I introduce Dr. Chaim Gershon, who, we hope will continue contributing to this blog. I apologize for the formatting. Formatting problems are due solely to my inability to get Typepad to handle it better.
Coca-Cola Torah by Dr. Chaim Gershon
One can learn about the interaction of Torah with the world on many levels; it is particularly enriching to do so adjacent to Matan Torah. One of the deeper explanations as to why Shavuous is one day is that it represents the Kesser/Crown of Torah. It is a general point of singularity and unity.
Afterwards when we descend from Har Sinai back to the work week, we have to see this unity even within the plurality, diversity, etc of the world.
It is said that Torah is compared to all kinds of liquids (Bava Kama 82a, Taanis 7a) as well as to other kinds of drinks: wine, milk and honey (Shir HaShirim Rabbah I: 190). Just as a man’s cup says much about him (Eiruvin 65a), so does a “national drink” tell much about the nation. According to Tom Standage in “A History of the World in Six Glasses” http://tomstandage.wordpress.com/books/a-history-of-the-world-in-six-glasses/ , the current reigning drink is Coca Cola.
Recently I read that Coca-Cola was going to come out with a Plantbottle http://www.biobased.org/node/21528. This sounded wonderful and green http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Green_chemistry for the world but since plastics are the objects of my profession, I was curious just how they were making such claims to achieve this goal. Another search revealed http://biopol.free.fr/?p=648 that sugar cane and molasses are going to be converted somehow into a bottle interchangeable with one based on the usual polyethylene terephthalate (PET)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyethylene_terephthalate. It seemed apparently novel that the bottle would be as sweet as the soda therein. Perhaps
Messianic times are imminent when the world will return to the perfection at creation when the vessel tasted as sweet as it’s content: “At the inception of creation it was intended that the tree have the same taste as the fruit” (Bereshis Rabbah 5:9).
"Sugar" triggered other memories concerning the Coca-Cola itself. There is the famous Coca-Cola Teshuva http://chabadlibrarybooks.com/download.aspx?req=2227 through which Coke became Kosher (also see http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/Kashering_Coke.html). Various ingredients had to be changed as one can read therein for Coca-Cola to gain hashgacha. The other halachically significant change in the history of Coke http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coca-Cola#New_Coke is that since 1985, Coke has been made with high fructose corn syrup, instead of sugar glucose or fructose. This is fine except for Passover when they revert to sugar to avoid using kitniyos. Even non-Jewish Coca-Cola followers flock to buy this “original” product as well: http://www.nypost.com/seven/03192007/news/regionalnews/kosher__coke_a_big_hit_regionalnews_rita_delfiner.htm
Not only do the components of the Coca-Cola have significance in Halacha, as they need to each be kosher so that the whole product should be kosher but the liquid can also be viewed as a whole entity in Torah. One can ask the same question of Coke that is the case of wine and has been asked of beer, liquor, coffee, and tea, which are the other major beverages chronologically discussed by
Tom Standage in “A History of the World in Six Glasses”. Is Coca-Cola a chamar medinah? Can it be used for ritual purposes for which wine is used such as Kiddush? Can it be used at least for Havdala? Although Igros Moshe (Orach Chaim 2:75 267) states it is not, Goggle searches seem to indicate that times have changed:http://www.ottmall.com/mj_ht_arch/v25/mj_v25i71.html#CVB , http://www.ottmall.com/mj_ht_arch/v21/mj_v21i19.html#CEJ
From the initial description, I had thought that the new bottle was a sugar/sucrose polyester like Olestra http://www.caloriecontrol.org/olestra.html , http://www.nytimes.com/1989/06/11/magazine/nothing-to-sink-your-teeth-into.html?pagewanted=all. This might create some Kashrus issues, as the source of the sugar then must be a certified kosher one. However, as I read more in a more technical news magazine http://pubs.acs.org/cen/news/87/i21/8721notw9.html, it is clear that this is not the case. The sugar and molasses are merely being used as the feedstock to produce ethylene glycol, one of the two monomers, instead of oil. The good news for the kashrus is that there is no issue as one can probably consider the ethylene glycol as fine as it is not very good for one's health and thus is kosher via a halachic concept known as nishtana in any case. However the bottle is indeed still PET and needs to be recycled by as usual. The new Plantbottle is not like PLA polylactide which is http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polylactide
biodegradable and truly environmentally friendly. Only in recent years has attention been paid http://www.star-k.org/kashrus/kk-containers-plastics.htm to the kosher status of packaging materials. A myriad of esoteric additives are used with the plastic; processing equipment shailos also exist just as they do with the food itself.
On a deeper level, we can allude to Coca-Cola and its bottle as a real world example of light and vessel, the classical mashal/analogy in Kabbalah. The next time you drink a Coke, meditate on how these atoms have been around since the creation of the world, and how they have rearranged to represent such a mundane beverage that nonetheless arouses discussions of the entire hidden and revealed Torah.