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Rabbi Dovid Cohen
Administrative Rabbinical Coordinator of the cRc
Bar-soap has always been made from (non-kosher) animal fat and there are respected halachic authorities that hold that one should not use such soap for washing their body. However, the common practice is to be lenient on this issue because (a) many disagree with the aforementioned opinion and (b) some argue that our soaps are sufficiently inedible that even the stricter opinion would agree that they can be used in spite of their being made from non-kosher animal fat. [The use of non-kosher soap for dishwashing is a separate topic, which is beyond the scope of this article].
Rabbi Ari Zivotofsky wrote a thorough article on this topic, which can be accessed by clicking here. A brief discussion on the topic with additional sources cited in the footnotes, can be found by clicking here.1
One who chooses to adopt the stricter approach to this issue has two choices:
1 For those reading this in print who can’t “click” on the text, point your internet browser to http://www.ou.org/publications/ja/5764/5764winter/LEGALEAS.PDF for Rabbi Zivotofsky’s article and to http://cor.ca/res/usr/general/consumer_modern_world1.pdf for the other one.
2 Rokeach sells a kosher bar soap made of coconut oil (whose properties are very similar to animal fat) which it labels as being for dishes, but is likely equally suitable for body washing. It can be found at many kosher supermarkets (including Kol Tuv) or online at http://archive.kosher.com/searchResults.cfm and elsewhere. An example of body soap made of vegetable oil and marketed to vegetarians can be found at http://www.neolia.com./, and there are undoubtedly others. There is legitimate halachic rationale for accepting the company’s claim that the soap is, in fact, free of animal products; there is no reason to assume the ingredients aren’t made on non-kosher equipment, but that would likely not pose a concern as relates to body soap.