In the previous column on bishul akum (eating food cooked by non-Jews), we wrote about the definition of “fit for a king’s table.” Now we will elaborate upon a number of practical applications.

Commenting on the Talmud’s discussion of beer (Avodah Zarah 31b), Tosafot suggest a novel idea: “There is another reason to exclude beer from the prohibition of bishul akum. When it comes to the blessing, we consider the grain in beer negligible compared to the water (so we make shehakol on the water, not mezonot on the grain). So too, when it comes to bishul akum, we consider the grain in beer negligible compared to the water (which is not subject to bishul akum).”

The Pri Chadash (Yoreh De’ah 114) adds: “One may drink coffee in the home of a non-Jew. Even though the coffee bean is not eaten raw, nevertheless bishul akum does not apply, because coffee is not fit for a king’s table, nor is it eaten with bread. Even without these reasons, we could still permit coffee. When it comes to the blessing, the coffee bean is negligible compared to the water (we make shehakol on the water, not ha’etz on the bean). So too, when it comes to bishul akum, we consider the coffee bean negligible compared to the water. This is similar to what Tosafot says about beer” (cited above).

According to the Pri Chadash there are two reasons to permit drinking coffee:

A) It is not fit for a king’s table.

B) The coffee beans are negligible compared to the water.

However, the Pit’chei Teshuvah (Yoreh De’ah 114) points out that his grandfather, the Panim Me’irot (2:62), disagrees with applying the first reason to coffee: “Even regarding beer, the primary reason that Tosafot permit it is not because the grain is negligible compared to the water, but rather because beer is not fit for a king’s table. Alternatively, the Bach suggests that the fear of intermarriage is irrelevant, because nobody drinks beer socially so it never creates any fellowship. However, when it comes to coffee, we see that is it fit for a king’s table and that people do drink it socially. So it is fitting for a ba’al nefesh (spiritual person) not to drink coffee or tea which was prepared by a non-Jew.”

The Radbaz in his responsa (3:637), as quoted by the Maharsham (2:263), relates to this issue and relies upon the first reason of the Pri Chadash. “I have investigated this [coffee] bean, and it is not eaten raw, but rather is roasted in special utensils which soften it a bit. It is fit for a king’s table and they do eat and drink it there, but it is not eaten with bread and is therefore not prohibited on account of bishul akum. We might think that it would nevertheless be forbidden because the utensils may have been used for non-kosher food. However, this is not an issue since the non-Jews use special utensils for this purpose only, so that no other taste will ruin the drink. Normally, we do not rely on the assumption that ‘Utensils have not been used in the past twenty-four hours,’ unless a question of kashrut has already arisen. However, in this case we may rely on it, since the non-Jews themselves are careful to use the utensils only for this drink.”

The Maharsham accepts the words of the Radbaz in practice (Responsa of Maharsham, 2:262). This means that one need not worry about either bishul akum or kashrut of utensils in places which sell only coffee and which are careful about the type of coffee, and in which the appliances used to prepare the coffee are devoted exclusively to that purpose. When it comes to drinking the coffee with milk, the additional problem of chalav akum (milk that was milked by non-Jews) arises, and we will leave that for a future time.

Rav Ovadia Yosef ruled this way as well (Yechaveh Da’at 4:42). “To summarize: it is permitted to drink coffee made by non-Jews, and one need not worry about bishul akum. The later authorities wrote that this is the widespread practice everywhere. If a law is unclear to you, go out and see what the communal practice is, and follow it (Yerushalmi, Pe’ah 7:5). One who wishes to be personally stringent is worthy of blessing.” (See also Shevet HaLevi 2:44 who is stringent, consistent with his position which we discussed in column 5.)

The Maharsham, in the same responsum, makes an additonal point. “Similarly, when it comes to chocolate there is no prohibition, since it is eaten raw. (This disagrees with the Panim Me’irot, who is stringent.) However, it is known that chocolate nowadays may be mixed with non-kosher ingredients, so it should not be eaten unless a God-fearing person provided kosher supervision.” It is clear from his words that the only problem with eating chocolate is the possibility of non-kosher ingredients, but not bishul akum. The reason is that chocolate is prepared by roasting the cocoa beans, grinding them, liquefying them, and mixing them with other ingredients such as oil and margarine. The beans are edible after roasting, even before being cooked. Therefore, when they are later cooked by a non-Jew, they are not prohibited, because it is as if they are edible raw. Roasting by a non-Jew does not cause them to be prohibited, because at that point they are not fit for a king’s table. Thus the Chatam Sofer writes, in his novellae to Avodah Zarah 31b, “It is clear that chocolate is edible raw, and is permitted.”

Nowadays, when big companies are careful to publicize the exact contents of each product, and they are liable to severe governmental punishment if they report falsely, the Maharsham’s fear is neutralized. Of course, all this is speaking of pareve chocolate which does not contain milk, but when it comes to milk chocolate the question also touches on the issue of chalav akum, which we will leave for a future time.

With this we have completed our columns on the parameters of bishul akum. In upcoming columns we will deal with the issue of pat akum (non-Jewish bread) and its ramifications.

If you have specific questions which arise from the columns up to now, you can reach me by email at taylon@mail.biu.ac.il or through the Torah MiTzion office: office@meirb32.sg-host.com.