The Contemporary Kosher Bakery and Its Halachic Issues

My wife and I are thrilled to announce the engagement of our daughter, Shalva, to Itzik (Avraham Yitzchak) Scarr, son of Dr. Tzvi and Mrs. Cindy Scarr of Har Nof, Yerushalayim. The chosson studies in Yeshivas Chevron in Yerushalayim.

Frogs jumping into Egyptian kneading bowls and ovens will create kashrus problems for the local bakeries. Thus, I present a revised version of part of an article I wrote originally over thirty years ago.

The Contemporary Kosher Bakery and Its Halachic Issues

bakeryQuestion #1: Labels

“May I rely on the label of a product that it contains no non-kosher ingredients?”

Question #2: Visiting Mom, but May I Eat?

“I will be visiting my mother, who lives in a small North American community. How can I find out if I can use the bread and other products made in the local ‘kosher-supervised’ bakery?”

Question #3: How Can They?

“How can a hechsher supervise as kosher a business that is open on Shabbos?”

Answer:

Since the twenty-first-century household does not bake its daily bread at home, a kosher bakery is a necessity for any sizable Jewish community. This often becomes one of the many challenges of a local rabbi: how to have a reliably kosher bakery in a town where there are not enough Jews who keep kosher to make it worthwhile?

Often, the situation is not ideal. In general, a food establishment should seek to be kosher supervised, rather than be solicited to become kosher. However, because of the need for a local kosher bakery, the local rabbi/rabbonim may not have that luxury, and they may have to convince a proprietor that it is worth his while to be kosher supervised.

Numerous kashrus and halachic issues must be clarified to enable this supervision. The rav hamachshir, or supervising rabbi, must assume many responsibilities, including ascertaining the kashrus of all incoming ingredients, the proper koshering of equipment, the maintenance of separate production facilities for dairy and pareve, assuring that no dairy products are added to the breads, and determining the practicality of the products being pas Yisrael (bread where a Jew participated in the baking). In other articles, I discussed at length the issues germane to making dairy bread.

To begin with, let me explain why one may not use baked goods on the basis of a scanning of the label to see that no obvious animal ingredients appear. There are several reasons that this is true, even if one knows that the label is accurate, which, I can tell you from personal experience, is not always the case. Even in an instance where the label meets legal requirements, and the government concerns itself with truth in labeling, government regulation does not usually require the listing of every ingredient on the label of a product. For example, release agents, which keep food products from sticking to machinery, may be produced from animal shortening. Legally, they are considered production aids, and not ingredients, and, as such, do not need to be listed on the label. Yet, they are sprayed or smeared directly on food, or on equipment immediately before food items are placed on them. Thus, the fact that they are legally not considered ingredients does not provide any halachic leniency. Thus, bread and other products must be certified kosher by a reliable rabbi or organization.

Ingredients

Even in a bakery where the owner is attempting to keep kosher, there are commonly problematic ingredients, such as the stabilizers, emulsifiers, and dough mixes since they frequently are animal-shortening based or include animal fats. Because these products often present a kashrus problem, it is fairly common to find that the same manufacturer produces two varieties of the product – one, a less expensive animal-oil based non-kosher version, and a replacement product, manufactured from vegetable oils and produced under responsible kosher supervision.

Tolayim

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

Raisin juice

Specifically in the case of pastry or some varieties of sweet bread or bagels, raisins can create a halachic problem that may go unnoticed by the hechsher. In addition to the hechsher’s requirement to ascertain that there are no tolayim concerns, raisins are often mixed or cooked with water to create a raisin juice, which functions both as a sweetener and as a natural, healthy preservative. However, this raisin juice now has a halachic status of wine, and when handled by a non-Jew becomes prohibited because of stam yeinam. Thus, one can have a very unusual situation where mixing two kosher ingredients, raisins and water, creates a non-kosher product.

Equipment

When the hechsher begins, the rabbi/rabbonim need to decide how to kasher the equipment of the bakery. This can sometimes be quite challenging, since the equipment may require libun gamur, burning in fire, which is not easy to do.

A bigger problem is keeping dairy and pareve equipment separated. Many years ago, I was asked to perform a kashrus review of a local vaad hakashrus. When I checked the shomer Shabbos bakery that the whole town was using, I discovered that the baking trays for milchig and pareve were not being kept separate. Nor was there any separation of production schedule. This meant that a tray may have been used to bake cheese Danishes, and then immediately used for challos for Shabbos without even  being cleaned in between.

I drew up a program to be followed to keep the breads pareve, but, to the best of my knowledge, the plan was not followed.

Jewish owned

If the local bakery is Jewish owned, additional questions must be dealt with, including Shabbos and Pesach production, ritual immersion of the equipment in a mikveh, and hafrashas challah — proper separation of the challah portion. (It is important to clarify that the commonly used word challah, meaning Shabbos bread [as I used it in the previous paragraph], is technically a misnomer. Here, I am using the word challah to mean the special portion removed from dough as mandated by Jewish law.) I will discuss the issues germane to challah taking in a different article.

Shabbos

Frequently, a local rabbinate, particularly in a community with a small Jewish population, is unable to arrange for a Jewish-owned bakery to be closed on Shabbos. This creates a strong moral dilemma for the rabbonim involved. By providing such a bakery with kosher certification, one is providing tacit approval to public desecration of Shabbos. In addition, one must deal with the halachic issues regarding whether the products made by a Jew on Shabbos are permitted to be used by a consumer after Shabbos. In practice, many communities allow the existence of these bakeries and provide them with kosher supervision, reasoning that this way the community at least has kosher product.

It has become more common today to have a kosher supervised bakery that is closed on Shabbos inside a supermarket that is open on Shabbos. In this instance, the supervising organization is not assuming any responsibility for the supermarket, which indeed sells non-kosher. The visiting consumer may still want to verify whether the standard maintained at the bakery is of a level similar to what he is accustomed.

Chometz and Pesach

A more serious problem is the instance of a bakery that is open on Pesach. Any chometz owned by the bakery during the festival is forbidden for use, even after Pesach. The rabbinate could remove supervision after Pesach, until all chometz items that were owned during the holiday have been consumed, thus permitting only items which were acquired after Yom Tov, but of course this leaves the community without “Kosher” bread for the duration. Based on a responsum from Rav Moshe Feinstein, some rabbis arrange a sale of all chometz items with a standard mechiras chometz document, but not all authorities agree that this sale has validity. The Maharam Schick, the Tevuos Shor, and others state that the sale of chometz is effective only for someone who does not want to own chometz during Pesach. According to this opinion, the mechiras chometz of a bakery that is open on Pesach would have no halachic validity. The bakery’s products may not be used until all chometz that it owned during Pesach has been used up or discarded.

Because of the potential chillul Hashem of having a “kosher supervised bakery” that operates on Shabbos, I know of hechsherim that supervise the “ingredients” of a bakery, but not the bakery itself. They contend, therefore, that it is not their responsibility to deal with the concerns about challah, chometz, or Shabbos desecration.

Personally, I do not see this as a solution to a problem, but as the cause of the problem. Even if we assume that the product produced on Shabbos is still kosher, and that it is not our concern to warn people about chometz she’avar alav hapesach, the average consumer does not realize that he is required to take challah. As someone once humorously put it, “this is a hechsher that everything was kosher before it got into the bakery, but what left might be treif.”

Pas Yisrael

The Mishnah in Avodah Zarah states:

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; bread and oil of a non-Jew, although Rebbe and his rabbinic court permitted the oil of a non-Jew, and items cooked by a non-Jew [bishul akum, which, if certain conditions exist, would not be permitted.]

The latter items are prohibited because of the likelihood that increased social interaction would lead to intermarriage. Many of the rishonim note that there is evidence that the prohibition against pas akum, bread baked by a non-Jew, was not accepted in all places when introduced, because of the principle that a rabbinic injunction becomes universally binding only if the majority of people abides by it. Based on this approach, the Rema rules that one may use bread baked by gentiles for commercial sale, which is called pas paltar. Other opinions state that the permissibility of pas akum is dependent on whether there is comparable pas Yisrael (bread baked by a Jew) available. When pas Yisrael is available, one may not use pas akum. However, when suitable pas Yisrael is not available, one may use pas paltar. Bread baked for private use is still included under the rabbinic injunction of pas akum except for rare circumstances.

The Shulchan Aruch reaches the following conclusion: In a place where the custom is to use pas paltar, one is permitted to use bread prepared for commercial usage – provided that no comparable pas Yisrael is available. If pas Yisrael becomes available, then the pas paltar should not be used until the pas Yisrael is no longer available. The Rema disagrees and says that pas paltar can be used even when pas Yisrael is available in any place where the custom is to permit pas paltar. The Bach and the Gra follow the opinion of the Rema, whereas other opinions agree with Shulchan Aruch and permit pas paltar only when pas Yisrael is not available.

During the Ten Days of Repentance, even a place where the custom is to be lenient in the usage of pas paltar is required to be stringent. Most opinions also agree with the Magen Avraham that on Shabbos, one should use only pas Yisrael.

The entire issue of whether and under what circumstances a Jew may eat bread baked by a non-Jew is problematic, if the entire baking procedure is done without any participation of a Jew. However, if a Jew increases the heat of the fire being used for baking in any way, even by merely symbolically adding a splinter to the fire, the bread baked is considered pas Yisrael. The Rema furthermore states that if a Jew increased the fire once, and the oven was not turned off for twenty-four consecutive hours, then all the bread baked in that time is considered pas Yisrael. The Chachmas Adam concurs with the Rema, although the Aruch Hashulchan does not accept all these leniencies.

In conclusion, according to predominant opinion, if a Jew participated in heating the oven, then the bread is considered pas Yisrael. If no Jew participated in heating the oven, the bread baked by a non-Jew can be used wherever there is no suitable usage of pas paltar, except during the Ten Days of Repentance and Shabbos. According to the Rema, in a place where the custom is to be lenient, one can use pas paltar, even if pas Yisrael is available.

We have as yet not discussed the complicated topic of separating challah from a bakery that is owned and managed by a non-observant Jew. We will continue that part of this topic in a future issue. I am also planning articles that will discuss pas akum, the stam yeinam issues germane to the use of raisin juice, and the topic of dairy bread in more detail.

Conclusion

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.

 

Anyone for a Giraffe Burger?

P8050332

For that matter, what about a venison (deer meat) roast!

Reb Yehudah, a respected Israeli talmid chacham, calls me with the following question: His grandparents have retired and moved to Israel. Now they have invited the entire family over for a Chanukas HaBayis where Zeide is proudly planning to serve barbecued “buffalo steaks” that he brought from America. Reb Yehudah cannot figure out how his grandfather can serve buffalo, or more accurately, bison meat, and Zeide, a frum man all his life, cannot figure out what the problem is — after all, he specially purchased meat with the finest hechsher. I was called upon to mediate.

Before discussing the halachic issues regarding giraffe burgers and buffalo steaks, we will need some background information:

SOME BASIC ANIMAL FACTS

The Torah writes: “Hashem spoke to Moshe and to Aharon saying to them.’Speak to the children of Israel saying, these are the beasts from which you may eat. From the animals that are upon the ground: Whatever has a split hoof that is separated completely and ruminates (chews its cud) among the animals: Those you may eat'” (Vayikra 11:1-3). Thus the Torah defines any land animal with a totally split hoof that chews its cud as kosher. These two signs, or simanim, indicating that their proud owner is kosher, are possessed by sheep, goats, the many varieties of deer and antelope, as well as the entire bovine family, including Western domesticated cattle, Indian zebu cattle, Asian  water buffalo, African cape buffalo, European bison (also called the wisent), American bison (colloquially and inaccurately referred to in North America as buffalo), and Himalayan yak. On the other hand, although a camel chews its cud and has a split hoof, since its hoof is only partially split and not fully separated it is not kosher (Vayikra 11:4). Although I have read articles claiming otherwise, visual inspection of giraffe feet shows that they have fully split hooves.

ANIMALS VERSUS BIRDS

There is a major halachic difference between land animals and birds in determining whether it is a kosher species. Unlike kosher animals, which are identified by the above two simanim, birds are determined to be kosher if they are omitted from the Torah’s list of 24 non-Kosher birds. Since so many thousands of bird species exist, it is obvious that most are kosher. The question is how does one identify the non-kosher varieties?

SIMANIM VERSUS MESORAH

The Gemara (Chullin 61b) specifies four indicating features (simanim); any bird species that contains all four features is kosher. However, many Rishonim contend that we do not rely on our understanding of these simanim and only eat fowl for which we have an oral tradition, a mesorah, that they are kosher (Rashi, Chullin 62b s.v. Chazyuha). The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 82:2) rules that one may rely on simanim, while the Rama (82:3) cites the custom not to eat any species of bird without a mesorah.

In addition to our basic background about identifying kosher species of land animals and of birds, we need to distinguish between two categories of kosher animal.

BEHEIMAH VERSUS CHAYAH

Kosher land animals are divided into two categories, beheimah and chayah. Although beheimah (pl., beheimos) is often translated as domesticated species and chayah (pl., chayos) as wild species, these definitions are halachically inaccurate, as we will see.

There are three halachic differences between a beheimah and a chayah.

CHEILEV — FORBIDDEN FAT

1. The Torah forbade consuming certain fats called cheilev, most of which protect the stomachs and kidneys (Chullin 93a). Eating cheilev is a very serious halachic prohibition, similar in severity to eating on Yom Kippur (Mishnah Kereisus 2a)!

The prohibition of cheilev applies to all species of beheimah, but does not apply to chayos (Mishnah Chullin 89b). Thus, someone eating the fat protecting the kidney of a properly slaughtered kosher sheep or calf has violated a prohibition similar to eating on Yom Kippur for consuming cheilev, whereas the greatest tzadik may eat the cheilev of a deer, which is a chayah. Thus one may enjoy a sumptuous venison roast without concern that he is eating any forbidden fat!

KISUY HADAM — COVERING THE BLOOD

2. Another mitzvah that is affected by whether a species is a chayah or a beheimah is the mitzvah of kisuy hadam, covering the blood immediately after shechitah. This mitzvah applies to chayah species (and to fowl), but not to beheimos (Mishnah Chullin 83b). Prior to covering this blood, a bracha is recited, as we do when fulfilling most mitzvos.

Thus, if a species is a chayah, one is required to cover the blood spilled during shechitah, and one may eat its cheilev fat. If it is a beheimah, there is no requirement to cover the blood, but eating its cheilev is strictly forbidden. So, after performing shechitah on our deer, one recites a bracha and then covers the blood with dirt or sawdust.

KOY — AN ANIMAL WITHOUT A SENSE OF IDENTITY

The Mishnah (Bikkurim 2:8- 11) discusses a species called koy (sometimes pronounced kvee), whose status is unclear. Although it is certainly a kosher species, we do not know whether it is a beheimah or a chayah. Due to this uncertainty, it has the stringencies of both categories: its fat is forbidden and one must cover its shechitah blood, but without a bracha. We omit the bracha because we are uncertain whether the Torah required covering its blood. If there is indeed no mitzvah, reciting a bracha before covering its blood would be a bracha livatalah, a bracha recited in vain. As a result, we cover the blood, which may be a mitzvah, but do not recite a bracha, since perhaps it is not.

KORBANOS

3. A third mitzvah affected by whether a species is a chayah or a beheimah is korbanos. One may not offer chayos on the mizbeiach in the Beis HaMikdash; only beheimos are kosher for this purpose (Zevachim 34a; Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Mizbeiach 5:6). Thus, although deer are kosher, we may not use them as korbanos.

We have established that one can have kosher venison roast and need not be concerned about its cheilev and that, as a self-respecting chayah, it is not acceptable as a korban. Serving venison on Pesach will be a welcome change of pace and a conversation piece, although one may not eat roast venison at the Seder since the custom is not to eat any roast meat then (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 476:2).

Since there are several halachic differences between beheimah and chayah, we need to define which species are beheimah and which are chayah. After all, no one wants to eat kidney fat of a beheimah thinking that it was a chayah!

WHAT IS A CHAYAH?

The Written Torah did not indicate the defining characteristics distinguishing beheimos from chayos, leaving these rules to the Torah sheba’al peh, the Oral Torah. The Gemara (Chullin 59b) mentions several characteristics, mostly dependent on the animal’s horns: A branched horn defines its species as chayah, whereas non-branched horns may indicate either a chayah or a beheimah depending on whether they grow in layers, are grooved, and whether their tips are curved or straight (Rashi ad loc.; cf. Rabbeinu Chananel). Therefore, any species possessing branched horns or antlers like those found on most deer is a chayah, whereas those with straight horns may be either chayah or beheimah depending on the other criteria. Since all antelope (a general category that includes several dozen species) have un-branched horns, one would need to examine the horns of each species to determine whether it is a beheimah or a chayah. (Technically speaking, the difference between deer and antelope is that deer have antlers that shed and re-grow annually, whereas antelope have permanent un-branched horns.) (There is one halachic opinion [Shu”t Beis Yaakov #41, quoted by Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 80:1] who contends that a chayah without horns is not kosher at all, but this approach is rejected by other halachic authorities [Pischei Teshuvah].)

Note that whether a species is categorized as a beheimah or as a chayah has no bearing on whether it is domesticated or not. Reindeer, although domesticated, are clearly a chayah since they have branched antlers, whereas there are non-domesticated species that are almost certainly beheimah according to halacha.

BUFFALO

The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 28:4) rules that one does not perform kisuy hadam for a buffalo; this determines it to be definitely a beheimah. (He is presumably referring to the Asian water buffalo, which was domesticated in Southern Europe hundreds of years before the Shulchan Aruch. He is certainly not referring to the American bison.) If there was any uncertainty regarding its status as a beheimah, the Shulchan Aruch would require kisuy hadam without a bracha – after all we would not ignore this mitzvah, particularly since it is easy to perform. However, the Rama (ad loc.) rules that the status of the buffalo is uncertain and contends that one should cover its blood but without a bracha. According to both opinions, the cheilev is forbidden — according to the Shulchan Aruch, definitely, as the cheilev of a beheimah, and according to the Rama, because of doubt.

A SECOND INTRODUCTION

According to everything that we have so far explained, the North American bison, which ruminates and has clearly split hooves, is clearly a kosher species. Referring back to our opening question: What made Reb Yehudah, our Israeli talmid chacham, think that bison is non-kosher?

The controversy that erupted in Reb Yehudah’s family originated in how to interpret the words of the major halacha authority, the Shach. Commenting on Shulchan Aruch’s definition of the differences between a beheimah and a chayah, the Shach (Yoreh Deah 80:1) writes “I did not elaborate… since today we only use what we have received with a mesorah.” He then concludes with a reference to the laws of kosher birds. The Shach’s comparison of the laws of animals to that of birds implies that accepted practice is to eat only land animal species that have a mesorah that they were eaten, and not to rely on the simanim that they are kosher, even when these simanim are obvious! This seems to run counter to the Gemara’s ruling that simanim are adequate to determine their kashrus.

The Pri Megadim, the major commentary on the Shach, discusses this difficulty and concludes that the Shach meant something else: since the defining distinctions between chayah and beheimah are sometimes unclear, we do not eat the cheilev of any species unless we have a mesorah that it is indeed a chayah. In practical terms, this means that the only land animals whose cheilev we permit are deer, since they are the only chayah species for which we have a definite mesorah. Therefore, according to the Pri Megadim, if someone moves to an area where he encounters a new species that has branched antlers like a deer, has split hooves and chews its cud, he may eat the meat of this animal (after properly shechting it) but he may not eat the cheilev even though it is certainly a chayah.

ANOTHER INTERPRETATION OF THE SHACH

Not all halachic authorities interpret the Shach as the Pri Megadim does. The Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah 11:4, 5) explains the Shach literally and also understands the rulings of other authorities (Chochmas Odom; Aruch HaShulchan) as agreeing with his interpretation. In his opinion, Shach is referring to a minhag, established in his generation or earlier, to not eat any animal species for which there was no mesorah. Chazon Ish suggests several reasons why such a minhag may have begun, including the possibility that people would not know how to check whether this unfamiliar animal is a tereifah (has some flaw that renders it non-kosher) or that they may assume that it is a chayah and permit its cheilev when it is not.

On the other hand, several other prominent poskim (Kaf HaChayim 80:5;

Darkei Teshuvah 80:3) were unaware of such a minhag, and, in addition, many authorities question why early poskim never clearly mention such a practice.

CONTROVERSIAL RESULTS – 1950 IN MADAGASCAR

In 1950, there was an attempt to import Madagascar beef from a variety of cattle called zebu into the new State of Israel. The zebu, the common cattle of India, has some noticeable differences from the common European beef cattle, including a large hump between its shoulders, and a very large hanging fold of skin under its throat called a dewlap. It definitely ruminates and has fully split hooves.

A dispute developed between the Chazon Ish and Rav Herzog, first Chief Rabbi of the State of Israel, regarding whether this meat could be considered kosher and imported into Eretz Yisroel, Rav Herzog contending that there is no need to have a mesorah that a species of beef is kosher, and the Chazon Ish objecting. To avoid a major dispute within the fledgling country, Rav Herzog did not allow the beef into the country.

1990’S IN SOUTH AMERICA

A few years ago, a major controversy developed in Eretz Yisroel regarding the origin of the kosher beef raised in South America. Land in Israel is scarce, whereas much of South America is perfect for raising beef cattle. In recent years, even the hechsherim with the highest standards have arranged for shechitah in South America, significantly lowering the price of beef.

A question arose regarding the common breeds of South American beef cattle because they include animals crossbred from different varieties, including the zebu. Rav Elyashiv, who usually rules according to the Chazon Ish, contended that one should not slaughter these cattle for kosher use without verifying that they are not descended from zebu cattle. Other Eretz Yisroel poskim were not concerned about this possibility, contending that even if a minhag exists not to eat zebu, the practice does not include beef varieties that look like European cattle, even if their ancestral background may include zebu.

GIRAFFE BURGERS

Certainly the Chazon Ish would not approve of giraffe meat, even though giraffe has fully split hooves and ruminates. Contrary to a common misconception, a giraffe has perfectly split hooves, and also chews its cud. Other than the Chazon Ish’s concern about mesorah, there is only one halachic reason to ban giraffe meat – the opinion of the Beis Yaakov, quoted above, that a chayah must have horns. Although a giraffe has boney protrusions on the top of its head, some might argue that these are not true horns, thus concluding that a giraffe is non-kosher according to this opinion of the Beis Yaakov. However, since most authorities reject this approach, the giraffe can safely be regarded as a kosher species because of its simanim.

Actually, to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever shechted a giraffe because of several practical concerns. Giraffe meat is so tough that even non-Jews are not tempted to eat its meat. Also, giraffes are very expensive zoo animals, and are extremely powerful creatures difficult to convince that they should cooperate with the shocheit. However, there is no truth to the persistent rumor that no one knows where to shecht a giraffe. The area of its neck appropriate for shechitah may run up to seven feet long, certainly many times the length of the corresponding shechitah area of a dove.

BUFFALO BURGERS

At this point, we will return to our original discussion. Reb Yehudah, an Israeli avreich, has been invited to a bison barbecue hosted by his grandfather. Reb Yehudah follows all of Rav Elyashiv’s rulings, and certainly those of the Chazon Ish, to the letter. Someone like him may not eat from a species such as bison, which obviously cannot have a long-standing mesorah since it is a native American. Reb Yehudah could not comprehend how someone could provide a hechsher to a product that the Chazon Ish would prohibit.

On the other hand, not all chareidi Eretz Yisroel poskim accept the Chazon Ish’s ruling in this matter. Rav Vozner (Shu”t Shevet HaLevi 10:114), in a responsum addressed to some chassidic poskim, ruled that one may slaughter and eat species that do not have a mesorah. He was uncertain whether the Chochmas Odom and the Shach ever meant that land animal species require a mesorah. However, Rav Vozner ruled this way only for chutz la’aretz and alluded to the possibility that one should be stringent in Eretz Yisroel out of deference to the Chazon Ish.

CREATING SHALOM

With this background, I will explain how I mediated the family feud that had developed between Zeidi and Reb Yehudah. Reb Yehudah called me first. I explained to him that although Rav Elyashiv and the Chazon Ish would clearly prohibit bison because of minhag, many prominent poskim dispute that such a minhag exists, contending that one may eat a species identifiably kosher. Thus, someone who follows Rav Elyashiv or the Chazon Ish in halachic decisions should indeed not eat a species that has no mesorah. On the other hand, one who follows other poskim is entitled to rely on those opinions who consider these species to be kosher based on simanim.

I then spoke to Zeidi, who was perturbed that his grandson did not consider him kosher enough and that “Yehudala” was going off the deep end with his chumros. I explained that although American poskim rule bison to be kosher, once the Chazon Ish holds that a minhag exists to eat animals only with a mesorah, the people that Yehudah lives among will not be lenient against the Chazon Ish’s position. I assured Zeidi that Yehudah was not hunting (no pun intended) for chumros, but that in his circle this was accepted halacha. Although Zeidi was disappointed that Yehudah would never enjoy “buffalo,” he accepted my explanation and served beef steak, presumably not zebu, in addition to his buffalo burgers.

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.