|Bishul Yisroel Sephardi: And Now For The Rest Of The Story
Rabbi Tzvi Rosen, Editor Kashrus Kurrents; STAR-K Kashrus Administrator
If anyone ever visited New Orleans, one of the must-see tourist highlights in Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans, is a quaint Cajun wooden floor coffee shop known simply as Morning Call. Morning Call is a café that sold one product only – a delightful, deep fried square doughnut that you smothered with heaps of confectioners’ sugar and enjoyed along with a delicious hot cup of French market coffee. These square doughnuts are known as beignets (pronounced ben y’ays). I don’t know if a beignet matches a fresh jelly-filled sufgania, but beignets are a New Orleans favorite and Morning Call is still frying beignets.
When I was a member of the New Orleans Kollel many years ago, Morning Call was certified kosher by the local congregational rabbi, and at that time there was no Kosher Cajun restaurant to go to for a kosher bite to eat. The proprietor of Kosher Cajun was in 5th grade in the local Torah Umesorah day school at the time. Morning Call was the one and only.
As we examined Morning Call’s beignet production, we realized that no mashgiach turned on the fires. In truth, beignets are probably not served at a state dinner and probably do not qualify as a cooked item that is ole al shulchan melachim requiring Bishul Yisroel. Although beignets are cut from a thick dough, which one would intuitively consider to be a baked product, since the beignet is actually deep fried it may be halachically considered to be a cooked item.1 This would subject the beignets to the laws of Bishul Yisroel 2 and, for this reason, there was great halachic value to pursue this “pilot” kashrus project.
Why a “pilot” project? Because Morning Call’s oven pilot lights are never shut down; the long oven burners stay on 362 days a year, 24/7, except for three days a year: December 25, January 1, and Mardi Gras. At that time, I discussed the Morning Call issue with R’ Nota Greenblatt shlit”a of Memphis, TN, the leading halachic authority in the South for the last 60 years. R’ Nota told me that I had to convince the owners to turn off the fires, and that I should re-light the long burners each time they were turned off for the holidays – which was, indeed, the case. I scrupulously performed the re-lighting for a number of years until I left the New Orleans Kollel. This was my first kashrus assignment.
In retrospect, did the lighting of the fires accomplish anything? Absolutely. According to the opinions that they would require Bishul Yisroel, Bishul Yisroel was accomplished by my lighting the pilot. According to those opinions that a beignet needs to be Pas Yisroel, we now had Pas Yisroel beignets.3 What achieved this transformation? My lighting of the fire (i.e., the pilot light that ignited the burners).
Mechaber vs. Beit Yosef
It is interesting to note that there is unanimity between the Bais Yosef, mechaber of the Shulchan Aruch, and the Rema regarding the transformative abilities of hashlochas kisem, lighting the fire, throwing in a piece of kindling or stoking a flame when it comes to the laws of Bishul Yisroel.4
The Bais Yosef very clearly maintains that the lighting of the oven criteria applies only to pas.5 In order to perform a significant action to qualify for Bishul Yisroel, the Yehudi would have to actually put the raw dish into the hot oven or on top of a cold burner and light the fire when the uncooked item is resting on the burner so as to fulfill the criteria of Bishul Yisroel Sephardi. The Rema counters and posits that what qualifies as pas Yisroel would qualify as Bishul Yisroel as well, which is the Askenazic position.
How does this dichotomy manifest itself in industrial kashrus settings? An example would be a canning company that uses a hydrostatic or sterolamatic continuous cooker, which automatically feeds cans of potatoes or yams (products which are ole al shulchan melachim), or if the company uses a conventional basket retort where uncooked cans of potatoes are placed in baskets that are pushed into a “torpedo style” cooker. In such cases, lighting the boiler by a mashgiach would qualify for Ashkenazi Bishul Yisroel, but would be ineffective for Sephardi Bishul Yisroel. This would not be an issue for corn or string beans, which can be eaten raw (ne’echal kmos shu chai)6 and do not require Bishul Yisroel. However, in the case of a vegetable such as white potatoes or sweet potatoes, vegetables that are ole al shulchan melachim and are not eaten raw, the lighting of the boilers would be ineffective for Bishul Yisroel Sephardi.
Similarly, in a kosher restaurant or catering commissary certified by the best hechsherim, complete with the best mashgichim, the fires of the stove/oven, soup kettles, and braisers are religiously turned on before cooking even begins. The Bishul Yisroel is seemingly beyond reproach for Ashkenazim, but not for Sephardim. Unless the mashgiach puts the uncooked food (that can’t be eaten raw and is ole al shulchan melachim, such as rice) directly onto the fire, or the raw roast beef or uncooked chicken into the oven to cook, the food will not qualify for Bishul Yisroel Sephardi.7
One way that has been found to address these challenges of Bishul Yisroel Sephardi in a factory commissary or restaurant is to have the raw items placed on the stove or in the oven before the fires are turned on. In this way, the action performed by the workers is not one of bishul, as there is not yet a fire.
One very interesting Bishul Akum question arose in a factory setting affecting both Sephardim and Ashkenazim. The products in question were instant rice and couscous. Both products are totally cooked and dehydrated, with cooking instructions that call for recooking before eating. Does dehydrating a product a second time remove the Bishul Akum stigma of a product requiring Bishul Yisroel? This question is not new and was raised in the Shailos U’tshuvos of the Avkas Rochel, recorded by the Yad Efraim. In the Teshuva, the product in question was cooked wheat kernels, where the wheat kernels were cooked to a point that qualified for Bishul Akum and subsequently dehydrated to an inedible point requiring re-cooking. Was the original Bishul Akum prohibition nullified? Based on the Avkas Rochel, the Yad Efraim stated a resounding ‘Yes’. It seemed obvious that instant rice and couscous fell into the Yad Efraim’s profile. But, then the bombshell dropped!
It was found that both products – the instant rice and the couscous – could be fully hydrated and edible in cold water, no further cooking necessary! How did we deal with this new Bishul Akum revelation? In the case of the domestic instant rice, there was an easy remedy. Part of the hashgacha protocol involved the mashgiach turning on and constantly monitoring the multiple boilers of the rice company. In the case of couscous, the monitoring was more difficult and the question as to whether couscous is considered ole al shulchan melachim was posed to Rav Heinemann, shlita, Rabbinic Administrator of the STAR-K.
The first attempt at answer was that couscous is not eaten alone; it is prepared with oil and other vegetables and should not be subject to Bishul Akum in its manufactured state. However, to that claim Rav Heinemann answered that even though couscous is prepared with other ingredients, if the couscous does not require further preparation, then the Bishul Akum status is not rescinded.8 Another approach was that couscous is a home food and is not served at weddings or fancy functions. After researching this question with caterers, the answer is that this is not an accurate statement. The question as to whether or not couscous is ole al shulchan melachim was posed to a reputable Sefardic kashrus certification agency, who emphatically maintained that couscous is not considered to be ole al shulchan melachim. However, as Mediterranean food has become more popular, couscous has come of age and is served at fancy functions. Therefore, to satisfy both sides of the coin Rav Heinemann required that the STAR-K mashgiach turn on the boilers for both the couscous and instant rice. Once again, this resolution only satisfies the Rema and not the Bais Yosef.9
The Solution - STAR-S
In order to address the challenge of providing consumer products that meet the standards of the Beit Yosef for Sephardi communities around the country, STAR-K founded a division to serve these communities. Rav Emanuel Goldfeiz shlit”a, rav of Kehilat Beit Yaakov in Baltimore, is the Rav Hamachshir. Working together with Sefardic gedolim and rabbanim, STAR-S provides an ever-expanding array of Bishul Beit Yosef products that provide for the Sephardic community’s need for Chalak Beit Yosef, Yoshon, Pas Yisroel, Kitniyot l’Pesach and Hamotzi L’ Sephardim bread and challah.
 Chayei Adom Hilchos Birkas Hanehenim 54:6
 Chochmas Adom Y.D. 65:6
 Pas Palter is bread baked by an aino Yehudi baker in a bakery business, as opposed to home-based bread of an aino Yehudi, which is forbidden. Y.D. 112:1 & 2.
 Y.D. 112:7
 Y.D. Siman 113:7 & Rema ibid.
 Y.D. 113:1
 Y.D. Siman 113:7 & Rema ibid
 טעמו ונימוקו משום שכל מה שצריך לתקן בבישול כבר נעשה ומה שמערבבים בתוכו אח"כ בקר אינו מעלה מאיסורו
 Y.D. 113:7