The Shmooze

The Kosher Toothpaste Debate

By Michael Kaminer

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The Orthodox Union, which certifies as Kosher more than 400,000 products, includes a long discourse on toothpaste on its web site. Though most dentifrices contain glycerin, an animal product that is “unquestionably” non-kosher, it’s not completely clear whether they’re treyf; the OU quotes some complicated rabbinical rulings involving flavor and usage of the product. “If glycerin is present in tasty toothpaste, it would certainly seem to be problematic. The issues…are very serious, and consumers should not hesitate to consult their rabbonim for direction,” its Web site says.

But Jews suffering dental-hygiene anxiety can relax and brush; there’s actually a whole range of kosher toothpastes. And the latest, Supersmile, is the brainchild of Dr. Irwin Smigel, the founder of the American Society for Dental Aesthetics.

As the press release tells it, the Halachic dental debate was irrelevant to Smigel, who characterizes himself as a kind of Hebraic oral-health crusader. “While we realize there are extensive rabbinic debates regarding the kashrut of toothpaste, for us there was no debate, and we make only kosher products,” he declared in the release. “Those who are forbidden to eat pork or certain kinds of meats should beware of any toothpaste which isn’t kosher yet contains glycerin.”

Other rabbis themselves aren’t as confident as Smigel in the treyfness of toothpaste. Take this pithy opinion from the Chicago Rabbinical Council: “There are some Rabbis who hold that no matter how hard the companies try to make toothpaste palatable — because it’s used in a place where we have all our taste buds — it is never considered a food since the definition of food according to Jewish Law is something that one eats and would feed to others. Since you’d never consider feeding someone a toothpaste-like food for lunch, it’s considered inedible and doesn’t require kosher certification.”

In any case, Supersmile joins a long list of kosher dental products, from Adwe Laboratories baking-soda whitening paste ($3.99 online) to varieties from natural-products behemoth Tom’s of Maine (“please note, however, that only our deodorants are kosher for Passover,” Tom’s site helpfully notes). The press release doesn’t mention that a tube of Supersmile costs $13; a Supersmile “professional whitening system” can run $75. Maybe the realistic compromise would be to buy a cheap glycerine toothpaste that tastes really, really lousy.


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