Question: Does a person violate Bishul Akum on a food that he eats raw but the general population does not normally eat raw?
Short Answer: According to most poskim, Bishul Akum is based on the general populace’s eating preferences, and thus, the person would violate Bishul Akum. This has practical ramifications for sushi.
I. Salted Fish and Roasted Eggs
The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 38b) cites a machlokes between Chizkiyah and Rav Yochanan whether there is a prohibition of Bishul Akum on salted fish. According to Rashi, we are discussing a fish that can be eaten raw. Chizkiyah holds that there is no prohibition, because salting is not the same as cooking, and thus, this fish is eaten raw. Rav Yochanan holds there is a prohibition of Bishul Akum because salting is the same as cooking, and thus, this fish is not eaten raw.
The Gemara (ibid) then cites a machlokes about eggs that were roasted by an akum. According to Rashi, Bar Kapara holds that there is no Bishul Akum prohibition, because the akum never touched the food, which is covered by the eggshell. Rav Yochanan, however, holds that there is a Bishul Akum prohibition like other cooked foods.
The Gemara subsequently explains that Rav Dimi understood that Chizkiyah (of the fish case) and Bar Kapara (of the egg case) each agrees to each other’s leniency, making it a two (Chizkiyah/Bar Kapara) against one (Rav Yochanan) machlokes. Accordingly, Rav Chiya told the Reish Gelusa that one may be lenient for salted fish and roasted eggs. Indeed, when Rav Zvid tried to tell the Reish Gelusa that Abayei ruled stringently like Rav Yochanan, the Reish Gelusa poisoned (and killed) Rav Zvid.
The Gemara appears to be ruling like Rav Yochanan, that the salted fish and roasted egg are prohibited if cooked by an akum.
II. Other Explanations
The Ritva (Avodah Zarah 38b) interprets the Gemara differently than Rashi. According to the Ritva (as well as the Ramban), the Gemara is debating whether there is bishul akum on a food that is only eaten raw “al y’dei had’chak,” i.e., uncomfortably or if absolutely necessary. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 113:14) interprets the Gemara like the Ritva, and rules in accordance with Rav Yochanan, that the egg is forbidden, since it is generally (and comfortably) eaten when cooked.
The Raavan (cited in the sefer Avodah B’rurah on Avodah Zarah 38b) interprets the Gemara in a third way. The Gemara is debating whether there is a prohibition of Bishul Akum on cooked eggs, which are generally eaten when cooked, but some people eat them raw. We pasken like Rav Yochanan, that there is a prohibition of Bishul Akum on such a food, even to those who routinely eat them raw.
III. The Strict Opinions
The Pri Chadash (113:3) rules similarly to the Raavan, that we determine bishul akum based on the general populace’s eating habits. Indeed, we apply the rule of “batlah daato eitzel kol adam” to this prohibition, mainly, that a person’s subjective preferences are “nullified” in favor of the preferences of the general populace. Thus, if a person eats a particular food raw, but the general populace only eats it cooked, there is a prohibition of Bishul Akum. On the flip side, if a person only eats a certain food cooked, there is no Bishul Akum if the general populace eats it raw.
The Pri Chadash adds that we decide the preference of “general populace” by looking at the entire world. Accordingly, if a food is eaten raw in one country but the rest of the world generally eats it cooked, there is a prohibition of Bishul Akum on this food even in the country that eats it raw. Only if the “majority” preference is unknown do we view each country separately.
The Aruch HaShulchan (113:12) also rules that we follow the general populace’s eating preferences. However, the Aruch HaShulchan notes that where one country eats a certain food raw but a different country eats it cooked, the two countries do not cancel each other out and each country has its own bishul akum rules based on its own eating preference.
Many Acharonim understand the Aruch HaShulchan as arguing on the Pri Chadash, as the Aruch HaShulchan implies that each country follows its own eating preferences. This is the understanding of the Aruch HaShulchan according to the Sheivet HaLevi (9:163), the sefer Reishis Darko (p. 39-40), and the Avodah B’rurah (p. 96). [This author thinks that the Aruch HaShulchan is not arguing with the Pri Chadash but is simply discussing a case where there is no “majority” preference, where even the Pri Chadash agrees that each country follows its own preference. The Ohel Yaakov (p. 72) appears to understand the Aruch HaShulchan similarly.]
IV. The Lenient Opinion
On the other hand, the Darchei T’shuvah (113:3) cites the B’nei Chayai (Rav Chaim Algazi, 1712) who expressly disagreed with the Pri Chadash. The B’nei Chayai rules that bishul akum is subjective – it only applies if the individual eating the food would not eat it raw. He explains that since Bishul Akum was instituted to prevent intermarriage and the inadvertent eating of non-kosher food by mingling with akum brought about by eating “chashuv” cooked foods of an akum, this prohibition is highly subjective and based solely on the particular eater’s preferences and whether he considers this food item “chashuv” that he would come to eat it with an akum.
[As an aside, this author suggests that the Pri Chadash would respond that even though the prohibition may have been based on concerns for the individual eating the food, once the Chachamim instituted the prohibition, the definition of a “chashuv” food follows the general populace and is objective].
V. Practically Speaking
The Ohel Yaakov (p. 71) notes that the Sheivet HaLevi (5:93) believed that the majority of poskim follow the Pri Chadash and thus the prohibition of Bishul Akum is objective and based on the general populace (although the Aruch HaShulchan understands that it is based on the country’s preference).
The sefer Reishis Darko (p. 40) cites the Chelkas Binyamin (113:23) that the “general populace” includes both Jews and akum, which makes sense, being that the entire prohibition is to prevent intermarriage and non-kosher food.
VI. Sushi Application
While a full discussion of whether Bishul Akum applies to sushi is outside the scope of this article, there is an important p’sak by Rav Noach Isaac Oelbaum shlita (cited in MiTzion Teitzei Torah, p. 604) that Bishul Akum does apply to sushi. One of the reasons for being stringent is based upon the Pri Chadash, that we view the general populace’s eating preferences and not just one country (such as Japan). Since most Americans do not generally eat fish when raw, Bishul Akum does apply.
Additionally, the OU, in a Daf HaKashrus from 2014, cites Rav Hershel Schachter shlita and Rav Yisroel Belsky zt”l as ruling that Bishul Akum does apply to sushi, both because it is normally eaten together with other foods such as rice (that is cooked), and because the majority of people do not eat raw fish by itself. See https://oukosher.org/content/uploads/2014/02/2014.02.pdf.
Next Week’s Topic: Is there a prohibition of Bishul Akum on milk that was pasteurized by an akum?