Is the Tide Pod Challenge Kosher? (VIDEO)

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In January 2018, media publications started reporting about teenagers participating in the Tide Pod Challenge.The challenge is an Internet challenge in which an individual consumes Tide Pods.Teenagers were the reported demographic participating in the challenge; they would record themselves chewing and gagging on pods and then daring others to do the same. Some teens cooked the pods prior to eating them.

In response to this, a spokesperson from Procter & Gamble was quoted in Buzzfeed News, emphasizing the purpose of their pods and the health risks associated with children: “Nothing is more important to us than the safety of the people who use our products. Our laundry pacs are a highly concentrated detergent meant to clean clothes and they’re used safely in millions of households every day.  Tide further stated, “They [pods] should not be played with, whatever the circumstance is, even if it is meant as a joke.” Tide would later partner with New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, having him issue the message: “What the heck is going on, people? Use Tide Pods for washing. Not eating. Do not eat

In light of teens eating Tide Pods, Chabad Rabbi Yehuda Shiprin, advises us on the Tide Pods Challenge kosher status.

Question

Rabbi, I don’t know if you heard about this, but there is a recent trend of eating Tide pods (no, I’m not kidding—the colorful detergent packets used in washing machines). I don’t think I would ever do it, but if I did, do those pods needs to be certified kosherfor consumption?

Reply

You do not really need a rabbi to advise you against eating Tide pods. They are not food and probably very dangerous. Period. Nevertheless, this is an excellent opportunity to clear up a few misconceptions about kosher and kosher certifications.

Kosher Poison

One common misconception is that if something is kosher, then it must be healthy to eat.

When something is certified as “kosher,” it is being certified that there are no ingredients that violate Jewish dietary laws. This includes, but by no means is limited to, making sure that non-kosher animal byproducts are not found in items, as well as no mixing of meat and dairy.

At times, the strict controls set up by some kashrut organizations can have an added benefit of producing a healthier product, though this is not always the case. To illustrate, hemlock—one of the deadliest and most infamous of poisons (think Plato and Socrates)—comes from a plant and is completely natural, and therefore is technically “kosher.”

Of course, one of the commandments in the Torah is to be careful with our health,1 so one shouldn’t eat anything that is harmful to them. Yet what is harmful for one person may be fine, or even healthy, for another. Therefore, the question of health is left to doctors (who themselves are not always in agreement), and the question of kosher is left to rabbis.

In short, just like hemlock may be kosher but no one in their right mind would advise consuming it, the same can be said for other dangerous items (including, of course, laundry detergent).

Having established that just because something is “kosher” and even “kosher certified” does not mean it is healthy to eat, we can turn to the question of kosher certification on detergents and similar items.

Kosher Soaps and Detergent

Soaps and detergents sometimes contain non-kosher ingredients like animal byproducts (for example, the main ingredient in many cleaners is surfactant, which can be derived from animal fat). As such, there is certainly a possibility that a cleaner product contains non-kosher ingredients.

However, since most soaps and detergents are considered inedible2 (despite the Internet trend, people eating them does not redefine them as “edible” for the rest of us), even if they do come in contact with food, they still don’t render the food unkosher. Strictly speaking, no kashrut certification is required on soaps and detergents.3

At the same time, many advise that if possible, one should be strict with soaps and cleaning products used with items that come into contact with food.4 Additionally, some maintain that items smeared on a person’s skin need to be kosher. While the final halacha does not follow these opinions, some have the custom to be strict when possible.5 As such, some kashrut organizations do indeed certify soaps and detergents as kosher.

Catch-22: Deliberately Eating Non-Kosher Inedible Items

In our case, however—where one is deliberately eating an inedible item—comes a “catch-22.” Although an inedible item is generally not considered food, according to many the moment one deliberately eats the inedible item, that act itself signals that for this person the item is (rabbinically) considered a “food item,” which would need to be kosher.6 (The one caveat is if the inedible non-kosher item is in a mixture of several ingredients, and a substantial part of the inedible product is kosher, one would be permitted to eat it7). So even if you are foolish enough to ignore the FDA, for heaven’s sake, at the very least make sure it’s kosher!

That said, as far as Internet dares go, I suggest challenging people to something much more revolutionary, like eating only kosher food, giving charity or otherwise making the world a better place.

FOOTNOTES
1. Deuteronomy 4:15; Talmud, Shabbat 32a.
2. Note: This article is about kosher year-round. With regards to Passover, the bar is higher. Not only does it need to be inedible for humans, it needs to be inedible for dogs as well (See Shulchan Aruch Orech Chaim 442:9 and Magen Avraham 14 ad loc). Furthermore, there are some who are of the opinion that even year-round, an inedible item remains rabbinically forbidden until it is inedible for dogs as well as humans (See Minchat Kohen 1:89; Pri Toar 103; Shaagat Aryeh 75). Nevertheless, with regards to the issue at hand, this would seem to be a moot point since dogs do not eat detergent.
3. See Talmud Avodah Zarah 67b-68a.
4. Another concern is that it is possible that the soap (or part of it) is not actually “inedible,” even if it has a somewhat bad taste.
5. See Shach, Nekudas Hakesef, Yoreh Deiah 117:4; Biur Halacha, Orech Chaim 326 s.v. bshar cheilev; Responsum Yechaveh Daat 4:43.
6. See Shulchan Aruch Harav, Orech Chaim 442:32; Tzemach Tzedek, Piskei Dinim Yoreh Deiah 103:1 quoting the Rashbah.
7. See Tzemach Tzedek, Piskei Dinim Yoreh Deiah 103:1. If the majority of the mixture is kosher, then the kosher part need not be entirely “inedible.” It only needs to become slightly defective for it to be permitted to eat the entire product.

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