the honey. We see it with our own eyes! Is such honey permitted? The Gedolim have ruled that it is forbidden. Obviously this does not mean that Chazal were wrong, chas v'shalom. Rather, it is clear that the process by which bees make honey is different from that which occurred in the times of Chazal. It is another case of nishtaneh hateva, just as the shiur kezayis is ten to twenty times larger than an olive today, and so many other things are different. Since we know that the dirt in the times of Chazal could produce live mice, is it any more difficult to believe that the nectar in the times of Chazal could turn into honey without any enzymes?

There is no doubt that scientists will claim that bees always produced honey this way, even in the times of Chazal; but there is no way that we can rely on scientists for this. These same scientists would say that olives were always the same size, and that mice never grew from dirt, and that Moshe Rabbeinu was not ten amos tall. We do not and cannot rely on scientists for their "theories" about the world in the times of Chazal. We only rely on scientists for facts - things that we see today. The bottom line is that we SEE that honey contains bee secretions, so how could we be mattir it?

It is said that Rav Moshe was asked to write a Teshuva that honey is permitted. He answered that it is so poshut that it is a Bizayon to write a Teshuva. If the question was posed to the Rav Moshe in the same way as it has been presented now, that we see that there are bee enzymes in the honey, a situation that the present Gedolim are machmir, would Rav Moshe have said that it is so poshut that there is no need for a teshuvah? There is no greater proof to the falsehood of such a report. The Rabbonim have been searching for months for some justification to permit today's honey, and have had to take difficult positions to be matir. Can one believe that Rav Moshe ZT”L held it is so poshut that it is mutar that there is no need for a Teshuvah?! If people today attempt to give reasons as to why the enzymes do not make the honey treif, this itself is the greatest proof that the metzius has changed; for Chazal and the Rishonim did not discuss any such hetter.

Surely it is not worth taking any risk with such an issur. Anyone who is careful about his neshamah should no longer eat honey.

* * *

The above post is a work of fiction. But there is a serious purpose to it: To demonstrate that banning honey is the logical consequence of prohibiting fish based on parasites (see the earlier posts here and here), in combination with the ban on my books. If there is a significant distinction, I would like to know what it is! Thanks to Simcha Schonfeld for the idea.


  1. I read the title and believed the story for a brief moment (until I saw "Rabbi B. Apis").

    Excellent piece, although you should have left off the fiction disclaimer at the end and posted it on either Purim or April 1!

  2. I had a giggle, but the differences are obvious:
    a) the experts who did the anisakis experiments actually saw the anisakis worms; "Rabbi Apis" couldn't see the enzymes unless he used a device and we know that halacha only works with the naked eye.
    b) If there was a drosha for anisakis then it would have been muttar; the drosha is the real heter, the science is an asmachta,

  3. In response to b) - the drashah is only one reason given for honey being kosher, and it's not the reason that Rambam uses.

    a) seems like a good distinction, though (I'd be interested if anyone has a reason to disagree). But if that's truly the only difference, then this is a sure sign that something is wrong with the fish-worm issur!

  4. Yeah, this would have been the perfect Purim post. Otherwise, great satire.

    I was actually discussing this issue earlier with several different people I know who thought that bee honey contained absolutely no insect product in it purely because of the opinion in the Gemara. I'm not sure what to make of this issue actually. There is another opinion in the Gemara which matirs honey for a different reason, but the Rambam only cites the first reason when he brings down the Halacha. Does this mean the Rambam disagreed with the other reason the Gemara gave? What do you think?

    Also, I was thinking, if beeswax is kosher because it is not a food and therefore does not have the status of kosher vs. non-kosher (Igros Moshe), then why are other insect derived glazes considered non-Kosher?

  5. Is the miniscule size of the enzymes enough to discount them? After all, the enzymes have the effect of totally changing the nature of the substance.

  6. Two obvious differences:

    1. There is the drasha. This is a big one, regardless whether Rambam uses it or not. You can even say the Drasha is MiSinai and the other reasons are only a pirush.

    2. We are not comparing two briyot (bees and worms) but a briya and a product (honey and worms).

    Much better would be a comparison between honey and cheese (made with an animal rennet).

  7. Suppose there was a drashah that worms found in the flesh of fish are muttar, and the Gemara gave another reason: that the worms are generated in the flesh. Wouldn't Rabbi Karp et al. say that this shows that the drashah only applies to worms that are generated in the flesh?

  8. After I saw this video I almost threw up. Why would you want to eat a fish with this type of infestation?

    But if it is technically kosher then ok.

  9. Well, E-Man, thanks for sharing that video. It most sufficiently disgusted me. I'm unfamiliar with this particular kashrus controversy, but honestly, I don't even care. I don't want to eat that. Can someone please enlighten me as to what sort of fish should I avoid in order to never come across such a vile specimen? If the answer is all of them: I don't mind.

  10. Anything that is raised on a farm instead of found in the wild does not have this infestation, or so I am told. So the only fish that have this are wild and for salmon I know that wild is more expensive than farm anyway.

  11. Please, don’t give anyone ideas.

    There are bits of bugs in everything we eat. It’s impossible to keep the food supply perfectly clean. If things keep going the way they are, only food produced in clean-room-like greenhouses will be considered kosher.

  12. G*3 are you serious? Watch the video, these are BIG worms that are visible. These are not microscopic bugs. It is gross. I would not want to eat fish that had worms like that in it kosher or not.

    No, most foods does not have bugs like this in them, I do not know where you got that from.

  13. Natan, there is another approach to the question.

    The sages all agree except for Rav Yaakov. Rav Yaakov had a different explanation as to why bee honey is kosher. He had a different approach to the original prohibition that the sages based their ruling on from Vayikra 11:20.

    11:20 All winged swarming things that go upon all fours are a detestable thing unto you.

    11:21 Yet these may ye eat of all winged swarming things that go upon all fours, which have jointed legs above their feet, wherewith to leap upon the earth;

    11:22 even these of them ye may eat: the locust after its kinds, and the bald locust after its kinds, and the cricket after its kinds, and the grasshopper after its kinds.

    11:23 But all winged swarming things, which have four feet, are a detestable thing unto you. Tractate Bechorot 5b “ That which comes from something which is non-kosher is non-kosher, and that which comes out of that which is kosher is kosher”.

    Rav Yaakov explains that flying swarming insects are not kosher but the prohibition does NOT extend to anything they excrete.

    Therefore, honey, which you rightly pointed out, contains enzymes which are excreted from the bees, is kosher.

  14. There is no problem with the kashrut of bee honey, even according to the modern understanding of its production. The bee enzymes involved represent less than 1/60 of the volume of the honey and are therefore of no consequence (batel). The concern about a possible analogy to the curdling action of rennet in cheese-making (davar hama'amid eino batel) is an unwarranted extension of a talmudic principle.

    It is of interest that the prior post on the likely origin of mannah from the secretion of plant aphids is directly relevant to the honey issue. If honey were assur then, according to the aphid hypothesis, so would the mannah. Conversely, since the mannah was obviously permitted, then so is honey.

    1. Enzymes are universally not considered a maamid with the single exception of rennet - presumably due to its exceptional action of turning liquid to solid. Rennet is fun. A creation of Hashem yisborach to make milk move more slowly through a calf's immature digestion system giving it time to be digested.

  15. ROTFLMAO, you should guest post on frum satire. Oh wait, that would destroy your rep in the Charaedi world - oh wait, never mind...

    On a more serious note isn't there still a question as to why cheese made with animal rennet is kosher?

  16. I forgot to add something in my last post.

    Royal jely, which is excreted from the heads of worker bees is not generally considered kosher. A few months ago, I started seeing honey mixed with royal jelly, with a hechsher, at Supersol here in Israel.
    I don't know what the thinking is of the rav who gave the hechsher, unless he is accepting the single view of Rav Yaakov, who permits honey because the products of bees is not the same thing as eating bees.

  17. Adrian,

    I heard that only fish that is not fresh (that has been sitting for a long time after it was taken out of the water) has this sort of (nasty) worm problem that you watched in the video.

  18. Rabbi Slifkin,

    This was was clever, well done, and it proved your point. BUT -

    The people who make up these new "halachos" have an agenda, and that agenda has nothing to do with being true to mesorah.

    You know that. Why then would you give them an idea which would help them in their next endeavor to twisting halacha and observance?

    You know they (trolls) read your blog, and some looser is going to take this, delete your last sentence, and forward it to everyone on his mailing list. Before you know it, honey will be assur, not because it is, but because the hamon am believes it is.

    Why feed the beast?

  19. Tzitz Eliezer 11:59 allows propolis. His reason is that according to the second approach in the Talmud, bee honey is permitted not because it is not rated as a product of the bee, but because the derashah permits all secretions of bees – in which case royal jelly would likewise be permitted. But I think that most argue with this.

  20. Yehoshua Aaron
    I believe, that kashrus authorities do consider these types of enzymes as not being botel.

  21. For the real honey courtesy of audioroundup at the Hirhurim blog:
    Rabbi Eli Gersten -To Hive and Have Not?:

    Talmud gives two reasons why honey is kosher: 1) it’s not a bee’s bodily excretion or 2) gzeirat hakatuv. Discussion of Royal honey (me – look for the OU label).
    The 4 Tops pasken like reason 2.

    Joel Rich

  22. > G*3 are you serious? Watch the video, these are BIG worms that are visible. These are not microscopic bugs. It is gross. I would not want to eat fish that had worms like that in it kosher or not.
    No, most foods does not have bugs like this in them, I do not know where you got that from.

    This article is the first Google result for “fda bugs in food:”

    According to the article, “An Ohio University fact sheet estimates that we eat from one to two pounds of insects each year, and without knowing it.”

    The worms may look disgusting, but that’s not why they’re a kashrus problem. If pulverized bugs in NYC tapwater are a problem, then so are bits of bugs in maccoroni. Nor are lettuce and strawberries the only produce to have bugs. Farmers don’t spray their fields with insecticide for kicks.

    The worms are just another instance of a trend over the last decade or so to ban because of bugs things that were previously allowed.

  23. Is the Tzitz Eliezer the reason that beeswax, total secretions from bees' glands, is not considered kosher, yet is the basis for a number of kosher flavorings?

  24. Nice satire!
    One possible critique:

    "(if something is only contributing a negative taste to the food, it does not render the food non-kosher) ... vs ...
    since there is no hetter of nosen ta’am l’fegam (since the enzymes enhance the taste of the honey), the honey is not kosher."

    Did you ever swallow a pinch of plain salt? That is surely a "negative taste." And yet salt "enhances the taste" of most foods it's put on. Likewise with the enzymes, maybe. So there's not necessarily a contradiction.

  25. Isaac Balbin, you believe that leading kashrut organizations consider the bee enzymes to be a non-nullifiable component of honey. Then why is honey permitted by them? Such permission implies that either you don't recognize the modern finding of bee enzymes in honey in view of ancient tradition of permitting honey, or you consider that small component nullifiable. The 3rd approach is to consider the kashrut of honey as being due to a special torah dispensation. The latter is, however, not the prevailing halachic view, to my understanding.

    A citation of an exposition of the view of a leading posek or kashrut agency about the non-nulliability of bee enzymes would be needed for me to take such a view more seriously. In any case, my understanding of the commercial honey making process is that the raw honey is both filtered and pasteurized prior to dispensing in jars. That pasteurization would denature the bee enzymes. The denatured protein has thereby lost its enzymatic function and been rendered inert.

    1. It isn't pasteurised. Very low water content plus some inbuilt antimicrobial agents (more bee products) make it hard to ferment honey. Bugs can't grow. Mead production has a very long fermentation even with water added. It is however almost invariably heated to at least 70 deg C at some point during processing which would denature the protein that is the enzyme.

  26. here is a link to the original "Ohio factsheet", no longer up but available via the Wayback machine:


  27. Isaac Balbin:

    You are confusing two separate halachos. That only something visible to the naked eye is assur applies to bugs and the like (tola'im). However there is no such rule when it comes to taaruvos. It is rare that you can actually see a non kosher ingredient mixed in with kosher ingredients. There is no rule that you have to see the enzyme for it to be problematic halachically.

  28. Wild salmon is a more healthy and natural product than farmed salmon.
    If it is fished sustainably (such as Alaskan salmon) it is much more friendly to the environment. It is a shame that many will be led to consume farmed fish as a result of this scare. Rabbi Slifkin -- please address this issue!

    1. I dunno about natural and healthy. However wild salmon is not so good for production of smoked salmon as before getting to the plants (much further away than fish farms)it sits around too long steeping in its blood and the flesh gets black spots and the flavour goes off. Also towards the end of the season the fish colour goes almost white.

  29. Ah the Land of Milk and Corn Syrup!

    More importantly, we are keenly interested in promoting the level of conversation in Social Media. Your post and the subsequent comments are excellent. Guess Talmudic training show itself on the social web. Serious back and forth with a touch of humour, much warmth and a core interest in Truth....


  30. 1) Generally when science contradicts Chazal, the irrational crowd follows Chazal, except when following science is the more machmir position. Then suddenly science is great.
    2) How do we know that the bee talked about in the Torah is the same bee we know about nowadays? After all, we know that those bees stood on one side of the river Jordan and shot their venom across at the Canaanites and today's bees don't seem able to do that.
    3) Please stop giving the wackos ideas!

  31. Zohar said...
    Wild salmon is a more healthy and natural product than farmed salmon.

    Andrew Stoll M.D. in his book "The Omega 3 Connection" says that wild salmon is a superior source of Omega 3 because wild salmon eat algae by which they produce EPA Omega 3; farm salmon aren't as nutritious in this respect because they are fed differently. However, wild salmon are more likely to get mercury poison from the sea than farm fish which are raised in 'sterile' ponds.

  32. Garnel Ironheart said...
    "2) How do we know that the bee talked about in the Torah is the same bee we know about nowadays? After all, we know that those bees stood on one side of the river Jordan and shot their venom across at the Canaanites and today's bees don't seem able to do that."

    There's a difference between a Tzir'ah (that shot venom across the Jordan) whose honey is treif IIRC because some of its 'self' gets into its honey, and a Devorah whose honey is kosher because it only reprocesses nectar.

  33. What would be the problem in saying that ChaZaL simply had a mesora concerning the kashrus of bee honey?

    Which is to say that by stating both reasons (drasha/science of their day) they were simply trying to provide support for something which was known and accepted (presumably m'sinai) as halachically permissible. If this is so than even if grounds were found on which to reject both reasons we would still be able to rely upon their mesora.

  34. But what is the basis for saying that?

  35. "But what is the basis for saying that?"
    The basis would be that people were eating honey way before the Tannaim.
    Didn't Shimshon eat honey?
    The gemara isn't discussing if honey is permitted rather why.

  36. It should be clear that there was a very ancient tradition that bee honey was permitted. In Judges 14:9, we find that Samson ate bee honey (the bees had made a home in the skeleton of the lion whom Samson killed). In Samuel I 14:27, we find Jonathan eating honey in the forest (presumably bee honey)after a victory over Phillistine forces. Even the torah implies the permissibility of bee honey which is the ostensible literal meaning of "He nursed them with honey from rock" in Deut. 32:13 (the same is found in the Psalm said today, "I will sate you with honey from rock"). I believe that bee honey is sometimes called rock honey since wild bees find that rock clefts are a protected site for a hive, i.e. bears can't break into it.

    Given such a tradition, the sages occupied themselves in finding a rationale. One sought an unobvious derivation from a torah verse, another suggested that honey is a mere form of plant nectar. The latter appears to be the prevalent adopted reason -regardless of how one wishes to reconcile it with scientific findings.

  37. I've seen this question asked seriously before by non-frum people.

    Regarding Isaac Balbin's point a, the problem seems to be that halachic doesn't just care about what is visible to the naked eye but more generally cares about what is detectable by the five senses, and so the issue becomes that the ta'am of the bee enzymes is detectable (Rabbi Slifkin seems to think it is. This is plausible but I'd be curious to see a citation).

    I'd like to tentatively suggest another distinction that may be relevant: Enzymes alter a substance but will be unlikely to substantially have a taste themselves. If that is the case, then arguably enzymes that cause a change in taste because they are acting as enzymes, not from the taste of the enzymes themselves, should not be considered to have a ta'am. The only difficulty I see with this argument is that the same logic would suggest that cheese with animal rennet should then be kosher.

    Presumably if we start moving down this line we also get the argument that hot rocks aren't actually much hotter they just have high specific heat, and then conclude that every kashering trick that involves dumping a rock into boiling water doesn't work. For that matter, much of the hilchot of kashrut of vessels involves proto-Greek understanding of temperature and heat. If people were machmir where thermodynamics would force it then kashering will in general become much more difficult.

  38. It seems that way to me when the Gemara asks מפני מה אמרו דבש דבורים מותר . The question reads to me something like this:

    "We know that the honey of bees is permissible however we also know that היוצא מן הטמא טמא והיוצא מן הטהור טהור - how can we reconcile these two facts?"

    At which point the two Amoraim propose a their respective rationales for why honey is mutar.

    The Gemara doesn't question the legitimacy of accepting bee honey as mutar, its status is simply treated as a legitimate and unquestioned premise that must be contended with. The Amoraim's rationales are only of utility insofar as the question of reconciling facts are concerned - they are not of utility in determining the facts themselves.

    It seems to me that the only way the permissibility of bee honey could be treated as factual premise rather than being open to question itself is as a result of its classification as such stemming from mesora.

  39. I stand corrected on the details of my comment of June 23, 2010 3:14 AM. See Y.D. 81:8,9 with Levush and Aroch Hashulchan ibid #6,7. The basic point of my comment is, I think, true.


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