Question: Are you permitted to eat food cooked by an irreligious Jew?

Short Answer: Many poskim permit food cooked by an irreligious Jew. However, if the Jew has the status of “mumar” (heretic), there is reason to be strict.



I. Basis of Bishul Akum

The Mishnah (Avodah Zarah 35b) lists numerous foods made by non-Jews (referred to herein as “akum”) that are forbidden to be eaten. One of the items on the list is “shlakos.” Rashi explains that shlakos are foods that are cooked by the akum. They are forbidden even when cooked with kosher utensils.

The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 37b) discusses the source of this prohibition. In D’varim (2:28), Moshe recounts B’nei Yisrael’s travels through the desert and specifically his request from Sichon to pass through Sichon’s land. Moshe relates that he asked Sichon if they could pass through and purchase food and water from Sichon. The Gemara suggests that we learn from here that it is prohibited to eat processed or cooked foods from an akum (based on the juxtaposition between water and food in the pasuk). The Gemara eventually debunks this theory and concludes that the prohibition of bishul akum is rabbinic in nature and the pasuk is merely an allusion to this future law ( an asmachta).

[As an aside, the Noam Halachah (p. 12) cites the sefer Y’fei Einayim who posits that the Yerushalmi holds that bishul akum is actually d’Oraisa based on the above-mentioned pasuk. The Noam Halachah cites the Kav HaYashar who likewise rules that it is d’Oraisa.]

II. The Reason

What is the reason for this prohibition?

Rashi (Avodah Zarah 35b) provides a reason for the prohibition: to prevent intermarriage. In other words, forbidding cooked foods of an akum will prevent improper socializing that would inevitably lead to intermarriage. Indeed, the Rambam (Hilchos Ma’achalos Asuros 17:9) provides the same reason.

Rashi, however, later on (Avodah Zarah 38a) appears to contradict himself, as he provides a different reason for the prohibition: so that the Jew does not become accustomed to eating with the akum, lest the akum slip non-kosher food into the Jew’s dish. [This contradiction in Rashi is noted by Tosafos (ibid) who rejects this second reason in favor of the intermarriage reason]. The Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Dei’ah 113:2) cites the Rashbam, who agrees with the non-kosher food reason.

The Sheivet HaLevi (6:108) posits that Rashi is following the chronology of the prohibition. Originally, only bishul akum was prohibited, and that was because of the fear of non-kosher food being slipped inside the dish. This fear, however, only exists by cooked foods and not by pas (bread of) akum. Subsequently, the chachamim also enacted a prohibition on both cooked foods and pas akum because of the fear of intermarriage. This answer fits well with those Rishonim who hold that bishul akum preceded the g’zeirah of pas akum. See Tosafos (Avodah Zarah 37b). Notably, the Ramban and the Meiri explain that pas akum preceded bishul akum. The Sheivet HaLevi thus rules that Rashi understands that both reasons are relevant to the prohibition. See also sefer Reishis Darko (p. 33).

Similarly, the Aruch HaShulchan (ibid) suggests that Rashi provides two reasons to highlight why we are more machmir by bishul akum than pas akum. In other words, pas akum has only the intermarriage reason for the prohibition (as any non-kosher food would be immediately visible in the bread), as opposed to bishul akum, which has both reasons.

[As an aside, a basic ramification of these two reasons is whether a Jew serving as a mashgiach permits bishul akum. According to the intermarriage reason, it should still be forbidden, as opposed to the reason of non-kosher food, where it should be permitted. See Tzitz Eliezer (9:41).

III. The Mumar

The Pischei T’shuvah (Yoreh Dei’ah 113:1) cites the Tiferes L’Moshe who gives a crucial ramification between the two reasons for the prohibition. Pursuant to the “main” reason of intermarriage, a cooked dish of a mumar – heretical Jew – is permitted, as one is permitted to marry a mumar’s child. On the other hand, pursuant to the reason of non-kosher food, even the cooked dish of a mumar is forbidden, as a mumar may spike the dish with non-kosher food, similar to an akum.

The T’shuvas Mahariah (Asad, Yoreh Dei’ah 31) disagrees. According to both reasons, a cooked dish of a mumar is forbidden. Certainly, according to the reason of non-kosher food, but even according to the reason of intermarriage, as a true mumar is not permitted to marry into the B’nei Yisrael. This is the opinion of the P’ri M’gadim (E”A Orach Chayim 325:22), as well, as we treat a mumar like an akum for all practical purposes.

IV. Practically Speaking

As an initial matter, the vast majority of irreligious Jews nowadays do not have the status of mumar. However, there are unfortunately some frum Jews who have left the proper path and would qualify as mumarim.

The Chelkas Binyamin (cited in Mar’ei Davar 3, p. 166) rules stringently that bishul of a mumar is prohibited, as we are concerned for the reason of non-kosher food. The Mar’ei Davar adds, though, that most irreligious Jews are not considered mumarim.

Notably, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l (Kovetz T’shuvos 3:15, and cited in Ohel Yaakov, p. 61) rules that this prohibition applies to all irreligious Jews, as the underlying purpose of the prohibition is to prevent improper associations. See also T’shuvos V’Hanhagos (5:249:4).

On the other hand, many poskim are lenient even with respect to bishul of a mumar. Specifically, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe Yoreh Dei’ah 1:45) is lenient with pas of a mumar, as the reason intermarriage does not apply to a mumar. Many Acharonim apply this Rav Moshe p’sak to bishul akum, as they understand that the primary reason for the prohibition of bishul akum is intermarriage. See Reishis Darko (p. 36), Noam Halachah (p. 134), and Maadanei Asher (5769, D’varim).

Additionally, the Ohel Yaakov (p. 62) cites many contemporary poskim who are lenient for bishul of an irreligious Jew, including Rav Avigdor Nebenzahl shlita, Rav Y. Shub shlita, Rav Azriel Auerbach shlita, and Rav Sroya Deblitzky zt”l (the latter only was lenient bish’as ha’d’chak).

Rav Yisroel Dovid Harfenes (Kovetz Halachos LiMeonos Kayitz, p. 126) is likewise lenient, especially if the cooking is done in the house of the frum Jew (as we will, b’ezras Hashem, see in a later article).

Next Week’s Topic: Does the prohibition of bishul akum apply to a housekeeper or another akum in a Jew’s home?

Rabbi Ephraim Glatt, Esq. is Assistant to the Rabbi at the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills and a practicing litigation attorney. Questions? Comments? Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..