Daf ha-kashrus

Playing with Fire – Part III

by Rabbi Yaakov Luban, Executive Rabbinic Coordinator, OU Kosher 

Food that is not fit to be served at a royal dinner[1] 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,[2] corn chips, donuts,[3] canned beans, popcorn,[4] 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 un-common 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.[5]

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.[6] Many kashruth agencies who follow the Ashkenazic tradition of the Ramo allow non-Jewish companies to prepare specific types of food that can’t be used out of 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[7], canned potatoes[8], frozen french fries, latkes & tatter fries[9], instant potatoes[10] and pasta.

Bread items were not included in the restriction of bishul akum[11] 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 Many are of the opinion that the sages initially prohibited bread baked by a gentile (pas akum) but later partially rescinded this restriction for commercial bread (pas palter) which is a staple food item.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,[12] while others permit pas palter under all circumstances[13]. Since the restriction was rescinded only because of necessity, many people who are medakdek b’mitzvos (scrupulous in mitzvah observance) refrain from eating pas palter under all conditions[14]. Nonetheless, many kashruth agencies follow the basic halachah, and endorse products known as pas palter[15].
Pas palter includes a category of products known as pas haboh bikisnin[16]. Some common examples of bikisnin are pie, cake, cookies, pretzels, bread sticks, flat bread, crackers and kichel.

Tosofoth[17] 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[18] extrapolates that for this reason coffee (or tea) and cocoa are permissible[19].

One of the most fascinating applications of the halachos of bishul akum is with respect to the processing of fish. This is a broad topic, and to discuss it properly we must distinguish between three categories of processed fish: cold smoked fish, hot smoked fish and canned fish. Cold smoked fish is the least problematic. Salmon (which includes lox) is generally not processed with heat. Rather, the fish is hung in a smoke house, and the chamber is filled with a cold smoke which cures the fish and changes its texture. Since there is no heat, this process can be performed by a non-Jew without consequence of bishul akum.[20] Other types of smoked fish, such as white fish, sable and tuna, are usually processed with smoke and heat. Because this is a hot process and the fish are suitable for a royal banquet, the issue of bishul akum is a
serious matter of concern.[21] The OU and other kashruth agencies have dealt with this in several different ways. The range of solutions to this problem will be discussed in the next issue.

[1] We refer to a royal dinner because the Talmud speaks of Shulchan Melachim, a king’s table. However, the Kaf HaChayim 113:2 explains that the intent is not limited to a king, but includes any person of stature.
[2] There are some who have argued that a food item that can be prepared as a sumptuous dish by a skilled chef is prohibited even when cooked in a manner that would be unsuitable for a royal dinner. It would then follow that potato chips are not kosher if cooked by a non-Jew, since potatoes can be prepared in other manners that are in fact appropriate for a state dinner. See, for example, the Tifereth Yisrael, Avoda Zorah, 2:52; Pischai Halachah, page 116, responsa 17 from Rav Moshe Stern, zt”l; Teshuvos V’hanhogos from Rav Moshe Sternbach, Shlita, responsa 438. Nonetheless, many contemporary Poskim are not in agreement with this view, and a variety of proofs have been brought to disprove the former position. As an example, the Ramo, Yoreh Daya 113:2, writes that toasted afunim (a type of bean) are not fit for a royal feast, while the Rambam, Ma’acholos Asuros 17:18, rules that baked afunim are prohibited. For an extensive discussion in support of the latter position, see the article of Rav P. Falk, Shlita, Am HaTorah, Mahadurah 3, Vol. 10, pg. 75.
[3] Source – Rav Yisrael Belsky, Shlita. Yechava Daas suggests another reason to permit donuts cooked by a non-Jew. Donuts are boiled in oil. There are two opinions cited in Orach Chaim 168:13, whether boiled dough products are considered “bread”. With respect to the appropriate brocho, we follow the lenient opinion and recite borei minai mezonos, since brochos are a Rabbinic
institution. However, with respect to bishul akum, which is also a Rabbinic decree, we assume they are “bread”. As noted later in this article, there are no bishul akum restrictions on bread items.
[4] Even though corn is included in the category of foods that can be eaten raw, I have also placed popcorn on the groups of food that cannot be served at a royal table. This is because there is an opinion that a food that initially can be eaten raw that is dried to the point where it can no longer be consumed in a raw state is governed by the laws of bishul akum. See Darkai Teshuva, 113:4. According to this position, dried corn used for popcorn is not treated as a food that can be eaten raw. Nonetheless, popcorn is permissible since it is not served at state affairs.
[5] Contemporary Poskim often argue whether specific items are fit for a royal feast. For example, Rav Moshe Heineman, Shlita, (Kashruth Kurrents, Fall 5754-1993) singles out canned asparagus as the only prestigious canned vegetable that cannot be eaten raw where bishul akum is applicable. Rav Yisrael Belsky, Shlita, shared with the author that he believes that canned asparagus would not be used at a state dinner because of its soft texture, but in any event it should not be eaten because of concerns of insect infestation. On the other hand, Rav Belsky maintains
that canned yams are suitable for a state dinner, and bishul akum applies.
[6] Yoreh Daya, 113:9.
[7] Caterers and chefs generally stir fry water chestnuts and other vegetables. Rav Yisroel Belsky, Shlita, pointed out two additional reasons to exclude water chestnuts from bishul akum. First, the Shach, Yoreh Daya, 113:1, favors the opinion of those poskim that if cooking does not change the item, bishul akum does not apply. Second, the water chestnuts are not eaten alone without the combination of other vegetables. Therefore, water chestnuts in and of themselves cannot be viewed as fit for a royal table. See Teshuva in The Daf Hakashrus – Daf Hashana Aleph p. 10.
[8] Typically, caterers bake canned potatoes.
[9] This is only the case if these items are not fully cooked, and each brand should be tested separately.
[10] Instant potatoes are fully cooked before they are dehydrated and made into flakes or powder. Nonetheless, Rav Yisrael Belsky, Shlita, related from Rav Elyashuv, Zt’l, that they are permitted, based on the Avkas Rochel, quoted in the Yad Efraim, Yoreh Daya, 113:12, that food cooked by a non-Jew which was rendered inedible by dehydration and then was re-cooked by a Jew is not prohibited because of bishul akum. This same reasoning of the Avkas Rochel applies to instant potatoes which are prepared with hot water. Rabbi Belsky pointed out that this is the case only if instant potatoes cannot be made with cold water, and this assumption should be regularly re-examined.
[11] There is an opinion that if a gentile bakes dough that belongs to a Jew it is considered bishul akum. See Tur 112 and Igros Moshe, Yoreh Daya, Vol. 1, response 45.
[12] Yoreh Daya 112:5 and Shach 112:9.
[13] Ramo, 112:2.
[14] Oruch HaShulchan, 112:17.
[15] Even those who eat pas palter should refrain from doing so
during the Ten Days of Repentance (Orach Chayim, 603). Some Poskim also recommend not eating pas palter on Shabbos and Yom Tov. See Mishanh Brura 242:6.
[16] Pas palter is defined as any product baked by a gentile on which one recites hamotzi, either normally, or when there is kvias
seudah (a full meal is eaten). See Taz, Yoreh Daya, 112:6, and Pri Chodosh, Yoreh Daya 112. One recites hamotzi on pas haba bikisnin whenever there is kvias seudah. For a full discussion of pas haba bikisnin, see the article by this author in Jewish Action, Winter, 1993.
[17] Avodah Zorah 31b, V’tarvayhu.
[18] Yoreh Daya 112:17 and 114:17.
[19] Nonetheless, there are those who disagree with the Pri Chodosh and prohibit coffee, tea or chocolate that were brewed by a
gentile. See, for example, Pishchai Teshuva, 114:1, who cites Ponim Meiros that the reasoning of Tosafoth (that beer is permissible because the majority is water) is not the accepted Halachah. See also the responsa of Shevet HaLevi, Vol. 2, 44.
[20] Smoking a food does not constitute Bishul Akum. (Yoreh Daya, 113:13)
[21] Some argue that there is no bishul even with hot smoke process. See my discussion of this matter in Mesorah, Vol. 6, and the article of Rabbi P. Falk, Am HaTorah, Mahadurah 3, Vol. 10.