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Why is honey Kosher?

The Color of HeavenArtscroll
Topic: Honey, Kosher

Balint from Grinell in Iowa writes:

I have the following question that no one could answer yet:

Why is honey Kosher? I thought that the product of non-Kosher animals was not Kosher as well. Bees are not Kosher, so why is honey Kosher?

I appreciate your time and hope you know the answer.

Thank you,


Dear Balint,

The Mishna in Tractate Bechorot states:

"That which comes from something which is Tameh [non-Kosher] is Tameh, and that which comes of that which is Tahor [Kosher] is Tahor." So you were right, Balint -- the product of a non-Kosher animal is not Kosher. So why is bee-honey Kosher?

The Talmud in the same Tractate quotes a Beraita (a Halachic teaching from the time of the Mishna) which says:

"Why did they say that bee-honey is permitted? Because even though they bring it into their bodies, it is not a *product* of their bodies [it is stored there but not produced there]."

All the Sages of the Mishna agree with this ruling. One of them, Rabbi Yaakov, disagrees with the *reasoning*. He claims that bee-honey is Kosher based on his interpretation of Vayikra 11:21. According to him, the verse prohibits one to eat a flying insect, but *not* that which is *excreted* from it.

Maimonides codifies bee-honey as being Kosher, as does the Shulchan Aruch.

You may wonder: How could one even think that bee-honey is not Kosher -- the Torah refers to the Land of Israel as "a Land flowing with milk and honey"! Certainly the Torah would not choose a non-Kosher product as a means for describing the beauty of the Land of Israel! This may come as a surprise, but the honey mentioned in the verse about "milk and honey" is not bee-honey -- rather it is fig-honey. The Talmud in Tractate Berachot tells us that another verse "It is a Land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs and pomegranates -- a Land of olives and *honey*" -- is referring to date-honey.

Sources:

  • Tractate Bechorot, pages 5b, 7b.
  • The Codes of Maimonides, Laws of Forbidden Foods 3:3.
  • Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah, 81:8.
  • Tractate Megillah, page 6a, Rashi.
  • Chumash, Book of Devarim, 8:8.
  • Tractate Berachot, page 41b, Rashi.


 
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