Question: Is there a prohibition of Bishul Akum on potatoes, French fries, and potato chips that are cooked by an akum?
Short Answer: Many poskim rule that potatoes are subject to Bishul Akum, while French fries and potato chips are tougher calls. The OU’s position is that French fries and potato chips are not subject to Bishul Akum.
I. Fit for a King
As previously mentioned, one of the conditions that must be satisfied for a food to be subject to the rules of Bishul Akum is that the food must be “oleh al shulchan m’lachim,” literally, served on the table of kings. If it is not “fit for a king’s table,” it is permitted to eat this food, even if cooked by an akum. There is much discussion in the poskim regarding the parameters of such a condition and its application to modern foods.
[Note that there is also much discussion in the poskim about the precise definition of “a king’s table” – i.e., whether this refers to any fancy meal or precisely foods served at a state dinner, etc. A full discussion on this topic is outside the scope of this article].
II. Not Eaten with Bread
A closer introspection of the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 38a) shows that for a food to be subject to a Bishul Akum prohibition it not only must be fit for a king’s table, but it must also be used on the king’s table “l’lafeis bo es ha’pas” – i.e., eaten together with bread, and not a separate dish unconnected to bread such as rice or a dessert.
The Tur and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 113:1), however, appear to omit this added facet, as they rule that any food that is fit for a king’s table may be subject to Bishul Akum, even if it is a “parperes” (dessert) that is not eaten together with bread. The Beis Yosef explains that the source for such a stringency – that seemingly extends prohibition and the language of the Gemara – is based on a Rambam. The Rambam (Hilchos Ma’achalos Asuros 17:19) rules that if an akum burns a field with (kosher) grasshoppers without intent to cook the grasshoppers, the grasshoppers – a delicacy – may be eaten. Clearly, if not for the reason that the cooking was inadvertent, there would have been a Bishul Akum prohibition on the grasshoppers, even though they are a “parperes” and not eaten together with bread.
The P’ri Chadash (3) disagrees with the Beis Yosef. The language of the Gemara is clear that if a food is not fit for a king’s table as a companion food for the bread, there is no Bishul Akum. Grasshoppers are “parperes,” but that simply means that they are eaten together with bread.
The Chochmas Adam (66:1) and the Aruch HaShulchan (113:7), however, rule against the P’ri Chadash and follow the simple understanding of the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch, that any food that is fit for a king’s table is subject to Bishul Akum. This also fits well with the reasoning of the prohibition – to prevent closeness with an akum that could lead to intermarriage or non-kosher food. Any “chashuv” food could lead to these problems, regardless of whether it is eaten with bread. Indeed, this is the ruling of the Sheivet HaLevi (2:42), as well.
III. Categorizing by Type of Food
The Shach (Yoreh Dei’ah 113:2) cites the Isur V’Heter who ruled that certain types of animal innards (“kirvayim” and “kurkevan”) are subject to Bishul Akum. The Aruch HaShulchan (113:10), based on the P’ri Chadash, explains that the Shach understands that Bishul Akum applies to any category of food that is fit for a king’s table in some form. In other words, every type of meat is subject to Bishul Akum, since certain types of meat are definitely served at a king’s table.
Similarly, the sefer Reishis Darko (p.45) cites the Darchei T’shuvah who cites the Chesed L’Avraham who states clearly that Bishul Akum applies to any food that in some form is served at a king’s table.
IV. The Potato
The Aruch HaShulchan (113:18) discusses whether a potato nowadays is considered “fit for a king’s table.” The Aruch HaShulchan writes that a potato is a food for poor people, and thus is not subject to Bishul Akum, as it is not fit for a king’s table. That rich people sometimes eat potatoes does not change anything; they only eat potatoes because they are so commonplace, and not because of their chashivus (i.e., importance/specialty). He cites the Chochmas Adam, who disagrees and rules that potatoes are subject to Bishul Akum. The Aruch HaShulchan distinguishes such rulings as discussing a time/place where potatoes are not so common. “Nowadays” – approximately 100 years ago, and certainly today – the prevalence of potatoes means they are not subject to Bishul Akum.
The Sheivet HaLevi (2:45) rules like the Chochmas Adam, that potatoes are subject to Bishul Akum. Similarly, the T’shuvos V’Hanhagos (1:438) rules like the Chochmas Adam and explains that since nowadays potatoes are served at a king’s table in some form (e.g., roasted potatoes), all potatoes are subject to Bishul Akum, like the ruling of the Chesed L’Avraham mentioned above.
On a practical level, the OU, in its Halachah Yomis, rules that “the OU follows the opinion of the Chochmas Adam and requires bishul Yisrael for cooked potatoes.” See https://oukosher.org/halacha-yomis/are-boiled-potatoes-that-were-made-without-any-jewish-involvement-subject-to-the-prohibition-of-bishul-akum/?category.
However, an article by the Kof-K notes that “if a specific potato is prepared in a way that it is fit for a king’s table, then only that type of potato is a problem of Bishul Akum. This is the opinion followed by most kashrus agencies.” See https://www.kof-k.org/articles/040308030441W-37%20Bishul%20Akum%20on%20Potatoes.pdf.
V. French Fries
The Ohel Yaakov (p. 91) cites the Sheivet HaLevi as ruling that French fries are subject to Bishul Akum. This is the ruling of Rav Y.M. Stern (Imrei Yaakov), cited in the Ohel Yaakov, as well. He reasons that since potatoes in some form are served on a king’s table nowadays, French fries are subject to Bishul Akum. The Reishis Darko (p. 46), however, notes that it is not so simple. Perhaps we view French fries as a different food from potatoes, and as such, are not subject to Bishul Akum, as fries are not served at a king’s table.
The Ohel Yaakov (in his sefer MiTzion Teitzei Torah, p. 247) asked Rav Nebenzahl, who answered that he was unsure whether French fries are considered fit for a king’s table. However, in a footnote, the Ohel Yaakov cites Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l and Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv as ruling stringently for French fries.
On the other hand, the V’Darashta V’Chakarta (4:4) notes that French fries are not subject to Bishul Akum, as they are never served on a king’s table. This is also the ruling of Rav Yisroel Belsky zt”l, as cited by the OU – that French fries “are primarily a fast food or snack item, and are therefore not subject to Bishul Akum.” That “steak and chips can be ordered at some of the most upscale restaurants” does not change anything, as R’ Belsky responded “that this has more to do with the fact that people enjoy steak with chips than with the importance of the food.” Finally, Rav Belsky “offered as proof that French fries are typically served at weddings only to young children, but not at adult tables.” See https://oukosher.org/halacha-yomis/the-previous-halacha-yomis-quoted-rav-belskys-view-that-although-cooked-potatoes-are-subject-to-bishul-akum-potato-chips-are-not-what-about-french-fries-are-they-like-potatoes-or/
The OK agency, however, requires bishul Yisrael for French fries. See https://www.ok.org/article/consumer-questions-18/.
VI. Potato Chips
But what about potato chips? Are they subject to Bishul Akum?
Rav Moshe Feinstein (Yoreh Dei’ah 4:48:5), in a short t’shuvah written in 1957, rules that “potato chips” are subject to Bishul Akum and is not sure why the general populace is lenient. He then suggests that perhaps they rely on the leniency that it is made in a factory. However, Rav Moshe appears to take for granted that potato chips ARE fit for a king’s table, as he makes no mention of this issue as a possible reason for the leniency of the general populace. Rav Moshe concludes that one should not attack those who are lenient.
However, the Ohel Yaakov (p. 93) cites a discussion between contemporary poskim whether we may rely on the leniency of this Rav Moshe, written more than 50 years ago in a different environment. Additionally, Rabbi Yair Hoffman, in an article from last year (2020) notes that Rav Dovid Feinstein zt”l and yb”lct Rav Reuven Feinstein shlita disagreed whether Rav Moshe was being machmir ideally even for potato chips (Rav Reuven) or just French fries (Rav Dovid). See https://vinnews.com/2020/08/10/chareidi-potato-chips-versus-regular-chips/
Practically, Rav Belsky zt”l ruled that potato chips are not subject to Bishul Akum. See https://oukosher.org/halacha-yomis/if-potatoes-are-subject-to-bishul-akum-what-about-potato-chips-must-kosher-certified-potato-chips-have-bishul-yisroel-status/.
The Star-K agrees that, unless potato chips are commonly served at fancy meals, they are not subject to Bishul Akum. See https://www.star-k.org/articles/kashrus-kurrents/2168/food-fit-for-a-king-reviewing-the-laws-of-bishul-akum-and-bishul-yisroel/#:~:text=Any%20food%20that%20would%20not,candy%2C%20or%20potato%20chips). This is the ruling of the OK as well. See https://www.ok.org/article/consumer-questions-18/.
Next Week’s Topic: Is there a prohibition of Bishul Akum where an akum places food in an oven that was turned on by a Jew a few hours earlier?