Question: Is it permissible for a Sefardi to eat in an Ashkenazi home or restaurant that relies on certain leniencies with respect to bishul akum?
Short Answer: Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l ruled that there is room to be lenient and to allow a Sefardi to eat in an Ashkenazi restaurant or home.
As explained previously (see Article #7), there is a fundamental machlokes between the Shulchan Aruch (minhag Sefardi) and the Rama (minhag Ashkenazi) whether there is a prohibition of Bishul Akum when a Jew turns on the oven, but the akum places the dish in the oven. The Shulchan Aruch rules that unless the Jew also places the food in the oven, there is a prohibition of Bishul Akum. The Rama rules that there is no prohibition of Bishul Akum in this scenario.
Thus, may a Sefardi eat in the house or restaurant that follows the leniency of the Rama?
II. Sefardim Staying Strong
In general, Rav Chaim Palachi (Moed L’Chol Chai 2:23) rules that a Sefardi who relies upon a leniency that is against the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch must do t’shuvah and seek forgiveness from Hashem. Even when he goes to a place that relies on the leniency, the Sefardi must not waver from the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch.
Further, the Ben Ish Chai (Rav Poalim, Yoreh Dei’ah 3:9) discusses a fried food (called “bender zangula” in Arabic) where the akum merely cooks one part of it. According to the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, there is a prohibition of Bishul Akum. The Ben Ish Chai suggests that perhaps we may rely on two leniencies. First, the opinion of the Rama (for Ashkenazim) that a Jew lit the fire. Second, the opinion of the Raavad (see Article #2) that there is never a prohibition of Bishul Akum in the house of a Jew. Together these two leniencies constitute a “s’feik s’feika” (double doubt): Maybe we rule like the Rama, and even if not, maybe we follow the ruling of the Raavad. Nevertheless, the Ben Ish Chai rejects this: We never follow a “s’feik s’feika” where both “doubts” are against the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch as here. Thus, the food is prohibited.
The Or L’Tziyon (Vol. 2, p. 12) adds that even if we generally rule leniently against the Shulchan Aruch in a case of a s’feik s’feika, there is no basis to be lenient here, in a case where the Jew merely turns on the fire. The Shulchan Aruch rules that there is definitely a prohibition of Bishul Akum in this case and there is no room for any doubt, as the Beis Yosef only cites the strict ruling.
III. The Leniency of Rav Ovadia Yosef
Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Yabia Omer 9:6), on the other hand, has a lengthy t’shuvah where he debunks the stringency of the Ben Ish Chai and the Or L’Tziyon, and permits Sefardim to eat at a restaurant (or house) of an Ashkenazi who relies on the leniency of the Rama.
Rav Ovadia reasons that the Sefardi may rely on the combination of the following leniencies: (i) the Rama, who rules that there is no Bishul Akum prohibition where the Jew turns on the fire; (ii) the Raavad, who rules that there is no Bishul Akum prohibition in the house of a Jew; and (iii) the Shach (see Article #2) who rules that there is no Bishul Akum prohibition where a hired akum performs the cooking. This combination is at the very least a s’feik s’feika against the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch.
What about the Ben Ish Chai who ruled that we never follow a s’feik s’feika where both “doubts” are against the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch? Rav Ovadia provides two responses. First, the Ben Ish Chai himself (Rav Poalim, Orach Chayim 4:6) writes that there is room to be lenient where a hired akum cooks for the Jew. This is even without the leniency of the Jew lighting the fire. Second, Rav Ovadia, in classic form, cites a plethora of Acharonim who disagree with the Ben Ish Chai and hold that one may rely on a s’feik s’feika against the Shulchan Aruch, including the Chida.
What about the Or L’Tziyon who ruled that Shulchan Aruch left no room for doubt in this case where the Jew merely turns on the fire? Rav Ovadia also provides two responses. First, just because the Beis Yosef does not cite all the Rishonim, including the Rishonim on which the Rama relies upon, does not mean that there is no doubt about the halachah. Second, the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch is not stricter than a safeik d’Oraisa, where we do apply the rules of s’feik s’feika.
Rav Ovadia thus concludes that while it is meritorious for a Sefardi to be strict and not eat in a restaurant or home that relies on the Rama’s leniency, there is certainly room to be lenient – especially because the entire Bishul Akum prohibition is only d’Rabbanan – and one must not criticize those who are lenient.
The Ohel Yaakov (p. 159) likewise cites Rav E. Schlesinger who adopts the ruling of Rav Ovadia and notes that this is the basis for Sefardim to eat in any restaurant with a good t’udas kashrus, even without ascertaining whether the restaurant relies on the leniency of the Rama. See also Minchas Yitzchak (7:62).
IV. Sefardi In Ashkenazi Yeshivah
A common application of this question is when a Sefardi bachur learns in an Ashkenazi yeshivah that relies on the leniency of the Rama. May the Sefardi rely on the yeshivah’s kashrus?
The T’shuvos V’Hanhagos (5:251) addresses this situation and rules that certainly the Sefardi bachur should attend – and eat in – the Ashkenazi yeshivah. Because of the importance of limud haTorah, we view the bachur’s Ashkenazi rebbeim as his “parents” for this minhag. However, when the Sefardi bachur leaves the yeshivah, he must return to his biological parents’ minhagim and follow the strict ruling of the Shulchan Aruch. Similarly, the sefer VaYomer Gavriel (p. 142) cites Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l who ruled leniently that a Sefardi bachur may eat in an Ashkenazi yeshivah.
However, the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rav Yitzchak Yosef shlita, in a discussion about a different topic (Mishnas Yosef, gilyon 11, p. 28), attacks the T’shuvos V’Hanhagos. How can you permit eating food that is asur according to the Shulchan Aruch because of limud haTorah? Also, what type of logic allows a yeshivah bachur to view his rebbeim as his “parents” and then revert back to his true parents after he leaves the yeshivah? Rav Yosef concludes that the T’shuvos V’Hanhagos makes the Sefardi halachah into a joke. However, Rav Yosef does not address whether, practically, a Sefardi may eat in an Ashkenazi yeshivah.
Next Week’s Topic: Is there a prohibition of Bishul Akum if an akum heats up food in a microwave?