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Thought for the Day: Sometimes a Food Loses Its Identity When It Loses Its Bracha; Sometimes It Doesn't

Let's start with a question: Why are We Allowed to Drink Coffee and Whiskey Made by Non-Jews?  Before you ask,"Why would I think that I shouldn't be able to drink whiskey and coffee made by non-Jews?", I'll tell you. Simple, we all know that Chazal made a decree -- known as בישול עכו''ם/bishul akim -- that particular foods cooked by non-Jews are forbidden.  There are basically two criteria that determines if a dish falls into this category:
  1. Is not consumed raw.
  2. Fit for a royal banquet.
Cooked carrots, therefore, are not a problem since they can be eaten raw (I actually prefer them that way).  Baked beans are find because the are not prestigious enough.  (For great synopsis of the laws, see the article on the Star-K site, FOOD FIT FOR A KING, by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, shlita.)  There are lots of cool questions and details (baked potatoes are prestigious, does that make even potato chips and issue?) which are for another time.  Clearly, though, both coffee and whiskey are cooked and prestigious enough to appear on a king's table.  Yet I am allowed to drink coffee made by the wonderful and non-Jewish staff of Chicago's kosher Dunkin Donuts. Why?

Perhaps you want to tell me that it's coffee that is actually cooked, but the water; which is then flavored by passing it over the roasted and ground coffee.  No problem with בישול עכו''ם and water, since water can be consumed equally well "raw" or cooked. Now let me get this straight; you want to claim that coffee is just flavored water and the coffee extract is a small enough portion to be considered negligible (or at least subordinate to) the water and the water is really what you are drinking and there is no issue with hot water and בישול עכו''ם.  Is your argument? Really?

Suppose I give you that one (I don't, but suppose I did). That argument doesn't hold water vis-à-vis the whiskey issue.  (You better believe every pun intended.) The alcohol in that case is main ingredient and any water is fulfilling a supporting role. That alcoholic product was produced by the cooking process and would be only soggy cereal without it. Now what?

Tosafos, Avoda Zara 31b, ד''ה ותרוייהו; that's what. But first I need to ask you one more little question: Why isn't the bracha for your coffee בורא פרי העץ and for your whiskey בורא מיני מזונות?  After all, the main ingredient of coffee is a bean from a tree and of whisky grain. Why is the bracha on both them them a generic שהכל נהיה בדברו?  The answer to that question is because a food has been processed down to a beverage. Whenever that happens the bracha automatically becomes that ole' generic שהכל נהיה בדברו, as discussed before.

Now look back at the Tosofos, who is discussing why we are allowed to drink beer made by non-Jews. I'll wait... Still don't see it? The last line, their second answer: since the grain has lost its independent identity to the water regarding the bracha, so too the grain has lost its independent identity to the water regarding בישול עכו''ם.

Cool, eh?  Now that you have this hammer, though, don't make everything into a nail.  Mishloach manos, for example, needs to be two kinds of foods. How about trail mix? Maybe you'll say; "Well, using this hammer that Tosafos handed us: since the bracha on trail mix is whatever the bracha of the main ingredient -- so everything else has lost their independent identity regarding the bracha, so maybe this in only one kind!"  Nope; it's two (or more, whatever) kinds.  (P'sak of R' Fuerst, shlita; though I hear there are other opinions.)  How about an omelet with eggs and vegetables for the s'uda mafsekes before Tisha b'Av?  One bracha and all cooked together; surely that's one food... uh, right? Nope, the Shulchan Aruch specifically mentions that case as forbidden because it is two foods.

The lesson is that finding a halacha in one area does not necessarily transfer to another area. You don't need a rabbi to know what to do when you see a halacha written explicitly in a reputable sefer.  Similarly, you don't need a doctor to take a pill according to the instructions on the bottle. You do, though, need a doctor when you have several meds because you don't know all the interactions. That's why you need to ask a rabbi whenever your case is "really a lot like" another case. When you have a hammer, as the saying goes, everything looks like a nail. But everything is certainly not a nail, and each case has all sorts of nuances that can change the halacha from permitted to forbidden and vice versa.


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