Can i take prenatal vitamins containing chametz on Pessach? Rabbanit Debbie Zimmerman
Nissan 5782 | April 2022
I am a nursing mother, 3 months post-partem. I still take prenatal vitamins daily, and when I don’t take I get lightheaded and nauseous and can’t function. I can’t find the kosher for pesach vitamins on the approved list – can I just use what I have? (note: this question was asked the day before erev Pesach)
When there is no kosher for pesach alternative, life-saving medications containing chametz are clearly permitted due to the importance of pikuach nefesh, saving a life. Less vital medications and vitamins that contain chametz are the subject of much debate. Nevertheless, they may be allowed under certain circumstances.
Shelo k’derech achila – a prohibited food consumed in an unusual manner
Chametz is prohibited on Pesach – both to eat and to own. But there are exceptions to the rule. The laws of Chametz apply specifically to food; the gemara in Pesachim 24b establishes that there is no biblical prohibition when a prohibited food is not consumed in an unusual manner – shelo k’derech achila. Although it is rabbinically prohibited to eat, the gemara (25b) posits that this does not apply to a choleh – a person who is ill. Based on this concept Rambam rules that one who is ill may consume a prohibited food, such as non-kosher meat or chametz on Pesach, in a manner that is not the usual way of deriving benefit or satisfaction – shelo k’derech hana’a. (Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 5:8, Shulchan Aruch YD 155:3) One example he brings is eating something prohibited mixed with a bitter substance so it is no longer palatable.
The parameters of this dispensation are debated. Does shelo k’derech achila include swallowing without chewing, such as in the case of medicine?
The gemara in Pesachim 115b debates whether someone who swallows matza without chewing has fulfilled the biblical obligation to eat matza. Rabba rules that this is still eating as he derives another form of enjoyment from food – hana’at grono, satisfaction of the throat. Noda b’Yehuda (YD 35) explains that if a person receives hana’at grono from food this would still be considered eating and therefore one may not swallow a biblically prohibited food for medicine if they are not in life-threatening danger.
While some cite the Noda b’Yehuda to preclude a sick person from swallowing tablets of medicine made from prohibited food, Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurebach disagrees. (Minchat Shlomo 1:17) Rather, he explains that Noda b’Yehuda only prohibited food that is normally edible but is swallowed instead of chewed, even for medicinal purposes. He explains that the concept of hana’at grono does not apply to medicine in tablet form, as it is not food and is only meant to be swallowed by sick people. Items in this category are allowed for choleh she’ain bo sakana – people with a non-life-threatening illness.
Choleh – How sick is halachically sick?
Based on such reasoning most authorities allow for a choleh to swallow tasteless or bitter medicinal pills containing chametz on Pesach. (Yechaveh Da’at 2:60) Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurebach questions whether the category of choleh in this case is limited to the cases a choleh may take medicine on shabbat – only someone who is so sick they must lie down – or whether it is more inclusive and applies also to the slightly ill or uncomfortable (michush), or even a healthy person who takes medicine. The former would preclude almost all uses of vitamins, the latter allows for more inclusivity.[i]
Is a nursing mother considered cholah?
It seems that you should be allowed to swallow tasteless vitamins even according to those who only make allowances for a choleh, for two reasons. First, the symptoms you describe – the weakness and dizziness – are incapacitating and encompass your whole body. This is the definition of a choleh. In addition, there are many reasons to rule that the category of choleh applies to any meineket – lit. a nursing mother, but halachically defined as any woman within 24 months of giving birth – due to the stress pregnancy and labor put on the body. (TB Nidda 9a, Hilchot Ishut 21:11, Rabbi Nahum Eliezer Rabinovitch, Techumin 17 pg. 343)
In summary: which vitamins may you take?
The dispensation for a choleh to take pills containing prohibited substances only applies when nothing else is available. Therefore, there is a hierarchy to which vitamins you can take:
– Look for comparable prenatal vitamins available to you that are on a kosher for Pesach list.
– If that is not available check the ingredients/contact the manufacturer when possible:
– Items labeled gluten free or on gluten free lists are unlikely to contain chametz
– Look for problematic ingredients: Aside from the obvious 5 grains, glucose and sorbitol may be derived from wheat (mainly a problem in Europe, less common in the U.S.), and in turn used to produce ascorbic acid for Vitamin C. Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) and Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12) are the results of fermentation that may include chametz.
– Tzitz Eliezer (Ba’ei Mo’ed 3:2-5) points out that even items that contain flour are not chametz if they were not mixed with water or dried before they could leaven – although this level of knowledge of the manufacturing process may be beyond your ability.
– If you have done your due diligence and/or the above options are not available, any tasteless or bitter pill that is swallowed is allowed in your situation.
In summary, in this case it is preferable to seek out vitamins that are certified kosher for Pesach, but as you are considered a choleh and the vitamins act as medicine and are not consumed k’derech achila you are allowed to swallow vitamins that contain chametz ingredients.