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.