Some may know of the latest food craze, hot cocoa bombs. There is something people find comforting about dropping these bombs in hot milk, watching them “explode,” thereby releasing their hot cocoa mix and marshmallows. This experience is memorialized by posting the whole process on social media.
Recently, my wife, who is one of the local manufacturers of these bombs, ran into an issue: two of the local supermarkets ran out of mini marshmallows. My wife’s operation is exclusively kosher and under hashgachah. However, there are other businesses that are not. May those businesses use non-kosher marshmallows, which are produced from non-kosher animal bones, and sell their product exclusively to gentiles? Furthermore, what does this have to do with Chanukah and the daf (and, tangentially, Asarah B’Teves)?
The Gemara (Pesachim 23a) quoting a Mishnah in Shvi’is states: If hunters of undomesticated animals, birds, and fish happen to catch non-kosher species that they did not intend to trap, it is permitted for them to sell them to gentiles. However, they may not intentionally trap non-kosher species and become involved in the commerce of these creatures.
Tosfos points out that this is at odds with a Gemara in Bava Kama (82b). Although during Chanukah we prefer to focus on the positive attributes of the Chashmonaim, the Gemara records what ended up becoming of their dynasty.
The members of the house of the Hasmonean monarchy were at war with each other. Hyrcanus, one of the parties to this war, was inside the besieged Jerusalem, while his brother Aristobulus, the other contender to the throne, was on the outside. Every day the people inside would lower money in a box to purchase sheep to sacrifice. Those on the other side would take the money and send up sheep to them over the wall for the daily offerings. There was a certain elder who said to those besieging Jerusalem: As long as they occupy themselves with the Temple service, they will not be delivered into your hands. The next day they lowered down money in a box as usual, but this time they sent up a pig. When the pig reached the midpoint of the wall, it stuck its hooves in. Thereupon, Eretz Yisrael quaked over an area of 400 parsaos by 400 parsaos. At that time the Sages said: Cursed be the man who raises pigs.
This civil war between Aristobulus and Hyrcanus set in motion the events that eventually led to the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash.
The Gemara in Pesachim implies that one should not be involved in raising any non-kosher animals for sale, while the Gemara in Bava Kama indicates that one is only forbidden to raise pigs. Tosfos offers three answers to this contradiction. The first is that it is forbidden to raise any non-kosher animals; however, there is a special curse for someone who raises pigs. The second answer is that it is biblically forbidden to raise all non-kosher animals that are sold for consumption. The sages cursed one who raises pigs even if they are not intended for food. The third answer is that our Gemara permits someone who happens to come into possession of non-kosher animals to raise them and sell them. However, if someone won a raffle and the prize was a pig farm, he would not be allowed to raise the swine. He would be forced to sell the operation as soon as possible.
It seems from all the answers of Tosfos that it is forbidden biblically to sell non-kosher animal products. However, there is an intriguing Gilyon Tosfos. As explained by the Pnei Yehoshua, the prohibition against selling non-kosher animal products is only rabbinic. At the time of Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, this decree wasn’t in effect yet. The rabbis initially forbade a Jew to be involved in the commerce of pigs and later they extended the prohibition to include all non-kosher animals. The reason for the decree is that someone may inadvertently consume non-kosher while he is engaged in commerce of non-kosher products.
While it is accepted halachah that non-kosher marshmallows are forbidden for consumption, there are opinions that according to the letter of the law they are technically kosher. This may depend on the way the gelatin component of the marshmallows is manufactured. Further, even if the gelatin would be definitely non-kosher, perhaps the non-kosher ingredients may be nullified according to Torah law. Perhaps, therefore, one may be able to find a leniency to sell non-kosher marshmallows, since there is room to doubt whether they are technically not kosher. Even if the marshmallows are non-kosher, they may be only rabbinically forbidden and the entire prohibition against selling non-kosher may be rabbinical. Perhaps, in a case of doubt one may be lenient to sell non-kosher marshmallows to a gentile.
Rav Moshe Sternbuch (Teshuvos V’Hanhagos 2:392) was asked by a ba’al teshuvah whether he must leave his company that trades in non-kosher animals, in which he is a primary shareholder. Rav Sternbuch answered that it is best to follow the opinion of those who forbid trading in non-kosher animals even in a partnership with a non-Jew. He says, however, that if one is already significantly invested in a partnership, he may rely on the lenient opinion that one may be involved in a partnership with a gentile in the sale of non-kosher, especially when the company is called by the name of the non-Jewish partner and not by the name of the Jew. The Jew may maintain his involvement in the business only on condition that he is not present at all in the store, and he is not involved at the consumer level (wholesale or retail) of buying and selling, but only in the upper administrative and executive levels. He concludes that a Jew should make an effort to leave the business of trading non-kosher animals in any case. (The text of this opinion of Rav Sternbuch is based upon the writings of Kollel Iyun HaDaf of Yerushalayim.) It would seem from his strict psak that he would not permit the selling of non-kosher marshmallows to gentiles using the above leniencies.
The Ksav Sofer (Y.D. 74) had a student who was thoroughly dismayed when he went to visit his father-in-law. His father-in-law owned an inn and frequently served meat that was definitely non-kosher to his gentile guests. The Ksav Sofer wrote to his student that he doesn’t need to protest his father-in-law’s actions because there are some opinions to rely on. Perhaps his lenient approach would be the basis for using non-kosher marshmallows to sell to gentiles. If this theoretical question has practical relevance, one should seek guidance from his or her posek or rav.
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow is a rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. In addition, Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.