“I am as vinegar to wine compared with my father” said Mar Ukva, “for whereas my father used to wait 24 hours between meat and milk, I only wait a few hours.” And my father, Dayan Grunfeld, would not even drink coffee out of the house.
Our sages knew very well that nothing helps so much to drop the barrier between people and to create intimacy that might finally lead to intermarriage as wining and dining together. Accordingly, our rabbis not only prohibited a Jew to drink the wine of a non-Jew but also to eat kosher food cooked, roasted, fried, or baked by a non-Jew. This prohibition, known as bishul akum, only applies however, if two conditions are fulfilled.
First, the kosher food in question must be of such a type that is eino ne’echal chai, not ordinarily eaten in its raw, uncooked state, and it is must be of such a type that is oleh ul shulchan melachim, worthy of being served at a king’s table. If however, the food in question is ordinarily eaten raw or it is food that is unworthy to be served at a king’s table, the food may be eaten by a Jew even if a non-Jew cooked it.
Accordingly, one may eat apples or other fruit cooked by a non-Jew because they could have been eaten in their raw state. Similarly, one may eat peas or plain potatoes cooked by a non-Jew because neither are food worthy of being served at a king’s table.
The prohibition of bishul akum does not cover foods which have been prepared for eating by a process of salting or pickling rather than cooking and neither does it apply to smoked foods. Therefore, as long as kosher ingredients are used, the prohibition of bishul akum does not apply to herring salted or pickled by a non-Jew or salmon smoked by a non-Jew.
Neither does the prohibition of bishul akum apply to food cooked by a non-Jew if the Jew has some involvement, even if only minimal, in the cooking process. Thus if a Jew just stirred the pot of kosher food cooked by the non-Jew or just lit the fire on which the non-Jew did all the cooking, the laws of bishul akum do not apply. However, if the Jew who began the cooking removed the food from the fire before it was two thirds cooked and the non-Jew returned it to the fire and completed the cooking, the food would be considered entirely cooked by the non-Jew for bishul akum purposes and would therefore be prohibited.
Non-Jewish domestic helps may cook for their Jewish employers because it is assumed that the latter would have some hand in the cooking even if this involvement is limited to lighting the stove. Similarly, one may eat kosher food cooked by a non-Jewish chef served in a supervised restaurant or hotel if an observant Jew lit the fire.
According to the Ritva, the prohibition of bishul akum has no application to food eaten principally for medical purposes.
In view of the fact that the prohibition against bishul akum is of rabbinical application, there is more leniency in its application. Thus, in case of doubt, the lenient approach would be adopted. Accordingly, if the Jew placed the food on the fire and left it in the hands of the non-Jew to complete the cooking and there is a doubt whether the non-Jew removed it from the fire and replaced it back on the fire during the cooking process, such a doubt would not disqualify the food for bishul akum purposes.
According to the Minchat Yitzchak, the laws of bishul akum do not apply to food items steam-cooked in non-Jewish factories, provided that water does not accumulate around the food, since steam cooking is similar to the process of smoking, which, as we have seen, is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum.
And why did my father not drink coffee out?
Because coffee beans are not ordinarily eaten raw and coffee is a beverage fit to be served on a king’s table.
Other halachic authorities, including the Pri Chadash and in our time Rav Ovadiah Yosef permit coffee prepared by a non-Jew for the following reasons. The coffee is batel beshishim, because the ratio of the water in which the coffee is cooked to the coffee itself is at least 60:1, and therefore the existence of the coffee in the mixture can be ignored. This approach is also supported by the fact that the berachah, the blessing, made over coffee is the general blessing Shehakol Niheyeh Bidvaro which is for water alone and not boreh peri ha’etz which would be the appropriate blessing for coffee beans.
As for the utensils in which coffee is cooked, they are usually used exclusively for coffee so as not to contaminate the taste. Accordingly, there is no concern that the coffee might have been cooked in utensils used for cooking non-kosher food.