What Makes Bread Jewish?

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

What Makes Bread Jewish?

Question #1: No Bagels

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

Question #2: Commercial versus bakery

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

Question #3: Who is a Jew?

“What defines my bread as being Jewish?”

Basic background

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

Pas akum glossary:

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

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

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

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

Bishul akum glossary

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

Dispute about pas paltar

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

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

On the other hand, other authorities are more lenient, ruling that pas paltar is always permitted (Rema). This heter was so widespread that the Rema, in Toras Chatas, his detailed work on the laws of kashrus, wrote: “Since the custom in most places is to be lenient, I will therefore not expound on it at length, because the widespread practice is to permit this bread and eat it, even when there is pas Yisroel available. Therefore, one who is careful about pas Yisroel may choose to be machmir to the extent that he wants.”

Brand-named bagel

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

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

Hechsherim and pas Yisroel

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

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

Aseres Yemei Teshuvah

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

Pas akum on Shabbos

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

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

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

Breading for Shabbos

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

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

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

True Jewish rye

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus, we have a dispute among the early authorities as to whether the Jew’s participation in the baking of the bread must have some significance to make it pas Yisroel or whether a symbolic involvement is sufficient. The conclusion of most authorities is that a symbolic act, such as tossing a splinter into the oven, is sufficient (Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 112:9).

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

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

Other heterim

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

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

Contemporary ovens

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

When is it bread?

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

Rice bread

The Rishonim explain that the law of pas akum applies exclusively to breads made of one of the five crops that we consider grains: wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats (Tur, quoting Rosh; Shulchan Aruch). Some authorities contend that in a place where these grains are not available and, therefore, it is common to make bread from rice or similar grains, there would be a potential bishul akum issue (Pri Chodosh 112:5). This approach is implied by the Rosh and by the Toras Chatas (75:11). Others contend that there is no bishul akum concern, because rice bread is not oleh al shulchan melachim (Bach; Shach; Shu”t Avnei Neizer, Yoreh Deah 92:7).

What types of bread?

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

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

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

Conclusion

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