Can There Be Smoke without a Fire?
In parshas Korach, 250 men burnt ketores and paid with their lives.
Question #1: Frankfurters on the Blech
May I place cold frankfurters on top of a hot pot to warm them on Shabbos?”
Question #2: Cheese Dogs
“May one derive benefit from a cheese dog, which is a grilled hot dog with added cheese and chili sauce?”
Question #3: Lox for Eruv Tavshillin?
“I will be traveling overseas for Yom Tov and Shabbos, and it will be difficult for me to have cooked food ready for an eruv tavshillin. May I use lox as my eruv tavshillin?”
Our opening questions are germane to whether “smoking” qualifies as “cooking,” for halachic purposes. As we will see shortly, the Gemara and halachic authorities discuss several situations affected by this question, with ramifications for the laws of Shabbos, kashrus and eruv tavshillin. Let us begin by understanding some background information.
In general, we are familiar with two very common methods of preparing food using heat. In one instance, the food is cooked directly by the heat, without any medium. This is what we do when we barbecue, broil, or bake. The food is cooked or baked directly by the heat. On the other hand, when we boil or fry food, we cook it in a hot liquid — when boiling, usually in water, and when frying, in oil.
There are also many methods of making raw food edible without heat, such as salting, pickling or marinating. Preparing food this way causes the flavors of the different ingredients to blend together, which halacha calls beli’ah. Therefore, should one ingredient be non-kosher, the entire food will become non-kosher. However, there are halachic ramifications to the fact that these methods of food preparation are not considered “cooking.” Even though salting and pickling food make it edible, the food is not considered cooked.Therefore, germane to the laws of Shabbos, one will not be able to heat up smoked food, using methods permitted to warm food on Shabbos. For example, although it is permitted to heat food that is already cooked by placing it atop a pot which is, itself, on top of a fire or blech, one may not heat up deli this way on Shabbos, when it has been pickled, but not cooked, which is usually the case.
Several types of smoking
In contemporary use, the term “smoked” may refer to several different ways of preparing food, with variant halachic ramifications. Here are three methods:
Frankfurters and many other sausages are “cooked” in hot smoke, in an appliance sometimes called a smoker. Rather than being cooked directly by the fire, or by water that is heated by a fire, these foods are cooked by hot smoke. This is also the usual way in which raw salmon is made into lox. The question we will be discussing in our article is whether this is halachically equivalent to cooking in water, oil or other liquid. There are many halachic ramifications to the question. Unless specified otherwise, our article is discussing this type of smoking, in which smoke is doing the actual cooking (see Perisha, Yoreh Deah 87:9).
In this type of “smoking,” wood is burned inside a sealed room, usually called a “smokehouse.” The food to be preserved and processed is placed inside the smokehouse for several days, or perhaps even weeks, while the smoke, now cool, cures and provides the food with a smoky flavor. Since the food production in this instance takes place in room temperature smoke, this process should not be considered either “cooking” or beli’ah. However, there is one late authority who considers this method of producing food to be similar to cooking (Chadrei Deah, quoted by Badei Hashulchan, Biurim 87:6 s.v. Ha’me’ushan). For the rest of this article, I will not take this opinion under consideration, since it is not within mainstream accepted halacha.
Regarding the laws of Shabbos, food smoked this way is certainly considered to be uncooked.
A third method of smoking is when food is prepared by steaming, cooking or broiling, and a natural or artificial ingredient called smoke flavor is added to provide smoke taste. If the food was prepared by being cooked or broiled, it is considered cooked for halachic purposes. If the food was prepared by being “steamed,” a process similar to the first method of smoking mentioned above, the halachic issue is more complicated. The halachic question is whether cooking in steam and cooking in smoke are identical, or, perhaps, cooking in steam is like cooking in water. I will leave that aspect of this topic for a future article.
Smoking on Shabbos!
At this point, I will explain some of the halachic issues affected by the question as to whether smoking food is the same as cooking. One of the 39 melachos prohibited on Shabbos is mevasheil, cooking, or, in the words of the Mishnah (Shabbos 73a), ofeh, baking. This melacha involves preparing food with heat (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 9:1-5). One of the questions that the Gemara discusses is whether smoking food on Shabbos is considered a violation of the melacha of cooking on Shabbos min haTorah, and another issue is whether smoked food is considered cooked.
Here is one application of this issue: Once dry food has been completely cooked, such as baked or barbecued chicken or a kugel, there is no Torah violation in heating it on Shabbos. (There often may be rabbinic violations involved, but there are ways of warming cooked food on Shabbos that are permitted. We have discussed that topic in the past.) However, heating uncooked food on Shabbos usually involves a melacha min haTorah. The question we are raising is whether food that has been smoked, such as lox or hot dogs, is considered as cooked regarding the laws of warming food on Shabbos. If it is, then there are more options available to warm them on Shabbos.
Smoking meat and milk
A second area of halacha where this question – whether smoking constitutes cooking – is germane, is the prohibition of eating dairy and meat foods cooked together, basar becholov. Although we are prohibited from eating meat and milk together even when both are cold, or even from eating dairy after consuming meat, these prohibitions are only miderabbanan. The prohibition is violated min haTorah by cooking meat and dairy together or by eating meat and dairy that were previously cooked together. The question that we will tackle is whether smoking meat and dairy together is prohibited min haTorah or only miderabbanan.
There is a halachic difference that depends on whether preparing a meat and dairy mixture is prohibited miderabbanan or min haTorah. The prohibition against benefitting from meat and milk applies only when one violated the law min haTorah, but not when one violated it miderabbanan (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 87:3 and commentaries). Therefore, if meat and dairy were mixed together when cold, there is no prohibition in getting benefit from the resultant product, even though it may not be eaten. For this reason, selling pet food does not violate the law of benefiting from basar becholov, even when it contains both meat and dairy products, since the two are not cooked together, but blended together at room temperature.
The question germane to our discussion is whether a Jew may benefit from a meat and dairy product that was smoked together. For example, if someone smoked a raw frankfurter together with cheese, is it prohibited min haTorah, and for this reason one may not have benefit from it min haTorah, or not?
Here is another kashrus application in which it will make a difference whether smoking is considered cooking or not. Chazal prohibited eating food cooked by a non-Jew, even when all the ingredients are kosher, unless the food is edible raw or would not be served on a royal table. Is smoking considered “cooking” germane to this prohibition, or not? This means that, if a non-Jew smoked food that is inedible raw, is it prohibited because of bishul akum? A practical difference is whether a hechsher on hot dogs must make sure that a Jew smoked the frankfurters; another is whether the smoking of lox must be done by a Jew. In both of these situations, the question is whether this food is considered cooked by a non-Jew, which might prohibit it as bishul akum, or whether it was prepared in a way that does not qualify as “cooking,” and therefore bishul akum is not a concern.
Here is yet another halachic application in which it will make a difference whether smoked food is considered “cooked” or not. Chazal prohibited cooking on Yom Tov for Shabbos, unless one prepares an eruv tavshillin, a cooked item designated before Yom Tov that will remain until the Shabbos preparations are completed, and that thereby permits cooking for Shabbos on Yom Tov that falls on Friday. If smoked food is considered cooked, then it is acceptable to use a food that was prepared by smoking, such as a frankfurter or lox, as an eruv tavshillin. If smoked food is not considered cooked, then it is not.
Now that we understand the background, we can examine the Talmudic discussion that concerns smoked food. We will begin by quoting a passage of Talmud Yerushalmi (Nedorim 6:1): “The rabbis of Kisrin asked: What is the law of smoked food in regard to the prohibition of bishul akum? In regard to cooking on Shabbos? What is its law regarding mixing meat and milk together?” The passage of Yerushalmi then changes the subject, without ruling on the three questions raised.
The issue the Yerushalmi seems to be asking is whether cooking food in smoke is halachically equivalent to cooking in liquid. In each of these instances, a hot medium is used to prepare the food. The first question of the Yerushalmi is whether food smoked by a non-Jew is prohibited, or whether the proscription of bishul akum is limited to food cooked via fire or liquid. If cooking in smoke is halachically considered the same as cooking in water or oil, then lox or frankfurters that were smoked by a non-Jew are prohibited because of bishul akum. On the other hand, if smoking is not treated as cooking, then there is no halachic problem with eating lox or hot dogs in which the actual smoking was performed by a non-Jew, provided that the ingredients are all kosher.
The second question of the Yerushalmi can be explained as follows: If a Jewish person placed raw frankfurters or salmon into a smoker on Shabbos, and the frankfurters or lox thereby became edible on Shabbos, did the person desecrate a melacha on Shabbos? If he did, then there are halachic ramifications germane to a product that was smoked on Shabbos in violation of the law.
The third question of the Yerushalmi concerns the laws of cooking meat and milk together. If smoking is considered cooking, min haTorah, then smoking a cheese dog violates basar becholov min haTorah, and it is prohibited to have any benefit from it.
As I noted above, the Yerushalmi that we quoted does not mention a conclusion regarding these three questions. Based on these unresolved questions, the Rambam (Hilchos Ma’achalos Asuros 9:6) appears to conclude the following: when our issue is a halacha that is min haTorah, we rule stringently. However, when the issue is a rabbinic question, we will rule leniently and not consider this to be cooking.
As a result, it is certainly prohibited as a safek de’oraysa to smoke a cheese dog or to smoke food on Shabbos. It would be prohibited to have any benefit from a smoked cheese dog. However, someone who violated these prohibitions would not be punishable for his offense, even when such punishment was practiced and even had he fulfilled all the requirements to receive this punishment, because the Yerushalmi did not conclude definitively that it constitutes a violation. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 87:6) follows the same approach as the Rambam.
We will continue this topic at some point in the future.
In non-observant circles, a well-known non-Jewish criticism of Judaism is frequently leveled: “Does G-d care more about what goes into our mouths than he does about what comes out?” The criticism is, of course, in error, and its answer is that Hashem cares both about what goes in and what comes out, and it is the height of conceit for us to decide which is “more” important in His eyes. Being careful about what we eat and about what we say are both important steps in growing in our development as human beings.