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April 13, 2005

The fifth question

A certain teenaged girl I know thinks that the laws of kashrut (keeping kosher) are designed with the goal of making things hard for people. The laws requiring the separation of milk and meat, for example, are derived from the biblical verse (occurring three times): "You shall not cook a kid in its mother's milk." But this is a simplistic way of looking at things. Within this set of rules are some leniencies.

Fee simple (who is not Jewish) alerts me to an article in the Jerusalem Post (by way of regarding the kashrut of sildenafil citrate, more commonly known as Viagra, for use on Passover.

(Please note that the registration for the Jerusalem Post is highly annoying. While there are minor ethical issues raised by using BugMeNot to borrow other users' registrations, I'll leave that to your consciences.)

Anyway, the JPost article reports that for several years, Viagra was considered not to be kosher for Passover, because the coating of the pills is made from a substance that is hametz (leaven).

Rabbi Menahem Rosenberg, the rabbi of Clalit Health Services, then confirmed that Viagra (sildenafil citrate) was not kosher for Passover because of the coating.

He noted that all drugs taken for life-threatening conditions, even if they contain leaven, can - and must - be taken during the holiday. Since impotence can hardly be considered a life-threatening condition, few rabbis approved its use during the holiday.

But now former Sephardi chief rabbi Mordechai Eliahu has issued a ruling after receiving a query from Rabbi Menahem Burstein, a rabbinical expert in the field of fertility and head of the the Puah Institute for Fertility and Medicine According to Halacha in Jerusalem.
Those people who use the term "Talmudic" disparagingly to refer to reasoning that is, shall we say, complex and subtle are usually being unfair. Real Talmudic reasoning is fascinating and has justified lengthy study by countless thousands of Jews over the years. Nevertheless, perhaps there's a point here. The mechanism for allowing Viagra on Passover is this:
Eliahu replied that men who need Viagra can do so if they purchase before the holiday special empty capsules made from kosher gelatin, insert the blue pill into the capsule and swallow it. The company [the rabbi?] explained that since the capsule is not in direct contact with the body, it is permissible to swallow it on Passover.
In short, we now have the fifth question for Passover: [Why] on all other nights do we swallow the pill directly and on this night we use "special empty capsules made from kosher gelatin"?