In our previous issue, we described the debate between Ezra Douek and his cousin Rav Gabbay. Ezra prepared a festive meal replete with grilled steaks and turned on the fire with which the Nochri workers would cook the steaks, in order to obviate the prohibition of Bishul Akum, the rabbinic prohibition to eat food cooked by a Nochri.
Ezra’s cousin, Rav Ben Zion Gabbay, who served for years as a senior Kashrut specialist working for Hacham Ovadia Yosef, objected to this means of food preparation. He argued that Sepharadim require that the steaks must be placed on the fire in order to obviate the issue of Bishul Akum. Merely turning on the fire is insufficient, he argued. After insisting on following the Sephardic practice, Rav Gabbay proceeded to place the steaks on the fire, after which Ezra assented to his request.
Upon learning of this intense discussion, I was quite surprised (as was Ezra). After all, Rav Ovadia Yosef in Teshuvot Yechave Da’at (5:54) presented what seemed to me to be a cogently reasoned responsum explaining why Sephardic Jews can rely on the Ashkenazic standard of merely turning on the fire. While Hacham Ovadia concluded “HaMachmir Tavo Alav Bracha”, it is preferable to be strict, Rav Yosef gave the right to Sepharadim to be lenient. If Ezra had every right to rely on merely turning on the fire, why did Rav Gabbay insist on placing the food on the fire?
We noted that although Rav Yosef Karo forbids Bishul Akum even if a Jew turned on the fire, serves as the Jew’s employee and cooks on the Jew’s premises, Hacham Ovadia develops a S’feik S’feika (double doubt) to be lenient. One doubt is that perhaps turning on the fire suffices to eliminate concern for Bishul Akum. The second doubt is perhaps the prohibition does not apply when the food is prepared in a Jewish home. There is even a third Safeik, perhaps the prohibition does not apply if the Nochri is an employee.
Last week we noted the objections of two other great Sephardic Poskim , Rav Shalom Messas and Hacham Bension Abba Shaul. They object to developing a S’feik S’feika whose both prongs run counter to Rav Karo’s ruling or when Rav Karo (Maran) utterly rejects one of the opinions used as a component of the S’feik S’feika.
Rav Ovadia Yosef and Rav Yitzchak Yosef Respond - Yabia Omer and Yalkut Yosef
Hacham Ovadia, (Teshuvot Yabia Omer 9 Y.D. 6; printed in 2002) strongly defends himself against Rav Messas and Rav Abba Shaul’s critiques. He cites source upon source (most prominently the Chida, Machazik Bracha 52:5) to uphold the validity of a Sefeik Sefeika even if both prongs run counter to a ruling of Rav Karo. He even cites a responsum of Rav Messas (Teshuvot Shemesh U’Magein Orach Chaim 29) where Rav Messas himself relies upon a S’feik S’feika whose prongs both run counter to Maran. He concludes that even if this remains a disputed matter as to whether such a S’feik S’feika is permitted, regarding a rabbinic prohibition such as Bishul Akum one may be lenient.
Regarding Hacham Ben Zion’s objection, Rav Ovadia writes “how can one say that all of the great Ashkenazic authorities who permit are as if they do not exist? God forbid to articulate such an approach!”. Rav Ovadia believes that although Sephardic Jews do not follow the rulings of Rama, nonetheless the Rama’s views can be taken into consideration for a Sefeik Sefeika since one cannot simply dismiss his opinions.
One can, however, detect a bit of a softening of Hacham Ovadia’s position from that which he articulated in 1983 in Teshuvot Yechave Da’at. In Yechave Da’at he writes “there is a wide space for even Sephardic Jews to be lenient regarding this matter”. In Yabia Omer, by contrast, he concludes “one should not admonish one who adopts the lenient approach since he has a basis on which to rely”.
The Yabia Omer approach is reflected by Rav Yitzhak Yosef in the year 2000 edition of Yalkut Yosef. He writes “Sepharadim should Lechatchilah (ideally) adopt the strict position but those who are lenient in public venues have a basis upon which to rely”. However, in the 2006 edition of Yalkut Yosef, Rav Yitzchak Yosef tilts even more towards strongly to the stricter view. He begins the discussion by asserting that
“Sepharadim should Lechatchila (ab initio) adopt the strict approach to this issue and ask the Mashgiach (Kashrut supervisor) to place the pot on the oven for the food he is ordering. However, one who is lenient in a situation of large scale food preparation has that upon which to rely”.
Rav Yosef concludes “Every Kashrut agency should Lechatchilah take care that Jews should place the food on the fire since many of the patrons of their establishments are Sephardic Jews who follow the rulings of Rav Yosef Karo”. Thus, we understand that while Ezra Douek and I were functioning in accordance with Hacham Ovadia’s earlier Teshuva where he seems to reserve adopting the strict approach to an elite group of Jews who are extra cautious in their Torah observance, Rav Gabbay was more or less hewing to the newer approach of Rav Yitzchak.
Interestingly, Rav Yitzchak Yosef in Yalkut Yosef adds an intriguing argument to bolster the lenient approach. He sets forth as a possibility that the prohibition of Bishul Akum applies only when the Nochri prepares food for an individual and not when done for a large group. One could argue that sharing food with an individual builds a relationship but cooking for a large group does not. Thus in the latter setting, the reason for the Bishul Akum edict does not apply. There is no concern of bonding with a Nochri when the food is cooked for a large group. The advantage of this approach is that it does not clearly run counter to a ruling of Maran (Rav Karo) and thus Sephardic Jews may unquestionably utilize this opinion as a prong in a S’feik S’feika. Despite the cogency of this argument, though, Hacham Yitzchak nonetheless steadfastly encourages Sephardic Jews to adopt the stricter approach.
Rav Yitzchak Yosef’s approach is significantly less enthusiastic than the original approach articulated by his father in Teshuvot Yechave Da’at. The compelling criticism expressed by Rav Messas and Rav Abba Shaul likely restrained Rav Yitzchak Yosef’s wholehearted endorsement of Hacham Ovadia’s opinion on this matter.
Nissim Douek reports that many Sephardic Jews request restaurants to ask the Mashgiach to place the pot in which their food will be cookedon the fire in accordance with the ruling of Rav Karo. What was only a few decades ago a nearly totally forgotten and neglected Halacha has once again returned to the consciousness of the Sephardic community and beyond.
In keeping with Hacham Ovadia Yosef’s oft-repeated agenda of Hachazarat Atarah L’Yoshenah, restoring the Sephardic crown to its glory, a once nearly forgotten ruling of Maran, has been restored to the “Sephardic radar”. However, since adherence to the strict approach to this issue is quite difficult at times, it is very comforting for a Sephardic Jew to know he can rely on a lenient approach developed by the two of the leading Sephardic lights of our times, Rav Ovadia Yosef and Rav Yitzchak Yosef.
Accordingly, Ezra Douek was certainly in his Halachic prerogative to rely simply on turning on the fire to obviate Bishul Akum. Rav Gabbay, though, did have a point in reminding us of the higher standard set by Maran Rav Karo, by which many Sephardic Jews today adhere.
Postscript - A Possible Precedent for Hacham Ovadia’s Ruling
Despite Hacham Ovadia’s firm stance regarding Sephardic Jews eating meat that meets the strict Halak Beit Yosef standards, he champions a lenient approach for a Sephardic Jew visiting an Ashkenazi friend or relative where obtaining meat that is Halak Beit Yosef is not a realistic option. In such a case, Hacham Ovadia (Teshuvot Yabia Omer 5: Y.D. 3) permits eating the meat even if it is not designated on the package as Halak Beit Yosef, as long as it is Glatt Kosher by Ashkenazic standards.
Hacham Ovadia cites the Devar Shmuel (number 320) who rules that one may rule leniently in such a situation due to a S’feik S’feika, a double doubt (one may rely on a S’feik S’feika, generally speaking, even regarding a Torah level prohibition). One Safeik is whether the meat satisfies the Beit Yosef standard, since meat labeled Glatt by Ashkenazic standards might be Halak even according to Maran. A second Safeik is that perhaps Rama and those who support him are correct. Thus, meat that is acceptable only for Ashkenazim, is viewed as possibly acceptable for Sephardic Jews.
The Dvar Shmuel’s S’feik S’feika to allow a Sephardic Jew to eat with an Ashkenazic Jew despite concern for violation of a Torah level prohibition, serves as a precedent for Hacham Ovadia’s S’feik S’feika permitting Sepharadim to eat food prepared in accordance with the more lenient Ashkenazic standards. If we are willing to rely on a S’feik S’feika regarding a Torah prohibition we should certainly be permitted to rely on a S’feik S’feika regarding a rabbinic prohibition. Significantly, Dvar Shmuel permits relying on this S’feik S’feika even though Rav Yosef Karo utterly rejects the lenient Ashkenazic approach to the issue of Halak/Glatt in the strongest of terms (see Shulchan Aruch 39:10).
Although it is not a complete analogy since in the Dvar Shmuel’s S’feik S’feika both prongs do not run counter to the ruling of Maran, it sets an example of trying to find a Halachic path permitting Jews to partake of each other’s food even when their respective standards vary. Rav Ovadia Yosef elsewhere develops approaches to allow Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews to eat each other’s food even when their Halachic standards differ. Examples include permitting Ashkenazim to eat at a Sephardic home on Pesach despite the lenient approach Sepharadim adopt regarding Kitniyot (Teshuvot Yechave Da’at 5:32) and in the aforementioned Teshuvot Yabia Omer, Hacham Ovadia disagrees with Rav Kook and permits Ashkenazim to eat animals slaughtered according to Sephardic Halacha, even though Ashkenazim follow Rama who adopted many Chumrot (stringencies) in regard to Shechita.
 One could argue, however, that just as Maran (Rav Karo) rules that Bishul Akum applies to an employee, even though the reason for the Bishul Akum restriction does not apply in this case, so too Maran would rule strictly even when the Nochri cooks for a large group and the reason for Bishul Akum does not apply.