by Rabbi Yaakov Luban, Executive Rabbinic Coordinator, OU Kosher
Daf Notes: The excellent article by Rabbi Luban entitled “Playing with Fire” was originally published in The Daf HaKashrus Vol. 3, No. 6, P. 24. It is reprinted here with slight modifications. In Part I, Rabbi Luban discussed the Halachic background for the prohibition of Bishul Akum.
There is a dispute among the Rishonim (early commentators) whether bishul akum is negated when a Jew contributes to the cooking process by lighting the fire before a non-Jew places a pot of food on the stove. The major codifiers of Jewish law argue this point as well. Rav Yosef Caro, author of the Shulchan Oruch, subscribes to the stringent opinion, and this is the custom practiced by Sephardic Jewry. According to this view, a Jew must place the pot on a burning fire in order that the food be considered bishul yisrael. Alternatively, a Jew may turn on the fire after a non-Jew placed the pot on the cold stove. The Ramo follows the lenient opinion, and allows a gentile to place raw food on a fire that was ignited by a Jew. Since the Jew has a share in the overall process, the food is not considered to be bishul akum.
The Ramo goes one step further, and writes that if a Jew has even a partial role in preparing the fire, bishul akum does not apply. For example, if a Jew added a wood chip or any other fuel to the fire, or alternatively, if a non-Jew lit a fire from another fire which was originally ignited by a Jew, there is no restriction of bishul akum. In both of these instances, the fire is considered “aish yisrael” (fire of a Jew) because of the involvement of the Jew. Many Jews of Ashkenazic descent follow this ruling, and allow, a non-Jew to turn on a gas burner which is ignited from a pilot light that was lit by a Jew. However, this practice is not ideal (see footnote 10). In OU restaurants, mashgichim are instructed to turn on the fires on the stoves and not rely solely on pilot lights. However, stoves with pilot lights are no longer common, and it is important that people realize the serious halachic concerns associated with meals prepared by hired help. A separate issue that must be dealt with when non-Jewish help is left alone in a house is the concern that they may use the kitchen utensils to prepare non-kosher food. See Yoreh Daya 118:12, and Igros Moshe Vol. 1, 61.
The reader is perhaps wondering who turns on the fires in factories around the world in remote locations that are supervised by the OU and other kashruth organizations. Although many foods are prepared without any heat (for example, mayonnaise and pickles), there are numerous other products that are cooked. In truth, members of Rabbinic staff of the OU spend a disproportionate amount of time seeking halachic and practical solutions to the problems of bishul akum, and where no solution is found, supervision is not granted. In some instances, it is possible to effect bishul yisrael (for example, in restaurants and meat processing plants where there is a mashgiach timidi), but generally there is a halachic basis to supervise product without bishul yisrael. There are many instances where bishul akum does not apply for a variety of reasons, which we will now examine.
Edible in a Raw State
Food that can be eaten in a raw state is not prohibited when cooked by a non-Jew. Since the food is edible without preparation, the consumer feels minimal appreciation to the chef, and eating the food does not engender socialization. Some foods that fall into this category are: water, oil, butter, jam & jelly, juice, honey, yogurt, canned fruit, flavored drinks, milk, ice cream, banana chips, nuts, cheese, vinegar, ketchup, sauces, apple sauce, many canned vegetables (corn, string beans, peas, carrots, mushrooms, cucumbers, peppers, etc.).
Not Served at a Royal Table
Food that is not fit to be served at a royal dinner may be prepared by a non-Jew. Here, too, the level of appreciation to the cook is minimal since the food is not a prestigious item. Some examples of this group are as follows: cereal, potato chips, corn chips, donuts, canned beans, popcorn, and candy. It is often difficult to establish whether a particular food is fit for a royal dinner. For example, the Chochmas Adam (66-4) writes that bishul akum applies to potatoes, while the Oruch HaShulchan (113-18) maintains that potatoes are a poor man’s staple. In addition, these issues must be revisited in every generation, and one cannot point to halachic precedent, since the determination of what is served at a royal dinner is subject to contemporary custom. Today, it is not uncommon to find mashed potatoes and potato fries at elaborate meals, and even the Oruch HaShulchan would perhaps agree that potatoes are now fit for a royal table.
Requires Further Processing
What if the gentile cooks food to the point where it is partially edible, but a Jew completes the cooking process? According to Rav Yosef Caro, this situation normally constitutes bishul akum, while the Ramo maintains that the partial involvement of the Jew is sufficient to be considered bishul yisrael. Many kashruth agencies who follow the Ashkenazic tradition of the Ramo allow non-Jewish companies to prepare specific types of food that cannot be used out the box or can without further processing. Since these items will require additional cooking in any event, it is assumed that the final stages will be done by a Jew and the product will then be considered bishul yisrael. Examples of this category include: parboiled rice, water chestnuts, canned potatoes, frozen french fries, latkes & tatter fries, instant potatoes and pasta.
Bread items were not included in the restriction of bishul akum and are governed by a completely different set of rules. Many are of the opinion that the sages initially prohibited bread baked by a gentile (pas akum) but later partially rescinded this restriction for commercial bread (pas palter) which is a staple food item. Some authorities allow the purchase of pas palter if pas yisrael of comparable quality is unavailable, while others permit pas palter under all circumstances. Since the restriction was rescinded only because of necessity, many people who are medakdek b’mitzvos (scrupulous in mitzvah observance) refrain from eating pas palter under all conditions. Nonetheless, many kashruth agencies follow the basic halachah, and endorse products known as pas palter. Pas palter includes a category of products known as pas haboh bikisnin. Some common examples of pas haboh bikisnin are pie, cake, cookies, pretzels, bread sticks, flat bread, crackers and kichel.
Main Component is Water
Tosofoth states that bishul akum is not a concern with respect to beer, even though the grain component is cooked, since the majority is water. Pri Chodosh extrapolates that for this reason coffee (or tea) and cocoa are permissible.