May a Foreign Caregiver Cook for a Jew?

May a Foreign Caregiver Cook for a Jew?

The prohibition of bishulei goyim also applies to foreign caregivers of the elderly and the sick * The gezera is intended to prevent widespread assimilation and not to solve specific concerns about avodah zarah, therefore it is relevant even when there is no reasonable chance of intermarriage * According to halakha, bishulei goyim is also forbidden in a Jewish home * When a Jew participates in the cooking, it is considered bishul Yisrael * For Ashkenazim, minimal participation is sufficient, and when necessary, Sephardim can also rely on this * In times of distress when following the lenient opinion, family members should attempt to cook substantial foods by themselves

The Question of Bishulei Goyim for the Ill

Q: “Rabbi, I would like to discuss a serious problem relevant to many families. Many elderly people require caregivers, most of whom are foreign workers. The halakha prohibiting eating bishulei goyim (foods cooked by non-Jews) is based on the important need to distance ourselves from non-Jews, so as not to assimilate. Today, however, in regards to elderly people, the prohibition of bishulei goyim and the fear of assimilation is totally irrelevant. There is absolutely no connection whatsoever between this prohibition and fulfilling the minimal needs of the elderly, including cooking and feeding. If so, I would like to know what is permitted and what is forbidden according to halakha? What can an elderly person who is unable to cook for himself do? I know of religious families in which this prohibition has not even occurred to them – in their homes, the caregiver prepares and cooks food and they don’t see this as a problem, even though halachically it is forbidden.”

Indeed, this is an important and practical question, and I will begin by clarifying the foundations of the halakha.

The Foundation of the Gezera on Bishulei Goyim

Our Sages instituted a gezera (decree) that Jews should not eat the bread, wine, and cooked foods of non-Jews, in order to set a barrier against assimilation. The gezera’s intention is not out of concern that after eating food cooked by a non-Jew, a Jew will immediately want to assimilate, but rather, to create a fence and a warning sign against cordial connections that might lead to assimilation. As our Sages said regarding the gezera of bread, oil, and wine: “They made a decree against their bread and oil on account of their wine; against their wine on account of their daughters; against their daughters on account of another matter” (Avodah Zarah 36b). The term “another matter” refers to idolatry. On the face of it, if the fear was that Jews might come to idolatry, our Sages should have initially made the decree on bread, oil, and wine on account of idolatry. Rather, they wanted to teach that the fear was assimilation, for if the concern was that Jews might only transgress the prohibition of marrying non-Jews or of idolatry, while still maintaining their Jewish identity, they would not have made a decree forbidding the cooked foods of non-Jews. But since the chances are that as a result of intermarriage a Jew would be allured into idolatry and assimilate, it was necessary for our Sages to set a system of restrictions. Consequently, it is not forbidden for a Jew to eat the cooked food of another Jew for whom he is forbidden to marry, such as a mamzer (a child of an incestuous or adulterous union) or a married woman, since in such cases there is no fear of assimilation.

The Question: When there is No Concern of Intermarriage

Even though the decree is intended to prevent intermarriage, it also applies to non-Jews with whom there is no concern of intermarriage, such as the elderly, eunuchs, or priests who vowed not to marry, because the Sages did not differentiate their gezerot (Respona Rashba 1: 448; Rema, Y.D. 112:1). The general aim of the gezera, therefore, is to educate Jews to guard their uniqueness and avoid things that may express a personal, cordial connection that may lead to assimilation, since even contact with a person one cannot marry, may lead to a wedding with one of his relatives or friends.

Employees Working at Jewish Homes

Some of the Rishonim were of the opinion that if a Jew had an eved (slave) or a shifcha (maidservant) since they are compelled to cook, there is no problem of kiruv daat (cordial connections) in eating food they cooked. Some poskim agreed to be lenient in accordance with their opinion, be’di’avad [ex post facto] (Ra’ah and Rema 113:4). The majority of Rishonim did not permit this even be’di’avad (Rashba, Ravan, and Ritva, and this is how Shulchan Arukh was inclined 113:4). All of this concerns slaves and maidservants, but regarding salaried employees, whose status is exceedingly more respectable, there is no room for leniency. The fact is that recently, there have been cases in which the sons and daughters of home-owners married the workers who took care of their parents.

Another lenient opinion was written by the Ba’alei Tosephot (Avodah Zarah 38a, sv. ‘eleh‘) in the name of R. Avraham, that the prohibition is on food that the non-Jew cooks in his home, but if he cooks it in a Jew’s home – it is not prohibited. However, Rabbeinu Tam and the rest of the Rishonim did not agree with his opinion, and this is how Shulchan Arukh ruled (Y. D., 113: 1).

Thus in practice, the prohibition on food cooked by non-Jews also applies to food that a non-Jewish employee cooked in Jew’s home.

The Solution of Participation in Cooking

When a Jew is involved in the cooking even in the most minimal way, such as enhancing the food by stirring its contents while cooking, the food is kosher. All the more so if he placed the food on the fire, lit the flame, or increased it in a way that is beneficial for cooking, the food is kosher (S.A. 113:6-7).

However, the poskim disagree whether food can be made permissible by means of a Jew lighting the fire before the non-Jew places the food on the fire, similar to their leniency concerning pat (bread). Some poskim are lenient in this, and this is the minhag (custom) of Ashkenazim. Others are machmir (stringent), believing that only in the case of pat were they lenient since bread is particularly essential for man, but food can be made permissible only by way of a Jew taking part in the cooking process itself – by putting the dish on the fire, lighting the fire under the food, or by performing some type of actual help with its cooking. This is the minhag of Sephardic Jews (S. A. 113:7).

When necessary, as in the case of elderly people with long-term care, Sephardim can also act leniently. Therefore, if the elderly or nursing patient is able to light the fire himself, this would be best, for by doing so, he participates in the cooking.

An Ill Person who Needs Cooked Food on Shabbat

Incidentally, I will mention an additional halakha: An ill person in need of cooked food on Shabbat, even though his illness is not considered dangerous, is permitted to ask a non-Jew to cook food for him. This is because the prohibition of asking a non-Jew to do melacha (work) on Shabbat is of rabbinical status, and for the sick, our Sages permitted their prohibitions; thus, it is permissible for the ill person to eat the food the non-Jew cooked, for included in the heter (permission) to ask a non-Jew to cook for an ill person on Shabbat, they also permitted him to eat the food cooked by a non-Jew (Ran and Levosh).

If some of the food was leftover till Motzei Shabbat, some poskim say that it is also permissible for a healthy person to eat it, since it was cooked permissibly for the patient (Re’ah and Rema 113:16). Other poskim forbid the food to be eaten on Motzei Shabbat even by the ill person himself since then, a Jew can cook for him (Rashba and Ran). In practice, the majority of Achronim ruled according to the stringent opinion, that it is forbidden for any Jew on Motzei Shabbat to eat food cooked by a non-Jew on Shabbat (Taz 15; Pri Chadash, S. A.H., Perush Rabbeinu Tam, Chochmat Adam, Ben Ish Chai, Shana Shlishit, Chukkat 25).

Utensils used by a Non-Jew to Cook In

When there is no choice but to ask the non-Jew caregiver to cook for an elderly person, it is important to know that if they want to use the utensils that the non-Jew cooked in, they will have to kasher them by means of hagalah (immersion in boiling water), since tavshilei goyim (food cooked by a non-Jew) are forbidden, the utensils they cooked in are also forbidden. There are, however, some poskim who are lenient in this matter, but the halakha goes according to the stringent opinion, and only be’di’avad, if they transgressed and cooked in a utensil without kashering it, the food is permitted, since the taste of bishulei goyim is batel b’rov (nullified by majority). But the utensil is still forbidden to be used as long as it has not been kashered (see, S.A., Y.D., 113:16).

Foods Included in the Prohibition

However, it is essential to know that the prohibition of tavshilei goyim applies only to foods that have some importance, i.e., dishes that one would invite friends to eat, and as a result, may lead to some type of cordial connection. But for simple foods in which cooking is not so significant, there is no prohibition, and they are permitted to be eaten.

There are two rules our Sages categorized in defining “important foods” (Avodah Zarah 38a). First, that they are not eaten in their natural state, uncooked, rather, cooking is what enables them to be eaten. For example, milk and milk products are eaten uncooked, and therefore even if the milk is boiled, it does not fall under the prohibition of bishulei goyim. On the other hand, meat, fish, and flour are usually not eaten raw, and therefore, the prohibition of bishulei goyim applies to them. Accordingly, a non-Jewish caregiver can prepare for his nursing patient a vegetable soup, made from vegetables that are also eaten raw, such as carrots, tomatoes, cabbage, and onions.

The second rule is that the prohibition applies to foods that are served on the table of kings, ministers, and dignitaries, to accompany bread. In other words, foods eaten at a distinguished meal. But if they are not important foods, which only ordinary people are accustomed to eating, there is no prohibition.

From this rule, some poskim concluded that only the most important foods which comprise the main meal, those which a person can invite his friend to eat, are included in the prohibition. According to this, there is no prohibition on the simple cooking of an egg, omelet or porridge, and the like. However, this opinion was rejected. There are others who say that this refers to foods eaten with bread (Maharitz, Knesset HaGedolah). However, even this opinion was not accepted by the majority of poskim, but in their opinion, every dish eaten for the purpose of satiation is included in the prohibition (Rashba, Meiri, Pri Chadash, and others). Therefore, even an egg or porridge for breakfast whose purpose is to satiate, are included in the prohibition.

However, in the case of someone requiring nursing, who, in times of distress, must rely on the exceptional opinion of those poskim who ruled leniently regarding the cooking of a non-Jew done in the home of a Jew –  if possible, they should preferably be lenient only when it comes to simple foods, such as eggs and porridge, while the important foods, such as meat and fish, should be prepared by family members.

Practical Halakha

Cooked foods that can be eaten uncooked, do not fall under the prohibition of bishulei goyim, and therefore, a non-Jewish caregiver is permitted to make vegetable soup and cook fruits that are usually eaten uncooked and to bake an apple with sugar, and so forth.

For an elderly or ill person who requires a non-Jewish caregiver and is unable to light the fire himself, it is a mitzvah for his children and family to try as hard as they can to prepare food for him, or buy pre-cooked food so that the caregiver will only have to heat them.

In times of distress, when an elderly or sick person has no relatives or friends who can bring him food cooked by Jews, one can rely on the exceptional opinions of poskim who permit eating tavshilei goyim if they are cooked in a Jew’s home. If possible, it is preferable for members of his family to light a candle from which the non-Jew lights the gas fire to be cooked upon, for there are Ashkenazic poskim who are of the opinion that this too is considered participation in lighting the fire. However, his family members are forbidden to eat this food, since only in times of distress can an ill person rely on the exceptional opinion of certain poskim.

If possible, it is preferable for members of the elderly person’s family to cook the important foods, and be lenient only for simple foods such as eggs and porridge, which some poskim believe are not considered foods that are served at a dignified meal.

It should be noted that this halakha encourages active participation in the mitzvah of kibud horim (honoring one’s parents), and not just to be satisfied with finding and paying for a foreign caregiver.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew. For a more in-depth look at the relationship between Jews and non-Jews, please read Rabbi Melamed’s article:

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