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March 2005
Rabbi Monique Susskind Goldberg


Dear Rabbi,

In a previous question I had asked how the Conservative Movement deals with "bishul Akum" (cooking by a non Jew) and you replied that since this was not "d'oraita" (biblical enactment), but rather "de rabbanan" (rabbinical enactment), the restriction no longer applies. Perhaps I have misunderstood your answer, but it is not entirely clear to me. I find "bishul Akum" xenophobic and morally offensive - the notion that food or wine cooked by a Gentile is unfit for use - but how can we just dispense with a rabbinic/Talmudic ruling?

I have gathered that this ruling is not merely something from the later Codes (Shulchan Aruch, Mishnah Berurah et al) but has its basis in Talmudic discourse. Could you explain to me the Halachic reasoning employed in the Conservative Movement to render bishul Yisrael obsolete?


About the cooking by non Jews, I think I did not make myself clear. First I did not speak in the name of the Conservative Movement (see above). And secondly I did not mean that because it is "only" a din derabanan it became "obsolete".
The Talmud offers two reasons for the prohibition of eating the cooking of a non Jew had originally been given two reasons in the Talmud :
- to avoid inter-marriage,
- to avoid eating non kosher food.

The risk of eating non kosher food still holds true today when you eat at non kosher facilities or at gentile's houses where the rules of kashrut are not known to the person who cooks.
But as I understand your question, the issue is not about non kosher food, but about the cooking of kosher food by a non Jew.
- The prohibition is not absolute. Historically the oil and the bread made by non Jews became permitted, mostly because the injunction was disregarded by the people, and also the Rabbis came to the conclusion that buying bread baked by a non Jew does not lead to intermarriage.
- Some food even cooked by non Jews are permitted according to Halakha. For example, any food which is also eaten in the raw state, as cooked fruits or some cooked vegetables, is permitted. There is also the category of food that can be eaten which is "food which is not served in royal menus", the meaning of which is not entirely clear to me.
- The Shulkhan Arukh, (not me or the Conservative Movement), states that one can be lenient in matters pertaining to Bishul Akum because it is not an interdiction from the Bible but "only derabanan" (Yoreh Deah 113: 16, also Talmud Avodah Zarah 38a).

So, in your particular case, if you eat in your mother's home or at friend's, and you make sure the ingredients and the dishes are kosher, I would say that there is no problem that the food was cooked by a non Jew, because the two original reasons of the interdiction are not applicable. It would not lead you to inter-marriage, and nor bring you to eat non kosher food.

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