One of the ironclad rules of the commandments that prohibit or permit eating a certain food is “whatever comes from the impure (such as eggs and milk) remains impure, and what comes from the pure, is pure.”
According to this rule, it would seem surprising that we and our forefathers eat bee honey. Even though honey is formed from nectar, nevertheless, the nectar does not leave the bee as it entered but takes the form of honey. The honey would not have been formed without the bee’s imput. The formation of honey requires a material which is secreted by the bee’s body, processes the nectar and turns it into honey. Just as the camel eats grass and turns it into milk after it was processed in the camel’s body, and this milk is forbidden because “whatever comes from the impure — is impure”, so we would expect that honey would be forbidden because bees are forbidden to be eaten.
And even if the possibility exists that the honey is formed from the nectar without any material from the bee’s body, the bee’s stomach secretes various digestive juices as are found in the stomach of all animals. Since these juices were most likely mixed into the nectar, it would seem obvious that honey should have been forbidden by Jewish sages.
But it turns out that recent studies demonstrate two amazing facts: 1. The bee has two stomachs, one for digestion and the other for honey production. 2. The honey stomach does not contain any digestive juices. The discovery of this fact solves the second problem mentioned above about digestive juices.
And what about the first problem? A new study reveals another fact. The honey stomach secrete enzymes that take apart the molecules of the nectar and turns some of them from monosaccharides into disaccharides. Nevertheless, honey contains an almost equal mixture of glucose (grape sugar) and fructose (fruit sugar), which are monosaccharides.
After the enzymes released by the bee have done their work and the nectar has turned into honey, the enzymes disintegrate and nothing is left of them, and the bee spews out the pure honey on the honeycomb without anything mixed in it.
Now it is clear why bee honey is permitted. But we can imagine that if an university had existed during the period of the Talmud and the scientists would be asked whether it is permissible according to the Torah to consume bee honey, without a doubt their firm answer would be that it is forbidden, just like an impure animal’s milk is forbidden. It could only be assumed that some material from the bee’s body must be mixed inside.
But, to our “amazement”, the Oral Tradition which our sages received from their teachers back to our Teacher Moses, contains this short, definitive sentence which appears in the Talmud (Bechorot 7b):
“The honey of bees is permitted, because the bees store it up in their bodies but it does not contain secretions from their body.”
This means that bee honey is not like the milk of an impure animal! Bee honey contains no mixture of the bee’s body juices, and when it leaves the bee, it contains only the materials with which it entered the bee!
Who could have known this secret of nature thousands of years ago which goes against simple logic and seems completely similar to milk? And to say this with complete confidence and even derive a significant legal ramification from it? It could only have been the Creator of the universe Who revealed this for the sake of knowing His laws!
Notes and Sources
. It should be noted that royal jelly which is sold in health food stores is not honey, but a secretion from glands at the edge of the bees’ antennas used to nurse the larvae hatching out of the eggs which the queen bee laid. All the larvae are fed the same food, but the larva chosen by the bees to be a queen, receives thirty times as much food as the others, so she will be larger and capable of laying eggs — up to 2,000 a day. Royal jelly’s taste is somewhat bitter and it is sold mixed with honey. An extensive Jewish legal literature discusses its kashrut status and may be found in Responsa Tzitz Eliezer Vol. 11 #59, and in Halichot Sadeh Bulletin #55.
Adapted from “Journey to the Truth 2” by Rabbi Zamir Cohen