Bishul Yisroel Sephardi: And Now For The Rest Of The Story

Published Spring 2014

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 .4The  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 theAskenazic 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 (n e’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 alshulchan 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 braisersare 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 .7One 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.Instantly  Assur !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  BaisYosef .9The Solution – STAR-SIn 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  BeitYaakov  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 .


[1]  Chayei  Adom Hilchos Birkas Hanehenim  54:6

[2]  Chochmas  Adom Y.D.  65:6

[3]  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.

[4]  Y.D.  112:7

[5]  Y.D. Siman  113:7 &  Rema  ibid.

[6]  Y.D.  113:1

[7]  Y.D. Siman  113:7 &  Rema   ibid

[8] טעמו ונימוקו משום שכל מה שצריך לתקן בבישול כבר נעשה ומה שמערבבים בתוכו אח”כ בקר אינו מעלה מאיסורו

[9]  Y.D.  113:7