When Domestic Help Creates a Bigger Mess
Kashrus Concerns With Domestic Help
Rav Moshe Heinemann, Rabbinic Administrator of the Star-K and Rov of Agudas Yisroel of Baltimore joins Rabbi Yitzchok Hisiger for a comprehensive discussion of potential kashrus issues that can arise when non-Jewish domestic help is employed in the home.
Rabbi Yitzchok Hisiger: Thank you to the Rov for taking some of his valuable time to be with us today.
Rav Moshe Heinemann: It is my pleasure.
Rabbi Hisiger: We would like to discuss a very important issue in kashrus. That issue is domestic help in the home. People have cleaning help or health aides, who very often live in the home and help prepare food. This results in various kashrus shailos that we would like to discuss with the Rov.
Let’s start with uncooked meat or fish in the kitchen when the domestic help is around. What concerns could be raised?
Rav Moshe Heinemann: There are a few issues. One issue is bishul akum if the non-Jew cooked the food. A second issue is the concern that they might switch the original food with their own non-kosher food. A third issue would be if they bring their own non-kosher food into the kitchen, which could lead to questions about the keilim that they might have used.
The first issue is bishul akum. In the good old days, when gas stoves had pilot lights, if a Jew lit the pilot light there are opinions that hold that there no problem of bishul akum. Not everyone agrees with this, but there is an opinion that holds that once a Jew lights the pilot light there is no more problem because every fire is lit from that flame, so it is like the Jew lit all of the fires.
Today, you cannot buy a stove with a pilot light in America because it is considered unsafe. The only way to get one is to import it from Bolivia.
Whether or not food that a non-Jew cooks on a flame that they lit is bishul akum, depends if the food is “oleh al shulchan malachim”, meaning that it is prestigious enough to be served by a king at a state dinner. It doesn’t matter if a king would eat it for breakfast. What matters is if he would put it on the table at an official state dinner. The general rule of thumb is that if it would not be served at a wedding, it definitely would not be oleh al shulchan malachim.
Secondly, if the food is something that can be eaten raw, there is no problem of bishul akum. For example, corn on the cob can be eaten raw, even though most people prefer to cook it. Therefore, there is no problem of bishul akum if a non-Jew cooked it.
The reason the chachamim prohibited bishul akum is because they were afraid that if Jews ate what a non-Jew cooked, it would create a certain connection. Most business deals are cemented over lunch because eating together puts people in a good mood and makes them like each other, which helps deals go through. This decree of the chachamim was not applied to foods that are not fit for a king’s table because they are not considered choshuv enough to create such a connection. The Shulchan Aruch says that lentils are not considered choshuv enough to go on a king’s table. What is considered worthy to eat raw and what is considered choshuv all depends on the place.
Rabbi Hisiger: If domestic help takes my meat, puts it in my pot and cooks it, what would be the status of the meat and the pot?
Rav Heinemann: Meat is oleh al shulchan malachim and it is not eaten raw in general. There may be crazy people who eat raw meat but normal people don’t, so it is bishul akum.
Not only is the meat treif, the pot is also treif. If it was served hot, the dishes and cutlery are also treif. Some things can kashered and some things cannot. If the plate is china, it cannot be koshered under normal conditions because kli cheres, ceramics, cannot be koshered.
Rabi Hisiger: What if they cooked it in a microwave?
Rav Heinemann: If it was cooked before and they are just warming it up then there would definitely be no problem.
Even if it was never cooked before, my opinion is that there is no problem of bishul akum in a microwave. Not everyone agrees with this, but that is my opinion. The reason I say that is because when the chochomim prohibited bishul akum, they only forbade foods that were cooked with a fire. There is a general rule that soaking something in liquid for 24 hours is considered like cooking. However, that rule was not extended to bishul akum because bishul akum was only prohibited if the food was cooked in fire. There is no fire in a microwave. Therefore, there is no gezeirah of bishul akum.
Therefore, if someone has help and can’t cook for himself, they can ask the non-Jew to cook the food in the microwave. It won’t be bishul akum and will be kosher.
The second issue is that Chazal were concerned that there might be reason to suspect that a non-Jew might switch your kosher meat for their non-kosher meat because they think that your meat is better than theirs. If there is a reason to be nervous about that, it is a big problem.
If you provide food for the help, they would have no reason to switch your food for outside food because you are giving them the same food that you are eating. If you don’t feed them, you will have to be concerned about this problem.
If you warn them before they cook the food that they better make sure to cook the food you give them and you are “yotzi v’nichnas”, meaning you come in and out and the non-Jew doesn’t know when you will enter the room and, therefore, will always be afraid to exchange your meat for theirs because you might show up right when they are doing it and catch them, you don’t have to be worried about this concern.
Furthermore, if you make an identifying mark on your meat – for example, you cut it in a very specific way so that you can tell if it is your meat or not – that would be another way to alleviate the concern and get around this problem.