Friday, February 7, 2020

Jews and Bubble Gum

The first Friday in February is celebrated as “Bubble Gum Day.” Ruth Spiro, an author of children’s books who chews gum as an avocation, proposed the day in 2006 to enable children to bring money to school and donate the funds to pre-selected causes. In exchange, the students would be permitted to chew gum in school. Ms. Spiro also hoped that libraries, clubs and community groups could participate as well. “Bubble Gum Day” is fixed on a Friday, so it would always fall on a school day. People have chewed “gum” for thousands of years. In ancient Greece, people chewed a gummy substance called mastiche, which came from the mastic tree. “Mastik” is the Hebrew word for chewing gum and the word “masticate” in the Romance languages denotes chewing. Others chewed on resins from trees, leaves and waxes. Native Americans were known to chew on the sap from spruce trees. Today the chewing gum industry is estimated to be a 19 billion dollar-a-year business. 

Because bubble gum is meant to be chewed only, and not swallowed, the question is asked whether a blessing is required prior to chewing the gum. After all, it’s not “eaten.”

The Code of Jewish Law rules that one would recite the she’ha’kol blessing when eating sugar or sweet sticks (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 202:15). Most contemporary halachic authorities agree that gum would fall under this category. However, a minority view argues that the taste of the gum is absorbed into one’s saliva, and one does not utter a blessing over spittle, even when flavored. One rabbi even differentiated between gum with a hard shell, for which he would require a blessing, and soft gum, which would not. Others claim that since sugar-free gum contains very little caloric intake, it would also not require a blessing. Some also suggest that since gum is not meant to be swallowed, it would fall under the rule that no blessing is recited for tasting without swallowing (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 210:2). Furthermore, Rabbi Moshe Isserlis concludes that no blessing is recited over cinnamon sticks, which are sucked.

Please note that bubble gum requires kosher certification. One should not chew gum on a fast day. Rabbinic authorities prohibit chewing gum while walking outdoors on Shabbat, in a situation where carrying would be forbidden. This would only apply to “Bubble Gum Day” after sunset.

NOTE: As with all Treats dealing with issues of halacha (points of Jewish law), one should consult one's local rabbi for practical application.

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