In the previous article, we discussed the various reasons behind Chazal’s ban on eating food cooked by a non-Jew (“Bishul Akum”). This time we will address who is included in this ban. In other words, when is food considered to be cooked by a non-Jew?
In his commentary to the Mishna (35b), the Rambam writes: “These things were forbidden because their preparation was completed by a non-Jew. The Sages forbade them in order to keep a distance from anything cooked by a non-Jew, even if the food belongs to us and was cooked on our premises.” The implications of the Rambam’s words are that Chazal forbade any food cooked by a non-Jew and that neither the location of the cooking (i.e. Jewish or non-Jewish premises) nor the owner of the food (i.e. Jewish or non-Jewish owned) has any bearing.
However, the Tosafot (38a) cited R’ Avraham Ben David, who opined that “certainly Chazal forbade food cooked by a nonJew in his own home. Nevertheless, if he cooks it in the home of a Jew, one need not be concerned that it will either lead to intermarriage or that he will serve non-kosher food.” Similarly, the Tur (Chapter 113) notes this approach in his name. But the Tosafot (ibid) added that “Rabbeinu Tam did not agree with him that it is certain. If the food is cooked by a non-Jew, Chazal did not differentiate between Jewish and non-Jewish premises, because one must always be concerned that he would not be careful in the Jewish home just as he would not be careful in a non-Jewish home.” It would thus seem from the words of Rabbeinu Tam that the reason for the prohibition in a Jewish home is not due to concern for intermarriage but only out of fear that the non-Jew would also not necessarily refrain from serving non-kosher food in a Jewish home.
According to the Shulchan Aruch, the Halacha follows the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam. However, a problem then arises with respect to non-Jewish domestic help; if we rule according to Rabbeinu Tam, non-Jewish domestic help should not be permitted.
The Rishonim dealt with the question of maidservants. According to the Ramban (as summarized by the Beit Yosef, op. cit.), their cooking is not prohibited. Since the servant of a Jew is, in effect, an extension of the Jew himself and is not permitted to work on Shabbat, this servant is not included in the definition of “non-Jew”, for our purposes. In addition, the Rashba cited an opinion that maintains that fear of social interaction only applies in a situation where the non-Jew acts out of free will and love of Israel. This is not the case with respect to servants, who must do the work even if they would rather not. Nonetheless, the Rashba himself did not concur with this approach and forbade eating this category of food. The Beit Yosef cited the Raoh, as follows: “The Raoh wrote that even though his words make sense, a ‘baal nefesh’ [lit. someone who is careful with his soul] should be strict in this regard, and the Rashba concurred with this. Our custom is to consider their cooking to be prohibited, even after the event (‘b’dieved’).” This is what he wrote in a responsum (volume I res.68 and 522). Nevertheless, there is no clear decision in the Beit Yosef, and both opinions are cited in the Shulchan Aruch without a final ruling. However, the Rama wrote: “And b’dieved, one can rely on those who permit.”
The Rama’s ruling needs to be clarified, because the Mechaber related to the custom in Spain, where the maidservants actually belonged to their masters and were thus forbidden from working on Shabbat. When discussing this type of maidservant, the Rishonim disagreed whether or not the prohibition of Bishul Akum applies. However, none of the Rishonim permitted eating the cooking of domestic help hired under the conditions prevalent in the Ashkenazi world of that time. This issue was addressed by the Achronim. The Taz and the Vilna Gaon ruled that since there are two extenuating circumstances (i.e. they are hired maidservants and the food was cooked in a Jewish home, according to Rabbeinu Avraham as noted above), one can be lenient and eat the food b’dieved. Nonetheless, one may not eat food cooked either by hired servants in a non-Jewish home or by non-Jews in a Jewish home. This ruling applies to Ashkenazim, but Sephardim, who follow the opinion of the Mechaber, must be strict and should only eat food cooked by a maidservant who actually belongs to her master. Obviously, this situation is no longer relevant, and, in any event, according to the Mechaber, one may not eat food cooked by non-Jewish domestic help.
Thus, the question remains whether or not one is permitted to eat food prepared in Jewish owned factories with non-Jewish employees or in Jewish restaurants with non-Jewish cooks. This topic will, I”YH, be dealt with in the next article.