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Mind Your Meds

Riki Goldstein

Rabbi Avrohom Adler is the go-to address for information on the kashrus-for-Pesach of a wide range of pharmaceuticals, supplements, and toiletries. Before Pesach, his hotline is busier than ever

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

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RABBI, IS IT KOSHER? There are many leniencies, but Rabbi Adler does his best to help people keep the standards they aspire to (Photos: Ezra Sasoon)

"H ello, Rabbi? We feed our pet snake frozen mice, which we keep in the freezer of a non-Jewish neighbor. Can we get our mice from the freezer over Pesach, if we know that there is chometz there, in close contact with it?”

“My son has a dog-walking job. He’s just found out that the dog food he bought contains liver and whey, baked together. Is he allowed to benefit from this mixture of milk and meat?”

The questions that reach the helpline of Rabbi Avrohom Adler, a Gateshead-based pharmacist and pharmaceutical kashrus expert, aren’t all this exotic, although he’s available throughout the year to answer all types of kashrus queries, and especially those related to pharmaceuticals. Medicines, vitamins, and nutritional supplements, cosmetics, and toiletries can all contain traces of chometz from grain-derived ingredients, so before Pesach his hotline is flooded. Ascertaining the status of individual products and helping patients on various medications to find solutions is Rabbi Adler’s specialty; and in addition to responding to thousands of texts, calls, and emails, he is the author of extensive published kashrus listings that have become an essential part of Pesach for the British community.

It all started around 40 years ago, when young Avrohom Adler was studying pharmacy at the London School of Pharmacy, University of London. Son of London’s legendary Dr. Shloime Adler, Avrohom had inherited a keen aptitude for medicine — and for helping the community. In those days in England, there was no special address for enquiries at the crossroads of kashrus and medicine.

Rabbi Adler has been publishing his lists for the last 40 years. Once he started, his own father, London’s venerated Dr. Shloime Adler, finally had something he could rely on

“My parents’ phone would ring off the hook before Pesach, and before Tishah B’av and Yom Kippur, too,” he remembers.

At the time, Avrohom Adler was approached by Rav Chaim Feldman of Munk’s beis medrash in Golders Green, who asked if he could help clarify whether some medicines could be used for Pesach. Knowledge of pharmaceutical production at that time was far less sophisticated than today. “Then, we were only really concerned with one question: Do these tablets contain wheat starch?” Rabbi Adler says.

Some frum medicine users concerned about chometz would ask their pharmacist to test the tablets. The most popular test was the iodine test — iodine dropped on a tablet reveals starch by turning blue or black. Different starch particles are discernible under a microscope, and a chemist can identify wheat starch from other types of starch particles.

But this was both time-consuming and impractical. Instead, Adler decided to write letters to the manufacturers, asking them to clarify which of their products contained wheat starch. The responses were compiled into a very basic list, which was published in the British “Kashrus News” periodical compiled by Rav Feldman. Years later, once the Medicines on Pesach and All Year Round list was published, it saved Dr. Adler senior scores of medicine-related queries.

Isn’t Wheat Okay?

Rabbi Avrohom Adler was a talmid of the Gateshead yeshivah before he attended university. He married his wife Dassy while studying pharmacy in London, but once he qualified, the couple decided to move back to Gateshead for a few years, so that Reb Avrohom could rejoin the yeshivah and study for semichah. During that time, he put his pharmaceutical training to good use, researching the halachos of kashrus in medicine in depth together with Rabbi M.D. Spiro of Gateshead, and they published a booklet in English called Medicines and Kashrus.

The Adler family has fond memories of these early booklets and lists, which were endorsed by Rabbi B. Rakow ztz”l — the previous Gateshead Rav, and Dayan Chanoch Ehrentrau of London. The booklets were stapled by hand at the dining room table, and when it happened that a mistake was discovered and one item wrongly listed, they had to go through each booklet and write the correction by hand.

(Excerpted from Mishpacha, Issue 703)

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