Question: 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?
Short Answer: Yes, there is still a prohibition of Bishul Akum unless the Jew turned on the fire shortly before the food is cooked by the akum.
I. Pas Akum
The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 38b) cites a ruling by Ravina that there is no prohibition of pas akum in any of the following three scenarios: (i) if an akum lights the fire but a Jew bakes the bread; (ii) if a Jew lights the fire but an akum bakes the bread; or (iii) if an akum lights the fire and bakes the bread, but the Jew stirs the coals so that the coals get hotter.
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 112:9) codifies this Gemara, adding, based on the Rambam, that it is sufficient if the Jew simply throws one piece of wood into the fire, as doing so is a “hekeir” (reminder) that pas akum (without this act by the Jew) is prohibited.
Does this same leniency apply to bishul akum?
II. Bread Is Different
Numerous Rishonim, including the Ran and the Rashba, limit this leniency to pas akum.
The Ran (Avodah Zarah, 15 in Dapei Rif) writes that we are only lenient by pas akum, as lighting an oven for bread baking is a distinct act, and thus if a Jew performs this distinct act, the bread is permitted. Lighting a fire for cooking, on the other hand, is merely one aspect of the cooking process and is not a distinct step. The Taz (Yoreh Dei’ah 113:7) elaborates that by baking, the baker must clear out the coals before baking begins. Accordingly, lighting/removing the coals is a distinct step, and thus it is recognizable that a Jew is involved when the Jew performs this first step. By cooking, the person just lights the fire, which continues to get hotter as the cooking continues, thereby making a Jew’s participation by doing this step less noticeable.
The Ran further cites a proof from the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 38a) that cites numerous cases where bishul akum is permitted, such as if a Jew places the dish in the oven and the akum merely flips over the food. If a Jew simply lighting the fire was sufficient to get rid of the prohibition of Bishul Akum, the Gemara should have listed such an example.
The Rashba, however, offers a slightly different explanation why we are only lenient with bread. Since bread is a staple food, the Chachamim never set up strict rules by pas akum. Cooking, on the other hand, is important but is not a necessary staple to a person’s diet, and thus the Chachamim did not apply this leniency of simply allowing the Jew to light the fire.
Notably, according to the Rashba and the Ran, when the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 38b) rules that there is no bishul akum where an akum is “meiniach” the dish and the Jew is “m’hapeich” the dish (this refers to the Jew flipping the dish itself). By flipping the food, the Jew actively participates in the cooking process, and thus, there is no bishul akum.
The Shulchan Aruch (113:7) codifies the Ran and Rashba and rules that unless the Jew places the food into the oven, there is a prohibition of Bishul Akum. It is insufficient for the Jew simply to light the fire.
III. The Rama
The Darchei Moshe (113:4) cites a handful of Rishonim, including the Mordechai and the Isur V’Heter (Rabbeinu Yerucham), who hold that a Jew simply lighting the fire or stirring the coals is sufficient to remove the prohibition of Bishul Akum. Indeed, the Kol Bo (cited in the sefer VaYomer Gavriel, p. 139) agrees that only a minimal act of the Jew such as lighting the fire (or stirring the fire) is necessary.
According to these Rishonim, when the Gemara (Avodah Zarah 38b) rules that there is no Bishul Akum where an akum is “meiniach” the dish and the Jew is “m’hapeich,” this refers to the Jew simply flipping the coals of the fire (and not the dish itself). Even this minimal act is sufficient to remove the Bishul Akum prohibition. See VaYomer Gavriel (ibid).
The Rama (113:7) codifies these Rishonim and notes the minhag is to be lenient.
IV. Practical Ruling
The Vilna Gaon (113:18) adopts the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, that simply lighting the fire is insufficient; the Jew must perform an act that is later on in the cooking. Likewise, the Taz (113:6) only relies on the leniency of the Rama in the house of a Jew where a separate leniency of the Raavad exists (see Article #2). See also the Chochmas Adam (66:8-9) who appears to rule strictly l’chatchilah.
On the other hand, the P’ri M’gadim (112:6) adopts the ruling of the Rama. The Sheivet HaLevi (7:133) notes that even though many poskim are strict, the minhag nowadays is not to challenge the ruling of the Rama, as the P’ri M’gadim adopts the Rama, and anyway, this situation most commonly occurs in factories where there is a separate leniency that the specific akum doing the cooking is not known to the Jew.
V. Oven All Day
However, may we rely on the Rama where the Jew only turns on the oven in the morning and the akum cooks hours later? Is the Jew’s lighting the fire here considered part of the cooking process?
The Rama (Yoreh Dei’ah 112:10), by pas akum, has an additional leniency. The Rama rules that if a Jew lights the oven fire, an akum may bake in that oven (and the bread will be permitted) as long as the fire is lit. In other words, if a Jew turns on the fire in the morning and the oven remains on all day, an akum may bake in the oven at night.
Notably, the Aruch HaShulchan (112:27) writes that this leniency is only to be relied upon in extenuating circumstances. See also the Minchas Yitzchak (4:28:4).
But does this leniency even apply at all by bishul akum?
The T’shuvos V’Hanhagos (3:247) rules that this leniency is limited to pas akum and is not extended to bishul akum. As mentioned above, we are lenient only by pas akum, which is a less strict prohibition, especially since it is waived where there are no Jewish bakers. See also Ohel Yaakov (p. 142).
VI. The Pilot Light
A similar issue arises with a pilot light on a stove. If a Jew lights the pilot light, may an akum turn on the cooktop and cook?
The Rama (113:7) permits bishul akum where the akum lit a fire from a fire initially lit by a Jew.
The T’shuvos V’Hanhagos (5:249:3) compares this case to the previous case of the oven that was lit in the morning and the akum wants to cook at night. We are not lenient on these issues by bishul akum; only by pas akum is there any room to be lenient.
The Ohel Yaakov (p. 144-145) notes that Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l is cited by many as ruling that a pilot light does not permit bishul akum. This is the ruling of the B’eir Moshe, as well, as cited in the Pischei Halachah. The Ohel Yaakov subsequently cites many contemporary poskim, including the Mishnas Yosef, who are strict on this issue.
Indeed, the OU, in an article available online, writes that Rav Belsky zt”l noted that Rav Moshe Feinstein did not think it was proper to rely on the pilot light for bishul akum. See https://oukosher.org/blog/consumer-kosher/playing-with-fire/#fn107573305750cf4c8cd6898
However, in a different article by the OU, they write that they “are lenient to allow the use of pilot lights in factories to remove the isur of bishul akum.” However, the mashgichim relight the boilers, etc. when they visit. See https://oukosher.org/blog/kosher-professionals/aish-maish-bishul-yisroel/
Next Week’s Topic: Is it permissible for a Sefardi to eat in an Ashkenazi home or restaurant that relies on certain leniencies with respect to bishul akum?