It is forbidden to consume food that was cooked by non-Jews. What is the reason for this prohibition? Is a non-religious Jew’s cooking included in the prohibition? Are all foods included in the prohibition? What about baked goods or beverages? What can be done if a non-Jew has already cooked the food? Is there any way to permit a non-Jewish maid to do the cooking? What is the difference between Ashkenazi and Sfaradi halachic authorities? Bagels, which are both boiled and baked present a unique problem. Can bagels produced by a non-Jew be consumed? Of this and more in the coming article.
In this week’s parasha we read: “If your brother, the son of your mother, tempts you in secret or your son, or your daughter, or your wife, or your friend, who is as your own soul saying, ‘Let us go and worship other gods, which neither you, nor your forefathers have known’” (Devarim 13:7). Many halachos are derived from this pasuk, all of which result from the influence that close relatives can have to lead one astray from Hashem and His Torah. Accordingly, the halachos derived from this pasuk are designed to prevent association with such people and learning from their nefarious ways.
The Gemara (Chulin 4b) explains that eating and drinking together can cause one to be led astray. This is what Chazal meant in their saying (Yalkut Shimoni, Shmuel 130): “Great is a drink, which separates the close, and brings the distant, closer.”
By forbidding Jews from eating food cooked by non-Jews, our Sages intended to create a social barrier between Jews and non-Jews in order to prevent intermarriage. By awareness of these halachos, every meeting with a non-Jew that includes food or drink reminds us of our separateness and helps us retain the necessary distance. Therefore, even when sharing a kosher meal with a non-Jew, we must ensure a safe distance is retained.
According to Rashi (Avoda Zara 35b) and the Rambam (Ma’achalos Asuros 17:9) the reason for the prohibitions is to prevent intermarriage. This opinion is maintained by most of the poskim. Rashi (Avoda Zara 38a) mentions an additional reason: eating foods cooked by a non-Jew could eventually lead to eating non-kosher food. Therefore, all food cooked by a non-Jew is prohibited, regardless of the ingredients’ kashrus status.
The Tiferes L’Moshe (Yore Deah 113) and Pischei Teshuva (ibid, footnote 9) write that the difference in the reason for the halacha has ramifications regarding a non-practicing Jew’s cooking. If the reason is to prevent intermarriage – eating from a non-practicing Jew’s cooking would not be forbidden, while if it is to ensure the kashrus status of the food, it would. The Avnei Nezer (Yore Deah 92), Zivchei Zedek (113:12), and Minchas Yitzchak (III, 73) opine that the reason is also to prevent the non-Jew from serving non-kosher foods. Therefore, a non-practicing Jew’s cooking is forbidden. However, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Yore Deah I chapter 45) and Tzitz Eliezer (volume 9 chapter 41) rule that the main reason is to prevent intermarriage, and eating foods cooked by a non-Jew is not problematic as long as one is sure that the ingredients are, indeed, kosher.
Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer V, chapter 10) writes that the basic halachic ruling takes the lenient route on the matter. However, since some opinions forbid it, the kashrus supervisor at a food plant owned by non-observant Jews should be the one to press the button that turns on the machines on at the beginning of production.
Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe Orech Chaim part II, chapter 40) writes that one should not eat anything, even foods that do not require kashrus supervision, at an eating establishment owned by a non-Shabbos observant Jew that doesn’t carry proper kashrus supervision. This is because others may see him and come to eat food items that do require supervision. However, he adds, one who is very hungry and has nowhere else to eat can go into the establishment while explaining to onlookers that he is going in only to eat kosher items.
Chazal prohibited only foods that create comradeship. Therefore, the prohibition to eat cooked foods only incudes those items which Chazal saw as conducive to cultivating that feeling. Chazal defined these foods according to several parameters:
1) Foods that were cooked by fire. Therefore, smoked, salted, or pickled foods, or those cooked only by microwave are not included in the prohibition (Shulchan Aruch, Yore Deah 113:13). (Obviously, food cooked on a stovetop and rewarmed in a microwave is prohibited). Cooking with steam is subject to debate. Therefore, according to Rav Ovadia Yosef (Yabia Omer volume V, Yore Deah 9) where in doubt one can be lenient. However, the Shevet Halevi (volume II, chapter 45) rules that steaming is equal to cooking with fire, and prohibited.
2) Foods that are only eaten cooked. Food items that can be eaten both raw and cooked (fruits and vegetables, for example) do not become prohibited if cooked by a non-Jew.
3) Food fit for a king’s table (important foods). Today, any food that could be served at a wedding or other important affair would fit into this category. However, food that wouldn’t be served at an important affair is not prohibited by a non-Jew’s cooking.
Defining “Fit for a King”
The poskim are disputed how to define an important food. While some opine that it is determined by the global norm (Pri Chadash Yore Deah 113:3), other see it as a location-based reality, subject to change according to local practice (Chida, Yore Deah 113, Shiyurei Bracha, footnote 1). Most poskim agree with the latter ruling, requiring one to stay aware of the fast-changing food norms. While in the past there was a clear distinction between the high society’s foods and those consumed by the common folk, today the lines have blurred. Changing the status of a food item requires it to be broadly accepted as food served at upscale affairs, not a one-time chef’s exotic brainstorm.
Today, most foods are considered “fit for a king’s table”. However, barley, beans, and sardines still cannot be categorized as such. Again, one must stay aware of the local customs to make sure the accepted practice has not changed.
A case in point:
The Aruch Hashulchan (Yore Deah 113:18) writes that in his time, potatoes were considered poor man’s food. Despite that fact that rich people did, at times, taste potatoes, they remained low-class foods and were not considered “fit for a king’s table”. According to the Aruch Hashulchan, potatoes were considered so low-class that people saw serving potatoes to guests as degrading! However, the Chochmas Adam (who lived before the Aruch Hashulchan) writes that potatoes are “fit for a king’s table” and become forbidden by a non-Jew’s cooking. Obviously, this was before potatoes became the peasant’s mainstay. Today, obviously, the situation has changed again, and potatoes are served on any occasion. Therefore, the prohibition of bishul akum pertains to potatoes. This halachic ruling is mentioned in the Shevet Halevi (volume II, chapter 45).
The same is true for rice – while the Chochmas Adam (66:4) and Aruch Hashulchan (Yore Deah 113:19) write that rice is not “fit for a king’s table”, today rice is an accepted side dish at any food establishment or event.
Similarly, carrots are defined by the Chochams Adam (66:4) as foods that are not eaten raw because it was only rarely eaten that way. However today, whereas carrots are often eaten raw, its status has changed.
Pas Nochri (Bread Baked by a Non-Jew) – Bishul Akum (Foods Cooked by a Non-Jew)
The prohibition to eat from a non-Jew’s cooking is a much earlier prohibition than the prohibition to eat from a non-Jew’s bread. Therefore, various leniencies that refer to bread do not pertain to cooked items. For example, bread baked by stores and eaten at home (not alongside a non-Jew) is permitted for consumption where no Jewish baked bread is available (Shulchan Aruch, Yore Deah 112:2). The Rama goes further and permits this bread even where bread baked by a Jew is available, however there is room for stringency on the matter. Regarding non-Jewish cooking, though, no such leniency exists.
Chazal prohibit foods cooked by a non-Jew, but if a Jew is involved in the cooking process the food is not forbidden. Therefore, if a Jew places the food on the fire, even if the non-Jew continues cooking it, the food is permitted. The opposite is likewise true – if the non-Jew placed the pot of food on the fire but the Jew proceeded to stir it before becoming fully cooked, if the stirring assisted the preparation, the food it permitted.
However, if the Jew did nothing but light the oven, according to the Shulchan Aruch (Yore Deah 13:7) the food remains forbidden since lighting the oven only permits bread, not other foods. However, according to the Rama lighting the oven permits the food. And not only lighting the oven but even merely throwing a toothpick into the fire is enough to render all foods cooked with that fire kosher.
Sfaradim Using Ashkenazi Kashrus
While some Askenazi kashrus agencies are stringent to follow the Shulchan Aruch’s approach that requires a Jew to actively take part in the cooking process, many are not, and only require that the Mashgiach should turn on the oven at the beginning of the day. Rav Ovadia Yosef was asked if Sfaradim could rely on these kashrus agencies. He answers that taking in account the current reality, there are several added reasons for ruling leniently and relying on those kashrus agencies. Nevertheless, one who wishes to be stringent on the matter will be blessed.
The Minchas Yitzchok (volume III, chapter 26:6) writes that there is additional room for leniency in factory production because the concern for intermarriage is non-existent – no relationship can evolve from eating a product off a supermarket shelf even if a non-Jew cooked it in the factory, far back in the production process. Although he does not permit it for this reason alone, when steam is used for cooking (and not direct fire) both reasons together permit the food’s consumption. The Shevet Halevi (volume II, chapter 45), however, as well as the Chazon Ish, rule against this leniency.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Yore Deah volume IV, chapter 45:5) writes that the kashrus agency’s representative (mashgiach) is responsible to ensure all foods cooked under his supervision is not bishul akum. If, however, the mashgiach failed to do so, most people are customarily lenient.
Coffee prepared by a non-Jew is the subject of dispute among the poskim. While some allow drinking it, others forbid sitting together for coffee with a non-Jew because it brings camaraderie. The Aruch Hashulchan rules (Yore Deah 113:22) that since coffee is a beverage, not a food item, it is permitted. (Vegetable soup, though, for example, is considered a food item.) Shevet Halevi (volume II chapter 44) and Rav Ovadia Yosef (volume IV, chapter 42) mention several other reasons for leniency when necessary, but both conclude that one who is stringent on the matter will be blessed.
Bagels are bread that is first boiled and then baked. Does it have the status of a bread, or is it a cooked food which requires added stringency? Rabbi Moshe Feinstein writes that although bagels are boiled before baking, they are considered bread and can be bought provided no Jewish baked bread is available. The Rama is of the opinion that one can be lenient and buy the bread even where there is Jewish baked bread. Therefore, if other breads are available but no Jewish baked bagels and one wishes to eat bagels, he may eat those baked by non-Jews.
The Igros Moshe stipulates, however, that this only is relevant where one is certain that the non-Jew did not add any questionable fat or other products to the bread, in which case direct supervision is required throughout the entire baking process. Therefore, where bagels are known to contain only flour and water one can be lenient and eat those baked by a non-Jew. However today, whereas many additives and leavening agents are added to commercial doughs as well as fats or oils that are applied to the oven or baking tins, one cannot be sure no non-kosher foods were added to the bread. Unless he can ascertain otherwise, non-Jewish baked bread should not be consumed without a reliable kashrus certificate.
Food cooked by fire and normally served at honorable events cannot be eaten if cooked by a non-Jew.
Salted, fermented, pickled, or smoked foods are not included in the prohibition. Steam-cooking is subject to debate.
If a Jew was involved in the cooking process before the food was ready, the food is permitted for consumption. Followers of Sfaradi poskim require the Jew to actively take part in the cooking – i.e. place the pot on the fire or stir the food before it is ready. According to Ashkenazi poskim merely turning on the oven or fire is sufficient.
One can rely upon factory production if the factory has a reliable kashrus certification, and one need not be concerned they may have relied upon lenient approaches. However, without proper kashrus certification, one should not consume a product even if it only contains only kosher ingredients.