Food Produced by Non-Jews: Pat Akum

  • Rav David Brofsky




Last week, we discussed the halakha of chalav akum. We noted that the Mishna (Avoda Zara 35b) lists bread baked by a non-Jew among the foods produced by non-Jews that are prohibited.


We suggested that as we approach each of the three major prohibitions of the Mishna - i.e., chalav akum, pat akum and bishul akum - we should ask why these foods were prohibited, as well as investigate the nature of the issur and its details.


We demonstrated that the rabbis prohibited chalav akum because they feared the non-Jew might adulterate the kosher milk with non-kosher milk. Subsequently, chalav akum is viewed, mi-derabanan, as an inherently prohibited substance that has the ability to cause the prohibition of keilim with which it came into contact.


What is the reason for the prohibition of pat akum? What type of issur did the rabbis create? When is this prohibition applicable?


Reason for Pat Akum:


The Gemara (35b) explicitly links the prohibition of pat akum to "chatnut." Seemingly, "chatnut" should be translated as "intermarriage," implying that the rabbis feared that if Jews would partake of non-Jews' bread – bread being a staple of every meal - this might lead to excessive socializing and ultimately to intermarriage.


Interestingly, the Rambam in his commentary on the Mishna, writes:

All of these things were prohibited in order that we should distance ourselves from them and not become mixed among them so that we should not be led, out of our extensive socializing with them, to stretch forth our hand for that which is prohibited... and that is what the rabbis are referring to when they mention "chatnut."


In other words, the Rambam is suggesting that the notion of "chatnut" may include other negative repercussions of socializing with non-Jews, in addition to intermarriage.


(Needless to say, if the major concern of pat akum is the socializing that its consumption might cause, the kashrut of the bread itself seems to be unchallenged. We may assume that bakers in those times only used kosher ingredients, and their baking utensils were considered kosher, or at least "be-chezkat eino ben yomo." See Shakh 112:3.)


Tosafot (s.v. Mi-khlal) writes that one who stringently adheres to the laws of pat akum may share a plate with one who doesn't – even though the taste of the other's pat akum may become mixed with his food – as the taste of pat akum doesn't cause another substance to be prohibited.


The Shulchan Arukh (112:15) codifies this position and adds that one may consume a drink ("kutach") that contains pieces of pat akum. The Rema explains that pat akum is "batel be-rov" (nullified by a majority of heter) regardless of whether the mixture is wet (lach be-lach) or dry (yavesh be-yavesh). 


Seemingly, since the kashrut of pat akum isn't the issue but rather the impact of its consumption, Chazal didn't rule the bread not kosher.


Pat Akum in Different Contexts:


Since the reason for pat akum is chatnut, one might suggest that in contexts in which a threat of chatnut is minimal, this restriction should be relaxed.


The Gemara (Avoda Zara 35b) mentions a number of scenarios in which one might think the prohibition of pat akum is not relevant. For example, the Gemara suggests that Rebbe may have been lenient "in the fields" (i.e., outside the city), or when the bread was baked by a "palter" (a baker).


Clearly, the Gemara suggests leniency in these scenarios because they are less conducive to "chatnut." In addition, some Rishonim explain that since bread is a staple of every meal, there is good reason to be lenient.


The Rishonim differ regarding the final halakha.


Some believe that the Gemara's suggestions were no more than mistaken interpretations of Rebbe's words, and in truth there are no exceptions to the law of pat akum.


Others accept parts of the sugya, claiming that there are scenarios in which the prohibition of pat akum doesn't apply. For example, the Rambam writes that one may eat "pat palter," bread baked by a non-Jewish baker, if there is no "pat yisrael" available.


Interestingly, the Ran writes that "ein palter yisrael" refers not only to the physical absence of a Jewish palter, but also to a qualitative or subjective absence of a certain type of bread. He posits that if the bread from the non-Jewish baker is better, or of a type which the Jewish baker doesn't bake, than one may eat the pat akum.


The third approach, endorsed by the Tosafot, claims that pat akum is an example of a gezeira which "ein rov yisrael yecholin la'amod bah," i.e., which most Jews are unable to observe, and was therefore nullified. They cite a Yerushalmi, which records that the rabbis "stood up and permitted it," as supporting their assertion that the gezeira of pat akum, or at least of non-pat palter, was never accepted, and may even have been formally rescinded.


Rav Yosef Karo (Shulchan Arukh YD 112:1) records the prohibition of pat akum without any exceptions.  In 112:2, he notes that there are some places in which the custom is to be lenient and purchase bread from non-Jewish bakers, as it is considered a "sha'at hedchak," i.e., extenuating circumstances.


He also cites the leniency reported by the Ran and others, which permits a non-Jew's bread if is better or different.


The Rema adds, "Some say that even if pat yisrael is available [one may be lenient]." He seems to adopt the position of the Mordekhai and Tosafot, reflecting the Ashkenazic tradition that did not insist upon pat yisrael from a baker.


The Acharonim debate whether optimally one should strive to eat pat yisrael when it is readily available. See Shakh (112:9), Arukh Ha-shulchan (112:9) and Biur HaGra.


It is worth noting that the Shulchan Arukh (OC 603) writes that even one who is not stringent regarding pat akum during the year should eat only pat yisrael during the Aseret Yemei Teshuva (the ten days between Rosh Ha-shana and Yom Kippur).


(It is worth investigating whether the assumption of the Shulchan Arukh is that one should ideally be more stringent during the year, in which case one might ask why this recommended behavior isn't considered an act of hypocrisy, or whether during the year one is actually permitted to eat pat akum, in which case - what is the message behind this additional stringency during the Aseret Yemei Yeshuva?)


One last point: The Ra'ah (Bedek Ha-Bayit Bayit 3 pg. 94b) suggests that one should certainly be allowed to eat the bread of the "beit ha-ofim," i.e., commercial bread. Since the baker and the customer don't know each other, and the baker isn't baking specifically for this person, there is no "kiruv da'at," and the bread should be permitted. While the Shulchan Arukh does NOT cite this opinion, it certainly highlights the role of "context" in pat akum, and may provide an even stronger basis for permitting commercial breads baked by non-Jews. 


Definition of Pat Yisrael:


Can bread that is produced by a non-Jew ever be considered pat yisrael? This question is of great importance regarding pat ba'al ha-bayit (bread not baked by a baker), or regarding pat palter for those who do not follow the leniency of the Tosafot and Rema.


The Gemara (Avoda Zara 38b) states,


The halakha is that whether a non-Jew lights the oven and a Jew bakes the bread, or a Jew lights the oven and a non-Jew bakes the bread, or a non-Jew lights the oven and bakes the bread and a Jew stokes the coals (chata bah chituye), the bread is permitted.


Similarly, the Rishonim write that there are "three melakhot in baking bread," lighting the oven, placing the bread in the oven, and stoking the coals. If a Jew participates in any of these actions, the bread is permitted.


While lighting the oven and baking the bread appear to be significant actions, why does stoking the coals permit the bread? This question convinced the Ramban, cited by the Ritva, that the act of "chituy" must significantly impact upon the baking of the bread.


He seems to believe that in order for the bread to be permitted, a Jew must do an action that is the equivalent of baking the bread. In other words, only pat yisrael, bread baked by a Jew, is permitted.


Most Rishonim, however, disagree. The Rambam (Hilkhot Ma'akhalot Asurot 17:13) writes, "Even if he only throws a small twig into the fire the bread is permitted, as the reason for this is so that there should be a sign ("heker") that their bread is prohibited."


The Shulchan Arukh (112:9) adopts the Rambam's position, allowing one to throw even a twig ("hashlakhat kisam") into the fire. The Rema even permits the bread if a Jew simply blew on the fire!


Again, this leniency is only necessary for pat ba'al ha-bayit, or for those who are stringent regarding pat palter.


Next week we will discuss the third prohibition mentioned in the Mishna, "bishul akum," and compare and contrast it to what we have learned concerning chalav akum and pat akum.