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Thought for the Day: What Foods Come Under the Bishul Akum Rule

Bishul Akum (literally, "cooked by a non-Jew") is a real, live issur.  That is, if a non-Jew cooks certain kosher foods, the resulting food is not kosher ("treif") and the pots/pans/spoons/spatulai/etc require kashering.  That's serious business.  Note that this is only relevant for certain kosher foods and only when the non-Jew cooks it.  In halacha "cooking" sometimes means generally to improve/make edible with heat, but other times means cooked (with liquid), as opposed to baking (dry heat in container) or roasting (dry heat directly on fire).  Frying is more or less cooking; leaving in liquid (even cold) for 24 or more hours can also render something "cooked".  But I don't want to talk about that now; I am interested in which foods are a concern.

In order to be a problem, the food under consideration must be something that is not eaten raw and is appropriate to serve at a royal banquet.  Being as we don't have real royalty any more (that is, monarchs who have an absolute right to decree a death sentence), the modern definition is something that you would find at a stated dinner or a chasuna.  Those criteria apply to what is generally done, not what an individual does.  The fact that Rocky eats raw eggs doesn't take eggs off the list; the fact that Jimmy Carter had (or at least tried to have) hot dogs served at the White House does not put them on the list.

Some foods are easy: hot dogs are definitely off the list; they just aren't royal fit food.  Prime rib is definitely on the list; it is royal fit food that is not eaten raw.  Carrots are off the list; people eat them raw (now a days, anyway).  How about potatoes, though?  You certainly will find all sorts of potatoes (baked, twice baked, scalloped, etc) served at state dinners, but you aren't going to find potato chips or french fries on the menu.  How about fish?  Since the outbreak of sushi restaurants, fish such as tuna and salmon are commonly eaten raw.  Does that mean that fish presents no problem, even though there are very fancy fish dishes that clearly require expert cooking?

Questions like that always put a twinkle R' Fuerst's eyes: "It's a machlokes!"  On the one side you have poskim who say, "If there are recipes in which the ingredient is eaten raw, no problem; if there are recipes which in which the ingredient is served on royal tables; big problems.  (We are taking about recipes in which that ingredient is the raison d'etre, of course.)  That is good news for fish; you can eat any fish cooked with all kosher ingredients by any old goy.  For potatoes, however, it's really bad news; it means that you can't even eat one Lay's, not matter what the bet.  It would also mean that you wouldn't be able to eat salami; even though salami is not royal fare, it certainly does have beef in it.  Hot dogs, it seems to me, would still be ok; they contain some sort of animal protein, but I'd be hard pressed to call that "meat".

However, we pasken like the other opinion (R' Moshe, et. al.), that the criteria of whether it goes on the list depends not only on the ingredients, but also how it is prepared.  Good news for potato chip fans.  Less good news for fish, as a grilled albacore steak is makes heads of state across the world drool in anticipation.  It could also be problematic for some canned fish, which is cooked before being canned.  Even smoked fishes are at risk, as the smoking process today is often hot enough to cook the fish.

Ah well... win some, lose some.

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