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Medical Drinks

By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator

Q. Are there any kashrus questions I need to ask before agreeing to drink something the doctor gives me in preparation for a medical test? 

A. The simplest cases are those – such as the contrast used for an MRI – where the drinks are made of innocuous ingredients and do not pose any sort of kashrus concern.  But in most cases, there is at least some sort of question whether the drink is kosher.  What then?  Sometimes – such as with glucose drinks given to test for gestational diabetes – it is possible to obtain a brand which is certified, and you should make inquiries about that before visiting the doctor.

Other times – such as when performing a clean out before a colonoscopy – there may not be certified options, but there are options that pose no kashrus concerns, such as using Miralax in a kosher beverage, or taking a tablet which accomplishes the desired effect.  These are choices that you have to discuss with your doctor to see if they are medically suitable for your condition.  If they are not, then you will need direction from a kashrus professional who can evaluate how kosher-sensitive the beverage is, based on which, the Rabbi will determine if your medical need halachically warrants consuming the beverage and taking the test.

The above relates to beverages taken in preparation for a medical test, and similar points are also relevant when consuming liquids for other health purposes.  Can you give gripe water to an infant suffering from colic?  How about a high calorie shake for a body builder?  Chinese herbal teas for infertility?  In each of these cases, the first choice is to find one with is certified kosher or has no kosher sensitive ingredients. If none are available, a determination will need to be made of how “sensitive” the drink is so that a Rabbi can weigh whether the person may consume the beverage, even if it might not be kosher.

How about liquid medicines given to children, such as antibiotics, cold medicine, and fever reducers?  All of the above points remain pertinent, but there is also one other factor to consider.  Namely, there is a general principle that if a forbidden food is not in an edible form, the issur on that food falls away.  The question is what is the criterion for “edible”?  Some take the position that the only things which are edible are those which one would consider eating if they had a choice.  Accordingly, these Poskim classify all cold medicines etc. as “inedible” since no one would choose to drink it if they were not ill.  Other Rabbonim say that to be inedible, the food must be revolting or close to impossible to imbibe; the vast majority of liquid medicines do not meet this standard.  Therefore, these Poskim would say that they are treated just like the other items noted above: find one without kashrus issues or have a Rabbi evaluate if the medical need justifies consuming the medicine even if it might not be kosher.

This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, February 3, 2023.