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Is it Listed?

Eytan Kobre

What started as Rabbi Gershon Bess’s five-page list has grown to a full-sized book that Jews all over the US consider the definitive guide to Pesach-approved medications and cosmetics. While a dog might not eat that mascara, Rabbi Bess wants to make sure everything in your house is chometz-free.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Certain questions are inevitable amid the frenetic activity that envelops frum homes during the week before Pesach: “Who wants to help move the fridge?” “Do we have enough eggs and potatoes?” and “Can you take the car to get cleaned?”

And then there’s “Who knows where Rabbi Bess’s list is?”

What Rabbi Gershon Bess initiated some 33 years ago as a five-page list has developed into a full-size book, an authoritative guide to medications and cosmetics approved for use during Pesach.

The list began as a project of the Kollel of Los Angeles, where Rabbi Bess was a long-time kollel member, and he has continued to expand it throughout his 24 years as the rav of Kehilas Yaakov in Los Angeles and a leading posek on the West Coast. Seven years ago, the Baltimore-based Star-K kashrus agency, founded and led by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, joined the kollel as a cosponsor of the book, which now features information on several thousand products.

Although Rabbi Bess stresses that he isn’t “the last word,” only perhaps “one of the words” in the area of Pesach medications and cosmetics, he does believe that the information he presents is perhaps relevant today more than ever for the frum consumer. He recalls with a chuckle that the idea for the list was inspired, most fittingly, by a Yiddishe mamme. “You know, in the old days, everything was forbidden on Pesach, so I asked my mother, ‘Okay, we can’t have anything in the house, but … if it’s notchometz, then can we have it? Like, say, Ivory soap. If I find out it’s notchometz, then can we have it?’”

Unfortunately, he observes, since those days, the communal pendulum has swung decidedly in the other direction. As more and more commercially produced kosher l’Pesach products crowd the market, the convenience and wide selection of prepared foods have drawn consumers away from the instinctive reluctance generations of Jews felt toward bringing items produced by others into their homes on Pesach.


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