Pat Akum, Part One: Varieties of Observance and its Relevance to the Asseret Yemei Teshuva by Rabbi Chaim Jachter


One of the more fascinating areas of Halacha is the observance of Chazal’s edict forbidding Pat Akum.  There are a wide variety of approaches to this Halacha in the observant community, ranging from the most lenient to the most strict.  While there are many other areas where there is a similar range of practices, Pat Akum is still unusual, as this range of observances seems to have existed already during Talmudic times.  We will discuss how this situation evolved in this week’s essay.

Talmudic Background

The Mishna (Avoda Zara 35b) records that Chazal forbade us to eat bread baked by a Nochri.  The Gemara (ibid) explains that the reason for this enactment is to limit social interaction with Nochrim, thereby reducing the risk of intermarriage.  The Gemara (Shabbat 17b) states that this decree was one of the celebrated eighteen decrees issued by Hillel and Shammai.  In general, these decrees are considered to be quite stringent and difficult, if not impossible, to rescind (Avoda Zara 36a, but see the second chapter of the Rambam’s Hilchot Mamrim).

The aforementioned Mishna records that Chazal forbade consuming the oil of Nochrim (Shemen Akum).  Interestingly, the Gemara (ibid) records that Rabi Yehuda Hanassi rescinded this decree because it proved to be too difficult for most of the community to abide by.  In the pre-modern world where Teflon-coated pans were not available, oil was often essential for cooking (food would burn otherwise), and it was therefore exceedingly difficult to adhere to the Shemen Akum decree.

We should also clarify that the rescinding of the Shemen Akum edict does not mean that we may purchase oil even if it does not bear a proper Hashgacha.  Rather, it means that it is not necessary for the Mashgiach (if Hashgacha is required for the particular oil) to participate in the preparation of the oil as is required, for example, with regard to kosher cheese.  Instead, periodic inspections suffice for the supervision of such a product’s production.

The Rif (Avoda Zara 14b) and Tosafot (Avoda Zara 35b s.v. Michlal) record the Jerusalem Talmud (Avoda Zara 2:8) that states that Chazal also rescinded the Pat Akum decree because of the difficulty for most people to abide by it, as bread is “Chayei Nefesh” (one’s life depends on it).  We should clarify that in pre-modern times and even today in many cultures, bread is the main component of the meal (see Tehillim 104:15).  Our affluent North American society in which bread does not serve such a function is an exception.  Certainly, in the time of the Gemara, bread was a centerpiece of a meal (see Sukkah 27a regarding Agrippas’ assistant).

Notably, the Jerusalem Talmud also cites an opinion that the edict was rescinded only to permit eating Pat Palter, bread purchased from a professional Nochri baker in a commercial context, but not bread that one obtains in a social context from a Nochri.  Since the rescinding of the Pat Akum edict was motivated by concern for Chayei Nefesh, this opinion believes that Chazal rescinded the edict only for situations when it was necessary to do so.

What is most fascinating, though, is how the Babylonian Talmud (which we regard as authoritative; see the Rambam’s introduction to his Mishna Torah) seems to be deliberately ambiguous about this issue.  First, the Gemara (Avoda Zara 35b) records Rabi Yochanan’s assertion that the Pat Akum decree has not been rescinded.  The Gemara remarks, though, that Rabi Yochanan’s need to make such an assertion implies that someone had rescinded this decree.  The Gemara then cites some ambiguous episodes where it seemed that Rebbe had rescinded the decree either completely or partially.  One possibility was that he permitted eating bread baked by a professional Nochri baker (Pat Palter).

This passage concludes by recounting that Ibu (one of the earlier Amoraic sages, the father of Rav; see Sanhedrin 5a) ate Pat Akum and that some prominent later Amoraim refused to cite his Torah thoughts because of this behavior (this might account for the fact that Ibu is rarely cited in the Gemara).  This indicates that a Rav’s stature depends on impeccable Halachic observance and not only on his intellectual acumen (see Chagiga 15b).

The Gemara (Avoda Zara 37a) subsequently cites a remarkable anecdote about Rabi Yehuda Hanassi and his assistant Rabi Simlai.  The Gemara records that Rabi Yehuda Hanassi remarked to Rabi Simlai that the latter was absent from the Beit Midrash when the rabbis rescinded the decree against Shemen Akum (this comment implies that the rescinding of the Shemen Akum decree was an extraordinary and rare event; indeed, Chazal rarely rescinded enactments).  Rabi Simlai responded by asking that they should also rescind the decree of Pat Akum.  Rabi Yehuda Hanassi replied that then his group would be referred to as the permissive Beit Din.

This seems to be the source of the assertion of Teshuvot Chavatzelet Hasharon (2:25, regarding the permissibility of stunning an animal before Shechita) that a Rav should not issue a lenient ruling if he anticipates that Am Yisrael will not be receptive to the ruling, even if the Rav is thoroughly convinced of the cogency of the leniency.  This appears to be an application of the Gemara’s (Yevamot 65b) rule that just as there as a Mitzva to say something that will be heard, so too there is a Mitzva not to say something that will not be heard. 

Accordingly, the Babylonian Talmud implies that there was a basis to rescind the Pat Akum decree, but never explicitly states that this was done.  These anecdotes reveal that most Jews found it too difficult to adhere to the Pat Akum stricture.  Thus, Rabi Yehuda Hanassi was willing in theory to rescind this decree if not for his concern that he was not the appropriate person to do this.  The Babylonian Talmud’s ambiguity is the point of departure for the variety of approaches that appear in the Rishonim and Acharonim regarding this issue.

Rishonim – Rambam and Tosafot

The Rambam (Hilchot Ma’achalot Assurot 17:9) believes that the Pat Akum edict remains in full effect, as he records this prohibition in the same context as the prohibition to drink wine of Nochrim (Stam Yeinam) and food cooked by a Nochri (Bishul Akum).  However, the Rambam (ad. loc. 17:12) records that there are communities where they are lenient and eat Pat Palter (as mentioned in the Jerusalem Talmud and implied in the Babylonina Talmud) when Jewish baked bread (Pat Yisrael) is not available.  The Tur (Yoreh De’ah 112) explains that the logic behind the Pat Palter leniency is that the concern for intermarriage is not relevant when the bread is purchased from a professional Nochri baker, as it is a commercial rather than a social interaction.

Tosafot (ad. loc.), however, adopt a very different approach than the Rambam.  They note that the common practice in their time is to consume Pat Akum.  They also note that the Gemara clearly implies that there is a basis to repeal the Pat Akum edict.  Tosafot infer from the behavior of the Jews in their area that a Beit Din at sometime must have rescinded the Pat Akum prohibition, even though this is never specifically recorded in the Babylonian Talmud.  They also cite in this context the Jerusalem Talmud’s assertion that the decree was rescinded.  For variations on Tosafot’s approach to support the lenient practice of Ashkenazic Jewry see the Ran (14b in the pages of the Rif, s.v. Rabi Yehuda Hanassi), the Rosh (Avoda Zara 2:27) and the Mordechai (Avoda Zara 830).

Tosafot, nonetheless, note that there are those who are strict and do not rely on their lenient approach.  However, Tosafot explain how those who follow the lenient approach and those who follow the strict approach can co-exist and eat together at the same table.

We should note that Rav Yosef Soloveitchik once remarked (in a Shiur at Yeshiva University in 1984 and see Nora’ot HaRav 9:1-3) that not every Jewish practice is recorded in the Gemara.  For example, the Rav assumed that Jews were reciting Selichot even during the time of the Gemara even though this practice is first recorded only by the Geonim.  The Rav argued that the Rambam’s (Hilchot Teshuva 3:4) observation that every Jewish community recites Selichot during the Asseret Yemei Teshuva implies that this practice originated in the time of the Gemara.  Otherwise, it would have been highly unlikely that such a practice would have been universally accepted by Jews, as in the era after the completion of the Babylonian Talmud there was no authority or community whose customs or rulings were binding upon all Jews (see the Rambam’s introduction to his Mishna Torah).  Similarly, Tosafot infers from his community’s behavior what must have occurred during the time of the Gemara, even though this is not stated in the Gemara. 

This Tosafot is an example of their approach to the practices of the Jews of their community.  Tosafot seem to regard the practice of the people of his time to constitute the equivalent of an explicit Talmudic source.  Thus, Tosafot believe that if the Jews of that time were eating Pat Akum, there must have been a Beit Din in the time of the Babylonian Talmudic era that rescinded this decree, even though the Gemara never records such an occurrence.  The reason for his attitude stems from the profoundly high spiritual level of the Jews in the era of Tosafot.  For example, Tosafot (Gittin 59b s.v. Aval) record that the shuls in their time were as full on Mondays and Thursdays as they were on the Yamim Tovim!

We must clarify that the lenient approach does not necessarily implies that bread does not require proper Hashgacha to insure that it is Kosher.  Instead, the lenient approach implies that periodic inspections by a Mashgiach suffice to insure the Kashrut of the bread, but a Jew’s participation in the baking process is not required as it is, for example, with respect to kosher cheese.

Shulchan Aruch – Mechaber, Rama and the Shach

The Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 112:1-2) adopts the Rambam’s approach as normative.  Thus, Rav Yosef Karo regards the Pat Akum decree to be in full effect, but he notes that there are some places that permit Pat Akum in a situation where Pat Yisrael is not available.  However, the Shulchan Aruch (ad. loc. 112:5) notes that there are those (the Rashba) who rule that if the available Pat Akum is of superior quality to the available Pat Yisrael in a particular locale, then in that locale it is considered that Pat Yisrael is not available.  Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe Y.D. 2:33) asserts that the fact that the Shulchan Aruch does not cite the dissenting opinion (the Tur) to the Rashba’s leniency indicates that the Shulchan Aruch accepts the Rashba’s leniency as normative.

We should note that a young contemporary Posek from Flatbush, Rav Binyamin Cohen (Chelkat Binyamin 112:46 and 51),  rules that the Rashba’s leniency applies only if the Pat Akum is superior to the Pat Yisrael in terms of its taste and/or appearance.  However, this leniency does not apply if the superiority of the Pat Akum is only in terms of its price and/or convenience.  However, Rav Menachem Genack questions this assertion.  Parenthetically, I find it interesting that this issue is addressed in print for the first time (as far as I know) only at the very end of the twentieth century.

The Rama (ad. loc. 112:2) notes that there is an opinion that permits Pat Akum even when Pat Yisrael is readily available in that locale.  Rav Moshe (ad. loc.) asserts that since the Rama does not cite a dissenting opinion, this is the normative opinion according to the Rama.  The Shach (Y.D. 112:9) notes the common practice among Ashkenazic Jews to follow this approach.  However, the Shach adopts a compromise position and writes that he believes that one should not follow the lenient opinion unless the Pat Akum is superior in quality to the available Pat Yisrael (in accordance with the opinion of the Rashba).

Late Acharonim – the Chochmat Adam, Aruch Hashulchan and Mishna Berura

This controversy continues to rage among the later Acharonim.  The Chochmat Adam (65:2) records the common practice to follow the lenient ruling of the Rama.  However, he rules that it is proper for every Baal Nefesh (pious individual) to follow the somewhat stricter opinion of the Shach.

The Aruch Hashulchan (Y.D. 112:17) adopts a more strict approach.  He seems to say (see Chelkat Binyamin 112:96 in the Tziyunim) that the practice in his locale (he does not state whether this was the practice only in his hometown, Navaradok, or the entire region in which he resided) was to adopt the strict opinion of the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch.  They would avoid Pat Akum even if it was superior in quality to the available Pat Yisrael.  He writes that “this is the proper approach and that one should not deviate from it” (see, however, the Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chaim 603:2).

The Mishna Berura (242:6) writes that it is “proper” that on Shabbat and Yom Tov one should only eat Pat Yisrael.  The Mishna Berura writes that this constitutes a fulfillment of Kevod Shabbat and Yom Tov.  The explicit source for this ruling is the Magen Avraham (242:4) who seeks to present a source for this preference in the Gemara and Rishonim.  We should note that this preference is different than the preference for Pat Yisrael during the Asseret Yemei Teshuva, as the latter preference is explicitly articulated in the Rishonim.

We should also note that both the Darkei Teshuva 112:18 and the Kaf Hachaim Y.D. 112:56 cite that the Ari z”l urges one to scrupulously avoid Pat Akum, based on Kabbalistic considerations.  This probably explains why Chassidim (who take Kabbalistic matters into account very much) are particularly careful to avoid Pat Akum.


There are four primary opinions in the Rishonim and classic Poskim regarding Pat Akum.  Some rule that the rabbinic edict forbidding Pat Akum fully applies with no exceptions.  Other Rishonim believe that this edict was rescinded and does not apply if one obtains the bread from a Palter (professional baker).  Compromise opinions permit consuming Pat Palter if no Pat Yisrael is available.  A lenient modification of this compromise permits Pat Palter even if Pat Yisrael is available, if the Pat Palter is superior in quality to the Pat Yisrael.

Next week we shall, Im Yirtzeh Hashem and Beli Neder, discuss the applications of the Pat Akum edict in the modern context and the special preference to avoid Pat Akum during the Asseret Yemei Teshuva.

The Rebbe of Teshuva by Rabbi Ezra Wiener

Moshe’s Final Days by Chanan Strassman