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

(2004/5764) 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Gemara (ibid) records that Rabi Yehuda Hanassi rescinded this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states that Chazal also rescinded the Pat Akum decree because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 Binyamin112:96 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.
Conclusion
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.

Pat Akum - Part Two: Varieties of its Observance and its Application to the Aseret Yemei Teshuva by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

The Keriat Hatorah of Rosh Hashana by Rabbi Chaim Jachter