Several halakhic “food” problems arise when one travels overseas. These problems involve not only the ingredients in different foods, but also the process of their preparation. In this series we shall examine various issues pertaining to cooked foods, bread, and milk produced or prepared by non-Jews, with an explanation of the various halakhic approaches and a clarification of the practical halakha.

The Mishna in Avoda Zara 35b teaches: “These products of non-Jews are forbidden, but there is no prohibition in deriving benefit from them [i.e., the prohibition is limited to eating]… . and cooked foods.” Rashi explains: “[This prohibition includes] anything that was cooked by gentiles, even in a vessel that was fit for kosher cooking, all because of [the danger of] intermarriage.” In other words, even if the food itself is technically kosher, and the vessels used for preparing it were fit for use (immersed in a mikveh, etc.), the Sages nevertheless forbid it in order to maintain a distance between Jews and gentiles, so as not to allow a social situation that could lead to the possibility of intermarriage. The Tosfot concur with this opinion, further on in the discussion, and Rambam rules accordingly in his Laws of Forbidden Foods.

Further on in the discussion (38a) Rashi writes that the reason for the prohibition of eating foods cooked by non-Jews is that “Jews should not become accustomed to eating and drinking at [the gentile’s] place, such that he could feed them something impure”. The Beit Yosef on Yoreh Deah siman 113, lists both reasons, quoting Rashi. This led several later authorities to conclude that to Rashi’s view, the prohibition of eating food cooked by a non-Jew applies only when both conditions apply: (1) there is a danger of intermarriage, and (2) there is a danger that the non-Jew will feed him something that is forbidden. Hence, if a professional cook is cooking in a Jewish house, or in a non-Jewish factory that is under Jewish kashrut supervision, the prohibition of “bishul akum” as Rashi perceives it, does not apply.

Rambam, in his commentary on the Mishna, introduces a new element into the discussion. He writes: “Most of these things, such as bread, cooked foods, etc., were forbidden in order that we should distance ourselves from [the gentiles] and not mix with them, so that we should not – because of our involvement with them – come to stretch out our hand towards something that is forbidden, and this is the intention behind [the Sages’] expression, “because of intermarriage”.” Rambam joins the two reasons together – the need to maintain a distance from gentiles and the concern lest the gentile “put forth his hand” to something forbidden – all under the heading of “intermarriage”. What Rambam means, then – and perhaps Rashi, too – is that the reason for the prohibition is the danger of intermarriage, but Sages defined the extent of the prohibition such that any situation in which there is concern that a Jew will be fed something that is forbidden is included in “bishul akum”. Thus the Bach explains, in his commentary on the Tur: “It appears that the Gemara proves that all in these cases it is clear that the Sages ruled because of [the possibility of intermarriage with] their daughters, but this was meant merely as additional reinforcement from the verse in order that the Jew not be fed something that is impure…. Because of this, it is not permitted rather like water that has not changed due to the light and there is no doubt here with regards to impurity”. According to this view, what we have is not two separate reasons, but rather the reason for the prohibition and the extent of the prohibition.

The Pit’hei Teshuva on Yoreh Deah siman 113 sub-part. 1 quotes the Tiferet le-Moshe, according to whom “the reason for the marriage is permitted foods cooked by an apostate for the purpose of marriage is not [permitted], but there was another reason, set forth in the Beit Yosef: that a person would not come to be fed impure foods. According to this, foods cooked by an apostate are similarly forbidden, for he is as one who denies the entire Torah, and he too could perhaps feed a person forbidden foods.

 But all of this would seem to apply only if we maintain that these are two separate reasons (and not, as Rashi implies, that the prohibition is specifically when both reasons apply). But if we maintain, as Rambam does in his Commentary on the Mishna – and as perhaps Rashi means, too – that the crux of the prohibition is to avoid assimilation, then even if the definition of the prohibition is “in case he will feed him something that is impure”, in a case where there is no danger of intermarriage – such as where the food is cooked by a Jewish heretic – the prohibition of “bishul akum” clearly does not apply.

In the Yabi’a Omer Responsa, part V siman 10, as well as in the Tzitz Eliezer part IX siman 41, there is a discussion of the problems arising where a factory is owned by Jews who are not Shabbat observant, and whether the prohibition of “bishul akum”, as explained in the Tiferet le-Moshe, applies or not. Both conclude that the prohibition of “bishul akum” does not apply to foods produced by a Jew who publicly desecrates Shabbat.