A Teshuvah Concerning Coca Cola from Karnei Hahod, 1935
From Lev Tuviah On the Life and Work of Rabbi Tobias Geffen
Rabbi Tobias Geffen Memorial Fund, Newton Mass. 1988
"In the year 5695 (1935) an inquiry was addressed to me concerning the well-known soft drink Coca Cola,
which is manufactured in the city of Atlanta, Georgia. Is it kosher for drinking during the entire year and on
Passover? After thorough inquiry and investigation at the factory, it became apparent to me that this drink
was made from a variety of plant syrups a secret formula known only to certain officials of the company.
Moreover, this drink contained in its composition several other types of liquids, one of which I am
designating as "Moris" and the other as "Anigron" .The 'M' is a liquid product made from meat and fat
tallow of non kosher animals: it is an item which Jews are forbidden to eat and drink. Certain employees of
the Coca Cola company estimated that the percentage of the ‘M' ingredient in the drink was of a very
minute proportion in the ratio of 1 to 1000. I validated this assertion by submitting a random sample of
Coca Cola to the chief chemist of the state of Georgia for a thorough chemical examination. His analysis
confirmed the fact that the percentage of 'M' in the mixture was indeed 1 to 1000.

At first glance, because of this amount, there appears to be no question whatsoever, and
obviously it is permissible to drink Coca Cola. This is so because of the principle of batul
beshishim: a heterogeneous mixture of ritually forbidden and permitted elements is sanctioned for
use when the ratio is one to sixty even more so when it is 1 to 1000, as in the case of the in Coca
Cola. In actuality this matter is not as clear-cut as would appear. Additionally in regard to its use
on Passover, there is also apprehension because the mixture includes the ingredient M a liquid
made from grain kernels, establishing it as completely leavened or chametz. Even though the M
is only a minute part of the mixture, it renders Coca Cola chametz for the law states that any
leaven in a Passover mixture causes it to become unsuitable for use on the holiday. Therefore,
one cannot drink Coca Cola on Passover because of its ingredients. Whether to permit the drink's
use for the remainder of the year is also questionable, in spite of the fact that the ratio of the
forbidden ‘M' is only 1 to 1000. In relation to this matter, I noted a Teshuvah by the Rashba
utilized by the Bet Yosef on the Tur, Yoreh De'ah, at the conclusion of Chapter 134. The
Teshuvah begins with the words "berof Im sheamarti" and states: I observed an impropriety in
that, Jewish people who were ill were given medicinal drinks made by non Jews from their
vinegar mixed with honey or millet. I did not know the source on which they relied to sanction this
practice. If it be argued that Such a course of' action is allowed because of the principle of' Batul
Bshishim, which is applicable here since a minute amount of vinegar which is forbidden was
mixed with the honey and thus loses its identity, this would not be correct. The principle of' batul
beshishim cannot apply in this case because the vinegar is one of the initial and essential
ingredients in the mixture. This conclusion is the same as was stated in the case of' arbah minei
medinah. There, a chametz ingredient of minute quantity was inserted in each of the four liquid mixtures,
but the mixtures remained chametz because the problematic element was inserted
initially in the making of the liquids. A similar conclusion was reached in the case of the mixing of
minute quantities of yayin nesech with a permitted wine. This principle of batul beshishim not
being applicable was illustrated further by another example in which non-Jewish wine was
inserted into pickling brine, and even though there was no noticeable wine or vinegar taste, it was
forbidden to eat the products of this mixture. Therefore, this general rule may be stated: it is
prohibited to use all products which are normally made by including in their composition a ritually
forbidden ingredient, even though one might think that the end products would be permissible
because of the minuteness of the forbidden elements in their makeup. Furthermore, by this
principle, even if a Jew initially mixed the prohibited ingredient its presence would not be nullified
in the resulting mixture. This situation is analogous to the processing of non-Jewish cheese,
wherein milk is placed in the animal's stomach to sour and become cheese. Though the taste of
the meat cannot be detected (a mixture of meat and milk is usually forbidden when a taste of'
meat is present), eating of the cheese in this situation is not allowed. This is the opinion of R.
Abraham b. David, and in regard to these matters, his explanation of the difference in the
reasoning is correct. On the other hand, when the mixing was accidental, fortuitous, or
unpremeditated, we are not severe in enforcing the law prohibiting its use unless there exists a
noticeable taste of the forbidden ingredient. Even if it is certain that non Jewish wine has been
mixed accidentally, by a Jew or by a non Jew, with normally permitted wine, the forbidden wine's
presence is negated because of the principle of batul be'rovah. However, in any case where the
mixture is made with distinct purpose, the resulting mixture is prohibited, and the forbidden
ingredient is not nullified by vi rtue of its minuteness. The cases of the pickling brine and the
cheese may be recalled as good examples of this rule. Now, according to the opinions of the
Rashba and R. Abraham b. David, it is manifest that all Jews are forbidden to drink Coca Cola
since the insertion of the forbidden ingredient is not fortuitous. On the contrary, it is normal
procedure to check the proportions in the drink, and this is done by company employees who add
the forbidden M every day to maintain the proper ratio. Its addition is never unpremeditated, and
under such circumstances, the M can never lose its identity. And I saw in the book Arze Levanah
the Gaon R. Judah Leib Tzirelson, on Yoreh Deah, section 43, a reference to Sidei' Chemed (a
collection of laws concerning fasts section 9) who quoted the Responsa of Simeon Ben Zemach
Duran" the Nodeh beYehudah ) (Responsa, second edition, sections 657): I know of a non Jew
who regularly inserts a forbidden ingredient into a mixture because this is his profession. The
products of his labors are forbidden for use since the ingredient is added initially and is needed
for the mixture. This opinion accords with the Rashba and R. Abraham b. David. According to
these recognized legalists, there is no basis for sanctioning the drinking of Coca Cola. This
seems to be the case even though, in the Responsa in the Nodeh beYehudah (2nd edition, 7)6
and 7), the author cites the opinions of other early legalists who disagree with the opinions of
Rashba and R. Abraham b. David and who do not concur with their viewpoint. But, who is able to
tip the scales against such giants of learning and knowledge and to set aside the opinions of the
Rashba, R. Abraham b. David, and the Tashbetz' In view of the foregoing, it is not only very
difficult to sanction the drinking of Coca Cola throughout the year., but it is even more difficult to
do so for Passover. This problem arises because in its processing the employees insert and mix
the ingredient A which is made from chametz since any, amount of chametz in a mixture prohibits
its use on Passover, it is expressly forbidden to drink Coca Cola on this holiday. Because
CocaCola has already been accepted by the general public in this country and in Canada, and
because it has become an insurmountable problem to induce the great majority of Jews to refrain
from partaking of this drink. I have tried earnestly to find a method of permitting its usage. With
the help of God, I have been able to uncover a pragmatic solution according to which there would
be no question nor any doubt concerning the ingredients of Coca Cola. This solution came to my
mind when it was revealed to me by some of the expert chemists that the 'M' could also be
prepared from plant oil such as that made from coconut, cottonseed oil, and other plants.
Obviously, 'M' made from any of these plants is kosher to drink. If one utilizes the mixture 'M'
made from plants, Coca Cola is absolutely permissible since it does not contain prohibited
elements of any sort. Now, in regard to the prohibition of its use on Passover because of the
question of chametz, I discovered that it is possible to prepare A not from grain kernels, but
instead from sugar beets or sugar cane. With'. A: made in this way, there is no apprehension
whatsoever concerning the possibility of the inclusion of chametz, in Coca Cola even in the
minutest quantity. Acting on my advice at that time, the officials of the factory began to use only
'M' prepared from cottonseed oil. Likewise, during the Passover season, they utilized A made
from sugar cane. It is now possible for the most stringent Halachist to enjoy Coca Cola
throughout the year and on Passover. I thank God for the opportunity that He has given me,
making it possible to protect the general Jewish public from eating a mixture composed of tallow,
a sin punishable by excommunication, and from of eating chametz on Passover. This matter is
firmly established, and it has become possible for those who have been eating that which is
forbidden to eat that which is permitted."