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בס"ד

כאשר תעשנה הדבורים

by
Rabbi Zushe Yosef Blech

Of the innumerable creatures that inhabit the world, insects serve as prominent examples of many aspects of Halacha and Hashkafa. The classic example given in the גמרא of compounded  לאווין is reflected in מס' מכות (ט"ז ע"ב) אמר אביי אכל פוטיתא לוקה ארבע וכו' , while at the same time, the lowly ant is given as the paradigm for industriousness and wisdom - לך אל נמלה עצל ראה דרכיה וחכם) משלי ו' ו'( .  Food ingredients derived from insects range from shellac (resinous glaze) to cochineal - but perhaps the most famous is bee honey. Although the bee is not a Kosher species, the  גמרא בכורות ז' ע"ב states unequivocally that bee honey is Kosher.  Honey, however, is not the only food ingredient produced by the bee, and the Halachic status of these items will be the עם הדברים   (עי' מס' חולין נ"ז ע"ב)  of this article.

Bees produce five distinct items that are used as food ingredients.  Honey is a sweet, viscous liquid produced by bees (and certain other insects see below).  Bees collect sugary fluids, called nectar, from flowers, which they process in a cavity within their body called a honey sac.  The sugar in the nectar is primarily sucrose, which is inverted into glucose and fructose using enzymes secreted by the bee.  The bee also concentrates this liquid by removing some of the water from the inverted nectar, and the resulting honey is stored as food for the bee colony.  Honey has been used as a food for thousands of years, and until the advent of sugar refining, it was the most common food sweetener.   Another product manufactured by bees is beeswax, secreted by the bee from special wax glands, which it uses to construct the chambers of the hive. Beeswax has found a use as a polish for candies, fruits and nuts, and beeswax extract is used as a flavor. Another set of glands, called pharyngeal glands, produces a special food used to nourish newly hatched larvae as well as the queen bee.  This material, rich in certain proteins and vitamins, is called royal jelly or bee milk, and various claims have been made as to its healthfulness as a nutritional supplement.   While any possible health benefits from eating royal jelly are, as of yet, merely conjecture, this material has lately enjoyed a popularity among certain health food experts. Bees also produce a food called bee bread by compacting pollen together with royal jelly, which is also used by some health food experts. Another product is called propolis.   This natural "putty" is composed of pollen and resin collected by the bees, which are mixed with the bees' saliva and wax.  It is used to coat the inside of the hive and seal fissures and cracks in the hive. It also has natural bacterial and antifungal qualities, and is placed at the entrance of the hive to disinfect bees entering it and protect the health of the hive.  Discussion of propolis goes back to Pliny, the Roman naturalist.  It has been claimed to cure everything from the common cold and sore throats to stomach ulcers. Given the practical applications of these five items as food ingredients, their Kosher status must be determined.

Despite the fact that honey derives from a non-Kosher insect, there is no question but that bee honey is מותר.  There is, however, a מחלוקת as to the reason for this status.   According to one opinion quoted in the גמרא in בכורות , based upon a  משנהinמס' מכשירין , honey is permitted because it is not excreted from the insect itself but is merely reprocessed nectar and not an actual excretion of the insect -מפני שמכניסות אותו לגופן ואינן ממצות אותו מגופן.    A second opinion, quoted in the name of ר' יעקב, holds that the היתר for honey is based upon aגזירת הכתוב  that not everything coming from a  שרץis אסור .   The גמרא notes that the difference between these twoשיטות  is reflected in the Halachic status of honey derived from other insects, which theגמרא  notes can be derived from insects known as  גיזין and צירעין. [The exact translation of these species is not clear.  However, one source may be the "honey ant", which stores honeydew (itself a byproduct of the digestion of sap by various aphids and other insects) and converts it into a sweet syrup.]   According to the משנה in מכשירין  such honey is subject to the same היתר , since it is merely reprocessed nectar.   According to ר' יעקב , however, only regular honey is included in theגזירת הכתוב להתיר , since it has no שם לווי  (associated name).  Bees' honey is referred to simply as "honey", whereas similar products from other insects are referred to as "wasp honey", etc.  The רמב"ם פ"ג מהל' מאכלות אסורות ה"ג  and רבינו תם rule that דבש גיזין (וצרעין)  is permitted, whereas the רא"ש  and the רמב"ן  rule that it is prohibited.  The מחבר יו"ד סי' פ"א סע' ט' first quotes the opinion of the רמב"ם  to permit דבש גיזעין וצירעין , and then states ויש מי שאוסר .  However, since this is a  ספק איסור דאורייתא the consensus of the  פוסקים is to beמחמיר  (עי' בפרי חדש שם ס"ק כ"ח ).

The Halachic status of royal jelly, however, has only recently been dealt with by the פוסקים.  The  שו"ת ציץ אליעזר in חלק י"א סי' נ"ט  discusses this issue at length, and permits its use as a medicine based upon a number of considerations.  First, the ציץ אליעזר  establishes that royal jelly is certainly included in the גזירת הכתוב  of honey.  The disability of שם לווי  that the גמרא attributes to דבש צירעין is based upon the fact that this type of honey bears the name of the שרץ and not because it is not called simple honey (עי' ברבנו גרשום בבכורות שם, ספר הישר לר"ת, ושאר ראיותיו).   Royal jelly, on the other hand, is not referred to as such, and is included in the גזה"כ  of honey.  The ציץ אליעזר  further notes that even according to the רמב"ם  who holds thatדבש גיזין  is מותר הואיל ואין מתמצה מגופן , there are several reasons to permit the use of royal jelly.  First, it is not clear that royal jelly is Halachically significantly different from honey.  Despite the fact that honey contains enzymes and other chemicals that are secreted by the bee, it is nonetheless considered to be in the category of אינה מתמצה מגופן .   The ציץ אליעזר quotes theפרי תואר בסי' פ"א סק"א  as follows: אין הדעת מסכמת לזה דהעשב והטל מעצמם דבש נינהו דא"כ בא ונסחוט העשב עצמו שממנו רועה הדבורה ועושה הדבש ונחזי אי מצינא לאפוקי מכל העשבים טי' דבש, אלא ודאי דמאמצעות גוף הדבורה מתהוה הדבש מהעשב עכ"ל).  In essence this approach assumes that secretions of insects, even though they contain material produced by the insect, are not consideredמיצוי בשר , an approach that would similarly apply to royal jelly (see below concerning Rav Moshe Feinstein's זצ"ל approach to a similar (ענין.  Second,  the use of such a material may be permitted for medicinal purposes (עיי"ש טעמים שונים ).  In addition, royal jelly has an unpleasant, putrid taste (sour and bitter), and as such would be consideredמותר ע"י תערובות  or perhaps evenמותר בעצמו .   In summary, the ציץ אליעזר  permits the use of royal jelly for medical purposes even where the person is not considered a trueחולה . [ועי' בתשובה הנ"ל דהאריך בראייות ובירורים ויותר ממה שכתבתי פה כתוב שם.]

Another authority who has dealt with this issue isיבל"ח  Rav Isser Yehuda Untermann זצ"ל , in  שו"ת שבט מיהודה (שער חמישי עמ' שד"מ (.  Rav Untermann notes a seeming discrepancy in the שיטה of ר' יעקב  between the גמרא בכורות  quoted above and theתוספתא (בכורות פרק א (.  The גמרא states that דבש גיזין וצירעין  is prohibited due to its having a שם לווי , whereas the תוספתא states that the reason is that it is a  ריר (an exudation).  Rav Untermann further notes thatרש"י בכורות שם ד"ה דבש בכוורתו  makes a statement a seemingly unnecessary statement that "אין כוורת אלא לדבורים" .  He further notes the רש"י שם ד"ה אלא שרץ עוף טמא בא"ד אבל אתה אוכל מה שעוף טמא משריץ שאינו ולד דוגמתו , which sheds further light as to the nature of גזה"כ  that permits honey.  Rav Untermann therefore argues that the גזה"כ  permitting honey relates to those products of the insect which are classified as a שריצה, as opposed to mere secretions.  He defines  שריצה as something created by the insect that is retained.  For example, the larvae are called a  שריצהsince they are intended to remain in the hive, although clearly not included in the היתר. Honey is similarly classified as aשריצה - hence the emphasis רש"י  places on the fact that אין כוורת אלא לדבורים .  This is contradistinction to a ריר, a mere exudation of other insects that do not have a hive, where the liquid is not designed for storage and there not classified as a שריצה . Rav Untermann argues that the intention of the גמרא  to consider דבש גיזין וצירעין  as having a שם לווי  is precisely this point - they are not considered "honey - שריצה " that is the specific  גזה"כ that a applies to honey.  Rav Untermann continues that even according to the שיטת הרמב"ם there would be other reasons to permit royal jelly (due to its bitterness, etc.), especially where it is mixed with other ingredients.  Rav Untermann concludes his opinion by stating that there are many reasons to permit the use of this material even for a healthy person and certainly for one who is ill (even if his life is not in danger) where needed, and there is therefore no reason to question its use whatsoever.

Additional support for permitting royal jelly may also be derived from תשובות אגרות משה יו"ד ח"ב סי' כ"ד  in his discussion of the permissibility of shellac (also known as lac resin or resinous glaze).   In this תשובה,  הגרמ"פ advances several reasons to be permit the use of shellac.  He states that according to רב יעקב, the גזה"כ  that permits the use of honey extends to all secretions of insects.  The only reason that דבש גיזעין וצירעין is prohibited is due to the מיעוט of theפסוק , which is limited to secretions that have a שם לווי .  He therefore reasons that the concept of שם לווי  applies only in situations where there are indeed two types of material (i.e. honey), one known as the סתם  version and one that bears the name of the שרץ.  In the case of shellac, however, since only one version exists and does not bear the appellation of theשרץ , it would be permitted.  It would seem, therefore, that the same rationale can be used to permit royal jelly, since it does not have aשם לווי .  [ הגרמ"פdoes note, however, that this סברא would not allow for a היתר  for shellac according to the מהרש"ל , who understands theגזה"כ  to apply to bees exclusively.] 

הגרמ"פ also points out that according to the שיטה of the רמב"ם , who holds that the היתר of honey is based upon the fact that it is אינה מתמצה מגופו and not because of a גזה"כ , shellac would definitely be permitted. He states categorically that according to the רמב"ם who holds דבש צרעין is מותר , other similar secretions from insects - such as shellac - are equally permissible. Even though shellac is a glandular secretion of the lac insect, הגרמ"פ must hold that the concept of אין ממצות מגופן can be applied even to such secretions. Indeed, we find a similar יסוד in the לבוש (עט"ז) סי' פ"א ס"ח , who states that beeswax is פסולת של אותה יניקה (ר"ל של מאכל הדבורים שממנו נעשה דבש) . While beeswax is clearly a glandular secretion, the לבוש nevertheless considers it אינו מתמצה מגופו . As such, royal jelly should similarly be considered as אינו מתמצה מגופו and included in the היתר of דבש צרעין even according to those שיטות that hold that there is no specific גזירת הכתוב to permit honey. [This approach may also be used to explain why honey is considered אינה מתמצה מגופו according to the argument of the פרי תואר quoted by the שו"ת ציץ אליעזר , see above.]

A further point noted in the תשובה is that shellac would be considered an איסור יוצא that is נסרח , and therefore מותר even if it is הוחזר לשבח .  [This is in contradistinction to an איסור מעצמו שנסרח that would remain אסור if it were הוחזר לשבח .]   In the case of royal jelly, the material is very bitter, and it can be argued that it is also in the category of an איסור יוצא שנסרח .   Even if this were not the case, however, it would still be permitted due to the fact that royal jelly is always mixed with other materials to make it more palatable and would therefore be בטל ברוב , which is another of the reasons upon which Rav Moshe relies to permit shellac.

An additional proof to the permissibility of royal jelly could be based upon the mere fact that it is found in the hive itself.  Although we find ראשונים who deal with the problem of (non-Kosher) insect pieces found in honey, no similar mention is made of royal jelly "contaminating" the honey. Royal jelly is produced and stored in the hive, and were it considered a מאכל איסור it would certainly have been the subject of such a discussion.

On the other hand, a number of authorities have questioned the permissibility of royal jelly.  הרב שלמה זלמן אוורבאך זצ"ל , in a letter to יב"ל הרב אליעזר יהודה וולדינברג שליט"א (published in שו"ת ציץ אליעזר חלק י"ב סימן י"ד , is reluctant to permit its use.  רב שלמה זלמן questions whether we are sufficiently בקיאים in what constitutes נפסל מאכילה , and therefore writes that although he had previously permitted it use, he is now more reticent, וז"ל ולכן מאז איני אומר בזה לא איסור ולא היתר עכ"ל .  However, it would seem that the position of דיין חנוך דוב פאדדוא in his שו"ת חשב האפוד סי' ק"ד poses the most cogent argument in this regard.  He posits that if royal jelly is indeed מתמצה מגופו , then it would technically be prohibited according to all שיטות (דס"ל דאם מתמצה מגופו יאסר לשי' הרמב"ם, ואף לפי ר' יעקב דס"ל התירו משום גזה"כ הרי לר' יעקב בעינן ג"כ שיהא אינו מתמצה מגופו.  [ועי' במחזיק ברכה להחיד"א יו"ד סי' פ"א דחולק על ההנחה הזאת דס"ל דלר' יעקב הוי מותר אף ללא טעם שאינו מתמצה מגופו, וכן נראה פשוט מלשון רש"י בכורות דף ח' ע"ב ד"ה שרץ העוף טמא דלר' יעקב אינו אסור משום היוצא מן הטמא טמא אלא ולד דוגמתו עיי"ש ]).  However, Dayan Padua still permits its use for two reasons.  First, he argues that it is a פירשא בעלמא and therefore מותר לכתחילה , and second that since it is bitter it is certainly בטל ברוב .  As such, he concludes his תשובה with the following aphorism וז"ל היוצא מזה שיש כמה צדדים להתיר הג'לה הזה, הן מצד עצמו הן מצד שהוא בתערובת, ומי שיחמיר בזה במקום שיש צורך אינו אלא מן המתמיהין עכ"ל.

As noted above, beeswax is also a glandular secretion and, although not generally eaten as a food it is permitted. This can be deduced for several reasons. First, the לבוש quoted above states clearly that beeswax has the same Halachic status as honey.  In addition, honey is considered one of the שבעה משקים , and the relationship between honey and the wax comb would create a quintessential problem of כבוש were the wax to be אסור .  Further, the רמב"ם in the פירוש המשניות explains the משנה in עוקצין פ"ג מי"א to mean that the entire honey comb was routinely melted to remove the honey.  Were the wax not to be considered מותר , it should pose the same concern as that noted by the פוסקים regarding (non-Kosher) bee parts that are heated together with honey [see below]. A further proof can be brought from the נרות used for חנוכה . הגר"ש קלוגר holds that one should not use candles made of pork fat, sinceלא הותרה למלאכת שמים אלא של בהמה טהורה בלבד .  Nevertheless, the רמ"א בסי' תרע"ג states that the custom is to use candles of שעווה .  It is therefore obvious that שעווה is considered a permitted product.

Bee bread is nothing more than pollen held together with royal jelly, and should therefore be subject to the same considerations as royal jelly. Propolis would seem to be the quintessential אינו מתמצה מגופו , and should pose no Kashrus concern.

Another fascinating concept in הלכה is based upon a discussion of another aspect of honey production.  Parts of bees, which are not permitted, are routinely found in raw honey before it is purified.  Such honey is routinely heated to remove these impurities, giving rise to concerns of contamination of the honey itself.  The טור  and the 'מחבר יו"ד סי' פ"א סעי' ח quote the ( סמ"ג (סו"ס קל"ב to the effect that such pieces of insect are considered to be נותן טעם לפגם and are therefore of no consequence.  The בית יוסף also quotes  (שיטת ר"ת   (תוס' מס' ע"ז ס"א ע"א ד"ה ההוא , who holds that נוט"ל would not resolve the concern, since all insects are פגומים and yet are still considered איסור .  Rather, he considers bee legs (and wings - רא"ש ) to have the Halachic status of bones, which are permitted even if they are from non-Kosher species.  רבינו יונה , quoted in the ( רא"ש מס' ברכות פ"ו סי' ל"ה ) however, assumes the היתר for such impurities to be based on the concept of נשתנה .   According to רבינו יונה , honey has the ability to convert non-Kosher materials into Kosher honey, and he uses this approach to permit musk derived from a non-Kosher source.  Indeed, the ( 'רא"ש (בשו"ת כלל כ"ד סי' ו  uses this approach of רבינו יונה to consider honey into which wheat flour had been added permissible for use on פסח .  [Interestingly, this propensity of דבש to convert insects applies only to pieces of insects - whole insects tend to be preserved in honey (עי' יו"ד סי' פ"ד סעי' י"ג וש"ך שם ס"ק ל"ז ).]   Please note that the entire concept of נשתנה is the subject of significant discussion among the ( פוסקים (עי' שו"ע או"ח סי' רט"ז סעי' ב' בענין המוס"ק ובנושאי כלים, and is beyond the scope of this article.

Pure honey poses few other Kashrus concerns. The various types of honey, such as "clover" and "orange blossom", are usually devoid of any added flavorings.  The "flavor" refers to the flowers on which the bees feed.  Since honey is essentially concentrated nectar, the flowers from which the nectar is collected play an important role in determining the flavor of the resultant honey.  While unscrupulous processors have been known to adulterate honey with corn syrup (and thus raise concerns for פסח ), this is quite rare today.   The only other additive that is routinely added to honey is an anti-foam that, although requiring Kosher verification, is insignificant in the final product.

No Halachic discussion would be complete, however, without recognizing any relevant health issues, as חז"ל note חמירא סכנתא מאיסורא .  It seems that while honey is a safe and wholesome food for children and adults, honey should not be fed to infants less than one year of age.  Honey may contain bacterial spores that cause infant botulism, a rare but serious disease that affects the nervous system of young babies.  Infant botulism is different from food borne botulism.  Food borne botulism is caused by a toxin produced by a pathogenic organism found in food.  Infant botulism is caused when conditions in the digestive tract permit a spore known as Clostridium botulinum to grow and form toxin in the digestive system.  While this organism is commonly found in many uncooked foods, adults and children develop intestinal bacteria that inhibit the growth of this offensive spore.  Infants do not have this bacterial protection until about six months of age.   Heat treatment will destroy C. botulinum, and honey can therefore safely be used in processed foods for infants.  Raw honey, however, should be avoided.

As we have seen, the סוגיא of honey gives us an opportunity to comb through a number of significant Halachic issues. The תורה is often compared to honey, and the ( גמרא (יומא פ"ג ע"ב states that דבש וכל מיני מתיקה מאירין מאור עיניו של אדם .   The תורה of דבש affords us the opportunity of gaining tremendous insights into the Halachic aspects of the foods we eat.