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Who determines the kosher status for "new" processed foods (e.g. Jell-O)? A few orthodox rabbis' approval? General consensus by the Jewish religious community? Certain kosher standards organizations? Or something else?

The reason I ask is, I've long heard that Jell-O gelatin dessert is not kosher because the gelatin within can be derived from non-kosher animals. However, the gelatin undergoes a chemical separation process that produces a new substance, muddying the waters, such that there seems to be some debate about whether it's truly treif.

Looking into the matter further, the makers of Jell-O gave this official explanation in 1998:

Is it Kosher and Pareve?

"JELL-O Brand gelatin is certified as Kosher by a recognized orthodox Rabbi as per enclosed RESPONSUM. In addition to being Kosher, Jell-O is also Pareve, and can be eaten with either a meat meal or a dairy meal."

The person asking the question then received a copy of the kosher certification given by 2 Orthodox Rabbis:

Included [in this response is a] sheet with a copy of "The Halachic Basis of our Kashruth Certification of Atlantic Gelatin and the General Foods Products containing this Gelatin" by Rabbi Yehuda Gershuni & Rabbi David Telsner. The upshot is that since the collagen has been taken apart by the chemical digestion and a new substance has been produced it meets the specifications of the Orthodox Dietary Laws and is Kosher and Pareve.

So basically, they are saying, "These 2 recognized Orthodox Rabbis, R. Gershuni and R. Telsner, certified our product is kosher and pareve. Therefore, we're putting the 'K' symbol on our product."

Is that enough to make something kosher? Who determines the kosher status of "new" foods like this?

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Consensus or organizations don't "make" a food kosher; they merely research the manufacturing process and decide whether they can vouch for the item's kashrut. It's up to the individual and/or his/her rabbi to decide whose certification to accept. –  yitznewton Dec 28 '11 at 17:15
    
Yep. Poor choice of wording on my part is all, I understand the concept. –  Judah Himango Dec 28 '11 at 19:27
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The question should probabbly be cleared up as to what "new" the questioner is asking about. New foods, like jello and Turkey, or "davar Chadash", which is a new thing created during the process of making the food. Like in Jello and Cheese making. –  avi Jan 2 '12 at 10:56

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Well, by US law, any manufacturer can put a plain K on its product. That just means "someone says it's kosher." If they put a plain K on a package of bacon, you'd have to sue them for false advertising, unless they could find someone who says bacon is kosher.

As for Jewish law, as new situations come up, rabbis who are regarded as experts on Jewish law address them, going back to prior precedent, as well as a precise conceptual understanding of the laws that can address this case (even if it hadn't been previously addressed). Sometimes there is a dispute among major experts (as has recently been the case with, say, how Jewish law views brain death).

In the case of conventional gelatin, the rulings of major authorities in the Orthodox world was that it's still not kosher. If you start with non-kosher hides (today gelatin can be made from hides; if it's only bones that's a different discussion), and the final product is edible, then the final product isn't kosher. This is the policy of the OU and similar kosher organizations.

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And OU has a panel of major authorities it consults. –  Shalom Dec 28 '11 at 16:12
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Follow-up question: what do you do with minority approval, like that of R. Gershuni and R. Telsner in the Jell-O case? –  Judah Himango Dec 28 '11 at 16:19
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@JudahGabriel, well ideally for most people, not much. If the minority approvers are your personal rabbis or the recognized authority of your town, maybe that's good enough for you (in the Talmud, Rabbi Jose the Galilean said chicken cooked in milk was kosher -- and that was the norm in Tiberias for a while, until eventually the majority opinion took over). After the fact ("oops something spilled in") or in emergency cases, well it depends how much the majority opinions think the minority is wrong. On matters of law usually a consensus appears and by, oh, a century later, that becomes final. –  Shalom Dec 28 '11 at 16:49
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Of course the individual rabbis themselves with the minority opinions are still respected individuals (so long as they don't create a giant public fuss), so long as their reasoning has some halachic basis. There is a rabbi whose kosher policies are below the standards of OU and the like; but he is a respected individual, and when he performs a religious divorce or conversion ritual (on which his procedures follow the mainstream), they're fully accepted. –  Shalom Dec 28 '11 at 17:00
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Gelatin made by bones and hoofs in Israel, is considered kosher. Israel did not have the politics of Conservative Judaism is cause them to rule differently. And also has a different culinary history. –  avi Dec 28 '11 at 19:34

The kosher status of gelatin has been a subject of discussion for many years, and the consensus of Orthodox authorities is that it is non-kosher. See this article for an excellent summary of that issue.

With regard to the general matter of "new foods," there really aren't very many products whose status has not already been dealt with in the past. In the case of a truly new innovation (e.g. genetically modified substances), there would need to be discussion and debate among the halachic experts.

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The consensus of recognized Orthodox kosher authorities seems to be the common theme between the answers here. Thanks. –  Judah Himango Dec 28 '11 at 16:23
    
"new foods" here, isn't that Jello is new, it's that Gelletin, is "new" from the animal, and not a derivitive. Since the gemorah says that skin and bones are not food to be non-kosher. –  avi Dec 28 '11 at 19:21
    
@JudahGabriel, yes, with the understanding that those authorities are not the organizations certifying the products but rather renowned rabbis who, for the most part, are also sought out for decisions regarding non-food-related questions. –  msh210 Dec 28 '11 at 19:26
    
That should read bones and hooves, not bones and skins. –  avi Dec 28 '11 at 19:34
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I don't think this is a fair representation. The consensus of North American Kashrut organizations is not to use it, but that it is primarily for consistency/chumrah reasons. Rabbis Ovadiah Yosef and Eliezer Waldenberg can more than stand their own outside of Lakewood against Rav Aharon Kotler. And your link doesn't even mention Rav Yosef's argumentation in Yabia Omer YD 8:11 –  Double AA Oct 15 '13 at 20:07

Consensus of Orthodox Kosher Authorities in America is that gelatine is not kosher. However in Israel the situation is different.

From http://www.kashrut.com/articles/DryBones/

It should be noted, however, that other authorities, notably Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank zt"l, and yb"l Rav Ovadia Yosef and Rav Eliezer Waldenberg shlit"a permit the use of regular gelatin based upon one or more of the above arguments. On the basis of these opinions, the Rabbanut in Israel does allow the use of certain types of gelatin produced from non-Kosher sources (primarily from dried bones). However, none of the Mehadrin Kosher certifications in Israel allow the use of this product, and the Rabbanut itself requires that products containing such questionable gelatin be clearly labeled as "permitted only for those who allow the use of gelatin".]

The three reasons why Gelatin would be kosher are:

Rav Chaim Ozer zt"l wrote a famous Teshuva, in which he permits gelatin based upon three considerations: (a) The hard bones from which the gelatin is produced are not considered meat, (b) because gelatin is considered a new product totally dissimilar from the original starting material (Ponim Chadashos), and (c) because gelatin is rendered inedible for a period of time during its processing (Nifsal M'Achila).

These explanations were rejected by the Major Poskim of America for many different reasons, and so in America, the consensus of Orthodox Kosher Agencies is that Gelatin is not Kosher.

As far as "new status" goes, the article states that:

Rav Yechezkel Abramsky zt"l argues that gelatin is not even a "new creation", but merely an edible extract that had always been present. As such, the concept of Ponim Chadashos does not apply according to these Poskim

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Very detailed answer. Informative to me, particularly the bit about "permitted only for those who allow the use of gelatin." Thanks! –  Judah Himango Dec 28 '11 at 19:56
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@Avi, all good points; but what I heard on an mp3 from Rabbi Dovid Miller is that standard gelatin today (at least in America) is made from scraps of flesh as well -- which significantly weakens the argument for it to be kosher (as opposed to if it was just bones and hooves). –  Shalom Dec 28 '11 at 20:29
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@Shalom Yes, in Israel the bone has to be.. pardon the pun.. bone dry. –  avi Dec 28 '11 at 20:47
    
Along @Shalom's point, according to Kraft Food's statement, the gelatin may be derived from tissue, not bone: "The production of the gelatin starts w/refinement of collagen-bearing tissues of any animal..." –  Judah Himango Dec 28 '11 at 21:32
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These quotes give short shrift to R Ovadiah Yosef's arguments, which are significantly more convincing than R Chaim Ozer's. –  Double AA Oct 15 '13 at 20:03

The answers here address the controversy surrounding gelatin. However, the question was: who determines the kosher status of "new" foods?

While the vast majority of shomrei kashrus (those who follow the laws of keeping kosher) consume turkey meat today, the kashrus status of this New World bird was a major debate.

http://www.kashrut.com/articles/turkey/

Less controversial is the North American Bison. All agree that this animal (sometimes referred to as the buffalo) has the simanim of a kosher mammal. The question is, is it a behemah or a chayah? Must we do ksiui hadam? Is the back fat considered cheilev (and therefore forbidden to eat)?

I remember hearing that, in practice, kosher bison producers are machmir both ways - they do kisui hadam, as if it were a chayah (but without a bracha), but they do not eat the back fat (which would be classified as cheilev, if it were a behemah).

http://www.kashrut.com/articles/buffalo/

The most perplexing issues arise from New World starchy vegetables. For Ashkenazim, the question becomes, which of these vegetables should be considered kitnyios on Pesach, and which should not?

Corn (maize) became kitnyios because of a linguistic error. "Corn" in old English (and other European languages) means any type of grain. European explorers found this strange yellow cobs growing, and called the stuff "Indian corn" (i.e. Indian grain). When people asked their Ashkenazi rabbis if they could eat "Indian corn" on Pesach - the answer was "of course not! We don't eat any kind of corn on Pesach!"

So the New World maize became forbidden, but the New World potato survived the same challenge.

A more recent kitynios controversy surrounds quinoa.

http://www.oukosher.org/index.php/learn/article/quinoa/

So to answer the question - why do some newly discovered foods eventually become commonplace (turkey), and others don't?

Ultimately, it comes down to community standards. Different qualified poskim will render different decisions on new foods. Then, the marketplace ultimately rules.

That is why one finds many fewer "kosher for those who eat gelatin" products in Israel today, than a few decades ago. It's not worth the kosher candy store's effort to buy two different types of gummy worms. (one with treif-based gelatin, one with kosher fish or plant-based gelatin).

In some Jewish communities, people serve quinoa salad on Pesach without a second thought. In other communities, you couldn't have any yom tov company eat at your house if you served quinoa.

To summarize, a combination of the plurality of halachic rulings, and the free market in Jewish communities, determine which new foods are acceptable, and which are not.

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I think there is a confusion here of what "new foods" means. "new food" has a specific meaning in the gelatin debate that does not apply to the Turkey debate. –  avi Jan 2 '12 at 9:03
    
For the purpose of ruling on the kashrus of any given food, "new" means any food that was not known to a Jewish community in the past. –  user1095 Jan 2 '12 at 9:32
    
"davar chadash" can make a previously unkosher item, now kosher. In gelatin, the fact that the bone is not recognizable as bone is one such example, that adds to the leniency. From the responsa quoted: "The upshot is that since the collagen has been taken apart by the chemical digestion and a new substance has been produced " –  avi Jan 2 '12 at 9:52
    
I wasn't clear if the questioner wanted to know about all foods that have shown up in Jewish communities and needed a psak din, or only on gelatin. On one hand, I now see that he wrote "The reason I ask is" and continued on about gelatin. On the other hand, why not title the question "Is Gelatin kosher?" or "Who decides when the principal of davar chadash applies?" If someone later will click on this question, looking for an answer about all "new" kosher foods, my answer will help them. –  user1095 Jan 2 '12 at 9:56
    
That's true, just saying there seems to be some confusion :) –  avi Jan 2 '12 at 10:56

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