FOOD FIT FOR A KING: Reviewing the Laws of Bishul Akum & Bishul Yisroel
Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, Star-K Rabbinic Administrator
is not uncommon for food manufacturers to call us with a keen interest in
kosher certification without the the slightest idea
what it takes to produce a kosher product.
What complicates matters is that they would like to have a kashrus
tutorial capsulized into a telephone conversation. Obviously, we can't give a thorough kashrus
course over the phone, but we can categorize practical kashrus into
three main areas: ingredients, equipment, and process.
Occasionally, there may be circumstances where both ingredients and equipment
are 100% kosher. Through a violation of
a rabbinic ordinance, some foods or food products would be prohibited, while
other food products undergoing the very same process would remain 100%
kosher. This disqualifying process
occurs when certain foods are totally and exclusively cooked by an aino Yehudi, a
person who is not required by the Torah to keep kosher. When a kosher raw chicken is boiled in a pot
of water by an aino Yehudi,
it is as non-kosher as chicken cooked in butter! Our rabbis call this disqualification bishul
akum, literally, food cooked by a person not required by the Torah
to keep kosher. There are two reasons
why our chachomim, sages, enacted this
ordinance: First, as a precaution
against inadvertently eating non-kosher food; Second, as a
prevention against unnecessary socialization that could lead to
In situations where bishul akum would present a problem, our chachomim have instructed us that this
disqualification can be avoided by having the observant Jewish homemaker or a mashgiach,
a kosher supervisor, perform an integral part of the cooking process, such as
turning on the fire. When a Yehudi, an observant Jew, assists in the
preparation, we say that the food is prepared through bishul yisroel.
In order for the consumer to understand these important kosher laws clearly, we
will delineate the circumstances where the prohibition of bishul akum
does not apply.
I. Prohibition of Bishul
Akum Does Not Apply To...
- Foods that can be eaten raw. This applies even to food that tastes
better cooked or baked rather than raw (e.g., baked apples or
applesauce). The reason why our chachomim permitted these dishes is because we
can eat this food without the intervention of the aino
We do not feel obliged to the cook for his assistance in
preparation of these products, thereby lessening any social bond created
by the food.
- Foods whose form and taste do not
change through cooking.
This applies even to food that would normally not be eaten without
cooking (e.g., pasteurized milk or distilled water).
- Foods that are still inedible and
require more cooking to make the food edible. This would apply to partial preparation
by the akum and the finishing process by the Yehudi, or
partial preparation by the Yehudi and the
finishing process by the akum.
- Foods that are not prestigious
and would not be served at a king’s table when hosting an official state
(e.g., baked beans or corn flakes).
These foods are permitted because a person does not experience deep
feelings of gratitude and appreciation when someone warms up a can of
string beans. Therefore, cooking
non-prestigious food would not bring on feelings of closeness between
preparer and recipient. Any food
that would not be served at a wedding feast because it is not elegant
(e.g., doughnuts) would certainly not qualify for bishul akum.
- Foods which are generally not
eaten together with a meal or are not eaten for healthy nutrition (e.g., candy,
or potato chips). According to many
authorities, these types of food would not be forbidden as a bishul
- Foods of any combination whose
main ingredient does not qualify for bishul akum would be
acceptable as long as all the ingredients are blended together. An example of such a product would be
brewed coffee, which is a combination of water and roasted coffee beans.
Cooked water does not qualify for bishul akum. Although roasted coffee beans cannot be
used without brewing, coffee is a prestigious beverage which is served at
weddings. Nevertheless, since the
water is considered the main component of the beverage and the coffee is
considered a flavoring, freshly brewed coffee would not be subject to the
restriction of bishul akum.
- Foods that are microwaved by an aino Yehudi. Bishul akum does not apply to
microwaved food. The rabbinical
prohibition of bishul akum applies only to conventional cooking
methods through fire (e.g., cooking, frying, roasting). Food prepared through microwaving is not
included in the prohibition.
- Foods that are prepared by
brining or smoking would not be prohibited.
Often asked Bishul
- Does bishul akum apply to
The answer is that it depends.
Canned soups and canned pasta would present a problem of bishul akum
without proper supervision. Canned
fruit would not present a bishul akum problem because fruit is
usually eaten raw. As long as the
fruit has been processed on kosher equipment with kosher ingredients, it
would be permitted. Canned
vegetables that are either eaten raw or are not elegant enough to be
served at a state dinner would not have a bishul akum problem. Whole asparagus, when served alone, is a
prestigious food. Therefore, canned
whole asparagus should only be used with a reliable hechsher which
surely addressed the bishul akum issue.
- Is bishul akum subjective? The bishul akum prohibitions can
change depending upon the different culinary customs of the country in
mushrooms is an example of this subjectivity. In the United States, canned mushrooms do
not require bishul Yisroel for the following reasons: 1) Mushrooms are eaten raw; 2) Canned
mushrooms are not eaten by themselves in a prestigious manner, they are
further processed in sauces or casseroles. Therefore, in the U.S. canned mushrooms
would not be subject to bishul akum restrictions. In Israel, however, where mushrooms are
not eaten raw and mushrooms are considered a prestigious food, the
restrictions of bishul akum may apply.
Interestingly, certain third world countries view potato chips as a
prestigious food. The U.S.
considers potato chips “junk” food. Obviously, in countries where potato
chips reach a king’s state dinner, potato chips would also be subject to
the laws of bishul akum.
- Does bishul akum apply to
Instant rice and minute rice are
products that are fully cooked and then re-dried so that the product can
be easily rehydrated (e.g., boil-in-the-bag rice). This product is subject to bishul akum
at the point of manufacture because the rice was fully cooked and would be
fit for a state dinner. Parboiled
rice is steamed with the outer shell intact in order for the nutrients of
the hull to be cooked into the kernel. The kernels are then pearled and sold as
raw rice. A good example of
parboiled rice is Uncle Ben’s converted rice. Parboiled/converted rice would not be
subject to the laws of bishul akum at the point of manufacture,
since it requires further cooking which must be done by a Jew.
- Does bishul akum apply to
Rice Krispies? The raw rice is pre-cooked before being
popped into crisp rice. Would the
pre-cooked rice be subject to the bishul akum prohibition? The Kelloggs’
technical staff explained to the STAR-K that although it is true that the
rice is pre-cooked before toasting, this pre-popped rice is rubbery and
edible but not fit for a king’s repast. Since
the pre-cooked rice is technically edible, although not appealing, any subsequent
popping and flavoring, would not subject the rice to the restrictions of bishul
akum. Popped rice cereal is not
oleh al shulchan
- The White House State Dinner
- The STAR-K asked the White House executive chef about the White House
banquet policy regarding the use of canned products for state dinners. A specific question was, ‘What is the policy regarding canned cranberry sauce?’ We also asked whether potato chips are
served at state dinners. The chef’s
response was as follows, “We would serve whatever the guest wants. However, we never served potato
chips, nor do we ever use canned goods...everything is prepared fresh!”
Note1: Even though the White House may never use
canned foods, if the food was first cooked before the canning process, then at
that time it is perfectly fit for use at a state dinner, and the subsequent
canning does not remove the proscription of bishul akum.
Note 2: If a product is
disqualified due to bishul akum, the utensils are also considered
non-kosher and have to be kashered. If stoneware or teflon-coated
utensils were used, one should ask his rav for guidance on kashering.
II. Bishul Yisroel
As previously mentioned, when an observant Jew has played an integral part in
the food preparation, that product is known as food that has been prepared
through bishul Yisroel, literally, food cooked by an observant
The cooking processes requiring bishul Yisroel are: boiling, broiling, baking, frying, deep frying
and roasting. Some examples of foods
requiring bishul Yisroel include: soups, shish kebob, roasts and rice
Notable exceptions are bread products that are baked commercially. Bread/cake products have separate laws
governing their use.
The Process - The bishul Yisroel process can be achieved in one
of two ways: a) The food is placed in a
cold stove or cooking apparatus and then the Yehudi
lights the fire; b) The fire or pilot light in an empty oven is first lit by
the Yehudi and remains lit continuously. After the pilot light is lit, the food can be
placed inside by anyone. The first
method is the optimal one.
Often Asked Bishul
- If a pilot light is burning
continuously, how long can it remain lit without Yehudi
intervention and still be considered bishul Yisroel? If the pilot light is directly heating
the stove or the pot, as the old style pilot lights of a gas oven, the
light can burn indefinitely and still retain bishul Yisroel status.
If the pilot light indirectly
lights the burner but does not add heat to the food, as the old style
central pilot light of a gas cooktop, then a halachic
authority needs to be consulted to determine if the burner needs to be lit
each time (even the first time) by a Yehudi,
even though the pilot light burns continuously.
- Can bishul Yisroel be
achieved by setting a timer that will ignite the oven at set intervals? No. Since the Yehudi
does not perform direct lighting of the oven, it would not qualify for bishul
Yisroel. In commercial settings
(e.g., hotels, hospitals or factories) where large boilers provide the
steam for the cooking equipment, bishul Yisroel requirements would
be fulfilled if the Yehudi flips a switch
or presses a button that directly ignites a boiler.
If the action that is performed by the Yehudi
causes an indirect lighting of the oven, that action may not qualify for bishul
Yisroel. Hence, dialing a
number that in turn trips a switch that in turn lights an oven would be
considered a “grama”, an indirect action
that may not qualify for bishul Yisroel. Rabbinic guidance is recommended.
- Would a glow bar or glow plug that was turned on by a Yehudi
and was burning continuously qualify for bishul Yisroel? The minimum halachic
requirement for bishul Yisroel is “hashlochas
kisem”, literally, to throw a small wood
chip into the fire. Any minor
action that contributes heat to the cooking would qualify for bishul
Yisroel. If the oven would be
hotwired so that a bulb or a glow bar could be placed into the oven
cavity, turned on by the Yehudi,and left on
permanently, the additional heat given off by the light bulb or glow plug
(which is considered fire) would more than qualify for hashlochas
kisem and would fulfill the requirements of bishul
- If an oven that was lit by a Yehudi was subsequently turned off, but
remained warm until being relit by an akum, would the bishul
Yisroel status of this oven be nullified? As long as the
oven remains warm, the bishul Yisroel status remains intact.