Following are some of the key Halachic issues, as well as the practical situation as it relates to oils both manufactured and brought into Australia. It is a long piece so take your time and feel free to ask any questions to
The Original Sources
The first issue that needs to be resolved from an Halachic perspective is indeed why vegetable oils need a hechsher in the first place? In Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah Chapter 114 seif 7 the mechaber rules that all oil and honey purchased from gentiles is kosher and is not prohibited.It is not prohibited because any prohibited non kosher fats absorbed in the vessels in which the oil may be cooked do not make the vegetable oil non kosher, because the taste of vegetable oil or honey is incompatible (nosain taam lifgam) with non-kosher fat and as such the oil can never become not kosher ( Taz ibid seif katan 7). The Rema ( Rabbi Moshe Isserlish) went so far as to declare that oil transported in vessels that were smeared with pig fat remain kosher as since the two tastes are incompatible (nosein taam lifgam) , the olive oil ( in this case) remains permissible ( brought in Shach ibid s”k 9). The poskim write that this is also the view of the Rambam.
However matters are never that simple. The Shach, while acknowledging the Ramo here in Siman 114 s”k 9, actually strongly argues earlier that animal fat and oil are not incompatible, and argues that the reason why Chazal permitted all oils was not because the tastes are incompatible, but because we can make an assumption that the vessels in which the vegetable oil is prepared have not been used for twenty-four hours and therefore the oil is permissible.
What is the difference between the two opinions practically speaking? According to the Rema (and Rambam) oil could never become not kosher as a result of animal fats as they ruin the taste. According to the other opinions, if we knew with certainty that the vessels had been used within 24 hours, the oil would become not kosher – but equally if there was a doubt, the oil would be kosher because we assume that twenty four hours have elapsed between the non kosher and kosher oils.
It is important to note that both the Darcei Teshuva ( 114:25) and Aruch HaShulchan(114:18) , when referring to this issue , refer to chemical testing – and that if chemical testing shows no addition of animal fats , then that is as good as the classic “Toamo Kfeilo” ( gentile tasting food and reporting to us whether the taste of non kosher is not present) , and on that basis permit the use of oils about which there was a cshash that perhaps non kosher fats were added. See there at length.
In conclusion, why then do oils need a hechsher? The answer is in deference to the opinions that hold that animal fat does not ruin vegetable oil and because in our manufacturing environment there may not be 24 hours between animal fat and vegetable fat production.
What is the situation in Australia? Until only a few years ago, the only vegetable oil available was that manufactured on the same lines as animal fat. The Rabbonim then, permitted the use of all pure liquid vegetable oils for the following reasons:
1. According to the view that animal fat affects the taste of vegetable oil (Ramo and Rambam above) , there is no question that the oil is permitted.
2. Even if one takes the other view – the scientific fact is that animal fat has a different melting point than liquid vegetable oil and would cloud liquid vegetable oil. In order to avoid this, the companies perform a vegetable oil flush in between animal fat and liquid vegetable oil production, which serves to both clean and kasher the equipment.
(While l’chatchila this should not be relied on, as in the first instance one is supposed to kasher with water, when purchasing from a gentile “after the event”, it is permissible. I personally discussed this entire matter some twenty years ago with Reb Dovid Feinstein Shlit”a who agreed that this was an acceptable heter and process. However at the time there were no other oils available in Australia and it is very possible that he would suggest to be machmir today. Either way the “ikar hadin” does not change. This heter should not be confused with that employed by certain non-recognised kashrut organizations in the US that rely on koshering with oil when certifying some vegetable oils – they are using the heter l’chatchila when giving a certification and profiting from it – we have written about many times, is not an appropriate practice . Our heter is talking about when buying from gentiles an already produced product. However see Sefer Piskei Teshuvois ( Rabinowitz)P.138 seif 10, who is lenient even in this regard. In my experience a further complication in relation to a deodorizer is that one must also be careful about a polymerized oil ( carbonised ash) build up which needs to be removed to kasher l’chatchila, and this would in all likelihood need a caustic water wash anyway. )
3.Even were there to be a residue of non-kosher fat or non-kosher material , or a part of the equipment was not satisfactorily koshered for any reason including polymerization, because of the volumes of oil and the size of the vessels, and the size of any residue, it would with out a shadow of a doubt be nullified – such nullification I have written about before. See Kitsh”a ( Foifer) Siman 8 and the detailed references there. See also the Mishneh Halochois Vol 7 siman 117 .
4.Bearing in mind the Aruch HaShulchan and Darcei Teshuva above – chemical analysis and other modern sophisticated means of testing are performed by the companies to a sensitivity of many times more than one in sixty, and I personally have seen the results that establish that the flush method removed any possible remnant of animal fat to less than parts per million. Their purpose in testing is for allergen control (from soy oil and the like) and must be extremely accurate for obvious life and death reasons. While I have heard anecdotal reports of significant amounts of residue in equipment in other countries, my personal experience in the companies we approve here in Australia, is that this is not the case.
On the basis of the above, the rabbinic leaders of Australia such as Rabbi Osher Abramson Z”L (who received shimush from the Chofetz Chaim Zt”l ), Rabbi Abaranok and all the others, permitted the use of such vegetable oils. In fact for a considerable period of time these were the only oils available and all sections of the Jewish community used them. These were not men who took halocho lightly, they were diligent in kashrus observance, and to dismiss them is simply wrong. Indeed one will find that this heter was accepted by European rabbis in general, including the London Beth Din and others. This information was confirmed to me by Rabbi Jeremy Conway of the Kashrut Dept of the London Beth Din.
In my humble opinion the situation has even improved of late as the production of tallow has dropped dramatically. At Goodman Fielder in NSW for example, tallow is manufactured at most once a week. As far as I can ascertain this is the only place where tallow is still refined in NSW. This means that there is every likelihood that the bottle of oil you may buy is from production that is more than twenty-four hours after the production of tallow and permissible according to the original permission of Chazal in relation to oil.
At any rate , the above Halachic arguments , as well as the practical tested results, leave us with the conclusion that the above oils are all 100% kosher and to suggest otherwise is to argue with the likes of the Darcei Teshuvah and Aruch HaShulchan , and to mislead our community.
It should be noted that in discussing such oils and the problems associated with such oils, poskim in the previous generations have raised the specter of “zaken mamre”. This means that if something is permitted by Chazal, for someone to forbid it against Chazal is to be a “rebellious elder”. The Aruch Hashulchan 114:17 quotes from the Talmud and poskim “ Rebbi and his Beth Din permitted oil … eat or else I will write on you that you are a rebellious elder … he who forbids it has a great sin …even if it has been cooked”.
In a recent meeting between Roshei Yeshiva and poskim from the OU, various issues were raised in relation to oil and its tankering and Zaken Mamre was raised. The point that was raised, was that one has to be careful in particular in relation to oil, that being machmir in one area, may lead to G-d forbid a leniency in “zaken mamre” – a prohibition that evokes the harshest of penalties. There must be strong and powerful reasons to forbid oil when Chazal gave a blanket heter as described above for oil. It goes without saying that one must be careful when making pronouncements without either the correct Halachic or practical knowledge.
All the above is in relation to oils that we classify as non-mehadrin. In the last ten years oils have become available that do not need to rely on any heterim. These oils are called Mehadrin oils. The situation with these oils is as follows. They come from basically two sources. The first is from manufacturing plants, either Australian or from Asia , that are dedicated to vegetable oils only. The other source is from Peerless Oils in Victoria, which produces also animal fats – but on different separate dedicated lines, under the supervision of the Melbourne based Kosher Australia and Adass Yisroel.
While the presence of animal fats requires special diligence, the vegetable manufacturing plant is dedicated to vegetable oils and the level of supervision performed by Kosher Australia to avoid any cross contamination is more than adequate and in accordance with recognized practices. Contrary to some mis-information that has been spread, Kosher Australia representatives are allowed free access to the plant at all times. These practices were recently re-audited by the OU, as was Peerless itself, and found to be fully in order such that the OU continues to use Peerless oil in products manufactured under their supervision.
This oil is then tankered to various bottling plants in tankers that are either dedicated or specially cleaned/koshered for the purpose and appropriate records are kept and checked. (It should be noted that at a recent conference Rabbi Genack , head of the OU, pointed out that even were there to be some mishap, G-d forbid, in relation to tankering, the final product would be kosher as the volume of a tanker is at least 120 times the surface area of the tanker. That is twice botul b’shishim. This issue is even less of a problem in Australia where the tankers are not privately owned by drivers and “back hauling” does not occur, and loads are subject to very strict record keeping and regulation).
As such the oils which are classified as mehadrin in the kosher guide, including Mazol oil and Solomon’s oil are kosher without any reliance on heterim at all and are all kosher to standards acceptable to the major kashrus agencies in the US.
KA Policy Today
In terms of general Kashrut Authority policy, since about the year 2000, when these oils became more freely available, the KA has insisted that its licensees use only “mehadrin” oils. We have lsited which oils are mehadrin in our directory and on our website. Products that do not use mehadrin oils will not be designated K ( mehadrin) in the directory. However none of the above should take away from the “ikar hadin” that those oils classified as not mehadrin are still kosher – and in my opinion – any suggestion otherwise as well as being erroneous and bordering on transgressing the halocho of “zaken mamre”, is to needlessly cast aspersions on the kashrus of the entire Australian Jewish community and its Rabbonim for the last sixty years and more!
Great is Peace
It is also my humble Halachic opinion, that while it is praiseworthy to be machmir and use mehadrin oils, if one is served bread (or even cake or perhaps even other items of food) from a person who is fully observant of the laws of kashrus – but has used non-mehadrin oils in that food, as has been the custom for decades past – for the sake of Sholom and in order to avoid machloiket , one may partake of that food. This is because the non-mehadrin oil is 100% kosher, and it has been the longstanding custom in our community to permit it. There is no cshash of any issur doriso or derabonnon. Therefore based on my understanding of the sources, it is my Halachic opinion that “great is peace” and it is better to be a little more machmir in the laws of Shalom and Ahavas Yisroel than to create animosity – as has indeed been created - by not eating. (See YD Siman 112:16. Also Chelkas Binyamin biurim ibid . Even though there he is talking about pas palter the principle of bread ( or cake) being the source of dispute still applies. Furthermore this applies also to a person who comes from a place where these oils are not used. See SA OC Siman 468:4 MG”A 12; Ashel Avrohom 11. See also SA HoRav 468:14 :- “for great is peace and it is better for him to transgress his custom for the sake of peace since there is no transgression of either a biblical or rabbinic prohibition”. Even if the machmir does not accept this view that halchically he may be lenient – he certainly is not permitted to cast aspersions on one who indeed chooses to be lenient.)