QUESTION: I understand there is a Halacha of Pas Yisrael (Jewish bread). Is the issue of Pas Yisrael only relevant in Elul or between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur? I believe I heard a Rabbi say that during the 10 Days of Penitence we must be strict but there is no need during the year if bread has a good Kashrut supervision. Is bread from non-Jews permitted if there is a Hechsher?
RESPONSE: Chazal forbade pastries baked privately by a non-Jew even if all the ingredients and utensils are known to be Kosher because they saw risk of assimilation and intermarriage could result from partaking in meals together. However, it is questionable if there exists any problem with items baked by an irreligious Jew, since there is no prohibition against marrying his daughter. While there are some Seforim which rule strictly, Reb Moshe Feinstein zatzal was lenient.
Pas Akum applies even to breads that are not appropriate for a royal table, and in this aspect it is more stringent than Bishul Akum.
To determine whether the bread (I use the term bread as it is the literal translation of “Pas” Akum, but the same Halachos apply to most baked pastries) is considered “Jewish” or not, the ownership of the bakery is irrelevant; the significant factor is who physically baked the bread. In fact, many Poskim rule that a Jewish owned bakery with non-Jewish workers is even more stringent than a facility owned by a gentile, as we will discuss soon.
To render the bread as “Jewish baked”, a Jew must either light the fire, add fuel to it or place the dough in the oven. Even though the Mechaber and Sefardim are Machmir to require both steps regarding Bishul Akum; for bread they rely on adjusting the flame alone.
The Shulchan Aruch differentiates between bread baked by a non-Jew privately for his family’s consumption where there is assumed to be a degree of risk of developing a personal relationship and bread baked commercially by a non-Jew primarily for sale. Bread baked for personal consumption is called Pas Akum. True Pas Akum is almost NEVER permitted. When the bread is produced to be sold, and not for the non-Jew’s personal use, it is called Pas Palter and is permitted when Pas Yisroel of comparable quality is unavailable for similar price. Nevertheless, it is praiseworthy to refrain.
However, if the bread belongs to a Jew, the Heter of Pas Palter does not apply and the resulting baked goods would be forbidden to eat. Furthermore, according to many Poskim the leniency of accepting a minor adjustment to the flame is not acceptable in this case. This would commonly be an issue with a Jewish owned bakery, restaurant or catering establishment with non-Jewish workers in the kitchen. If there is insufficient supervision of the facility, it is eminently conceivable that all of their pastries would be absolutely forbidden to eat.
Another practical issue arises with electric convection ovens, where the heating element automatically turns off when the door is opened. In this case, even if a Jew was careful to turn on the oven initially, when a non-Jewish worker opens the door to add more food or check on their status before they were fully baked, the action of the Jew has terminated and is no longer relevant. When the worker closes the door and the oven automatically reignites, it is the non-Jewish worker’s action relighting the oven and the food will become Pas Akum!
While the Halachos of Pas Akum apply equally every day of the year, many people who are lenient regarding Pas Palter the majority of the year when Pas Yisroel is unavailable, are more Machmir during the Aseres Yemei Teshuva to exert themselves to obtain Pas Yisroel. However one who is travelling and has no access to Pas Yisroel may eat Pas Palter even during this time.