Observing a Colorful Lifestyle

With the several references in the parsha to wine and grapes, I thought an article dealing with some practical grape skin problems might be in order.

Observing a Colorful Lifestyle

Question #1:

Are there any non-kosher food colorings?

Question #2:

Why would a hechsher insist on a recall of a product?

Quiz Question #1, or Question #3:

How can a non-kosher ingredient be noticeable, and yet the finished product is kosher?

At one point in my life, when I worked as a kashrus supervisor, I made a surprise inspection of a company that produced juice drinks – let’s call it Generic Juices, Incorporated. I was surprised to discover that the plant was not following the instructions it had received from its hechsher and was bottling beverages containing enocianina, a coloring derived from grape skins. This product was not on the list of approved ingredients, and for good reason, as I will explain shortly. The kashrus concerns involved now created a serious problem for the hechsher, the company, and most of all, the unsuspecting consumer. Before discussing what happened, I must present the halachic issues involved.

THE FOOD COLORING INDUSTRY

Whether we like it or not, many of our foods are colored with a host of coloring agents. Some are derived from food items, such as beets, berries, sugar (caramel coloring), turmeric and annatto, whereas others are derived from inedible materials whose sources most consumers would prefer to ignore. Although processing colorants can compromise the kashrus of the finished product, few food colors are themselves obtained from non-kosher materials. However, there are two common food pigments that originate from non-kosher substances: One is carmine red, also called cochineal, which is a very common color used to color fruits, yogurts, juice drinks, maraschino cherries and more. Cochineal is extracted from an insect that is native to South America. A closely related dye color, kermes, is a shade of scarlet derived from scale insects, which may have been the source of the tolaas shani dye used in the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash. We should note that the Hebrew word tola’as, which is usually translated worm, may include insects and other small invertebrates. Thus, it may indeed be that the tola’as of the verse is a scale insect that produces a red dye.

The verse (Yeshayah 1:18), “if your sins will be like shanim, they will become as white as snow; though they be red as the tola, they will become white like wool,” clearly indicates that tola’as shani is a red color. On this basis, some authorities identify tola’as shani as kermes (see Radak to Divrei HaYamim II 2:6). One can rally support for this approach from the verse in Divrei HaYamim (II 3:14), which describes the paroches curtain as woven from techeiles, argaman, karmil, and butz, which is linen; whereas the Torah describes the paroches as made of techeiles, argaman, tola’as shani, and sheish, which is linen (Shemos 26:31). The words karmil and kermes certainly seem to be cognate. Similarly, the Rambam explains tola’as shani to mean “wool dyed with an insect” (Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 8:13). Thus, karmil appears to be another word for tola’as shani. The ancients derived a red dye from the dried bodies of the species called Kermes ilices, which served as one of the most important pigments for thousands of years. As a matter of fact, the English word crimson derives from this ancient dye.

(Without going into the subject in detail, it is appropriate to mention that some responsible rabbinic authorities rule that cochineal is kosher, since it comes from an inedible part of the insect. However, I am unaware of any major kashrus organization today that treats cochineal as kosher.)

GRAPE SKIN EXTRACT

The other common non-kosher source is called enocianina, colloquially often called simply eno, a red or purple natural food color derived from grape skin extract, and commonly used in beverages, fruit fillings and confections. After the juice has been squeezed out of the grapes, the remaining pulp is processed into a commercial coloring agent. Although one could produce kosher eno from kosher-processed grape skins, grape skin color available today is produced in non-kosher facilities. After the grapes have been squeezed and the juice has been separated from the pulp, at which time they become subject to the halachos of stam yeinam, which means that they have probably become non-kosher. Thus, we assume that eno is not kosher.

GENERIC JUICE DRINKS

Unfortunately, when I discovered the problem, Generic Juices had already produced and shipped tons of product using either carmine or eno – and all of it bearing the kosher certification symbol on the label! Is the kashrus agency halachically required to insist on a recall of the product from the supermarket shelves?

RECALL

Companies hate having their products recalled, for technical reasons, because of the major expense involved, and because it is a public relations nightmare. On the other hand, if the product now in the marketplace is prohibited according to halacha, we must be concerned that a consumer may use the product, because he assumes that it is kosher! Although a recall is never a foolproof method, it is the best we can do to avoid people unwittingly consuming a non-kosher product.

The policy of this particular hechsher was not to require a recall, unless the product could not be used even after the fact, bedei’evid. It was now the responsibility of the hechsher’s poskim to decide whether the product is prohibited after the fact, and, therefore, to require a recall, or whether bedei’evid the product is permitted. Although we would insist that all labels bearing the hechsher on this product be destroyed, or at least the kashrus symbol be obliterated, the hechsher would not require the product that had already been shipped to be recalled. (There would also need to be further clarification as to whether the hechsher would allow distribution of the product that had been labeled but was still in the company’s control.)

Why should the finished product be kosher, if the colorant was not?

The basis for this question follows:

Coloring agents are used in very minute amounts. Indeed, when the Spaniards discovered carmine red, they sold the concentrated powdered pigment at a higher price per ounce than gold! Thus, the amount of coloring used to color a juice drink, maraschino cherry or strawberry-flavored yogurt is significantly less than the amount that we usually say is bateil (nullified) in a finished product. Although one may never add treif product to a food and rely on its becoming bateil, if a non-kosher product was added inadvertently in minute quantities, the finished product is usually permitted.

The primary criterion to determine whether the treif ingredient is bateil is:

Can the non-kosher product be tasted, either because of its quantity or because it is a flavoring agent?

In our instance, this test is passed with flying colors! None of these colors can be tasted in the finished product.

However, there is, or might be, another criterion:

Is the treif product noticeable?

If one can see a treif ingredient floating inside a food, one may not consume the food without first removing the treif item.

COLORS ARE NOTICEABLE

The boldness of a color announces its existence. Can we say that a color is bateil when we see clear evidence of its existence?

On the other hand, the Vilna Gaon argues that determining whether the food is kosher depends on whether one can taste the treif ingredient (Yoreh Deah 102:6). In our instance, although the color is noticeable, no one tastes the colorant, and, therefore, the finished product is permitted, assuming that the admixture was made in error. An earlier authority, the Minchas Yaakov (74:5), also espouses this position.

According to this approach, we have answered our opening Quiz Question #3, which was: How can a non-kosher ingredient be noticeable, and yet the finished product is kosher?

A COMPROMISE POSITION – IN WHOLE CLOTH

Some authorities compromise between these two positions, comparing our question to a Gemara that discusses whether someone who stole dye and cloth and now returns the dyed fabric fulfills his mitzvah of returning what he stole. The Gemara rules that this depends on whether the dye is considered to still exist after it has been used, because its color is still noticeable (Bava Kamma 101a). Is the color on the cloth treated as if the dye itself still exists, or did the dye become bateil and no longer exists? If the dye no longer exists, then it was not returned, whereas if the dye still exists, then it was returned.

CONCLUSION

By this time, I presume most readers want to know what the hechsher did. The deciding posek ruled in accordance with the last position mentioned, and contended that the carmine coloring might be prohibited min haTorah, and therefore the company must recall the beverages containing carmine. Since eno, the grape skin extract, involves only a rabbinic prohibition, he did not require the company to recall the items containing this ingredient, contending that, according to most authorities, the eno is considered nullified in the final mix.

We should always pray that the food we eat fulfills all the halachos that the Torah commands with no controversial shaylos.

 

Can the Hechsher HACK It? What Is behind the Kosher Symbol?

clip_image002Question #1:

“My rav discreetly told me to avoid using a particular hechsher which I see is very popular. I am curious why this should be so. I know that there are negligent hechsherim out there, but don’t all reliable hechsherim follow the same Shulchan Aruch?”

 Question #2:

“Some of my friends use specific hechsherim, and do not use others. Is there something halachic behind these distinctions, or is this simply politics?”

 Answer:

“And Yaakov was left alone, and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man realized that he was unable to defeat Yaakov, he struck the “kaf” of Yaakov’s thigh, which became dislocated as a result of the wrestling. And the sun rose as Yaakov passed Penuel and he was limping because of his injured thigh. Therefore, the descendents of Yisroel do not eat the sciatic sinew to this very day, for the man struck Yaakov on that sinew, dislocating it” (Breishis 32:25-26, 32-33).

 With these words, the Torah introduces us to the first kashrus mitzvah. Ever since, availability of kosher food has remained an ongoing concern. Nevertheless, modern life has changed who is responsible for overseeing and controlling the “kosher food chain.” Whereas in earlier generations, governance of the local kosher standard was the province of the town’s rav, modern production and distribution has placed much control hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Yes, it is true that the local rav or vaad hakashrus may still decide the standards maintained by the caterers, restaurants, and local bakeries who accept its authority, but even here, the local rabbinate is dependent on others for the halachic quality of the raw materials. Often local hechsherim do not have the ability, budget, or resources to perform their own independent review of the sources and instead rely on the organization overseeing the production.

 In addition, contemporary food manufacture has created new areas of responsibility for the local rabbinate. The old-time rav was chosen because of his Torah knowledge, his yiras shamayim (fear of G-d), and his common sense. These factors allowed the rav to successfully oversee the kashrus of the community. Today’s complex world of food production, however, requires additional skills and knowledge, including familiarity with modern manufacture, to ensure proper kashrus.

Although most consumers are very curious why some hechsherim are used and others are not, nevertheless, the average kosher shopper is almost clueless why a particular product is deemed usable or not. Most people make their day-to-day food shopping decisions on a sociological basis – they purchase items based on whether the kashrus of the particular product or hechsher is trusted by “their crowd.” The kosher customer is eager for more information.

The goal of this article is to appreciate the incredible work that hechsherim assume to provide us with kosher food. At the same time, we will analyze why different rabbonim have different standards even though all are following their understanding of the halacha. This will make us better educated consumers, which is always an advantage.

WHAT MAKES A HECHSHER?

In addition to the absolute requirement that everyone involved in reliable kashrus must be G-d fearing, we can categorize the dynamics involved in maintaining proper kashrus under three main headings:

I. Halachic Knowledge

Every person in the chain of a good hechsher must have adequate knowledge of halacha to fulfill his responsibility so that the hechsher can maintain quality kashrus standards.

II. Awareness of Modern Manufacturing

Kashrus in the contemporary world requires extensive knowledge of modern manufacturing procedures and the processing of raw materials.

III. Control of the Product

The hechsher must establish proper methods of control so that the desired standards indeed exist.

When the hechsher can successfully HACk these requirements, the product is reliably Kosher.

Let me explain briefly what these three categories entail.

 

I. HALACHIC KNOWLEDGE AND STANDARDS

The kashrus control department of a supervisory organization can be divided into three units:

(1) Deciders — Those in charge of making the decisions. Their responsibility includes all halachic decision making.

(2) Administrators — Those with the administrative responsibility to oversee the actual day-to-day running of the operation.

(3) Field Personnel — The field personnel, sometimes called mashgichim, who serve as the eyes and ears of the organization in order to maintain its kashrus standard.

A proper hechsher must staff each of these three units with personnel who have the halachic and practical knowledge necessary to adequately fulfill their roles. There must be a talmid chacham or talmidei chachamim available to paskin any shaylos that occur, scholarly and well-trained yirei shamayim administrators who understand what is involved in the factories from both a halachic and a technical vantage point, and well- trained erlich field personnel who oversee and check the actual facilities.

 

II. AWARENESS

Assuming responsibility for kashrus in the contemporary world requires not only extensive halachic knowledge, but also expertise in modern manufacturing and raw materials, much of it specialized information. For example, granting certificates that flavors are kosher requires a tremendous amount of technical, chemical and manufacturing background. Providing a hechsher for cholov yisroel products necessitates significant acquaintance with the details of factory operation and equipment. Checking a factory entails not only familiarity with all ingredients and understanding how the equipment works, but also what other products may be heated in the entire facility. Similarly, someone supervising a modern abattoir must be aware of how the equipment may affect the ability to perform proper shechitah and whether the equipment or the processing may conceal the possibility that the animal is treifah.

 

III. CONTROL

In addition to comprehending all of the above, proper kashrus means that a hechsher has proper means to guarantee that the desired standards indeed exist. Some of the items included under this broad heading are:

A. Does the hechsher have a system to ascertain that each facility it oversees is appropriately supervised? Does the visit guarantee that the kashrus standard is being kept by the company?

B. How often do field personnel visit a facility?

C. Are the field personnel properly trained and supervised? Is it possible that the factory will know of upcoming visits in advance and conceal evidence?

D. How does the hechsher guarantee that its symbol is not used on products that it does not supervise? Among many other things, this requires that the kashrus agency monitors the labels that use its emblem and keeps guard against unauthorized use.

APPRECIATE THE HECHSHER

We can now appreciate the extensive job that responsible hechsherim perform to guarantee reliably kosher products. Inadequate supervisory agencies lack these factors.

With this background, we can now explore the first question above:

“My rav told me to avoid using a particular hechsher although other people I know use it, and I am curious what might be wrong.”

The rav who told you to avoid a certain hechsher may interpret the requirements of kashrus supervision differently from the way the hechsher does. Here are some specific reasons why your rav may recommend avoiding a particular hechsher or product:

(1) He may disagree with the kashrus standard that the rabbonim of the hechsher feel is adequate.

There are hundreds of examples that I can provide of disputes concerning kashrus standards. Here are some examples:

(a) The authorities of the last generation disputed to what extent one needs to supervise fish after the removal of its skin, most contending that any fish product left unsealed outside the control of a Torah observant Jew is regarded non-kosher. According to this standard, kosher whitefish salad requires an observant Jew to be present from the skinning of the fish until the sealing of the container. On the other hand, some supervisory agencies accept a more lenient approach that permits use of the fish with only occasional spot inspection of such a facility. Thus, although an otherwise recognized hechsher approves this product, your rav may tell you not to use it.

(b) Most large hechsherim in North America certify dairy products that are not cholov yisrael, relying on the psak of Rav Moshe Feinstein, the Pri Chodosh and others who permitted them. However, your rav may not accept this psak, or he may feel that you should be stringent about this practice.

(c) Your rav may not be comfortable with the approach used by the certifying agency to guarantee that the product has no problems of insect contamination, called tola’im.

(2) Your rav may feel that the method of control used by the particular hechsher is not as adequate as it should be. How often should one send a mashgiach to spot-check that a factory is maintaining the required standard? Obviously, this depends on the product and what else is manufactured at the facility. However, there is a wide discrepancy of standards concerning what is considered adequate supervision of a facility, and the hechsher may feel that their frequency of inspection is sufficient whereas your rav may feel that it is not.

Here is an example of such a circumstance: In the past, I was once responsible for the supervision of a variety of local businesses including a large bread and rolls bakery. I personally made sure that someone representing the hechsher could enter the bakery at any time of the day or night so that the owners and employees had no idea when we might make the next spot inspection. I also had access to the bakery’s computerized inventory so that we knew exactly what the bakery had in stock. Although these should be standard practices in all kashrus facilities, they are not, and your rav may feel that one should not eat from any factory where this approach is not followed. He may feel that a system must be in place whereby all raw materials are approved by a mashgiach before they are used, a practice followed in very few facilities.

INADEQUATE CERTIFICATIONS

Until now, I have been discussing situations in which there is dispute among different kashrus agencies, all of which assume fidelity to halacha and supervision. Unfortunately, I have often come across completely reckless “supervision agencies” which assume little responsibility to guarantee that the consumer is indeed eating kosher. Some of these situations would be humorous were they not so tragic.

Here are a few anecdotes, all drawn from my firsthand experience. Once, when checking a meat supplier, I visited a particular abattoir as a guest of the supervising rabbi. As we entered, the shocheit offered the supervising rabbi the opportunity to examine his knife, which is halachically correct etiquette. However, I noticed that the rabbi did not know how to check the knife properly, although he pretended that he did. Obviously, it was beyond his competence to give hechsherim on shechitah.

KOSHER ELASTICITY?

On another occasion, I visited a wine factory, whose kashrus reputation was far from pristine, to see whether one mashgiach could possibly maintain proper kashrus controls of the sprawling, three-story, city-block-sized plant. Indeed he could not, and I discovered many kashrus concerns. Shortly thereafter, I met the certifying rabbi who asked me for my impressions of the operation. I respectfully noted some of the shortcomings that I had observed, some of which he denied, while regarding another, he claimed that halacha permits it. When I pointed out that halacha permits such a product only bishaas hadechak (under extenuating circumstance), he replied “shaas hadechak is an elastic term.” You could well ask, were his unfortunate consumers aware that they were purchasing and drinking questionably non-kosher wine when they had better alternatives? Did they realize how rubbery their wine was?

MAGNIFICENT RESORT, MEDIOCRE KASHRUS

Another true and curious anecdote occurred when my shul was conducting a fundraising auction of donated items. One contributed item was a week in a well-known resort hotel, which, however had a poor kashrus reputation. In order to determine whether our shul could auction this prize, I called the hotel, seeking out the supervising rabbi, and reached the gentleman on the phone.

After identifying myself and explaining the reason for my call, I asked my colleague on the other end of the line what sources of meat the hotel used. He mentioned certain high production meat packers with less than sterling kashrus reputations. I then noted to the certifying rabbi that these packers do not butcher or soak and salt (kasher) the meat.

            “The hotel has its own staff of butchers, who butcher and kasher the meat.”

 

            “Do you have personal expertise in kosher butchering and removing veins and forbidden fat?”

 

            “No, I have never learned the trade.”

Further questioning revealed that both the rabbi providing the supervision and the mashgiach knew nothing about kosher butchering, and the butchers employed by the hotel were all either non-observant or non-Jews. Thus, there was absolutely no supervision on the proper butchering of the meat, one of the many reasons the hotel well earned its glamorous kashrus reputation!

 

On another occasion, I conducted the initial inspection of a factory on behalf of a well-respected hechsher to discover labels bearing the logo of a different supervisor. When I inquired whether the other rabbi was still certifying this facility, I was told that they had given up his certification many years before, notwithstanding that they were still using his labels!

 

At this point, we can answer the second asked above:

“Do people avoid certain hechsherim because of political reasons, or are there valid halachic reasons for avoiding them?”

 

Although there are indeed occasional political reasons why people shun certain hechsherim, usually, a hechsher is avoided for valid halachic reasons. Some organizations are disorganized, for example. I have seen many situations where although the people involved are erliche yiddin¸ they run their kashrus supervision in too haphazard a fashion to maintain a proper standard. Others send mashgichim to kasher plants without adequately instructing them what to do. Other hechsherim do not even bother sending mashgichim to check at all, and I have found more than one instance where the “hechsher” never bothered to send someone to check a plant even once!

 

WHAT IS A CONSUMER TO DO?

 

Just as you make yourself knowledgeable before buying a couch or a refrigerator, so you should try to be more knowledgeable about kashrus. Ask questions. If you feel you are receiving inadequate responses, keep asking until your questions are satisfactorily answered.

 

I have often discovered serious problems involving caterers that “everyone uses.” When invited to a wedding or other simcha, double check to ensure that there is proper supervision. Ask to meet the mashgiach, and ask him questions. Of course, your questions should give the impression that you know what you are talking about. Once you begin asking, it will not take long to become a knowledgeable and inquisitive consumer. Hopefully, you will not find the types of problems I mentioned above, but if you do, you will be able to write your own article!

 

If you are making a simcha, investigate the possibility of hiring your own experienced mashgiach.

 

Tour groups are especially notorious for lack of proper kashrus arrangements. Among problems I have discovered were tours advertised as glatt kosher chassidishe shechitah only, while the person overseeing all kashrus arrangements was married to a non-Jewish woman!

 

Your rav should be a good source of up-to-date kashrus information. A well-educated consumer asks. Often asking one’s rav forces him to research the matter more carefully and he discovers issues of which he was unaware. I have discovered this many times myself, not only in areas of food kashrus, but also in such diverse areas as tefillin and shofar manufacture, and the kashrus of mikva’os.

 

Based on the above information, we can gain a greater appreciation as to how hard it is to maintain a high kashrus standard. We certainly have a greater incentive to become better educated kosher consumers who better 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.

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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