What is Jewish law regarding eating cheese and bread and other foods that were made by non-Jews but don't seem to have any non-kosher ingredients on the ingredient list? What if they have no hechsher?
1.There are actually four questions being posed here:
a.What are the kosher supervisions required for bread?
b.What are the kosher supervisions required for cheese?
c.When are kosher supervisions not needed?
d.How much kosher supervision is politics and how much is religion?
2.What are the kosher supervisions required for bread?
a.This rarely studied Tractate examines the permissibility of permitting food to poor people who need to eat that satisfies all of Biblical Koser standards but may be suspect with regard to some rabbinic standards.
b.mDemai 5:4 permits taking and eating bread from the non-Jewish baker, palatir in Greek and paltar in conventional pronunciation. See also bAvoda Zara 35b, where the anonymous Talmud [the setam] reflects both leniency and discomfort with the leniency, which is why many Jews eat only Jewish bread.
c.Maimonides, Tithes, 14:6 codifies the Mishnah’s rule because the professional non-Jewish baker has a professional reputation to maintain and will be truthful regarding his/her baking handiwork.
d.This leniency is restricted to baking; non-Jewish cooking [bishul akkum] and unattended meat [basar she-nit’allem min ha-’ayin] do not carry this specifically legislated leniency.
e.With clarity and brevity, Shulhan Aruch 112:1-2. both codifies and clarifies the statute, maintaining:
i. The sages forbade the eating of non-Jewsih bread to avoid intermarriage, as breaking bread can lead to breaking the Torah covenant.
ii. R. Isserles appropriately adds that the law applies as an act of legislation even if the reasons for that legislation no longer apply.
iii. The restriction applies to the five grains of which bread [and matsa] are made, i.e., wheat, rye, barley, oats, and spelt.
iv. The restriction of non-Jewish cooking [not baking] only applies if the food is served at state dinners, i.e., “the kings’ table.” Rabbi Moshe Tendler teaches that this phrase not be taken literally and refers to any fancy feast.
v. According to the Sefardic reading, which takes the setam of bAvoda Zara 35b at face value, the dispensation to allow non-Jewish bread only applies, in emergency situations, as per Tractate Demai and Maimonides, Dissenters [Mamrim] 2:4.
vi. According to Ashkenazi practice, one mat rely on kosher non-Jewish bread bakers even when Jewish baked bread is available.
vii. Practically, we buy Italian bread after Passover because this bread never has non-kosher ingredients.
viii. When serving on a Kashrut committee in New Jersey, I supported the Chabad request to make Jewish bread available but opposed their request to make Jewish bread the required Jewish Orthodox standard because while accommodation is proper, the claim that Jewish bread is a higher religious standard is neither manifest [albeit plausible] in the Talmud nor codified by the Askenazi Rabbi Isserles.
3.What are the kosher supervisions required for cheese?
a.bHullin 116b teaches that according to thoe Babylonian Amora Samuel, that the enzyme producing stomach of the kosher animal that was slaughtered by a non-Jew is nevelah, i.e., not kosher, and he also maintains [a] there is a rabbinic decree [b] outlawing non—Jewish cheese [c] the cheese coagulates in the skin of the stomach, a necessary and therefore not nullifiable component of the cheese.
b.By law, the cheese of non-Jews is not kosher by rabbinic decree; therefore according to normative law even if the cheese coagulates because of a vegetable gum base, the decree is in force.
c.Maimonides maintains [Laws of Forbidden Foods 3:16]:
i. While non-Jewish milk may not be consumed by a Jew because the kosher animal milkmay have been mixed with non-kosher milk, since milk of non-kosher species does not coagulate, the sages did not make in that instance a restrictive decree.
ii. Even though the coagulating enzyme’s presence is negligible, since its presence indeed makes the cheese hartd, or stand, it cannot be considered inconsequential.
iii. Some rabbis disallowed non-Jewish cheese because the decree is legally and syntactically generic, and this seems to be Maimonides’ view which seems to me to be the most logical reading.
iv. Violating this rabbinic view incurs the “lashes of rebellion,” imposed for the violation of rabbinic decreees.
v. Some restrict and some allow non-Jewish butter. But for Maimondes, non-Jewish milk is absolutely forbidden.
d.Rabbi Moses Feinstein: Iggarot Moshe YD 4:5
i. We may rely on government inspection to ascertain that we are buying cow milk, obviating Maimonides’ concern.
ii. Some people will remain strict
e.Rabbi Ovadia Yosef writes that feeding children rabbinically restricted non-kosher cheese because difficult economic conditions may be justified because R. Jacob Tam [Avoda Zara loc cit] argues that thre is nothing materially unkosher and if the reason for the decree does not apply, the decree to his view would not.
f.While finding Maimonides’s view more convincing, in dire circumstances rabbinic law may be waived and R. Tam’s position maoy be adopted.
4.When are kosher supervisions not needed?
Since nullification of negligible particles of forbidden food may be done only after the fact, all processed foods should carry a recognized Kosher endorsement. Unsupervised foods may indeed be kosher but, given food chemistry what it is, we need the watchful eyes of paid professionals whose salaries are not paid fior the supervision, so the endorsement cannot be “bought” for a fee. Be wart of one man for fee supervisions, because no one watches the watcher. I am not saying they cannot be reliable; I am saying that kosher food industry require book learning, apprenticeship, and accountability. When confronted with special situations like hunger, expert rabbis can often find humane solutions.
5. How much kosher supervision is politics and how much is religion?
Because there are disreputable for profit private certifications—and I have encountered more than a few, a few—the responsible supervisions often apply safety kosher standards in order to avoid impugning their reputations. For example,
1.although Ashkenazi practice does not require glatt one hardly cannot find non-glatt supervisions today that are really reliable.
2.dairy equipment production is treated as full fledged dairy food. Now by law, and observant Jewish tastrr could examine the food but this leniency is not used.
3.YD 95:3 would permit one dishwasher for meat and milk if there is a substance like dirt or soap that would degrade the edibility of the refuse, but latter day rabbis want to be more strict.
Kosher is serious business and is not a folkway, custom or ceremony, it is the life and length of days of the Jew who hears God’s connecting, commanding and cajoling voice in the Torah. For a logical, letter of the law guide to an apolitical approach to the Kosher laws, see Rabbi Isaac Abadi at www.kashrut.org.
The believing Jew first gets Kashrut right. And with learning and time, kashrut gets easy..
The controversy over the kashrut of cheeses dates back to the time of the Talmud.
Cheese is made from curdled milk. Since the curdling agent was rennet which is extracted from the walls of a calf's stomach, cheese was forbidden as a mixture of dairy and meat.
According to some authorities, however, the use of rennet does not affect the kashrut of cheese because rennet no longer has the status of food and is comparable to a mere secretion.
Some halakhic authorities demand hechsher for certain cheeses, implying that those without a hechsher are not kosher, other authorities maintain that all cheeses are permissible and no hechsher is necessary
The Committee on Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly has decided to follow the lenient opinion
For more information refer to A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice by Isaac Klein pages 306 - 307.
This seems to me tol be one of the areas where there is some significant difference in the approach of the various streams of Judaism, and even within the Reform stream there is a wide variation. For probably the majority of Reform Jews, the issue of Kashrut (keeping kosher – following the dietary rules regarding what is permissible to eat, and how that food may be prepared) is not a central feature of Judaism.
Those who are aligned with what is sometimes called “Classical Reform” Judaism (the most liberal, least restrictive, and least engaged with strict observance of the literal ‘commandments’ of the Torah/Pentateuch), sometimes called ‘Ethical Judaism’ or ‘Prophetic Judaism,’ do not believe that the rules set forth in the Torah or tradition are binding. These are the Reform Jews who may be found consuming the ‘forbidden’ items and combinations, including shellfish and pork products, cheeseburgers and pepperoni pizzas. In fact, though, this is not universal: some of the individuals who identify in this fashion will be comfortable mixing meat and milk, but not eating shellfish or pork, while others will observe no dietary restrictions, and a few may observe all of these restrictions though often more out of habit than religious conviction.
In the group identified as “Modern Reform” Judaism (which is admittedly a judgmental appellation identifying those who are generally more adherent to custom and traditional practices), there is a often a stronger sense of connection to the practice of Kashrut, so that there are some individuals in this grouping who observe no dietary limitations (particularly if their families before them fell into the Classical Reform grouping), but more often you will find those who avoid pork and/or shellfish, and those who also do not mix dairy and meat in this grouping, and there are also a few who maintain the full regimen of observance of the rules of Kashrut (no mixing of meat and dairy in eating or preparing meals, no forbidden items such as pork or shellfish, no mixing of utensils and serving implements, separation in time between consuming dairy and meat). This last group within the Modern Reform label, those who are observant of the Kashrut practices, is closest to the Conservative and Orthodox practices in this regard.
Among this observant group (as is also true with the Orthodox and Conservative streams of Judaism), some will also be concerned with the issue of verifying the source of items they eat, and will seek markings (called Hechshers) on prepared products that let them know that the product is certified and approved by a given authority. There are many different authorities, each with their own standards; consequently, selecting which hechshers will be accepted by a given community or group is almost an art, and often has an aspect of politics within it. In practice, this is what differentiates between communities and groups most often in the Jewish world.
Some will accept that any unprocessed foodstuff is acceptable (fruits, vegetables, grain, milk, etc.) without a hechsher; others require a hechsher for anything that is in even the slightest way modified (fruit that is picked, or milk that is pasteurized, for example).
With all this as background, we come to the issue of the standards followed by the certifying organizations (or individuals). Some of these groups have concluded that any processing that is done by non-Jews (including cooking, or even picking fruit, for example), makes it impossible for them to certify the food as fully complying with Kashrut, because the person who prepared it may have been someone who engages in something forbidden, such as a form of pagan worship, for example (though it is understood that this is not all that likely today – still, the outside possibility exists, so it has to be considered, is the thinking).
Your question is about items that fall under this last paragraph. Bread and cheese are both manufactured items (they don’t simply grow and get harvested and served). The issue is that even if all the ingredients are perfectly kosher (fit for ritual use), the process of making these items needs to be supervised and overseen so that nothing could possibly be done that would invalidate them as being fully in compliance with the rules of Kashrut so that they can be certified as fit to use.
Added to that, you would have to consider the ingredients themselves: unless each of the ingredients used had its’ own hechsher, or the certifying authority was able to assure the source from its’ origin to the point of use, many of the certifying authorities would not place their mark on the end product.
So the considerations for a person that is observant of Kashrut that could arise without hechshers are:
1) Are the products used in the entire flow from raw materials (milk gathered from kosher animals in clean containers that have never had any non-kosher contents in them, rennet from a non-animal source that will be used to make the cheese, any flavorings of the cheese themselves kosher; or grain raised, harvested and ground without any contact with non-kosher materials, with no non-kosher flavorings added and transported in containers that are compliant with Kashrut) to finished product themselves kosher? In short, were all the ingredients supervised to assure their kosher status?
2) Has anything been added, or has anything been done that would render otherwise kosher ingredients non-Kosher (adding a meat-based flavoring to the milk being made into cheese, or using shortening from an animal source to grease the pan for baking bread, for example)? Is there any possibility of adulteration or unintended material being added at any point throughout the process?
3) Has any step in the manufacturing process been done by someone who does not observe the rules of Kashrut (for example, a non-Jew), and therefore someone who possibly would not be concerned about observing them strictly? Similarly, has the product been out of supervision by someone who is observant for any significant amount of time, where other materials could be introduced intentionally or by accident?
The answer to your question in the Reform context would depend on with whom you were speaking.
Someone who is identified as a Classical Reform Jew would most likely have no difficulty in the instance you cite.
For those who are identified as Modern Reform Jews, it would depend on which of the groupings within that rubric they fell under.
For those who do not strictly observe Kashrut rules, in all likelihood, what you describe is more or less what they are doing daily. Most of them do not seek out milk that is identified as Cholov Yisrael (milk that has only been in the control of Jews), for example, and many of them would eat a dairy meal anywhere without concern, a large number would accept all-beef products as acceptable, whatever the source and whatever the slaughering process.
For those who are observant of the rules of Kashrut, the level of strictness they follow will determine their response. Only in the instance of the most strictly observant will this pose an issue. It is far more likely that it would be a concern for those in the Conservative and Orthodox streams, though there are some Reform Jews who will adhere to this level of observance. In many cases, those people will tend to eat a dairy or vegetarian (or even vegan) diet to comply and eliminate most of the concerns with Kashrut.
My suspicion is that you will get a somewhat different answer from my colleagues in different streams.
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