A Guide for Mitzvah-Keepers with Housekeepers

Mi-Hu Yehudi?
Here’s an Erev Shabbos “mishap” you don’t hear about very often…

A rabbi, the scion of a rabbinic dynasty, sees that things are particularly busy in his home one Erev Shabbos and he asks his Hispanic non-Jewish housekeeper if she can perhaps stay into Shabbos. She agrees readily, but on one condition: they must provide her with two candles to light because her grandmother taught her that every Friday night, she has to light two candles.

The rabbi puts two and two together and realizes that his non-Jewish housekeeper may well be…his Jewish housekeeper.

Moral of the story: never ask a crypto-Jew to help out on Shabbos.

Hopefully, the other non-Jewish housekeepers (henceforth, NJH) employed in Jewish homes are bona-fide non-Jews. However, there are other halachic issues attendant to employing a NJH besides Yichus…


The Shulchan Aruch requires us to be careful not to leave our meal utensils with a non-Jew, lest they be used for non-kosher foods. Citing this law, Maran Hagaon Rav Moshe Feinstein states that it is forbidden to leave one’s NJH alone in the house, lest one’s utensils be used for milk and meat simultaneously or for the NJH’s own unkosher food. Maran Hagaon Rav Yosef Sholom Elyashiv similarly states that one must lock up the utensils when the NJH is left alone in the house. He refers specifically to a NJH with cooking responsibilities.

Poskim (halachic decisors) consider scenarios where you remove any motivation for the NJH to cook. For example, a situation where the NJH has no responsibility at all to prepare food, and is provided with food that she is happy with and that needs no cooking. In such a case, the NJH may be left alone in the house without the need for the utensils to be locked away.


Another kashrus concern is the prohibition on eating Basar Shenisaleim Min Ha-ayin, i.e., meat that left Jewish surveillance. This prohibition is built on a concern that, in some form or fashion, the kosher meat will be exchanged undetectably with non-kosher meat.

There are circumstances where there is no need to suspect that an undetectable exchange has transpired. For example, the prohibition only applies when the non-Jew would benefit in some way from an exchange, e.g., the kosher meat is tastier. Secondly, the meat that left Jewish surveillance remains permissible if (a) it was sealed or (b) if the Jew involved has a Tevius Ayin, i.e., the capacity to examine the meat and discern that this is indeed the kosher meat that he left there. (There are specific parameters for sealing.) Furthermore, the NJH can be left alone with unsealed meat if she has received instructions about the kitchen and also has a genuine concern that she could be “caught in the act” of violating the rules.

Poskim discuss and debate the following question: Do I need seals on my meat if the NJH has no responsibility at all to prepare food, and is provided with food that she is happy with and that needs no cooking? One should consult a competent rav to discuss this issue if one considers adopting this approach.

[It should be noted that all that we have said above about meat applies to skinless pieces of fish, as well.]

Wine and Grape Juice

The presence of a NJH mandates the implementation of safeguards for the wine and grape juice, as well. It is forbidden to drink wine that was touched by a non-Jew, and pouring is considered a type of touching. Furthermore, it is forbidden to leave one’s wine alone with a non-Jew out of concern that they will pour themselves a drink and render the wine forbidden. This array of prohibitions is designed to prevent the closeness that leads to intermarriage and/or the consumption of wine that has been libated for idolatry.

The improbability (or impossibility) of offering libations limits the scope of these halachos. For example, there is no prohibition if the wine-bottle is sealed. (There are specific parameters for sealing.) Furthermore, even if the wine-bottle is unsealed, we need not be concerned about the non-Jew’s touching or pouring if it was Mevushal (cooked) before he handled it, because such wine is typically not used for idolatrous worship. There would, however, still be the issue of the non-Jew being alone with the wine, due to a concern that it will be exchanged for non-kosher wine. The way to address that problem is to tell the NJH to avoid handling the wine. In that case, if she has a genuine concern that she could be “caught in the act” of violating the rules, one may leave her alone with it even if it’s in an unsealed receptacle.

Contemporary poskim address two major questions about Yayin Mevushal (cooked wine). The first is: To what temperature must the wine have been heated to classify it as “cooked”? This is a subject of dispute. The OU’s policy is to follow the opinion of Rav Moshe Feinstein and require a cooking temperature of 175 degrees F. The second question is: Can we consider pasteurized wine to be Mevushal? Maran Hagaon Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and [l’havdil bein chayyim l’chayyim] Rav Elyashiv maintain (for different reasons) that wine is not to be considered Mevushal merely by dint of being pasteurized. The prevalent practice in America is to follow the opinion of Rav Moshe Feinstein, who maintains that pasteurized wine is indeed Mevushal.

[It should be noted that all that we have said above about wine applies to grape juice, as well.]

Bishul Akum

A NJH assigned responsibilities to prepare food raises the issue of Bishul Akum (food cooked, baked, etc. by non-Jews). This prohibition only applies to a food which meets two criteria: (1) at this time and location, it is not eaten raw, and (2) it is important enough to be served at a state dinner. If your NJH cooks such a food for you (e.g., meat; eggs), the food is impermissible even if the utensils are kosher and the original ingredients are kosher. The Sages enacted these laws to prevent the closeness that leads to intermarriage.

Ashkenazi practice permits a non-Jew to cook for Jews if a Jew ignited the flame. Consequently, the NJH must be told that only members of the family can turn on the stove and the oven. [Even though these halachos are not applicable to all foods, there’s no reason to turn the NJH into a rabbi!]


Employing a NJH raises other halachic issues, independent of kashrus. There is an Issur D’oraysa (Biblical prohibition) of Yichud (isolated seclusion) with certain (Jewish) members of the opposite gender. Hillel and Shammai added to this list and legislated that one may not be alone with a non-Jew of the opposite gender, lest that solitude lead to physical intimacy. Therefore, it is potentially problematic for a fellow to be in the house with the NJH in the absence of his wife.

There are exceptions to the Yichud prohibition, predicated on the solitude being insignificant or essentially non-existent:

  1. Some poskim maintain that if one’s wife is in the same city, no prohibition of Yichud obtains if there is a genuine concern that the wife will pop-in unexpectedly. Not all poskim agree to this, so a competent rav should be consulted personally before employing this leniency.
  2. A fellow can be in the house with the NJH as long as a child is present. This applies only to the day-time and only to a child who is at least 7-8 years old. In this instance, the child functions as a Shomer (guard). If the child is someone else’s daughter, she can only be a Shomeres until she is 9. At 10, it would be forbidden for a fellow to be secluded with her.
  3. There is no prohibition of Yichud when the door to the room is classified by the Halacha as “Pasu’ach Larabbaim” (open to the multitude). For example, if the door is unlocked and someone may walk in unannounced, no prohibition of Yichud obtains. The time and place will obviously have a major impact on whether or not someone may walk in unannounced, so a competent rav should be consulted personally before employing this leniency. The need for rabbinic consultation is especially acute if, for whatever reason, the fellow and the NJH relate to one another as friends on some level and not merely as employer and employee; in that circumstance, the leniency may not apply at all.


Another potential problem with employing a female NJH is her style of dress. Obviously, a NJH is not bound by halachos of Tzenius (concealment). Consequently, she may show up for work dressed immodestly—and it may not be feasible to give the NJH instructions on how to dress. There would then be two issues to address.

The first issue is that a fellow would not be allowed to say Divrei Torah and Berachos if he saw before him the NJH’s skin from an area that would normally be covered (if she were a single religious Jewish woman). Fortunately, just closing one’s eyes will alleviate this problem. The second issue that may, perhaps, be relevant in certain contexts is the prohibition on staring at a woman for pleasure. This is forbidden on several grounds:

  1. In Bamidbar 15:39, it states, “Do not stray after [ ] your eyes.” This includes a prohibition on staring at women for pleasure.
  2. Since a fellow is obligated to protect himself from seminal emissions outside of the context of marital intimacy, it is prohibited to engage in sexual rumination. (Staring at women for pleasure is conducive to those ruminations. )
  3. There is a prohibition on Girui Yetzer Hara (libidinal stimulation). In the same way that reading erotic literature and listening to love songs are proscribed behaviors because they stimulate the libido, one must also avoid staring at women for pleasure.

It’s worth noting that there is more to immodest female attire than its impact on the male employer. What kind of effect does it have on our children? Do we undermine our educational efforts when we teach a child about Tzenius and then tolerate the NJH dressing immodestly? This is merely one aspect of the broader question of the NJH’s influence on our children. I once heard a great Chacham advocate alertness and vigilance to any employer of a non-Jewish babysitter. He told of a child whose non-Jewish babysitter taught him to kneel when he said Krias Shema Al Hamita! Indeed, a prominent rav in Passaic, NJ, has been quoted in this context as saying, “How can you insist on more supervision for your meat than your children?”

Shabbos and Yom Tov

A NJH also impacts on our Shabbos and Yom Tov observance. As is well-known, it is not permissible to tell a non-Jew to do, on Shabbos or Yom Tov, that which we ourselves are forbidden to do on Shabbos or Yom Tov. This prohibition applies even if we give the instructions before Shabbos or Yom Tov. What is less well-known is that even if we do not ask for it, it is forbidden to benefit from what a non-Jew does for us in “violation” of Shabbos or Yom Tov.

The relationship of domestic servants to their employers in our days is arguably different than it was in previous generations. As such, there may be certain leniencies that the employer of a NJH may utilize for Shabbos and Yom Tov, based on three factors: (1) the NJH’s specific responsibilities, (2) the manner of asking, and (3) the nature of the benefit. This is not the place to elaborate; a competent rav should be consulted personally to insure that Shabbos and Yom Tov are kept properly.

The Honor of God; the Dignity of Man

No discussion of employing a NJH would be complete without a mention of K’vod Habriyos (human dignity) and K’vod Shamayim (the Honor of G-d). In ten words or less: One must treat the NJH well. This means much more than just paying what we promise to pay. It means acting on our awareness that the NJH has inherent worth by dint of her humanity. Weighing in on a topic discussed and debated by the Acharonim (latter-day authorities), Maran Hagaon Rav Ahron Soloveichik writes, “[E]very human being, regardless of religion, race, origin or creed is endowed with Divine dignity. Consequently, all people are to be treated with equal respect and dignity. The Torah says in Genesis, ‘In the Image of G-d, He created Man’ (1:27).” Furthermore, says Rav Soloveichik, “[I]t is incumbent upon one to love all of Mankind created in the Image.” This, arguably, reflects what we find in Pirkei Avos. We are taught, “Be among the disciples of Aharon Hakohen: love peace and pursue it; love people (Habriyos) and bring them close to the Torah.” And we are told that love of people (Ahavas Habriyos) is an attribute of that elevated individual who occupies himself with Torah-study for its own sake.

(Rav Soloveichik adds one qualification to loving non-Jews: “We cannot apply brotherly love to towards all non-Jews, including all the anti-Semites. Love of non-Jews must be commensurate with their behavior.” )

Implementation of this directive has repercussions beyond Kavod Habriyos. It leads to Kiddush Hashem. As the Amora Abayye teaches us, “You should cause G-d’s Name to be beloved” through exemplary conduct. And lest we underestimate the importance of Kiddush Hashem, let us hear the clarion call from the Ramchal and Rav Chaim Friedlander. The Ramchal states that a person can have no higher focus in fulfilling a mitzvah than to generate a Kiddush Hashem, no greater intention than seeking “to magnify and increase His Honor.” Rav Friedlander writes that the “purpose of Creation,” its “bottom-line,” is to generate Kiddush Hashem. He adds, citing Rabbeinu Yonah, that “the main reason G-d sanctified us with His Torah and His commandments was in order for us to sanctify Him and revere Him.”

May we all merit to accomplish this lofty task.

Rabbi Ferrell is a Rabbinic Coordinator at the Orthodox Union and is involved with chemical companies and OU Kashrus Education.


Mordechai, Avodah Zarah, Ch.2; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 122:9.
Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah I:61.
Hakashrus, by Rav Yitzchak Ya’akov Fuchs, Ch. 9, n.326.
Personal communication to this writer. Is it possible that the NJH could be left alone in the house without safeguards if she has no reason to eat in the house by dint of arriving after breakfast and leaving before lunchtime? This question requires further investigation.
Hakashrus, Ch. 9, n.326.
Personal communication to this writer.
Chullin 95/a; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 63.
Shach, Yoreh Deah 63:6; Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 63:3.
Hakashrus, Ch. 9, n.326; cf. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 118:10 & Shach, loc. cit. #8.
Chullin 95/B; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 63:1. In OU Document F-40, Rav Hershel Schachter discusses the halachic difference between one seal and two. Vide Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 118 for a discussion of the need for sealing when using a non-Jew as a “delivery boy” or watchman for meat.
Cf. Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 118:10; personal communications from Rav David Feinstein and Rav J. David Bleich; Hakashrus 9:111.
The present writer has discussed this question with Rav David Feinstein, Rav Yisroel Belsky, and Rav Hershel Schachter, and they did not come to identical decisions.
Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 118:1.
Avodah Zarah, Ch.4; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 123-124. Rav Elimelech Lebowitz points out that some forbid wine that was merely seen by a non-Jew, and that this stringency is customarily observed in Chassidic communities and by certain non-Chassidic Jews, as well.
Avodah Zarah 60/A; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 124:18, 125-126; personal communication from Rav Yisroel Belsky.
Avodah Zarah 64/B & 69/A-B; Rema, Yoreh Deah 128:1 & 129:1. Vide Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 118 for a discussion of the need for sealing when using a non-Jew as a “delivery boy” or watchman for wine. In Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 118:1, we see that the concern with delivery boys and watchmen is that they will exchange it for non-kosher wine.
Personal communication from Rav Yisroel Belsky.
Shach, Yoreh Deah 123:1; Taz, Yoreh Deah 123:1.
Avodah Zarah 31/A; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 130.
Avodah Zarah 30/A; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 123:3.
Taz, Yoreh Deah 123:3.The Ba’er Heiteiv, loc. cit. #2, citing Rishonim (see OU Document A-171), states that the reason for this leniency is that cooked wine is not prevalent (“Aini Matzu’i Kol Kach”) and therefore no legislation was made regarding it.
Based on Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 118 & 130:3.
Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 118:1; Shach 130:7; Taz 130:6.
Avodah Zarah 69/A-B; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 129:1. Rav Yitzchok Mincer told this writer that this approach applies to Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 118, as well, although it might pose a logistical challenge.
Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:52.
OU Document A-171, quoting Rav Hershel Schachter.
Hakashrus 19:45.
Rav Yisroel Belsky explained to this writer that something that is edible raw in an emergency is not considered “edible raw” in the context of Bishul Akum if it’s not eaten raw under normal circumstances.
Avodah Zarah 35/B & 38/A; Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 113:1; personal communication from Rav Yisroel Belsky. This is not the place to deal with the question of requiring Bishul Yisroel for a food’s unimportant varieties (e.g., salmon in a can) if its important forms (e.g., salmon steak that’s broiled) are served at state dinners; vide Rav Binyamin Forst, Pis’chei Halacha: Kitzur Hilchos Kashrus, Teshuvah #17 from the Debretziner Rav (p.160). Rav Hershel Schachter discusses the issue of kashering utensils that came in contact with Bishul Akum; vide B’Ikvei Hatzon, Ch. 26 (especially p.157).
Aruch Hashulchan, Yoreh Deah 112:1.
Rema, Yoreh Deah 113:7.
Vide Beis Shmuel 22:1, citing Tosafos and the Tur, and Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha-ezer 22:2
And/or their students: vide Avodah Zarah 36/B. I heard from Chacham Echad that Yichud with a non-Jewess may be an Issur D’Oraysa (Biblical prohibition) for a Kohen.
Avodah Zarah 36/B; Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-ezer 22:2.
Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha-ezer 22:1.
Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-ezer 22:3.
Vide Beis Shmuel 22:22 & Aruch Hashulchan, Even Ha-ezer 22:15.
Vide Halichos V’halachos Yichud, by Rav Chaggai Elyashiv Na’eh, 6:2. Even the authorities who accept the lenient view (see previous note) would agree that, if the fellow and the NJH relate to one another as friends on some level and not merely as employer and employee, the leniency may not apply at all; vide Halichos V’halachos Yichud 7:4.
Based on Halichos V’halachos Yichud 3:5.
Based on Halichos V’halachos Yichud 9:2-5.
Kiddushin 81/A; Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-ezer 22:9.
Based on Halichos V’halachos Yichud 8:3.
Based on Halichos V’halachos Yichud 8:6.
Berachos 24/A; Rema, Orach Chaim 75:1.
Mishnah Berurah 75:5. For a very unlikely case where closing one’s eyes would not be sufficient, vide Mishnah Berurah 75:29.
Shabbos 64/b; Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-ezer 21:1. For exceptions to this prohibition, vide Rema, Yoreh Deah 195:7 & Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-ezer 21:3-4. The NJH is not an exception!
Mishnah Berurah 75:7.
Devarim 23:10, explained in Avodah Zarah 20/B and Tosafos loc. cit. d.v. Shelo Yeharhair. The question of avoiding seminal emissions during non-intromittent spousal contact is beyond the scope of this article, but vide Igros Moshe, Even Ha-ezer 4:66.
Cf. Shulchan Aruch, Even Ha-ezer 21:1 & 23:3. Vide Igros Moshe, Even Ha-ezer 1:56, where he states that the prohibition on gazing at women is due to the fact that it leads to ruminations.
Outside of the context of spousal contact.
Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 307:16.
Sha’ar Hatziyyun 560:25.
For a comprehensive treatment of this topic, including the circumstances when there are permits, vide Rabbi David Ribiat, The 39 Melachos, , pp.63-89.
Rabbi David Ribiat, The 39 Melachos, p.82.
Vide Rav J. David Bleich’s article, “Study of Anatomy:I-Dissection” in Tradition 19:3, where he discusses the debate, and vide the Tiferes Yisroel, Avos 3:88 & 3:93.
Logic Of The Heart, Logic Of The Mind, p.62.
Ibid., p.70. According to OU Document X-107, Rav Yisroel Belsky was once asked, “Since there is an obligation to walk in the ways of Hashem, and the verse states, ‘Hashem is good to all; His mercies are on the entirety of His handiwork,’ would we say that bestowing kindness to non-Jews is valid and/or obligatory?” Rav Belsky responded in the affirmative, based on citations from Chazal.
Avos 1:12; vide commentaries of Tosafos Yom Tov and Tiferes Yisroel loc. cit.
Ibid., 6:1.
Logic Of The Heart, Logic Of The Mind, p.78.
Yoma 86/a.
Mesilas Yeshorim, Ch. 19.
Siach Chaim, pp. 147-148.

OU Kosher Staff