QUESTION: With so many women today in the work force, is it
non-Jewish household help to cook kosher food in one's kitchen if the
cooking is done under the supervision of an observant Jew?
DISCUSSION: With the intention of limiting assimilation, the Rabbis
decreed against eating certain types of perfectly kosher food which were
cooked, baked or roasted by a non-Jew, even if a Jew supervised the entire
process from beginning to end. This is the Rabbinical prohibition known as
QUESTION: Which types of foods are susceptible to the restrictions
DISCUSSION: There are basically two criteria which define the type
which is forbidden because of bishul akum:
1. The food must be "important" - that is, food that would be suitable
fare for a dinner served to dignitaries. Thus most dishes of poultry,
meat, potatoes, pasta, eggs or fish are included, as long as they are
prepared in a manner in which important people are customarily served in a
formal setting. Candies, potato chips,(1) pringles, beer, breakfast
cereals, canned tuna salmon and sardines,(2) popcorn, etc. are not
considered "important" foods no matter how skillfully and tastefully they
2. Foods which are edible raw [under normal conditions(3)] are exempt from
the prohibition of bishul akum, even it they were cooked. Thus most fruits
and vegetables, cheeses, ice cream, water, milk and peanut butter, for
example, are exempt from bishul akum, even if they were prepared in a
manner fit for a king, since all of these foods are edible when in a raw
QUESTION: We have established that "cooking" by a non-Jew renders
bishul akum. Does that mean that a non-Jew may not participate in any
phase of food preparation?
DISCUSSION: The only phase of food preparation that is forbidden to
Jew is to place the pot or pan on the stove or inside the oven. The non-
Jew may cut, chop, grind, grate, mix, season, etc. He may also turn on the
gas or electricity in the stove or oven, regulate the temperature
throughout, stir or baste the food while it is cooking, and remove the
food once it is cooked or baked. All this is permitted l'chatchilah, as
long as the non-Jew is being supervised to ascertain that no kashruth laws
QUESTION: If the non-Jew has already placed the food on the stove
the oven but has not yet turned on the fire, can the food still qualify as
DISCUSSION: As long as the Jew turns on the fire, the food is
bishul yisrael. But, l'chatchilah, this should only be relied upon in this
exact case, where the food is already on the stove or in the oven and the
fire is being lit after the food has been placed on the stove or in the
oven.(6) In the reverse case, where first the Jew turned on the fire and
then the non-Jew placed the food on the stove or in the oven, some poskim
hold that this is not considered bishul yisrael. B'diavad, however, most
poskim maintain that the food is not considered bishul akum and is
permitted to be eaten.(7)
QUESTION: If the non-Jew has already turned on the fire and placed
or pan on the stove or inside the oven but the food is not yet completely
cooked and ready to eat, can the food still be not considered bishul akum?
DISCUSSION: There yet remain three options for the food to be
1. Remove the pot or pan from the fire or the oven, hold it for a moment,
and then replace it. This is permitted l'chatchilah.
2. Stir, mix or flip the food over while the pot or pan are still on the
3. Regulate the temperature of the fire, either by raising it a bit to
hasten the cooking, or by lowering it a bit to prevent burning or singeing.
However, if the food is already completely cooked and ready to be
eaten, it is too late to avail oneself of any of these three options. The
food is considered bishul akum.
QUESTION: Is it permitted to purchase an item at a store with the
of using it for a short period of time and then returning it for full
DISCUSSION: The answer to this question will depend on the policy
individual store or chain of stores. Some stores would never allow such a
thing. It would be forbidden, therefore, to buy an item from such a store
with the intent of using it and returning it, since doing so is genevias
da'as, misleading while engaging in deceptive behavior. Geneivas da'as
applies equally to Jews and non-Jews.(8) Quite possibly, purchasing an
item with the intention of using it briefly and then returning it may be
considered theft as well, since the store incurs an actual loss when they
are forced to repackage and restock the returned item.
But there are some mega stores and chains which may permit their
associates to sell an item to a customer even if they are clearly aware
that the customer intends to return the item after trying it out for a
short period of time. Their market research shows that invariably, some
customers change their minds and decide to keep the purchase even though
initially they had no intention of do so. Other customers are forgetful or
lazy and forget or fail to return the item within the time period
allotted, thereby forfeiting a refund and remaining with only a due bill
to be used in the store. More often than not, the store makes money on
these customers as well, and even if the store is "outsmarted"
occasionally, in the long run it is profitable to allow this practice.
The only way to find out what the store policy is, is to ask.
Until that information is obtained, it would be forbidden to purchase an
item with the intent of using it briefly and then returning it. According
to many poskim, geneivas da'as is forbidden min ha-Torah,(9) and needless
to say, one must be particularly stringent with a Torah prohibition.
QUESTION: May an employee of a non-Jewish company participate in
company's holiday party?
DISCUSSION: It depends on the type of party the company is having.
times, a company's holiday party has nothing to do with the celebration of
the holiday; rather it is an employee appreciation party that happens to
take place during the holiday season. There is no halachic objection to
attending such a party, But obviously, if the intention of the party is
to celebrate the actual holiday, it would be forbidden for a Jew to attend.
However, even if the party is not intended to celebrate a non-
Jewish holiday, non-Jewish office parties are hardly the place for an
observant Jew to be. The mode of dress, the type of language and the
general lack of proper decorum at such affairs is completely alien and
contrary to everything that yiddishkeit stands for. It is clear,
therefore, that if for business reasons one must attend such a party, he
or she must do so only when there is no other choice, and even then, he or
she must come and go as quickly as possible. Lingering in such an
environment can lead to serious transgression of many Torah laws.
1 Although potatoes can certainly be prepared for a formal presentation,
when they are presented as potato chips or Pringles they are no longer fit
to be served to dignitaries. A minority opinion disagrees and requires
bishul yisrael for potato products like potato chips as well; see The
Journal of Halachah and Contemporary Society, XLII, pgs. 46-69 for a
complete review of this subject.
2 Although tuna and salmon are in themselves "important" foods that are
served at a royal table, once they are canned they lose their status; this
is the opinion of most poskim. A minority opinion, however, disagrees and
requires bishul yisrael for canned fish products as well.
3 Y.D. 113:12 and 14, Taz 14 and Aruch ha-Shulchan 26.
4 Y.D. 113:1.
5 Y.D. 113:7.
6 Avnei Nezer Y.D. 96.
7 See Y.D. 113:7, Taz 6, Shach 12, Pri Chadash and Chochmas Adam 66:8.
8 C.M. 228:6.
9 See Ritva, Chullin 94b, Sefer Kovetz on Rambam Hilchos Dayos 2:6. See
also Seforno, Vayikra 25:14 who writes that geneivas da'as is included in
the prohibition against ona'as devarim.
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Rabbi Neustadt is Rav of Young Israel in Cleveland Heights. He may be reached at 216-321-4635 or at email@example.com.