Question: May one wash himself with soap or apply a cream that contains non-kosher ingredients? Additionally, do cosmetics require kosher certification?
The Opinion of Rabbeinu Tam
Regarding Yom Kippur when eating, drinking, and rubbing oils or lotions on one’s self are forbidden, the Tosafot in Masechet Yoma (77a) quote Rabbeinu Tam as saying that although our Sages decreed that on Yom Kippur, just as one is forbidden to drink one is likewise forbidden to rub himself with liquids or lotions, nevertheless, regarding other prohibitions, such as eating forbidden fats from either kosher or non-kosher animals, there is no prohibition to smear one’s self with these items. Although eating forbidden fats is punishable by Karet (severance of one’s soul from the Jewish nation), nevertheless, since it is permissible to benefit from these fats, it is likewise permissible to smear one’s self with them. Only on Yom Kippur is smearing one’s self forbidden just like drinking.
The Opinion of the Rashba and the Orchot Chaim
Some Rishonim are more stringent and rule that only washing and smearing one’s self for medical purposes is permissible when the item being used consists of forbidden ingredients. However, washing or smearing one’s self for purposes of enjoyment (such as using soaps or creams which contain animal-derivatives) with things prohibited for consumption is forbidden similar to smearing one’s self on Yom Kippur. Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l discusses this topic lengthily and quotes this disagreement among the Poskim where some rule that smearing one’s self with forbidden items, such as forbidden animal fats, is always permissible while others rule that one should not act leniently regarding this matter.
Maran zt”l’s Opinion Regarding an Inedible Forbidden Products
Nevertheless, with regards to soaps and creams made with forbidden animal fats and other derivatives from non-kosher animals, Maran zt”l writes (in his Responsa Yechave Da’at, Volume 4, Chapter 43) that since the flavor of such products are completely putrid and they are inedible, they are permissible for use according to all opinions. (This is derived from the Gemara in Masechet Avodah Zara 68a which states that any forbidden item which is completely inedible is no longer included in that prohibition.)
The Words and Explanation of the Rambam’s Ruling
The Rambam rules likewise (in Chapter 14 of Hilchot Ma’achalot Assurot): “If one eats a forbidden food after it has become putrid and rotten and is no longer considered food, one is exempt.”
Indeed, some Acharonim deduce from the words of the Rambam who states that if one eats a forbidden food after it has become putrid “one is exempt,” meaning that one is exempt from punishment according to Torah law but a rabbinic prohibition to do so still exists. This is similar to what we have learned in the laws of Pesach that even if one completely burns a piece of bread to a crisp such that it is even inedible by a dog, there is still a rabbinic prohibition to eat it.
Nevertheless, Maran zt”l writes that there is room for leniency with regards to smearing one’s self with creams and soaps which contain forbidden ingredients since according to Rabbeinu Tam, one may smear himself even with actual, edible forbidden fats. Regarding a product which is completely inedible, even those who disagree with Rabbeinu Tam will agree that there is room for leniency.
Thus, halachically speaking, one may wash himself with soap or smear himself with cream even if these items bear no kosher certification and even if one is certain that these products contain animal derivatives which are forbidden to be eaten. However, regarding smearing one’s self with forbidden fats or other forbidden foods which are still somewhat edible, one should not act leniently unless this is being done for medical purposes or in places of suffering or pain.