Bishul Akum for the Ill

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Question #1: Cooked on Shabbos

If a non-Jew cooks on Shabbos for someone who is ill, is the food he cooks prohibited because of bishul akum? Obviously, the ill person is permitted to eat the food, but there are several ramifications to this question.

Question #2: Bishul akum equipment

If a non-Jew cooked using my pots, do they require kashering because they absorbed non-kosher food?

Background:

Chazal instituted the law of bishul akum to discourage inappropriate social interaction, which could lead to intermarriage, and also to guarantee that kashrus not be compromised (Rashi, Avodah Zarah 35b s.v. Vehashelakos and38a s.v. Miderabbanan and Tosafos ad loc.).

There are two major exceptions to the law of bishul akum – that is, situations in which a non-Jew cooked food that one may eat, despite the prohibition against bishul akum. One exception is food that is usually eaten raw, such as an apple. Therefore, if a non-Jew baked apples and did not use anything non-kosher while doing so, the apples are kosher.

Another exception is something that would not be served on a king’s table. There are many interpretations as to how to define this, but all poskim agree that small fish and porridge are permitted when cooked by a non-Jew, as long as nothing non-kosher was added – because these items are not served to a king.

This article will discuss a possible third exception to bishul akum: Food cooked by a non-Jew on Shabbos for someone who is ill.

Bishul akum for the ill

In a different article, we learned that we may ask a non-Jew to do on Shabbos whatever is required for the care of a person who is ill, even asking a non-Jew to cook for the sick person. This is permitted even if no life-threatening emergency exists, as long as the person is ill enough to be choleh kol gufo, usually defined as someone ill enough to go to bed (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 328:17), or whose discomfort is intense enough that he feels that his entire body is affected (Rema ad locum).

In the previous article, I did not discuss an important question: If food cooked by a non-Jew is prohibited because of bishul akum, how can a Jewish person eat what the non-Jew cooked? There are two obvious answers to this question:

1. Food cooked by a non-Jew to take care of a sick person was excluded from the prohibition of bishul akum.

2. Because of his medical needs, a choleh kol gufo is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum.

In either event, we have several follow-up questions:

Does this heter apply only to what is cooked on Shabbos, when a Jew may not cook for the sick person, or does it apply all the time? If this dispensation applies only to what a non-Jew cooked on Shabbos,is the ill person permitted to eat the leftovers after Shabbos, or does that food become prohibited once a Jew can cook for him? And, assuming that the sick person is permitted to eat the food after Shabbos, is it permitted for a different Jew, who is perfectly healthy, to eat what the non-Jew cooked on Shabbos?

Does bishul akum affect pots?

Finally, if the non-Jew used a Jew’s kosher pots to cook for the ill on Shabbos, do the pots become non-kosher because they absorbed bishul akum? If so, do the pots now need to be koshered before they may be used again? Or, since it is permitted to ask the non-Jew to cook for the Jewish ill, do the pots not need to be koshered afterward? Or, an even more lenient idea: perhaps bishul akum applies only to food, but does not prohibit pots at all?

This entire list of questions is discussed and debated by the rishonim. Their differing approaches provide a goldmine for the scholar attempting to analyze critically the legal (halachic) status of bishul akum and to comprehend clearly Chazal’s ruling permitting asking a non-Jew to cook for the ill. As we will soon see, there are various ways to answer the questions that we raised, and differences in halachic opinion affect decisions made in kosher nursing homes and hospital to this very day.

Explaining these issues also affords an opportunity to understand an important chapter in Jewish history that is not as well known as it should be.

Debate in Barcelona

Barcelona is the second largest city in Spain and the capital of Catalonia, the northeastern region of the country. Today, there is a tiny Jewish presence in the city, but, in the times of the rishonim, Barcelona was a major headquarters of Torah. At different times, many gedolei Yisroel lived in the city, including the Raavad, the Ramban, Rav Yehudah Bartzeloni, theRashba, the Rosh (who had fled from Germany, which had become very dangerous for rabbonim), the Rosh’s distinguished sons (including his son Yaakov, who later  authored the Tur), Rav Aharon Halevi (known as the Re’ah), the Ohr Hashem (Rav Chasdai Kreskas), the Ritva, and the Nimukei Yosef, to list some of the better-known gedolim who walked the streets of this city.

In the thirteenth century, three major halachic works appeared in Barcelona in quick succession. These works clarified the halachos observed in a frum house. The first, written by theRashba, was aptly called Toras Habayis (literally, the laws of the house), whichdiscussed, in very organized and detailed fashion, the laws of kashrus, mikveh, netilas yadayim and other household laws. It was actually two different works. One, a brief edition called the Toras Habayis Hakatzar, offered instructions for household owners to manage their homes in accordance with halacha. The other, Toras Habayis He’aruch,is an extensive and thorough explanation of the halachic background to the topics, quoting the original sources in the Mishnah, Gemara, and early authorities. It discusses and explains the arguments, sources and opinions cited by the various great, early poskim on the subject, and then the Rashba reaches his conclusion.

Shortly after the Toras Habayis saw the light of day, another work, called Bedek Habayis (literally, inspections [or repairs] of the house) appeared, written by Rav Aharon Halevi ( the Re’ah) exclusively to disagree with the conclusions of the Toras Habayis. The Bedek Habayis went to great length to demonstrate where he felt the Toras Habayis’s analysis and comparisons were incorrect.

Eventually, a third work was produced anonymously, called the Mishmeres Habayis (protecting the house), the purpose of which was to explain that the original Toras Habayis’s conclusions had been correct and that the Bedek Habayis was incorrect.

These works were all produced before the invention of the printing press, which means that they were circulated via copying them by hand.

The mystery is discovered

At first, the members of the community were baffled trying to identify the author of the Mishmeres Habayis. This should indicate the high level of Talmudic scholarship that existed then in Barcelona – apparently, there were enough Torah scholars in Barcelona capable of writing such an incredibly scholarly work that it could be published anonymously, without the identity of its author being immediately obvious.

Eventually, it was discovered that the author of the Mishmeres Habayis was none other than theRashba himself.

At this point, let us return to our topic, and to our original opening questions:

1. If a non-Jew cooks on Shabbos for someone who is ill, is the food he cooks prohibited because of bishul akum?

2. If a non-Jew cooked using my pots, do they require kashering because they absorbed non-kosher food?

Opinion of the Re’ah

Although the Toras Habayis does not discuss these topics, both the Bedek Habayis and the Mishmeres Habayis do. The Bedek Habayis (Bayis 3 Shaar 7) concludes that:

1. Food cooked by a non-Jew to take care of the needs of someone ill does not carry the prohibition of bishul akum.

2. Bishul akum does not affect equipment.

The Bedek Habayis permits the first case for the following reason: At the time this food was cooked, it was permitted to be eaten. A person who is well may not eat it because of the laws of Shabbos – we are concerned that someone may ask the non-Jew to do something on Shabbos that is not permitted for a Jew to do – but not because of the prohibition of bishul akum. Since the cooking was performed not for social reasons but in order to have fresh food for ill people, no prohibition of bishul akum was incurred at the time that the food was cooked. Therefore, it cannot become prohibited as bishul akum after Shabbos is over. The Re’ah concludes that the food cooked by a non-Jew for an ill Jewish person on Shabbos is permitted after Shabbos, even for a perfectly healthy person.

Furthermore, reasons the Bedek Habayis, should a non-Jew cook for himself in a kosher pot, the food is prohibited because of bishul akum but the pot itself remains kosher. The reason is that the use of this pot does not create any favorable social interaction between Jews and non-Jews that we must avoid. In other words, the Bedek Habayis contends that since the prohibition of bishul akum was limited to situations that encourage social interaction, the taste of bishul akum that is absorbed into pots was never prohibited. Enjoying the residual taste remaining in a pot does not encourage unwanted social interaction.

The Bedek Habayis then quotes Rav Yitzchak beRabbi Manoach, who rules that what a non-Jewish slave cooks as part of the responsibility to the household that owns him or her is not prohibited as bishul akum, since there is no increased social interaction when someone cooks as an aspect of being a slave. The point of the Bedek Habayis is that Rav Yitzchak beRabbi Manoach contends that eating what a gentile cooked is not included in the prohibition of bishul akum when the circumstances do not encourage social interaction – and certainly the residual absorption in the pots is permitted.

The Bedek Habayis then quotes from “mori rabbeinu Moshe, z”l,” the Ramban (who had headed a yeshivah in Barcelona and was the Re’ah’s primary rebbe), that, lechatchilah, cooking in a Jewish house should not be performed by a non-Jewish slave – but if it was, the food is permitted bedi’eved.

TheRashba’s response

TheRashba, in his Mishmeres Habayis, disagrees with every point made by the Re’ah in the Bedek Habayis. He compares a non-Jew cooking food for an ill person on Shabbos to the situation of a person who is deathly ill and there is no fresh meat to eat. The halacha in the latter situation is that, if no shocheit is available, you are required to kill an animal, rendering its meat neveilah, and cook it for the sick person. As soon as a shocheit becomes available, you are no longer permitted to feed the sick person non-kosher. Of course, the pot in which the neveilah was cooked is not kosher and must be koshered. Similarly, Mishmeres Habayis contends that although it is permitted to have a non-Jew cook for someone ill, the food is permitted to be eaten only by the ill and only until there is enough time after Shabbos to cook fresh food. Once that time arrives, all the food that was cooked by the non-Jew becomes prohibited as bishul akum, even for the sick person, and certainly it was never permitted for someone well to eat. In addition, the previously kosher pot used by the non-Jew to cook for the ill on Shabbos is prohibited because of the bishul akum absorbed in it, and the pot must be koshered before it can be used again.

The Mishmeres Habayis explains the basis for this law as the general rule, “kol detikun rabbanan ke’ein de’oraysa tikun,”whatever the Sages established they did in a system similar to the rules of the Torah” (Pesachim 30b, 39b, et al.). Therefore, when Chazal created the prohibition of bishul akum, they gave the prohibited product all the rules that apply to items prohibited min haTorah. Thus, we see that Barcelona was the scene of a major halachic controversy that has ramifications to this very day.

How do we rule?

Well, who is “we”? The Ran (Shu”t Haran 5:11-12), the primary Spanish halachic authority in the generation following theRashba and Re’ah, discusses the second question, whether bishul akum prohibits the equipment used to cook it. He opines that logically the prohibition of bishul akum should apply only to the food prepared and not to the equipment in which it was produced, since concerns about social interaction apply only to the food, and not to the equipment. However, that since there are poskim who disagreed with the Re’ah, the Ran concludes that it is preferable to have the equipment koshered, and, if this food was cooked in an earthenware pot (which cannot be kashered), the earthenware pot should be broken (see Pesachim 30b; Avodah Zarah 33b-34a).

Two contemporaries of the Ran also weigh in on the question of whether we require kashering of equipment in which bishul akum occurred. The Tur (end of Yoreh Deah 113) quotes that theRashba required kashering equipment that cooked bishul akum, even if it was a case of non-Jewish servants who cooked in a Jew’s house. He notes that theRashba holds that, to avoid prohibiting the pots, when non-Jewish workers cook for themselves in a Jewish house, someone Jewish must participate in the cooking, in a way that avoids the prohibition of bishul akum.

The Tur himself does not conclude this way. He quotes that his father, the Rosh, a contemporary of theRashba, contends that Chazal prohibited only the food of bishul akum, but did not extend the prohibition to flavor absorbed into pots and other equipment. In other words, the Rosh accepts the approach of the Re’ah that bishul akum is different from other proscriptions and is prohibited only to the extent that it would cause unwanted social interactions.

The other contemporary of the Ran who discusses this issue is Rabbeinu Yerucham, a disciple of the Rosh, who writes that most authorities agreed with the Rosh that bishul akum does not create a prohibition on the equipment used to cook it. However, the Beis Yosef, after quoting Rabbeinu Yerucham, disagrees with his conclusion that most authorities accept the Rosh’s opinion. The Beis Yosef writes that most authorities who lived after theera of the Rashba, Re’ah and Rosh accept the opinion of theRashba as the conclusive halacha. In Shulchan Aruch,he mentions both approaches, but concludes that the main approach is that equipment used for bishul akum does require kashering.

Three times lucky

Above, I quoted the Ran who states that if bishul akum prohibits the vessels, if an earthenware pot was used, the pot must be broken. However, theRashba himself did not rule this way. This is based on a passage of Talmud Yerushalmi (Terumos 11:4) that rules that a lenience applies when a prohibition is rabbinic in origin, which is the case of bishul akum. In these circumstances, Chazal permitted kashering earthenware by boiling the vessel three times(Rashba, quoted by Tur Yoreh Deah 123). This ruling is accepted by the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 113:16).

What about for the ill?

Above, we mentioned that theRashba and Re’ah also disagreed about whether food cooked by a non-Jew on Shabbos for a Jewish person who is ill is prohibited as bishul akum. How do we rule on this question? Again, it depends on whom you ask: The Rema and the Shach conclude that the food is permitted after Shabbos, even for a healthy person, whereas the Taz, Mishnah Berurah (328:63) and others rule that it is prohibited even for the ill person once food cooked by a Jew becomes available.

Conclusion

According to the Rambam, the reason Chazal prohibited asking a non-Jew to do work on Shabbos is in order not to diminish sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves. Refraining from having even a non-Jew work is testimony to our deep conviction that Hashem created the world.

We have just learned an exception to this rule: When someone is ill, we are permitted to ask a non-Jew to cook for him. This will not diminish sensitivity to doing melacha ourselves, but will increase our sensitivity to the needs of the ill and the mitzvah of bikur cholim, ensuring that we attend to their needs as best as we can.

What Makes Bread Jewish?

Since the end of our parsha discusses Pharaoh’s non-Jewish baker, I thought it appropriate to discuss some of the laws of pas akum, pas Yisroel and pas paltar.

What Makes Bread Jewish?

Question #1: No Bagels

“Where I live, the local frum bakery does not make bagels. Am I permitted to purchase brand name bagels that are not pas Yisroel?”

Question #2: Commercial versus bakery

“On Shabbos, am I required to use exclusively pas Yisroel, which is hard to get in my town?”

Question #3: Who is a Jew?

“What defines my bread as being Jewish?”

Basic background

In the days of the disciples of Hillel and Shammai, Chazal forbade eating bread made by non-Jews, called pas akum – even when there are no other kashrus concerns, neither about the ingredients nor about the equipment used to prepare the bread (Avodah Zarah 36a). To quote the Mishnah: “The following items of a non-Jew are forbidden to be eaten, but are permitted for benefit: milk milked by a non-Jew without a Jew supervising; their bread and their oil — although Rebbe and his beis din permitted the oil — and their cooked items” (Avodah Zarah 35b). This article is concerned primarily with pas akum, but also touches on another takanah mentioned in this Mishnah: the prohibition against eating food cooked by a gentile. The Mishnah refers to this food as shelakos – literally, cooked items – but the prohibition is usually called bishul akum.

Pas akum glossary:

To facilitate our understanding of the prohibition of pas akum, I will now define some of the terms germane to the subject.

Pas Yisroel – bread baked by a Jew, or where a Jew participated in its baking.

Pas baalei batim – bread baked by a non-Jew for his personal use, which is almost always forbidden.

Pas paltar – bread baked by a non-Jew for sale. Notwithstanding the above quote from the Mishnah, the halachah is that pas paltar may be eaten, at least when certain conditions exist.

Bishul akum glossary

Although bishul akum has its own glossary of terms, the only term we need for our article is oleh al shulchan melachim, which means “something that would be served on a king’s table.” The halachah is that the prohibition of bishul akum applies only when the food is something that would be served on a king’s table.

Dispute about pas paltar

As our title and opening questions indicate, most of our article will discuss the laws of pas Yisroel and the extent to which pas paltar is permitted. As I explained in another article, the Rishonim understand that pas paltar is permitted under some circumstances. There is a basic dispute among halachic authorities as to what those conditions are. According to the Shulchan Aruch and the Shach, it is permitted to use pas paltar only when there is no comparable pas Yisroel available. However, if the pas paltar tastes better, or one wants to eat a variety of bread that is not available in his locale as pas Yisroel, one may use pas paltar. Nevertheless, according to this opinion, one must constantly assess whether pas Yisroel is available before using pas paltar.

Some authorities permit purchasing pas paltar even when pas Yisroel is available, in a situation where there would not be enough pas Yisroel for everyone if there were no pas paltar available (Kaf Hachayim 112:30). They also permit pas paltar when purchasing exclusively pas Yisroel would drive up its price (Kaf Hachayim 112:30).

On the other hand, other authorities are more lenient, ruling that pas paltar 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 is to be lenient, I will therefore not expound on it at length, because the widespread practice is to permit this bread and eat it, even when there is pas Yisroel available. Therefore, one who is careful about pas Yisroel may choose to be machmir to the extent that he wants.”

Brand-named bagel

At this point, we can answer the first of our opening questions: “Where I live, the local frum bakery does not make bagels. Am I permitted to purchase bagels manufactured by a large company that are not pas Yisroel?”

The answer is that, according to all accepted opinions, one may use these bagels when no pas Yisroel bagels are available locally.

Hechsherim and pas Yisroel

Based on the opinion of the Rema, most hechsherim in North America do not require that the bread products that they supervise are pas Yisroel. Of course, this does not resolve the matter for Sefardim, who should use pas paltar only when no comparable pas Yisroel is available. Mehadrin hechsherim in Eretz Yisroel are, in general, stringent and require their products to be pas Yisroel.

It should be noted that the primary commentary on the Toras Chatas, the Minchas Yaakov, written by seventeenth-century posek and Gadol Rav Yaakov Breisch, points out that someone who has been machmir to follow the approach of the Shulchan Aruch, and then decides that he wants to be lenient and follow the Rema, is required to perform hataras nedorim before he may use pas paltar.

Aseres Yemei Teshuvah

The Rema in the Toras Chatas writes further: “However, during the days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Rosh and the Mordechai wrote that one should be stringent.” This ruling is accepted by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 603) and all later halachic authorities.

Pas akum on Shabbos

The authorities dispute whether the heter of using pas paltar applies on Shabbos. The Darchei Moshe (Orach Chayim 603:1) and the Magen Avraham (242:4) rule that one should not use pas paltar on Shabbos, whereas the Elyah Rabbah (242:10) rules that one may use pas paltar on Shabbos, just as one may on weekdays. Most later opinions follow the approach of the Darchei Moshe and the Magen Avraham that on Shabbos one should use only pas Yisroel, when available (see, for example, Chayei Adam, 1, 4; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 242, 45; Mishnah Berurah 242:6). This is considered an aspect of kavod Shabbos, honoring the sanctity of Shabbos (Shulchan Aruch Hagraz, 242:13; Mishnah Berurah 242:6). However, when no pas Yisroel is available, or it is not comparable to the pas paltar, one may use pas paltar, even on Shabbos.

At this point, we can examine the second of our opening questions: “On Shabbos, am I required to use exclusively pas Yisroel, which is hard to get in my town?”

According to accepted halachic approach, one should use pas Yisroel on Shabbos when available, unless the pas paltar tastes better.

Breading for Shabbos

Many people do not realize that although they bake all their Shabbos bread at home, or purchase it only from Jewish bakeries, that when they bread their chicken or use croutons for Shabbos, they may be using pas paltar. Although this breading is certainly kosher and carries reliable hechsherim, according to most halachic authorities, one should use only pas Yisroel breading for Shabbos foods.

To justify those who are lenient, I can share two heterim. One heter was mentioned above: If all Jews would begin using pas Yisroel, there would not be enough for everyone, and this would cause prices to rise. A second heter is that there are authorities who permit pas paltar in a large commercial bakery, where the customer will never meet the employees (Birkei Yosef, Yoreh Deah 112:9, quoting Maharit Tzalon. Note that the Birkei Yosef, himself, rejects this heter.) Disciples of Rav Moshe Feinstein relate that Rav Moshe held this latter reason to be a legitimate basis to be lenient. I leave to each reader to discuss with his or her own Rav or posek whether he personally should be stringent in this matter, particularly since there are simple solutions to the question, as we will soon see.

We should be aware that an earlier authority, the Tashbeitz (1:89), states that, even when technically speaking, the halachah is that one may find reasons to be lenient and use pas paltar, it is appropriate for a person to be machmir in these halachos. He continues that one certainly should be machmir not to use pas paltar for pleasure items – such as pastry. The Tashbeitz advises that a rav should pasken for others that they are permitted to use pas paltar, but he, himself, should refrain from relying on the heterim.

True Jewish rye

At this point, we will examine the third of our opening questions: “What defines my bread as being Jewish?”

The entire issue of whether, and under which circumstances, a Jew may eat bread baked by a non-Jew is problematic only when the entire baking procedure is done without any participation of a Jew. However, if a Jew participated in the baking, the resultant bread is considered pas Yisroel.

What does it mean that a Jew “participated” in the baking? To answer this question, let us begin by quoting the following Talmudic passage:

Ravina said: “Bread made by having the oven lit by a gentile and baked by a Jew, or the oven was lit by a Jew and the bread was baked by a gentile, or even if it was lit by a gentile and baked by a gentile and a Jew stirred the coals, the bread is fine” (Avodah Zarah 38b). Rashi explains that the stirring of the coals increases the heat. The Ran explains Rashi to mean that this is considered that the Jew participated in the baking in a noticeable way. He notes that, according to Rashi, tossing a splinter of wood would not be sufficient to make the bread pas Yisroel, since the Jew’s participation does not make a noticeable difference. The Ran quotes this position, also, as that of the Ramban, and this approach was held also by the Rosh.

The Ran then suggests another possibility: If a Jew brings a hot coal or other source of fire, and the fire of the oven is kindled from this flame, the baked goods thereby produced are considered pas Yisroel. Although the Ran, himself, ultimately rejects this approach, others consider it acceptable to make the bread pas Yisroel, considering this to be that the Jew made a noticeable change, since without the original coal or flame, no bread would be produced.

The Ran concludes, as do Tosafos and the Rambam, that if a Jew simply tosses a splinter of wood into the fire, this is sufficient to consider the bread pas Yisroel, since the Jew symbolically participated in the baking of the bread.

Thus, we have a dispute among the early authorities as to whether the Jew’s participation in the baking of the bread must have some significance 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 splinter into the oven, is sufficient (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 112:9).

How many rabbis does it take to change a light bulb?

Some contemporary rabbis have suggested an innovative way to accomplish having commercial bread be considered pas Yisroel. The method is having a light bulb installed inside the oven that is turned on by a mashgiach. They reason that this adds more heat to the oven than does a splinter tossed into the fire. Other rabbonim disagree, contending that the splinter becomes part of the fire, and, therefore, the entire fire is influenced by the Jew, which then renders the bread pas Yisroel. A light bulb, on the other hand, provides insignificant heat and does not become part of the fire that bakes the bread. According to the latter approach, this bread remains pas akum.

Other heterim

The halachic authorities are lenient, ruling that even if the bread was already edible when a Jew added some fuel to the flame, it is still considered pas Yisroel, despite the fact that all the Jew added was some heat that made the bread a bit more tasty (Shaarei Dura; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 112:12; Toras Chatas 75:3).

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

Contemporary ovens

In most contemporary ovens, there is no way to add a splinter to the flame. However, it is still very easy to make baked goods into pas Yisroel. All that is necessary is that, once in a great while, a Jew adjusts the flame downward for a second, until he sees that this has stopped or decreased the flow of fuel, and then he resets the thermostat to its original setting. The product quality is not affected at all, and this accomplishes that all the baked goods produced by this bakery are pas Yisroel. This is a very easy way to make all bread baked in large kosher bakeries in the United States into pas Yisroel. The mashgiach can simply adjust the flames of the ovens in the bakeries when he makes his regular inspections.

When is it bread?

The Mishnah quoted above discusses two different prohibitions: one that the Mishnah called bread, which has heretofore been our topic of discussion, and one that the Mishnah called shelakos, to which we usually refer as bishul akum, meaning food that was cooked by a non-Jew. There are several major halachic distinctions between these two prohibitions. The most obvious is that whereas pas paltar is permitted when pas Yisroel is unavailable (and according to the Rema, even when pas Yisroel is available), no such heter exists in the case of bishul akum. In other words, if the only food available is bishul akum prepared for commercial sale, it remains prohibited. (According to some authorities, there is one exception: A non-Jew cooked food on Shabbos for someone who is ill. According to the Rema [Yoreh Deah 113:16], there is no prohibition of bishul akum on this food, which means that after Shabbos even a healthy person may eat it. However, the later authorities rule that this food is prohibited, and that after Shabbos one should cook fresh food even for the ill person [Taz, Gra].)

Rice bread

The Rishonim explain that the law of pas akum applies exclusively to breads made of one of the five crops that we consider grains: wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats (Tur, quoting Rosh; Shulchan Aruch). Some authorities contend that in a place where these grains are not available and, therefore, it is common to make bread from rice or similar grains, there would be a potential bishul akum issue (Pri Chodosh 112:5). This approach is implied by the Rosh and by the 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).

What types of bread?

Although our article is about pas and not about bishul, we need to determine whether certain food items are considered bread or whether they are considered cooked foods. If they are bread, then the heter of pas paltar applies. On the other hand, if they qualify as shelakos, this heter does not apply.

One of the earliest responsa on this topic dates back to the days of the Rishonim. The Rivash was asked whether certain dough foods prepared on a stovetop may be purchased from non-Jews because they are considered pas paltar, or whether they are prohibited as shelakos. He concludes as follows: If the product is made from dough, called belilah avah in Hebrew, as opposed to a batter, and it is baked on a stovetop, it is considered bread and the heter to use pas paltar applies. However, if it is considered a batter (a belilah rakah), and it is fried or baked on a stovetop, then it depends on the following: If it is cooked on a stovetop or griddle using a liquid (such as oil), then it is considered a cooked item; the laws of bishul akum apply, and there would be no heter of pas paltar. However, if the liquid is used only to prevent it from burning, or so that it can be removed easily from the pan or griddle (called a “release agent”), it is considered bread, and not shelakos, and is permitted as pas paltar (Shu”t Harivash #28).

Thus, the heter of pas paltar would not apply to blintzes, pancakes or crepes, all of which involve frying a batter on a griddle or stovetop, but it would apply to waffles, which, according to the definition just given, would be considered baked.

Conclusion

The Gemara teaches that the rabbinic laws are dearer to Hashem than the Torah laws. In this context, we can explain the vast halachic literature devoted to understanding this particular prohibition, created by Chazal to protect the Jewish people from major sins.

 

The Right Type of Help

Since one of the sources for the prohibition of bishul akum is in Parshas Chukas, this presents an ideal time to review these laws.

Household Help

Shirley* asks me: “We hired a very nice Polish lady to help around the house, keep an eye on the kids and do light housekeeping. Can we have her cook a bit for the kids while I am away at work?”

Commuter Crisis

Mrs. Goldman is stuck in a typical commuter predicament. The traffic is not moving, and it is well past the time that she should be putting up supper. She calls the non-Jewish babysitter, Jenny, to apologize for the delay and asks her to find something in the freezer to warm and serve the kids. Jenny finds some blintzes and some fish sticks, places them on ceramic cookware and pops them into the toaster oven.

That evening, when Rabbi Goldman returns from kollel, Mrs. Goldman tells him about her frustrating commute home. Rabbi Goldman realizes that they may now have a kashrus concern in their house, as I will soon explain.

Surprise Sous-chef

I received a phone call from Rabbi Black: “Our seminary has girls employed in work-study programs. We just discovered that a girl who was working as our cook is not halachically Jewish. Do we need to kasher the kitchen?”

Each of these cases that actually happened  shows the prevalence of bishul akum questions.

Sichon’s Folly

It is noteworthy that the Gemara tries to find a source for the prohibition of bishul akum in this week’s parsha. When the Bnei Yisrael offered to purchase all their victuals from Sichon and his nation, Emori, they could purchase only food that was unchanged through gentile cooking (see Devarim 2:26- 28; and Bamidbar 21:21- 25). Any food altered by Emori cooking was prohibited because of bishul akum (Avodah Zarah 37b).

Although the Gemara rejects this Biblical source and concludes that bishul akum is an injunction of the Sages, early authorities theorize that this proscription was enacted very early in Jewish history; otherwise, how could the Gemara even suggest that its origins are Biblical (see Tosafos s.v. vehashelakos)? Chazal instituted this law to discourage inappropriate social interaction, which may lead to intermarriage, and also to guarantee that kashrus is not compromised (Rashi, Avodah Zarah 35b s. v. vehashelakos; 38a s.v. miderabbanan and Tosafos ad loc.).

Food prepared in violation of the laws that Chazal instituted becomes prohibited as bishul akum and is fully non-kosher. The early authorities dispute whether equipment used to cook bishul akum becomes non-kosher. The Shulchan Aruch concludes that the equipment, indeed, becomes non-kosher and must be kashered, although the halachah for kashering from bishul akum is sometimes more lenient (Yoreh Deah 113:16).

Please note that throughout the article, whenever I say that something does not involve bishul akum, it might still be forbidden for a variety of other reasons.

Three Cardinal Rules

When Chazal prohibited bishul akum, their prohibition was not all-inclusive, but covered only foods where the gentile’s cooking is significant. For example, there are three major groupings of foods cooked by a gentile that are nevertheless permitted, because the gentile’s contribution is not considered significant. One might find the following acronym useful to remember these permitted categories: YUM, Yisrael, Uncooked, Monarch.

I. Yisrael – A Jew Participates

If a Jew contributes to the cooking in a significant way, the food is categorized as bishul Yisrael, cooked by a Jew, and is therefore permitted, even when a gentile did most of the food preparation. For example, if Mrs. Goldman had asked Jenny to warm food that was already cooked, there would be no bishul akum problem. I will soon explain some of the extensive details about this law.

II. Uncooked – Edible Raw

A food that could be eaten raw is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum, even when a non-Jew cooked it completely. This is because cooking such an item is not considered significant (Rashi, Beitzah 16a). For example, if Mrs. Goldman had asked Jenny to bake apples or cook a fruit soup, there would be no problem of bishul akum, assuming that these fruits are all edible raw. However, baking potatoes does present a bishul akum concern, because potatoes are not eaten raw (Chachmas Odom 66:4; cf. Aruch HaShulchan 113:18).

III. Monarch

Bishul akum applies only to food that one would serve on a king’s table alongside bread. Chazal did not prohibit bishul akum when the food is considered commonplace, because one would not invite a guest for such a meal, and, therefore, there is no concern that inappropriate social interaction may result (Rambam, Hil. Maachalos Asuros 17:15).

Bishul Yisrael

At this point, I want to explain in more detail one of the rules I mentioned above: When a Jew participates in the cooking, the food is permitted, even when a gentile performed most of the cooking. For example, if a non-Jew placed a pot of meat on the fire, and a Jew stirred the pot, this act is significant enough to permit the food, because it is considered bishul Yisrael (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 113:7). Similarly, if a Jew placed food in the oven and it baked until it became edible, and then the food was removed from the oven and returned later by a gentile to complete the cooking, the food is kosher (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 113:10, 11).

Ashkenazim versus Sefardim

How much Jewish participation is necessary to avoid bishul akum? The answer to this question depends on whether one is Sefardi or Ashkenazi, since Ashkenazim are more lenient in these laws than are Sefardim. For example, Ashkenazim rule that if a Jew ignited the fire that is being used to cook, or even if all he did was add to a flame that the gentile is cooking with, this participation is sufficient to permit the food as bishul Yisrael. Sefardim rule that it is insufficient for a Jew to simply ignite the fire – the Jew must be involved in the actual cooking of the food. Either the Jew must place the food onto the fire or must participate in some other significant way; but if all the Jew did was ignite the fire and a gentile placed the food on the fire, the food is prohibited. Thus, an Ashkenazi household that utilizes non-Jewish help in the kitchen must have a Jew turn on or adjust the fires to avoid bishul akum. In a Sefardi household, someone Jewish must place the food on the fire to cook, or stir it once it is cooking.

Food Service Cooking

This dispute is especially germane to restaurants, caterers and other institutional cooking, where the kitchen help is often all non-Jews, thus potentially creating a bishul akum concern. According to Ashkenazim, to avoid bishul akum, it is sufficient if the Jew turns on the fire that is used to cook, or even for him to adjust the temperature setting upward. Thus, if the gentile already turned on the oven, but no food was finished cooking yet, the Jew can simply lower the setting and reset it, and all the food cooked is considered bishul Yisrael. However, according to Sefardim, a Jew must actually place the food on the stove to cook. If the food is already on the fire, but is not yet minimally edible, it suffices for a Jew to stir the food to make it into bishul Yisrael.

This shaylah often affects the kashrus arrangements germane to restaurants and caterers. Since most Jews in North America are Ashkenazim, most hechsherim simply arrange that a Jew turn on the fires so that the food is considered bishul Yisrael, an approach that does not satisfy some Sefardic authorities, although some permit the food after the fact, because of a combination of other heterim that we will discuss below (Shu’t Yechaveh Daas 5:54).

On the other hand, proper Sefardic hechsherim insist that the mashgiach place all food into the oven or on the stove.

A More Lenient Approach

Some Ashkenazi authorities are even more lenient than described above; they permit food when the Jew lit a flame and the gentile used the Jew’s flame to ignite a second flame that was used for cooking. According to this approach, it is sufficient if a Jew lights the pilot light that is then used to ignite all the stove and oven lights. Although pilot lights are now uncommon in household appliances, they are more common in industrial kitchens.

Partly Cooked

Here is another case in which Sefardim and Ashkenazim differ in accepted bishul Yisrael practice. If a gentile began the cooking and it became minimally edible, Sefardim consider the food already prohibited because of bishul akum. Following this approach, if a gentile cooks the food at the beginning until it is edible, and a Jew then completes the cooking and makes it quite tasty, the food is still prohibited, unless there is an extenuating circumstance, such as a major financial loss (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 113:9).

However, Ashkenazim rule that if a Jew cooked it past the point where it became minimally edible, it is permitted, since the product’s delicious taste was created by a Jew.

Not Yet Edible

In the reverse case, one where a Jew cooked the food until it was barely edible and then the gentile cooked it past this point, the food is permitted according to both approaches (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 113:8). However, if the food was not edible when the Jew’s cooking ended, and subsequently a gentile cooked it without any Jewish participation, the food is prohibited as bishul akum according to all authorities.

Bishulei Blintz

At this point, we can explain the concerns created by Jenny’s warming the blintzes. Kashrus organizations usually make no arrangements to see that frozen blintzes or fish sticks are bishul Yisrael for a very simple halachic reason: The products are still inedible at the time the company freezes them, and therefore nothing is accomplished halachically by having a Jew cook them at this early stage. When you remove these products from your freezer and heat them, you are cooking them, whether you realize it or not. However, when Jenny warmed these foods, she not only cooked them, but she also made them into prohibited bishul akum, thus rendering the foods and the equipment non-kosher, although she meant no harm.

We will find out more about the saga of Goldman family’s kashrus situation next week…

*Although these stories are true, names have been changed to maintain privacy.

Some Contemporary Bishul Akum Curiosities

Situation #1: THE GREAT CRANBERRY DEBATE

Avrumie calls me with the following question: “We are presently studying the laws of bishul akum in kollel, and someone asked how we can buy canned cranberries that are not bishul Yisrael, that is, not cooked by Jews. They seem to fulfill all the requirements of the prohibition.”

Situation #2: THE BISHUL YISRAEL QUIZZER

A different member of Avrumie’s kollel raised another question:

Is there a legitimate halachic reason why a hechsher would require the same product to be bishul Yisrael in one factory and not in another?

Situation #3: DRAMA IN REAL LIFE

Many years ago, I substituted for the mashgiach at a vegetable cannery that was producing products for a kosher manufacture who claimed his products were bishul Yisrael. After arriving at the factory first thing in the morning as instructed, a foreman directed me to push a certain button, which, I assumed, initiated the cooking process. Upon examining the equipment, however, I realized that this button simply directed the cans to enter the cooker. This would probably only make the first cans into bishul Yisrael, but not the rest of the entire day’s production. A different solution was necessary, such as momentarily adjusting the temperature of the cooker and then resetting it, which accomplishes that I had provided fuel and thereby had cooked the vegetables. When I notified the foreman of this requirement, he firmly asserted: “This is the only button the rabbis ever push.”

Having no connections at the factory, I called the rabbi responsible for the hechsher; he did not answer his phone at that time of the morning.

What was I to do? Let Jews eat non-kosher veggies?

INTRODUCTION TO BISHUL AKUM CUISINE

Modern food production and distribution affects us in many ways, including kashrus. One aspect of kashrus with many new and interesting applications is bishul akum, the prohibition against eating food cooked by a gentile. Chazal instituted this law to guarantee uncompromised kashrus and to discourage inappropriate social interaction, which in turn leads to the prohibition of idolatry (Rashi, Avodah Zarah Avodah Zarah 38a s.v. miderabbanan and Tosafos ad loc.; Rashi, Avodah Zarah 35b s. v. vehashelakos; see also Avodah Zarah 36b). This law has numerous ramifications for caterers and restaurants who need to guarantee that a Jew is involved in the cooking of their product. It also prohibits Jewish households from allowing a gentile to cook without appropriate arrangements.

SICHON’S FOLLY

In addition, the Gemara tries to find a source for the prohibition of bishul akum in the Torah itself. When the Bnei Yisrael offered to purchase all their victuals from Sichon and his nation, Emori, they could purchase only food that was unchanged through gentile cooking (see Devarim 2:26- 28; and Bamidbar 21:21- 25). Any food altered by Emori cooking was prohibited because of bishul akum (Avodah Zarah 37b).

Although the Gemara rejects this Biblical source and concludes that bishul akum is an injunction of the Sages, early authorities theorize that this proscription was enacted very early in Jewish history, otherwise how could the Gemara even suggest that its origins are Biblical (see Tosafos s.v. vehashelakos)?

Please note that throughout the article, whenever I say that something does not involve bishul akum, it might still be forbidden for a variety of other reasons. Also, the purpose of our column is not to furnish definitive halachic ruling but to provide background in order to know when and what to ask one’s rav.

BASIC HALACHIC BACKGROUND

When Chazal prohibited bishul akum, they did not prohibit all gentile-cooked foods, but only foods where the gentile’s cooking provides significant pleasure to the consumer. For example, there are three major categories of gentile-cooked foods that are permitted. We can remember them through the acronym: YUM, Yehudi, Uncooked, Monarch.

I. Yehudi

If a Jew participated in the cooking, the food is permitted even when a gentile did most of the cooking.

II. Uncooked

A food that could be eaten raw is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum even when a non-Jew cooked it completely. This is because cooking such an item is not considered significant (Rashi, Beitzah 16a).

III. Monarch

Bishul akum applies only to food that one would serve on a king’s table. Chazal did not prohibit bishul akum when the food is less prominent because one would not invite a guest for such a meal, and therefore there is no concern that inappropriate social interaction may result (Rambam, Hil. Maachalos Asuros 17:15). Because of space considerations, I will leave further discussion of this important sub-topic for a future article. (Other aspects of the laws of bishul akum, such as the fact that smoked food is exempt from this prohibition, will also be left for future discussion.)

Let us explain some of these rules a bit more extensively.

I. Yehudi

WHAT IS CONSIDERED COOKED BY A JEW?

Extensive halachic discussion is devoted to defining how much of the cooking must be done by a Jew to avoid bishul akum. In practical terms, the Rama permits the food if a Jew lit the fire or increased the flame used to cook the food even if he was not actually involved in cooking the food in any other way. On the other hand, the Shulchan Aruch requires that a Jew must actually cook the food until it is edible (Yoreh Deah 113:7).

II. Uncooked

A cooked food that can be eaten raw is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum. For example, one may eat apple sauce or canned pineapple cooked by a gentile, since both apples and pineapples are eaten raw. Similarly, if the concerns of chalav akum and gevinas akum are addressed, one may eat cheese cooked by a gentile since its raw material, milk, is consumable raw.

Understanding this rule leads to several key questions. When is a raw food called “inedible?” Must it be completely inedible prior to cooking? Assuming that this is so; would the definition of “completely inedible” be contingent on whether no one eats it, or whether most people do not eat it uncooked although some individuals do?

BUDDY’S SPUDS

An example will clarify my question. My friend, Buddy, enjoys eating raw potatoes, contrary to general preference. Do Buddy’s unusual taste buds mean that spuds are not a bishul akum concern?

The halachic authorities reject this approach, most concluding that we follow what most people would actually eat raw, even if they prefer eating it cooked (see, for example, Ritva, Avodah Zarah 38a; Pri Chodosh, Yoreh Deah 113:3; Birkei Yosef ad loc: 1, 9; Darkei Teshuvah 113:3, 4). In practice, different hechsherim and rabbanim follow divergent criteria to determine exactly which foods are prohibited because they are considered inedible raw.

BOGGED DOWN WITH THE CRANBERRIES.

Avrumie’s kollel’s question involves this very issue: “Someone asked how we can buy canned cranberries that are not bishul Yisrael. They seem to fulfill all the requirements of the prohibition.”

Here is a highly practical result of the debate regarding what is considered suitable for eating uncooked. Are cranberries considered edible when they are raw? Someone who attempts to pop raw cranberries will keep his dentist well supported since the rock-hard berries defy chewing. Thus, there is a strong argument that cranberries require cooking to become edible and consequently constitute a bishul akum concern.

On the other hand, the deeply revered Cranberry Council provides recipes for eating raw cranberries by slicing or grinding them. Does the opinion of the sagacious Council categorize this fruit as an item that one can eat without cooking so that we can remove from it the stigma of bishul akum? The advantage of this approach is a savings for a concerned hechsher since it can now approve the esteemed berry as kosher even when no mashgiach is present to push the buttons that cook the fruit.

GEOGRAPHIC INFLUENCES

What happens if a particular vegetable is commonly consumed uncooked in one country, but not in another? For example: I have been told that artichokes are commonly eaten raw in Egypt, but not in Spain, although they are grown for export in both countries. (Not being much of a traveler or of an artichoke connoisseur, we will assume that these facts are accurate for the purpose of our discussion.) Do we prohibit Spanish artichokes as bishul akum, whereas the Egyptian ones are permitted? Assuming that this boon to Egyptian is true, what happens if you shipped the Spanish ones to Egypt? Do they now become permitted? And do Egyptian artichokes become prohibited upon being shipped to Spain? Indeed, I have heard that some rabbanim prohibit those cooked in Spain while permitting those cooked in Egypt, depending, as we said, on whether local palates consider them edible at the time and place of production. The subsequent shipping overseas would not cause them to become prohibited since it is cooking that creates bishul akum, not transportation. On the other hand, some contemporary contend that shipping a product to a place where it is not eaten raw prohibits it as bishul akum (Kaf HaChayim, Yoreh Deah 113:20).

CULINARY INFLUENCES

We have recently witnessed changes in the consumption of several vegetables that affect their bishul akum status. Not long ago, it was unheard of to serve raw broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, or zucchini, and therefore all these vegetables presented bishul akum concerns. Today, these vegetables are commonly eaten raw; for this reason, many rabbanim permit these vegetables cooked and do not prohibit them anymore as bishul akum.

A similar change might occur because of sushi production. When fish was not eaten raw, cooked fish was a bishul akum issue. Once normal people consider certain varieties of fish as food even when eaten uncooked, those fish varieties remain kosher even if a gentile cooked them. I therefore refer you to your local rav to determine whether a raw fish suitable for sushi is still a bishul akum concern. Similarly, when it becomes accepted to eat raw beef liver, there will no longer be a prohibition of bishul akum to eat it broiled by a gentile – provided, of course, that a mashgiach guarantees that it is kosher liver and was prepared correctly.

KOSHER CANNING

We are now in a far better position to analyze the issues that faced me that morning many years ago. I had been instructed to supervise a bishul Yisrael production, but I was not permitted to adjust the heat. Were the vegetables kosher or not?

The basic question is: Must a mashgiach participate in the cooking process in a modern cannery?

In the mid-80’s, when I was the Rabbinic Administrator of a local kashrus organization, I participated in a meeting of kashrus organizations and prominent rabbanim. At this meeting, one well-respected talmid chacham voiced concern at the then-prevalent assumption that canned vegetables do not present any bishul akum problem. At the time, virtually no kashrus organizations made any arrangement for canned vegetables to be bishul Yisrael, even when such foods were inedible unless cooked and of a type one would serve at a royal feast. Was all of klal Yisrael negligent, G-d forbid, in the prohibition of bishul akum?

STEAMING OUR VEGGIES

Indeed, many prominent authorities contend that contemporary commercial canning is exempt from bishul akum because of a variety of different factors. For example, in most canning operations, vegetables are cooked, not in boiling water, but by high temperature steam. Some authorities contend that Chazal never including steamed products under the prohibition of bishul akum because they categorize steaming as smoking, an atypical form of cooking which Chazal exempted from this prohibition (Darkei Teshuvah 113:16).

Others permit bishul akum in a production facility where there is no concern that social interactions between the producer and the consumer may result (see Birkei Yosef 112:9, quoting Maharit Tzalon). The Minchas Yitzchak (Shu”t 3:26:6) rules that one may combine these two above reasons to permit most canned vegetables today. Still others maintain that since a modern facility uses a cooking system that cannot be replicated in a household, Chazal never created bishul akum under such circumstances.

HONEST KASHRUS

Of course, someone marketing a product as bishul Yisrael is advertising that he is not relying on these heterim for his product; therefore it would be strictly prohibited to sell these vegetables as bishul Yisrael, although whether they are kosher or not would depend on your rav’s individual pesak.

SO WHAT HAPPENED IN THE CANNERY?

I presume that my readers have been patiently waiting to find out what happened to our ill-fated cannery.

A bit later in the morning, I was finally able to reach the rabbi whose number I had been supplied. He agreed that the production was not bishul Yisrael.

One would think that the hechsher would reward an alert mashgiach for correcting a kashrus error. Well, for those eager to develop a better world, let me tell you what ultimately resulted. A different rabbi was assigned to the job, someone less likely to call the overseeing rabbi so early in the morning. I guess that I was right that I did not have the right connections.

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