A Kosher Bakery

Question #1: Sodium stearyl lactylate

Is sodium stearyl lactylate kosher?

Question #2: Vegan treif!

How can you create a non-kosher product by mixing two perfectly kosher ingredients, where both raw materials are completely vegan?

Question #3: Distinguished bourekas?

How distinguished can a boureka be?


As educated Jews, we should know what is involved in maintaining proper kashrus in a twenty-first century commercial bakery. There are many different areas that need to be addressed to ascertain that a bakery is properly kosher. This article will provide an overview of some of those aspects.

Are all the raw materials kosher?

Of course, the ingredients in the bakery must be kosher. There are many ingredients that potentially can create serious kashrus issues in a bakery, including oils, shortenings, dough conditioners and release agents. (Release agents are used to prevent baked goods from sticking to the pans on which they are baked.)

Oils and shortenings can be manufactured from non-kosher animal sources. In addition, even when oils and shortenings are made from vegetable sources, edible-oil refineries often process products made from beef tallow, lard or non-kosher fish on the same equipment that they refine vegetable oil products. This creates a kashrus problem for two reasons:

(1) The manufacturer has no incentive to clean the equipment between productions of animal and vegetable fat products, and, therefore, a run of a non-kosher product usually leaves a considerable amount of fat on the equipment. These leftovers subsequently become mixed into whatever is manufactured next.

(2) Since the refining of these products is done at high temperatures, the vegetable oil absorbs non-kosher flavor.

Dough conditioners

Calcium stearyl lactylate and sodium stearyl lactylate are common dough conditioners used by most commercial bakeries. Among the many benefits these ingredients provide is that they improve the texture and appearance of the finished product and also help it remain fresh for a longer period of time.

How do you make calcium stearyl lactylate and sodium stearyl lactylate? Well, the “stearyl” part of these products is stearic acid, which is usually made from non-kosher animal fat, but can be produced from kosher vegetable sources. Although lactic acid, the source of the “lactylate,” is usually made from kosher and pareve sources, it can be derived from dairy ingredients, or even from non-kosher whey. Thus, both calcium stearyl lactylate and sodium stearyl lactylate must be from reliable, kosher-supervised sources.

Raisin juice

Raisins can create a halachic problem that may go unnoticed by the inexperienced. In addition to being careful that there are no concerns about insects in the raisins, raisins are often mixed or cooked with water to create raisin juice, which functions both as a sweetener and as a natural, healthful preservative. However, this raisin juice has a halachic status of wine, and, when handled by a non-Jew, becomes prohibited because of stam yeinam. Thus, there can be a very unusual situation where mixing two kosher ingredients, raisins and water, creates a non-kosher product. Since all bakeries have non-Jewish workers, it could create a kashrus issue without anyone realizing that there is a potential problem.

Dairy bread

Because of concern that someone might eat fleishig bread with dairy, or milchig bread with meat, Chazal prohibited adding dairy ingredients to bread or greasing a tray with fleishig fat prior to baking bread. Certain exceptions were allowed, such as when making a very small amount of bread that will be consumed at one meal without any left over, or baking bread with an unusual shape that would cause someone to ask why this bread looks different.

Dairy pastry

The halachic authorities discuss whether we need to have the above concern when preparing a product that is usually not eaten together with the main course. The consensus is that one may add dairy ingredients to pastry items that are ordinarily not eaten with meat, but are usually eaten either as dessert or as a snack. However, one may not add dairy or meat ingredients to crackers, zwieback or similar items that are sometimes eaten with meat or cheese (Shu”t Maharit 2:18; Chachmas Adam 50:3). Other authorities are lenient even regarding crackers and zwieback, contending that Chazal prohibited mixing dairy or meat ingredients only into regular bread (She’eilas Yaavetz #62; see Pri Chodosh, Yoreh Deah 97:1).

There is a later opinion that disagrees with the above and contends that one may not make dairy products that one may mistakenly eat for dessert after a meat meal (Yad Yehudah, Peirush Ha’katzar 97:3).According to the first approach I mentioned, it is permitted to make milchig cake, cookies or doughnuts. The second approach requires that dairy cakes and cookies must be made in a way that it is obvious that they are milchig, or they must be marked in a way that calls attention to their dairy status.

Distinguished bourekas

Based on this latter approach, bakeries in Eretz Yisrael today usually make cheese bourekas in a triangular shape and pareve bourekas in rectangular shapes.

Notwithstanding this practice, common custom is to assume that the prohibition against making dairy dough products applies only to bread.

What if it happened by mistake?

What is the law if someone is making dough, and some milk spills into it unintentionally? Is there a basis to be lenient, since the person was not trying to violate Chazal’s rule not to make dairy bread?

The logic to be lenient here would be true, if the prohibition against eating dairy or meat bread was a penalty that Chazal imposed on someone who violated their instruction not to add dairy or meat product to dough. However, this is not the reason for the prohibition. The rule was established to guarantee that no one mistakenly violate the laws of eating meat and milk together. Thus, the prohibition exists, whether the milk (or meat) was added intentionally or in error.

Nevertheless, when there was an unintended spill of meat or dairy and a major loss would result, the Chachmas Adam (50:5) permits giving each family only one loaf of dairy bread for immediate consumption (see also Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 97:8; Yad Yehudah, Peirush Hakatzar 97:4). This is permitted, because each receives an amount that he will finish in one day, and you do not need to be concerned that someone will forget and eat the leftover bread with dairy or meat.

Commercial bakery

There are authorities who permit a commercial bakery to manufacture a large quantity of dairy bread, as long as it is careful to sell to each individual or household only a small amount that he will eat at one time, without any leftovers (Shu”t Kesav Sofer, Yoreh Deah #61). This logic might permit a kashrus agency to certify a company that makes dairy bread, provided it sells its products in very small units. The Yad Yehudah (Peirush Hakatzar 97:7) raises a similar issue regarding whether a Jew may purchase a very small quantity of dairy bread from a non-Jewish owned bakery, just as he is permitted to make a very small quantity of dairy bread for himself. The Yad Yehudah prohibits this for an unrelated reason, because of the problem of chalav akum, that milk and milk products may not be purchased from a non-Jew, unless the dairy product was supervised from the time of its being milked. In today’s world, where many authorities permit non-chalav Yisroel milk because we can assume that a dairy or producer would use only cow’s milk, it would seem that one might be permitted to purchase dairy bread for a meal at a time and consume it in its entirety. However, the Maharit rejects this heter, raising concern that the baker may forget to tell his customers that the bread is dairy (Shu”t Maharit 2:18).

Pareve bread on dairy equipment

Is it permitted to make pareve bread on dairy or meat equipment, or is this included in the prohibition of making milchig or fleishig bread? In halacha, this is referred to as whether nat bar nat (literally a taste that is son of a taste) of dairy or meat, is still considered milchig or fleishig. There is a leniency about this mentioned in the Gemara.

Some authorities contend that the leniency of nat bar nat applies only to pareve food placed in a kli sheni, that is,in a bowl in which hot meat had been placed after being removed from the fire. However, pareve food placed in a fleishig or milchig kli rishon, i.e., a bowl or pot that had previously been on the fire and now has been removed, may not be treated as pareve. In other words, if a tray used to bake chicken was removed from the oven and fully cleaned, bread now placed on the tray may not be eaten with milchig (Rivan quoted by Tosafos, Chullin 111b).

However, most rishonim disagree and permit food cooked in a kli rishon meat pot to be eaten with dairy, provided the equipment is clean from significant meat residue. Following their approach, there is no problem eating bread that was baked on a milchig or fleishig tray, even if the tray was used to cook dairy or meat immediately before thebread. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 95:1) follows this position and this is the accepted practice among Sefardim.

However, the Rema (ad loc.) rules that one should not eat pareve food prepared this way with the opposite (i.e., eating food heated on a meat tray with dairy, or eating food heated on a dairy tray together with meat). This is the approach followed by Ashkenazim. Thus, according to the Rema, not only must the hechsher be careful that the bakery’s bread contain no dairy ingredients, it also must ascertain that it is not baked on dairy trays.

Pas Yisroel

Another issue that needs to be resolved is whether the bakery is certified to sell pas Yisroel or not. Pas Yisroel means bread baked by a Jew, or where a Jew participated in its baking. Pas paltur means bread baked by a gentile for sale, which one is permitted to eat, at least when certain conditions exist, as I will explain.

According to the Shulchan Aruch and the Shach, it is permitted to eat pas paltur only when no comparable pas Yisroel is available. However, if the pas paltur tastes better, or someone wants a variety of bread that is not available locally as pas Yisroel, he may use pas paltur. Nevertheless, according to this opinion, he should constantly assess whether pas Yisroel is available before using pas paltur.

Some authorities permit purchasing pas paltur even when pas Yisroel is available, in a situation where there is not enough pas Yisroel for everyone (Kaf Hachayim, Yoreh Deah 112:30). They also permit pas paltur when purchasing exclusively pas Yisroel would drive up its price (Kaf Hachayim, Yoreh Deah 112:30).

Other authorities are more lenient, ruling that pas paltur is always permitted (Rema). This heter was so widespread that the Rema, in Toras Chatas, his detailed work on the laws of kashrus, wrote: “Since the custom in most places (regarding the consumption of pas paltur) is to be lenient, I will not expound on the topic at length, because the widespread practice is to permit this bread and eat it, even when pas Yisroel is available. Therefore, one who is careful about pas Yisroel may choose to be machmir to the extent that he wants.”

In this context, I would be remiss not to mention a dispute among acharonim whether there is any reason not to use pas paltur bread that is baked in a large commercial bakery, since the customer never meets the employees (see Shu”t Maharit Tzahlon #161, quoted by Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 112:9).

Making it pas Yisroel

Notwithstanding that the Rema concludes that pas paltur is permitted, all agree that there is a preference to eat pas Yisroel. Among the rishonim, we find a dispute whether the Jew’s participation in the baking of the bread must have some significance to it to make it pas Yisroel, or whether a symbolic involvement is sufficient. The conclusion of most authorities is that a symbolic act, such as tossing a splint into the oven, is sufficient (Rambam; Tosafos; Ran; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 112:9).

The Shulchan Aruch (112:10) also concludes, based on a statement of the Mordechai, that if the gentile baked a few times in one day, and the Jew did not throw a splinter into the fire on one of those occasions, the bread is still considered pas Yisroel, on the basis of an earlier throwing. The Rema follows an even more lenient interpretation and rules that if a Jew added to the flame once, all the bakings made in that oven are pas Yisroel, until the oven is down for 24 consecutive hours. The rationale behind this last approach is that the heat from the previous bakings, which had a halacha of pas Yisroel, is as significant to the future bakings as having a Jew add a splinter to the flames.

Today’s pas Yisroel

Contemporary gas or electric ovens do not accommodate adding a splinter of wood to the oven’s fuel. Nonetheless, it is very easy to make the bread pas Yisroel even in a large commercial bakery that operates seven days a week,. Simply have a Jew adjust the thermostat downward for a second, until he sees that this has stopped or decreased the flow of fuel, and then set the thermostat back to its original setting. The product quality is not affected at all, and this renders all baked goods at this bakery pas Yisroel for the foreseeable future.

When the above method is not an option, such as in a bakery that is not in operation seven days a week, another contemporary solution is often suggested. The hechsher places a glowbar, an electrical unit inside the oven that participates in all the baking. Since the glowbar is turned on only by someone Jewish, such as the visiting mashgiach, all breads baked in that oven are now pas Yisroel. (We should note that there are some rabbonim who do not approve of a glowbar for pas Yisroel, for reasons beyond the scope of this article.)

Gluten-free bread

In today’s world, gluten-free bread and pastry have become very popular items. Since they are usually made without the five grains (wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats), they may not require pas Yisroel, but may involve a more serious prohibition, bishul akum. Gluten-free products are made without wheat, rye, barley or spelt, and use, instead, gluten-free starches such as manioc, arrowroot, tapioca, plantain or oats, the last of which can be made gluten free relatively easily. (Please note that there are many different types of gluten intolerance; a small percentage of people are sensitive to oat starch.)Bread baked from most of these grains (with the exception of oats) is not considered bread according to halacha, and therefore has no issue of pas akum. However, they may be categorized as cooked items, and potentially prohibited as bishul akum. Whereas I noted above that pas akum produced for commercial sale is permitted according to many authorities in all circumstances, and, according to all authorities in some circumstances, the prohibition against bishul akum, foods cooked by a non-Jew do not carry these lenient rulings.

We find discussion among earlier authorities regarding baked products produced from rice flour, without any of the five grains included. Some authorities contend that where bread from rice or similar grains is commonly eaten, there is a concern of bishul akum (Pri Chadash, Yoreh Deah 112:5). This approach is implied by the Rosh and by the Rema (Toras Chatas, 75:11). Others contend that there is no bishul akum concern, because rice bread is not oleh al shulchan melachim (Bach; Shach; Shu”t Avnei Neizer, Yoreh Deah 92:7). I leave it to each individual to ask his rav or posek whether he should be concerned about bishul akum regarding these products.

Separating challah

In previous articles, I have discussed the issues about separating challah. The question of separating challah is contingent only on whether the dough is owned by someone Jewish, but not on who actually mixes the dough. In other words, if a Jew owns the bakery, there is a requirement to separate challah, even if the workers making the dough are non-Jewish. If the owner is not Jewish, there is no requirement to separate challah, even if the worker mixing the dough is Jewish. The halacha is the exact opposite of the rules that govern pas Yisroel and bishul Yisroel where the status is contingent on the person who makes the product, not on who owns it.


Of course, the hechsher also needs to make certain that the raw materials and the production facility itself are maintained in a way to resolve all kashrus concerns about insect contamination.


Based on the above information, we can gain a greater appreciation of how hard it is to maintain a high kashrus standard. We certainly have a greater incentive to become better- educated kosher consumers who understand many aspects of the preparation of kosher food, and why it is important to ascertain that everything one consumes has a proper hechsher. We should always hope and pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands us.