Sunday, December 7, 2008

History - Coca Cola & Kashrus

By journalist/translator/illustrator

R' Avraham Broide,

Amazing Jewish Facts newsletter (10 Kislev 5769/7 Dec. 2008)

For quite a few years, rabbis and kashrus organizations are involved in gargantuan efforts to ensure that Orthodox Jews too can participate in the battle of the bulge. An early instance of this trend was back in 5695/1935 and involved the most ubiquitous drink of all time, except water, Coca Cola.

Coca Cola, invented in May 5646/1886 by the Atlanta ex-Confederate soldier and druggist, Dr. John Styth Pemberton, was named after two of its exotic ingredients, coca leaves and kola nuts. For a few months, Coke struggled without any bubbles until a drugstore attendant thought of adding soda water to the concoction. Then people started realizing that "Things Go Better With Coke" and Coke's liquidity became a tsunami.

60 years passed before Rav Tuvia Geffen of Shearis Yisrael Shul in Atlanta began having qualms about Coke's kashrus. Prior to then, the prevailing attitude was - "Nu! What can be treif in a soft drink?"

Since Coca Cola's headquarters were right in Atlanta, Rav Tuvia had been receiving anxious queries about its kashrus for years. It was time to investigate. Although Coca Cola's recipe was among the best guarded industrial secrets of the USA, company directors realized that soothing the religious public's conscience meant increased revenues. So they agreed to provide Rav Tuvia with a list of ingredients under a strict oath to never reveal anything to a living soul. Thus, the teshuva (responsa) Rav Tuvia wrote, refers to the problematical ingredients by code.

After thorough inquiry and investigation at the factory, it became apparent that Coca Cola contained a liquid product made from meat and fat tallow of non-kosher animals.

Although the chief chemist of Georgia assured Rabbi Geffen that the glycerin constituted only a 1000th of the beverage, and non-kosher ingredients are usually nullified in a volume only sixty times greater, Rav Geffen proved from the Rashba and other authorities that ingredients deliberately mixed into a product to enhance it are not nullified even in a thousand. A similar problem applied to the grain alcohol, even though their proportion was only a thousandth, since even the tiniest amount of leaven in a mixture is forbidden on Passover.

"Because Coca Cola has already been accepted by the general public in this country and in Canada," Rabbi Geffen wrote, "and because it has become an insurmountable problem to induce the great majority of Jews to refrain from partaking of this drink. I have tried earnestly to find a method of permitting its usage. With the help of God, I have been able to uncover a pragmatic solution according to which there would be no question nor any doubt concerning the ingredients of Coca Cola."

What was his solution? Find out and explore the whole story at:


  1. We grew up drinking Coke "religiously". My father was a Coca Cola distributor in the 60s and 70s.

    Our children don't drink it however. We want them to have teeth and bones when they grow up.

    According to a report published in the March / April edition of General Dentistry, phosphoric acid in soda causes tooth enamel erosion, even with minimal exposure. While some consumers may believe that sugar is the only culprit of soda's adverse effects on dental health, enamel erosion occurs whether the soda is sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners.

    "Drinking any type of soft drink poses risk to the health of your teeth," said Kenton Ross, a dentist and spokesman for the Academy of General Dentistry.

    "My patients are shocked to hear that many of the soft drinks they consume contain nine to 12 teaspoons of sugar, and have an acidity that approaches the level of battery acid," Ross said.

    Americans drink more than 50 gallons per capita of carbonated soft drinks each year, according to the Beverage Marketing Corporation, which tracks beverage consumption in nine areas: bottled water, coffee, fruit beverages, milk, tea, beer, wine, spirits and "CSDs" or carbonated soft drinks. Of the nine, carbonated soft drinks make up the largest segment of beverages consumed. The United States has the highest per-capita CSD consumption in the world.

    Soft drinks are infused with phosphoric acid to add a tangy flavor. In nature, this type of flavor can be found in ginger or lemon. Inexpensive and widely available, phosphoric acid is also used in fertilizers and detergents, including industrial cleaners. Even "food grade" thermal phosphoric acid is known to sometimes contain arsenic.

    "Phosphoric acid is used in shipyards to remove rust from aircraft carriers and transport ships," explained Mike Adams, author of The Five Soft Drink Monsters, a book that teaches consumers how to beat their addiction to sugary sodas. "Consuming highly acidic substances is not only bad for your teeth but also terrible for bone health and can promote a deterioration of the jawbone, pelvis and femur. Essentially, drinking phosphoric acid dissolves away your skeletal system," Adams said.

  2. You are absolutely right, even if some of the facts you cite may require scientific corroboration. Nevertheless, better to drink kosher poison than treif poison.


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