1) The Mishna, Avodah Zarah, 35b, states that it is prohibited to eat food that was cooked by a non-Jew (bishul akum). This prohibition applies even if all of the ingredients are assumed to be kosher.
2) Although the poskim use the term akum, which literally translates a worshiper of stars and constellations (avodas kochavim u’mazalos), or idolater, the prohibition of bishul akum applies equally to any non-Jew, regardless in his belief. Therefore, food baked by a Moslem or even a non-Jew who keeps the seven Noahide laws is subject to this prohibition. This prohibition was created to avoid intermarriage and therefore all non-Jewish cooking is forbidden. (Darkei Teshuva 112:4)
3) It should also be stressed that whenever we “permit” eating food cooked by a non-Jew, we are assuming that the food is completely free of any non-kosher material and that it has been prepared in kosher utensils. One who has not checked the ingredients of the food and the manner in which it was prepared may not eat any food from a non-Jewish (or an unreliable Jewish) chef.
4) The Gemara, Avodah Zarah 38a, notes that the prohibition of bishul akum is due to a rabbinic enactment. Rashi presents two distinct reasons for this prohibition. Rashi in one area writes that the prohibition of bishulakum is based upon the concern that eating food cooked by a non-Jew may lead to close friendship, intimacy and eventually intermarriage, Rashi in another area writes that the chazal prohibited bishul akum out of concern that the non-Jew may add non-kosher ingredients to the food. (Beis Yosef Y.D. 113) The Sefer Divrei Yosef (3:790:4) writes that the accepted view is that of the first view of Rashi and that the prohibition was instituted in order to avoid intermarriage.
5) The Tiferet L’Moshe, cited by the Pischei Teshuva, notes that there is a practical difference between these two reasons regarding a Jewish idol-worshiper and a Jew who publicly desecrates Shabbos. If the concern is one of intermarriage, there is no prohibition of marrying a Jewish idol-worshiper’s daughter. However, if the concern of bishul akum is that one may eat non-kosher, the prohibition equally applies to eating food prepared by someone who does not keep kosher. According to the Divrei Yosef, cited above, who maintains that the accepted reason is that of avoiding intermarriage, one would be permitted to eat food cooked by a non-observant Jew. However, practically the poskim debate whether one may not eat food cooked by a Jew who publicly desecrates Shabbos. For normative halacha, a rav should be consulted.
6) Bishul Akum
includes foods that are cooked, baked, roasted, fried or broiled by a non-Jew. The Rama (Y.D. 113:3) writes that only food cooked using “fire” is prohibited by bishul akum
7) In recent years, questions have been raised on the halachic status of microwave cooking. With microwave cooking, energy waves (i.e. microwaves) are generated that cause a molecular movement in the food substance. This movement causes friction between the molecules and in effect causes the food to heat itself. Because no form of “fire” is present in the cooking, there is reason to inquire whether microwave cooking is permitted.
Regarding Shabbos– With regard to hilchos Shabbos, the poskim debate whether cooking with a microwave is a biblical form of cooking or is it merely rabbinic. According to Harav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (SS”K 1:127) microwave cooking is not biblically prohibited, while Harav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe 3:52) rules that since microwave cooking is a common form of cooking, it is biblically forbidden.
Stringent– Harav Noach Isaac Oelbaum shlit”a (Minchas Chein vol. 1 page 177) discusses the use of microwaves with regard to bishul akum and he explains that according to Harav Moshe zt”l food cooked by a non-Jew in a microwave oven is considered bishul akum.16 A strict view was also expressed by Harav Shmuel Wosner zt”l (Shevet Halevi 8:185), Harav Shraga Feivish Schneebalg zt”l (Shraga Hameir 6:52:3) and Harav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l (Shvus Yitzchak vol. 6 page 61). In the OU Kosher Halacha Yomis series on Feb. 10, 2016 it states: “Although contemporary poskim differ on this question, the OU is not matir bishul akum through microwaves. Rabbi Genack once discussed this shailah with Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt”l, who told him that the OU should be machmir regarding cooking with microwaves.”
Lenient– However, there were poskim who permit food cooked by a non-Jew using a microwave. The arguments for leniency are that when one cooks with a microwave he is not cooking by fire and that microwave technology was not available at the time when Chazal created the prohibition of Bishul Akum decree and thus was not included in the prohibition. A permissible view can be found in the Seforim Chelkas Binyamin (page 106), Lehoros Nasan (7:64) and Rivevos Efraim (8:111). Similarly, Harav Moshe Heinemann shlit”a, in an article on the Star-K website, writes, “Bishul akum does not apply to microwaved food. The rabbinical prohibition of bishul akum applies only to conventional cooking methods through fire (e.g., cooking, frying, roasting). Food prepared through microwaving is not included in the prohibition.”
Normativa Halacha– Harav Asher Weiss shlit”a (Minchas Asher Devarim) discusses this question and he concludes that one may rule leniently in case of great need. Likewise, Harav Oelbaum shlit”a discusses this issue at length and he concludes, “The poskim debate whether food cooked in a microwave is subject to the laws of bishul akum. While one should initially (l’chatchila) rule stringently, b’dieved one may be lenient.”
8) The Gemara in Avodah Zarah (38a) presents an important limitation to this rule prohibiting food cooked by a non-Jew, stating that any food which can be eaten raw is not subject to the prohibition of bishul akum, and may therefore be eaten if it is cooked by a non-Jew. It is for this reason that one may drink water that was boiled by non-Jew. (S.A. 113)
9) This applies even to food that tastes better cooked or baked than raw (e.g. baked apples or applesauce). The reason why our Chachomim permitted these dishes is because we can eat this food without the intervention of the aino Yehudi. We do not feel obliged to the cook for his assistance in preparation of these products, thereby lessening any social bond created by the food. (Chochmas Adam 66)
10) The Bach (112) and Shach (152:2) write that a “adam chashuv” (honorable person, such as a rabbi) should avoid eating any food cooked by a non-Jew even if the food is edible raw. Accordingly, rabbis should not drink water boiled by a non-Jew or fruit cooked by a non-Jew. However, the Pri Chadash, Noda Biyehuda and Aruch Hashulchan disagree and maintain that even an honorable person need not avoid eating edible raw food that was cooked by a non Jew.
11) In light of the above, an interesting question may be raised concerning drinking coffee prepared by a non-Jew: would it be subject to this prohibition against consuming something cooked by a non-Jew? (The assumption here is that there are, of course, no non-Kosher ingredients, which can be a problem with certain specially flavored coffees.) The area of doubt is that cooked water does not qualify for bishul akum, however, roasted coffee beans cannot be used without brewing and therefore should be subject to the rules of bishul akum.
12) The Shulchan Aruch (114) asserts that beer, which is essentially water mixed with various grains and brewed together, has the same status as water regarding this prohibition of food cooked by a non-Jew just as the berachah recited before the consumption of beer, despite the grain content, is shehakol, the same as that for water. In both cases, the other ingredients are considered secondary to the water. Based on this idea, the Pri Chadash (114:6) rules that the same is true of coffee, which he holds may be drunk even if prepared by a non-Jew because the coffee beans are considered secondary to the water, and water is not subject to the prohibition of Bishul Akum.
Harav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Yechava Daas 4:42) discusses this issue at length and while he notes that there are opinions who are stringent, the majority of opinions permit coffee brewed by a non-Jew. This is his opinion as well, he does add, however, that one who wishes to rule stringently is praiseworthy. The common practice seems to rule leniently.
13) The Pri Chadash (3) writes that the definition of “edible raw” depends upon the eating habits of the average person. If most people would not eat a particular food when raw, the food is subject to the laws of bishul akum, even for one who eats it raw. [For example, if a non-Jew cooks a potato for a Jew who eats raw potatoes, the Jew may not eat the cooked potato.] The reverse is true as well. If most people would eat a particular food raw, it is not subject to the laws of bishul akum even for one who does not eat it raw. [For example, if a non-Jew cooks a carrot for a Jew who eats only cooked carrots, the Jew may eat the cooked carrot.] Many authorities follow this view as well. (Chochmas Adam 66:4 and Aruch Hashulchan 12) This Pri Chadash is used by many poskim to ascertain whether fish in sushi is considered edible raw.
14) In the Daf Hakashrus (February 2014) Rav Yisroel Belsky zt”l and ybc”l Harav Herschal Shachter shlit”a explain there is another consideration that must be addressed before deeming certain types of fish as edible raw. While sushi is currently very popular, the raw fish is not eaten by itself, but rather with rice. They explain that in order to deem an item as edible raw, it would have to be something that people would eat by itself and not with rice or vegetables. [Although sashimi (raw fish) is eaten without any significant additional ingredients, sashimi is not as popular as sushi in the U.S. and one can question whether it is popular enough to assume that these species of fish are eaten raw (in the U.S.) based on sashimi alone.] Rav Shachter and Rav Belsky therefore conclude that we should not consider tuna a food that is edible raw since it is not commonly eaten on its own.
15) The bishul akum prohibition applies only to a food that is “oleh al shulchan melachim,” fit to be served to a king. The prohibition of bishulakum is based upon concern that eating the non-Jew’s food will lead to intimacy, this applies only to important foods that will attract the Jew to the home of the non-Jew. A non-Jew will never invite a Jew to his home to eat solely snack food, such as popcorn. Therefore, eating a non-Jew’s popcorn will never lead to intimacy and is not prohibited. (See Rambam Machalos Asuros 17:15)
16) The poskim discuss the proper definition of “fit to be served to a king” and they offer many practical applications: 1) The Chida (cited by Kaf Hachaim 113:2) writes that it refers to food that would be served to anyone of nobility, and not limited to a king. This is also the view of the Ben Ish Chai (2 Chukas 9) and Kaf Hachaim. 2) Harav Moshe Heinemann shlit”a, Star-K Rabbinic Administrator, feels that all food that would be served at a State Dinner, hosted by the President of The United States of America (refer to Kashrus Kurrents by the Star-K “Food Fit For A King”). The Star-K has consulted the White House executive chef regarding what is served at a state dinner in order to determine what is “oleh al shulchan melachim.” 3) Rav Menachem Genack shlit”a (Mesorah 1 page 86) notes that most poskim are of the opinion that the food item must be fit to be served at a royal banquet. However, the Chazon Ish, in an oral communication with Rav Shimon Schwab zt”l, ruled that even something that a king would eat in an informal setting it subject to bishul akum. However, it seems that this view is not accepted by most authorities. 4) Harav Yisroel Belsky zt”l is cited as saying that all food that is fit to be served at a wedding smorgasbord are subject to the rules of bishul akum(refer to Hallachically Speaking Volume 7 Issue 1).
17) A cursory analysis would seem to indicate that potato chips that were made only by a non-Jew are permissible and are not subject to the prohibition of bishul akum. While potatoes certainly are inedible in their raw state and are only rendered edible by the intervention of the non-Jew, they certainly are not the type of food that would be found on the table of kings. As is written in the OU Kosher Document A-45, and is signed by Harav Yisroel Belsky zt”l, ybc”l Harav Schachter shlit”a and Harav Menachem Genack shlit”a, “French fries and potato chips do not require bishul yisroel because they are not served at a kings’ table.”
18) However, there were poskim who wished to explain that potato chips prepared by a non-Jew may be subject to the laws of bishul akum. They explain that the issue revolves around the following question: When looking at a given food item to determine whether or not it should be subject to the criterion of olah al shulchan melachim, how do we categorize the food. Do we determine this based on the type of food in question (i.e. a potato), regardless of how it was prepared, in effect saying since this food would olah al shulchan melachim in some form, therefore all forms would be prohibited or do we analyze each food and how it was prepared. Potatoes, in certain forms, are suitable to be served to a king. Potato chips, however, are not. The question is do we say all forms of potatoes are olah al shulchan malachim, even potato chips, since they are forms of a potato. Or do we analyze potato chips on their own and in their state they are not olah al shulchan malachim.
Harav Yaakov Kamanetzky zt”l (Emes L’Yaakov page 307) is cited as ruling that potato chips are subject to the prohibition of bishul akum since potatoes are fit to be served to a king.
Harav Yisroel Belsky zt”l (Shulchan Halevi page 341) discusses this issue at length and he feels very strongly, however, that potato chips do not require bishul yisroel and that we do not treat all potato products the same, as is attributed to Harav Yaakov Kamanetzky zt”l. This is also the view of Harav Moshe Stern zt”l (Beer Moshe 4:49), ybc”l Harav Pesach Eliyahu Falk shlit”a (Am Hatorah 3:10) and Harav Asher Weiss shlit”a (Minchas Ahser Devarim).
Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein, in the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society (Fall 2001), cites the lenient view of Harav Belsky and he adds that, “In addition to the approach of the OU, this is the view adopted by several other kashrus organizations as well, who require bishul Yisroel for fried potato foods like potato latkes, yet do not require a Jew’s involvement in the cooking of the potato chips which they certify. This is the approach adopted by the Star-K [related to the author in a conversation with Rabbi Avraham Mushell (in the name of Rav Moshe Heinemann shlit”a)] and the Kof-K [related to the author in a conversation with Rav Pinchas Juravel].” He continues to cite that the kashrus organization Kahal Adas Yeshurun (KAJ) follows the stricter view of Harav Yaakov Kamanetzky zt”l and they require potato chips to be bishul Yisroel.