Tobias Geffen

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Tobias Geffen
Tobias Geffen.jpg
Born(1870-08-01)August 1, 1870
DiedFebruary 10, 1970(1970-02-10) (aged 99)
ResidenceAtlanta, Georgia

Tobias Geffen (Hebrew: טוביה גפן‎) (August 1, 1870 – February 10, 1970) was an American Orthodox rabbi. He served as the leader of Congregation Shearith Israel in Atlanta, Georgia, from 1910 to 1970. Geffen is widely known for his 1935 decision that certified Coca-Cola as kosher.


Geffen was born on August 1, 1870, in the Lithuanian city of Kaunas (called Kovno at the time, part of the Russian Empire).[1] He immigrated to the United States in 1903 and became rabbi of New York's Congregation Ahavat Zedek in New York City.[2] In 1907, he moved to Canton, Ohio, to become the rabbi of a small synagogue.[1] In 1910 he moved to Atlanta, Georgia, where he served as rabbi of Congregation Shearith Israel until his death.[2]

Geffen organized the first Hebrew school in Atlanta.[3] He began a daily class in Talmud.[4] Geffen also standardized regulation of kosher supervision in the Atlanta area under his central authority.[2] He was the leader of the Southern division of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis.[2]

Geffen published eight books of Talmudic and Biblical exegesis.[4] He died on February 10, 1970.[1]

Kosher certification of Coca-Cola[edit]

Since he lived in Atlanta near The Coca-Cola Company's headquarters, Geffen received many inquiries from rabbis across the United States inquiring whether Coca-Cola was kosher and whether it was kosher for Passover.[5] He asked the company for a list of the beverage's ingredients.[6] Geffen was provided with the Coca-Cola formula, a closely guarded trade secret, on the condition that he not disclose the formula.[5]

Geffen discovered that one ingredient was glycerin produced from tallow from non-kosher beef.[7] He convinced the company to substitute a vegetable-based glycerin.[5]

A similar problem presented itself concerning the use of Coca-Cola during Passover, when Jews are not permitted to consume products derived from grains.[8] One of the sweeteners used in Coca-Cola included traces of alcohol produced from grain, rendering the drink impermissible during Passover.[7] The company's chemists found that a sweetener made from cane sugar and beet sugar could be used without changing the beverage's flavor.[5]

Satisfied that Coca-Cola's ingredients were kosher, Geffen issued a responsum in 1935 that Coca-Cola was kosher for year-round consumption.[5] "With the help of God, I have been able to uncover a pragmatic solution according to which there would be no question nor any doubt concerning the ingredients of Coca Cola", he wrote. "It is now possible for the most stringent Halachist to enjoy Coca Cola throughout the year and on Passover."[9]


  1. ^ a b c Geffen, Louis (1988). "Biography of Tobias Geffen". In Joel David Ziff (ed.). Lev Tuviah: On the Life and Work of Rabbi Tobias Geffen. Newton, Mass.: Rabbi Tobias Geffen Memorial Fund. OCLC 18496402.
  2. ^ a b c d Sherman, Moshe D. (1996). Orthodox Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. pp. 73–74. ISBN 0-313-24316-6. Retrieved December 3, 2008.
  3. ^ Hammack, William (May 5, 1957). "He's the Dean of Southern Rabbis". The Atlanta Journal and Constitution. Retrieved December 4, 2008.
  4. ^ a b Geffen, David (2007). "Tobias Geffen". In Fred Skolnik (ed.). Encyclopaedia Judaica. 7 (2d ed.). Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale. p. 411. ISBN 0-02-865928-7.
  5. ^ a b c d e Feldberg, Michael, ed. (2002). "Beyond Seltzer Water: The Kashering of Coca-Cola". Blessings of Freedom: Chapters in American Jewish History. New York: American Jewish Historical Society. ISBN 0-88125-756-7. Retrieved December 3, 2008.
  6. ^ Ferris, Marcie Cohen (2005). Matzoh Ball Gumbo: Culinary Tales of the Jewish South. Chapel Hill, N.C.: University of North Carolina Press. p. 165. ISBN 0-8078-2978-1. Retrieved December 3, 2008.
  7. ^ a b Geffen, Tobias (1935). "A Teshuvah Concerning Coca Cola" (PDF). Karnei Hahod. p. 1. Retrieved December 3, 2008.
  8. ^ Guber, Rafael (March 29, 2007). "Did you know? Little-known facts about Passover and Judaism to share at the seder table". The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles. Retrieved December 3, 2008.
  9. ^ Geffen, Tobias (1935). "A Teshuvah Concerning Coca Cola" (PDF). Karnei Hahod. p. 3. Retrieved December 3, 2008.

Further reading[edit]

  • Geffen, Tobias (1951). Fifty Years in the Rabbinate: An Autobiography. Atlanta: Tobias Geffen.
  • Ziff, Joel David, ed. (1988). Lev Tuviah: On the Life and Work of Rabbi Tobias Geffen. Newton, Mass.: Rabbi Tobias Geffen Memorial Fund. OCLC 18496402.

External links[edit]