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Ta'anis 21a

Kashrus issues in Chewing Gum

by Rabbi Zushe Yosef Blech

Copyright © 2003 Rabbi Zushe Blech
Reprinted from the MK Vaad News & Views Volume V, Issue I - Kislev 5764, December 2003

While the Halachos of the holiday of Purim command an entire Masechta of Megillah in the Mishnah, the basic discussion of the Halachos of Chanukah appear only in the Gemara (Shabbos 21b). Indeed, no mention of the miracle of Chanukah appears anywhere in the Mishnah. The Chasam Sofer notes that Rabbeinu Ha'Kadosh, the compiler of the Mishnah, was a descendant of Dovid Ha'Melech. The Chasam Sofer is quoted as having explained that Rabbeinu Ha'Kadosh, the compiler of the Mishnah, felt that the Chashmona'im had no right to create a royal dynasty, since that was the prerogative of the family of Dovid Ha'Melech. Since Rabbeinu Ha'Kadosh was a scion on the House of Dovid, he recognized this failing and specifically omitted the story of Chanukah from the Mishnah. Rav Yitzchok Hutner zt'l, in his Pa'chad Yitzchok, however, proposed another explanation. The miracle of Chanukah took place in a period in Jewish history where the Ta'na'im and the learning of Torah she'Ba'al Peh (the Oral Law) were flowering. Indeed, Chanukah is the first holiday that occurred after the conclusion of the Tana'ch, and thus completely based upon Torah she'Ba'al Peh. [Purim, while a Mitzvah d'Rabbonon, is nonetheless mentioned in Tana'ch in M'gillas Esther.] Rav Hutner notes that Torah she'Ba'al Peh should ideally never been written but handed down orally from Rebbe to Talmid. Indeed, the Talmud (Gittin 60b) learns that writing Torah she'Ba'al Peh is technically forbidden, and Rabbeinu ha'Kadosh only consented to committing the Mishnah to writing lest the Torah she'Ba'al Peh itself be forgotten. As such, argues Rav Hutner, Rabbeinu ha'Kadosh wished to maintain the K'dushah of the written Torah she'Ba'al Peh as relates to Chanukah, and ensured that – at least at the time of the Mishnah – its details would continue to be transmitted orally from Rebbe to Talmid.

References to Chanukah, however, do appear in several places in the Mishnah. One of these references concerns the Mitzvah of Bi'kurim, where the Mishnah (Bi'kurim 1:6) tells us that, upon seeing the first fruit ripening in his field, a person would mark them as Bi'kurim by tying a piece of a plant called “Ge'mi” around it. The Mishnah notes that this Mitzvah could only be performed until Chanukah, after which any remaining fruit would be considered inferior and not fit for the Mitzvah. Today, however, we seem to have found a new use for Ge'mi – in the form of chewing gum, from which the word is derived. While often maligned – in the Czech Republic, for example, chewing gum is called zvykacka – cud chewing – we might look at this peculiar custom as a Zay'cher (remembrance) of Ge'mi used for Bi'kurim – and then have it end after Chanukah! While such an outcome does not seem realistic, perhaps by learning some of the interesting shai'los of gum we will merit using Ge'mi for its true intended purpose!

In order to be able to deal with the Kashrus issues relating to chewing gum, one must first understand a bit of history and chemistry. Latex is a chemical term referring to a dispersion of extremely small particles of an insoluble liquid or solid material in a liquid. The natives of Central and South America had long known that the latex sap from certain trees had some particularly desirable properties, and used it to make volleyballs, to waterproof clothing – and for chewing. When the New World was discovered, Europeans adopted this material and adapted it to new and important applications. John Priestly noticed that the hardened latex could be rubbed over pencil markings to erase them - coining the name “rubber”. Charles Macintosh found that rubber could be dissolved in hexane. He used the resulting solution to waterproof clothing, creating the “Macintosh” – the first truly waterrepellent raincoat (not the co puter). Charles Goodyear overcame rubber's propensity to crack in cold weather and melt in heat by treating it with sulfur and heat, a process known as vulcanization. Now that rubber could be used to make durable products, such as tires, it became a critical material for both industrial and military purposes.

But it is the story behind rubber's application in chewing gum that is perhaps the most fascinating. The Mexican leader Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna is famous for both conquering the Alamo but then losing Texas to the United States. However, in a strange twist of fate, he may yet have taken his final revenge by getting his Yankee nemeses addicted to chewing gum! Having managed to have himself declared President and then be deposed from office four times in his career, Santa Ana spent some of the time during his last exile in New York City, looking for new ways to finance his return to political power in Mexico. In 1867, he befriended a chemist named Thomas Adams, whom he interested in the latex from the Mexican sapodilla tree as a new source of rubber. Unfortunately for Santa Anna, chicle (as this latex was known) was not a suitable substitute for the rubber derived from other sources, and Santa Anna was never able to realize a profit from the enterprise. Adams, however, did find another use for the material – as chewing gum – just as the ancient Maya had discovered 1000 years earlier! Indeed, the Maya had called the gum “tsictle”, the source of the word chicle and of the brand name Chiclets® that was one of the first products of Mr. Adam's new chewing gum company. Kashrus concerns with this new product were soon compounded, however, with the realization that he could double the pleasure of the product by adding sugar and other flavorings. Chewing gum even became a vehicle for introducing “medicine” – and a clearly non-Kosher one at that. Dr. E. E. Beeman suggested that chewing gum could be an excellent vehicle for the introduction of pepsin (an enzyme derived from the stomach of cows and pigs), and developed Beeman's Pepsin Chewing Gum for the treatment of “dyspepsia”. While the efficacy of such quack remedies may be debated, these products clearly demonstrated that chewing gum was not just for chewing any more – the ingredients added to it were intended to be swallowed and thus, as we shall see, of Halachic significance.

The importance of rubber, of course, was not confined to chewing gum. Rubber was one of the first strategic raw materials and, during World War I, Germany was forced to develop the first commercial synthetic rubber production because of the allied blockade of German maritime commerce. During World War II, however, the sneaker was on the other foot. Similarly deprived of its access to Asian rubber, the United States undertook a program – second only in scale to the Manhattan (atomic bomb) project – to develop a synthetic version of this vital raw material. Although perhaps not the “strategic” use originally envisaged, as we will see synthetic rubber finds its way into chewing gum with interesting Halachic ramifications.

Much to the delight of many consumers, Kosher gum has been around for some time. Chewing gum, and its close relative bubble gum, is made in two stages. The first involves the manufacture of the gum base. Gum base is made by mixing and heating some, or all, of the following ingredients: chicle, other types of natural rubber and synthetic rubber, waxes, plasticizers and emulsifiers. The gum base, however, is tasteless and too brittle for use as is. The second step involves mixing the gum base (about 25%) with powdered sugar and corn syrup (about 70%), and adding flavorings, glycerin and coloring. The mixture is then extruded into the final gum product. Production of gumballs also involves adding a candy shell to the gum.

Although pure “gum” may not be a food – and thus not subject to Kashrus concerns – the addition of plasticizers, emulsifiers, glycerin and flavors creates the need for a reliable Hashgacha. A plasticizer may be nothing more than a fat such as lard or tallow, and emulsifiers are often made from such non-Kosher animal fats. Glycerin is produced by splitting a fat molecule (a tri-glyceride) into its component fatty acids and glycerin and, while Kosher glycerin can be produced from vegetable fats and petroleum, much glycerin is produced from non-Kosher animal material. Flavorings may also contain a number of nonKosher ingredients, and thus require a reliable Kosher certification. Even if all of the ingredients in a Kosher gum were acceptable, the equipment on which the product is made requires a Kashering from non-Kosher productions.

The reason that such additives pose a Kosher concern is that, although the gum itself is not swallowed, the sugars, fats and flavors that are mixed into the gum migrate into the mouth and are swallowed and enjoyed as any other food. As such, one must also make a B'rachah upon chewing gum. It should be noted that these concerns apply equally to socalled “sugar-free” gums. While it might be arguable that non-nutritive sweeteners are not a “food” – and gum containing them would not require a B'rachah – virtually all “sugar-free” gums actually contain eminently nutritive sugars, albeit in a modified form. The term “sugar-free” often refers to sugar alcohols, where an OH (oxygen/hydrogen) hydroxyl radical is added to the sugar though a process called hydrogenation. For example, sorbitol is hydrogenated glucose, and although it is metabolized differently than glucose, it still contains about 2/3 of the number of calories of its parent material. Another commonly used “sugar-free” sugar is manitol, which is produced by hydrogenating fructose. Chewing gums that use such sweeteners therefore have the same Halachic status as their sugared cousins.

Kashrus concerns, however, are not limited to the flavors and other ingredients added to the gum – they may actually start with the rubber itself! A common type of synthetic rubber used in chewing is known as “BSR”, an acronym derived from the butadiene and styrene monomers from which the rubber polymer is produced. Although both of these monomers are petrochemicals (derived from petroleum) and pose no Kashrus concerns, the soapy solution in which this polymerization reaction takes place is a different story. Soap is produced from fat by reacting it with caustic soda (sodium hydroxide) in a process known as saponification – the splitting fat molecules (triglycerides) into their compon- ent fatty acids and glycerin. Since non-Kosher animal fats are routinely used for this purpose, the production of Kosher synthetic rubber requires the use of Kosher vegetable fats. [It is interesting to note that soap itself enjoys an interesting Halachic status. As many a foul-mouthed child can attest, soap has a less than pleasant taste, and is considered the quintessential Davar Pa'gum (foul-tasting material). Although foul tasting materials derived from non-Kosher sources may be permitted for incidental Kosher use in certain situations, the production of food-grade synthetic rubber involves the neutralization of the soap and its return to agreeably-tasting fatty acids (one would certainly not appreciate chewing gum that tasted like soap!). As such, it is imperative that only Kosher soap be used for this purpose.]

The Talmud (Ta'anis 21a) relates that, to every event that befell him, Reb Nachum would pronounce, “Gum Zo L'Tovah” – “This, too, is for the good”. Indeed, his trust in Hashgacha P'ratis (Divine Providence) was such that he earned the distinction of being called “"Ish Gum Zo" - "a man who believed that everything (emanated from Hashem)". In the spirit of Reb Nachum, it might therefore be appropriate to remember that the Kashrus issues relating to gum are really something you can "sink your teeth into”.

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