Question: Does the prohibition of Bishul Akum apply to a housekeeper or another akum in a Jew’s home?

Short Answer: According to many poskim, the prohibition of Bishul Akum applies to a housekeeper in a Jew’s home. However, b’dieved, if the food was accidentally cooked by a hired housekeeper in a Jew’s home, some poskim allow the food to be eaten.


I. The Raavad vs. Rabbeinu Tam

Tosafos (Avodah Zarah 38a) cites the opinion of the Raavad who holds that bishul akum only applies in the house of the akum and does not apply in the house of a Jew. The Raavad explains that there are no intermarriage or non-kosher food concerns (i.e., the two reasons for the prohibition, see Article #1) in the house of a Jew.

The Mordechai (830) likewise cites the leniency of the Raavad, but he ascribes it to Rav Avraham Mi’Orleans. Rabbeinu Yerucham (Nesiv 17, cited in VaYomer Gavriel, p. 106) is lenient, as well, noting that this is the opinion of the “majority” of poskim.

Rabbeinu Tam, also cited in Tosafos (ibid), disagrees with this leniency. There is no difference whether the cooking takes place in the house of the akum or the house of a Jew; both are forbidden.

Yet, there is still a bit of confusion with respect to the reason of Rabbeinu Tam. Tosafos cites Rabbeinu Tam’s reason that “the akum will also not be careful in the Jew’s house.” But what does this mean? The sefer Hachi Itmar (Avodah Zarah 38a) suggests that Tosafos means that there is still a concern of non-kosher food (i.e., the akum adding non-kosher food to the cooking dish) in the house of a Jew. He thus wonders why Tosafos does not address the other reason: of intermarriage. On the other hand, the sefer Avodah B’rurah (Avodah Zarah 38a) interprets Tosafos as holding that both reasons (non-kosher food and intermarriage) apply in the house of a Jew. Indeed, the Mordechai (ibid) cites the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam according to this interpretation, as well. The Avodah B’rurah elaborates that it is similar to a “lo plug” – the chachamim forbade bishul akum in all circumstances, even in the house of a Jew, since there was a chance – albeit small – that the reasons apply even in the house of a Jew.

Both the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 113:1) rule like Rabbeinu Tam, that bishul akum is forbidden even in the house of a Jew. Indeed, the Beis Yosef (ibid) reasons that this is the opinion of many other Rishonim, as well, as they do not make any distinction where the bishul akum takes place.

II. The Rama

As an initial matter, the Rama (Darchei Moshe 113:1) cites the Isur V’Heteir who ruled that b’dieved, once the food was already cooked in the Jew’s house, one may rely on the lenient opinion of the Raavad and eat the food. Clearly, the Rama acknowledges that the Raavad’s opinion has some practical import.

Further, the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 113:4) cites two opinions whether there is a prohibition of bishul akum by an eved or shifchah who is owned by a Jew. The Rama (ibid) comments that, accordingly, one may be lenient b’dieved if the eved or shifchah already cooked the food. The Rama adds that even l’chatchilah one may allow an eved or shifchah to cook in the house of a Jew, as it may be presumed that a Jew stirred the pot at some point in the cooking process (thereby rendering the food as “permitted,” as will be discussed in a later article).

The Vilna Gaon (11) explains that the Rama is lenient, partly because of the opinion of the Raavad. Again, it is clear that the Rama is willing to rely on the Raavad’s leniency in certain circumstances. The Shach (7) points out that our hired household help is obviously not the same situation as an eved or shifchah, and thus the reasoning of the lenient opinion in the Shulchan Aruch (that they must observe Shabbos) does not apply nowadays. Nevertheless, the Shach suggests that the Rama is lenient, based on the opinion of the Raavad. However, the Shach adds that arguably the main reason may simply be that in a Jewish house, invariably a Jew will participate in some aspect of the cooking.

Thus, putting all of this together, is there room to be lenient to allow hired household help to cook in the house of a Jew, even knowing that a Jew will not participate at all in the cooking process (i.e., he or she is not home)?

III. Practically Speaking

The Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Dei’ah 113:4) notes that the basis of the Rama is the combination of three leniencies: (i) it is in the house of the Jew, like the Raavad; (ii) the help is working for the Jew; and (iii) invariably a Jew will participate in the cooking process. This implies that if any of the factors is absent, the Rama would not permit the bishul akum, at least not l’chatchilah. Indeed, the Aruch HaShulchan concludes that we only rely on this leniency in an area where there are no Jewish workers; but otherwise, the minhag is to be strict.

Rav Moshe Sternbuch (Orchos HaBayis 8:17) rules stringently, as well, even ruling that the food is forbidden b’dieved, as both the Shach and the Taz do not agree with the leniency of the Rama.

Additionally, the Reishis Darko (p. 51-52) cites many other contemporary poskim who are machmir, including the Mishneh Halachos (13:116). The Mishneh Halachos notes that today’s household help is very different from previous times. The Jew constantly tries to appease the help – not vice versa – and therefore the help has no fear about adding non-kosher food into the cooked dish, nor is there any understanding that the Jew is the boss (thereby alleviating an intermarriage concern). The Reishis Darko further cites the Chelkas Binyamin who likewise queries whether there is any leniency with today’s household help.

On the other hand, the Ohel Yaakov cites Rav Noach Isaac Oelbaum shlita (Minchas Chein, Yoreh Dei’ah 1:4) who rules that the food is permitted b’dieved if the bishul akum is in the house of a Jew and done by hired household help. However, a Jew must be constantly going in and out of the house, to ensure that the household help does not put non-kosher food into the cooked dish.

The Ohel Yaakov (ibid) likewise cites the Minchas Asher, who concludes that there may be room for leniency where an akum aid cooks for an elderly person, as the aid is in the house of the Jew and is hired specifically to cook.

Next Week’s Topic: May a respected person (“adam chashuv”) eat foods that were cooked by an akum where the food is edible when eaten raw?

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..