Surprise! Guess What, I am Not Jewish, Said the Roommate! Part I by Rabbi Chaim Jachter



Quite a number of years ago, I received a call from a single woman who told me that a former roommate informed her as she was leaving the shared apartment for the last time, that she was not a Jew.  She explained that she was a conversion candidate and posed as an observant Jew in order to learn how to live as a Jew.  The woman who called now had to deal with a host of Halachic issues especially the Kashrut standards of her and her two remaining apartment mates residence.  She also raised the question as to whether she should inform the local rabbinate of the former roommate’s deceitful behavior. 

The Use of Non-Kosher Food - Ne’emanut and Mirtat

Halacha accords Ne’emanut, credibility, only to those who respect and observe Halacha.  The Mishnah (Bechorot 4:10), for example, teaches that “one who is suspected of not observing a particular Halacha, is not believed to testimony regarding matters associated with this Mitzvah”.  Presumably, the Ne’emanut is granted only to those actually obligated to perform Mitzvot and not those doing so voluntarily such as conversion candidates.  The implication of the lack of Ne’emanut for our case is concern that the non-Jewish roommate used the apartment utensils to cook non-kosher food or create a mixture of milk and meat. 

Nonetheless, the Halachic concept of Mirtat seems to preclude concern for the introduction of non-kosher food or practice in the apartment.  The Mishnayot and Gemara Avodah Zarah are replete with references to a Kashrut supervisor (Mashgiach) for whom it is not necessary to be actively guarding the food or wine every second of every day.  Rather sporadic unannounced visits suffice - “Yotzei V’Nichnas” (see Avodah Zarah 39b, 61a and 69a for example).  The sporadic visits create a Mirtat (fear) that the person would come unannounced and discover any disturbance to the Kashrut of the situation. 

Accordingly, since the conversion had three Jewish roommates that were regularly in and out of the house we judged that there was sufficient kosher supervision to insure that the utensils did not become non-kosher.  Moreover, since the woman was presenting herself as an Orthodox Jewish woman there was a genuine Mirtat lest she be caught introducing non-kosher food to the apartment. 

Status of the Wine

Any unopened wine bottle posed a problem of Stam Yeinam, the prohibition to drink wine touched by a Nochri.   However, this concern is mitigated by the fact that middle to lower end[9] wines are Yayin Mevushal (cooked wine).   Although there is considerable debate about whether pasteurized wine is classified as Yayin Mevushal[10], Rav Hershel Schachter noted at an OU Kosher seminar that the prevailing custom in America is to be lenient about his matter, following the ruling of Rav Moshe Feinstein and other major Poskim in America. Rav Ovadia Yosef notes that common practice in Israel is also to be lenient about this matter.  Thus, any wine that was Mevushal did not have to be discarded.  Thankfully, the women did not have any non-Mevushal wine in the home during the time the non-Jew resided in the apartment. 

Bishul Akum

Although Kashrut and wine issues seemed to be manageable, the concern of Bishul Akum remained a formidable concern.  Broadly speaking, Chazal prohibit food cooked by a non-Jew.  There are however, numerous limitations that narrow the application of this rule.  For a full discussion for this debate, see my Gray Matter 4:14-18 and my discussion available at

The Utensils Used by the Non-Jew

The Rashba and the Rosh argue whether the Bishul Akum decree extends to utensils that touched hot food cooked by a non-Jew. The Rashba argues that we are not only forbidden to eat the food eaten by the non-Jew, but the utensils that touch hot food that a non-Jew cooked are also rendered not Kosher. The Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 113:16) cites both the view of the Rashba and the Rosh, but it presents the Rashba's strict view as the primary view. The Shulchan Aruch, though, presents a leniency that although one may not Kasher earthenware utensils, in this context one may Kasher earthenware dishes if they are Kashered three times[11]. The Aruch Hashulchan (113:50) writes that the Rashba's strict ruling is accepted as normative.  Thus, the woman and her two apartment mates faced the considerable task of having to Kasher all of the cooking utensils in their home! 

Food Suitable for a King - Oleh Al Shulchan Melachim

At first glance, this prohibition might not apply to the utensils in the home of these women.   A most significant exception to the Bishul Akum prohibition is that the food must be Oleh Al Shulchan Malachim, suitable for a king's table (Avoda Zara 38a). This rule can be interpreted in two possible ways. The Chazon Ish (cited by Rav Shimon Schwab, cited by Rav Menachem Genack in the OU’s Mesorah 1:86) believes that it refers to food that is not of poor quality and would be eaten by a very wealthy person. The Chazon Ish ruled that canned sardines cooked by non-Jews were forbidden because "the King of England eats sardines for breakfast." The Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh Deah 113:18) seems to agree with this strict ruling of the Chazon Ish.

Rav Schwab reports, though, that many of the great Rashei Yeshiva of pre-war Eastern Europe ate sardines cooked by non-Jews. The practice of the Rashei Yeshiva appears to be in accordance with Rav Soloveitchik's interpretation of this rule. Rav Soloveitchik believes that Oleh Al Shulchan Malachim means that the food has to be suitable to serve at a state dinner. Rav Soloveitchik's interpretation has great implications, as according to his approach, almost no canned food would be included in the Bishul Akum prohibition because food served at a state dinner is cooked fresh.  Moreover, it seems unlikely that the women in our case would be cooking food fit for a state dinner. 

However, I have been informed by Kashrut professionals that a compromise[12] between the views of the Chazon Ish and Rav Soloveitchik is the generally accepted standard regarding the definition of “Oleh Al Shulchan Melachim”.  The compromise is that the quality of food that is, generally speaking, served at a Shabbat or Yom Tov meal is regarded as Oleh Al Shulchan Melachim.  Thus, since the non-Jewish roommate resided in the apartment for many months and was a usual participant in the preparation of Shabbat meals, we concluded that it was likely that virtually all of the cooking utensils in the home were used to cook food by the non-Jewish roommate.  Thus began the labor-intensive task of Kashering all the utensils[13]

Kashering the Microwave Oven

Contemporary rabbinical authorities debate whether cooking by means of a microwave oven is included in the prohibition of Bishul Akum[14]. The arguments for leniency are that when one cooks with a microwave he is not cooking by fire and that microwave technology was not available at the time when Chazal promulgated the Bishul Akum decree and thus was not included in the prohibition. Moreover, most food cooked in a microwave oven is not suitable to be served at a Shabbat meal or is simply cooked food that is reheated[15]

In our case, we followed the ruling of Rav Hershel Schachter that the prohibition of Bishul Akum does not apply to a microwave oven.  This is an especially compelling view especially in light of the Rama’s (113:13) assertion that only foods cooked by using fire are included in this prohibition.  Moreover, we may also consider the opinion of the Rosh that the prohibition of Bishul Akum does not extend to utensils with which a non-Jew cooked food.  Thus, we made things a bit easier for the women by avoiding the need to Kasher their microwave oven. 


Next week we will iyH conclude our discussion of this unusual situation by addressing the issue as to whether the women should inform the local Beit Din of the errant behavior of the conversion candidate. 

[9] In this author’s experience less expensive items seem to pose fewer Halachic challenges.  For example, it is unusual to find Sha’atnez in moderately priced suits and basic models of refrigerators pose fewer issues regarding use on Shabbat and Yom Tov. 

[10] For a full discussion for this debate, see my Gray Matter 4:14-18 and my discussion available at

[11] Following the minority opinion of the Ba’al HaIttur (cited in the Tur Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 121)  who sanctions such Kashering.  

[12] This compromise is cited in the name of Rav Hershel Schachter. 

[13] My wife and I welcomed the roommates to our home to make it easier for the women to Kasher their cooking utensils.  Kashering the earthenware dishes three times in accordance with the Ba’al HaIttur’s view proves challenging in light of a ruling of the Chazon Ish (Yoreh Deah 44:3). He insists that the water must be changed after each koshering, otherwise if one merely repeated immersing a utensil in the same hot water, it is viewed conceptually as one act of immersion.  Rav Mordechai Willig offers a simple manner to satisfy the Chazon Ish’s requirement.  He advises simply heating three different pots of boiling water and immersing each utensil one time in each of the three different pots.  This approach was followed in this instance. 

[14] For a summary and analysis of the views see Rav Dov Brisman Teshuvot Shalmei Chovah Y.D. 13.  Rav Brisman was inclined to be lenient about this matter but retracted his lenient approach upon encountering the strict views of Teshuvot Sheraga HaMeir (6:53:3), Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv (cited in Shevut Yitzchak number 61) and Teshuvot Sheivet HaLeivi (8:185).  

[15] In which case we apply the rule of Ein Bishul Achar Bishul (one is not regarded as cooking if he simply reheates an already cooked food) in which case the prohibition of Bishul Akum does not apply (Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 113:6 

Surprise! Guess What, I am Not Jewish, Said the Roommate! Part Two by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

Does Water Suffice to Join a Zimmun? - It Depends on Whether You are Ashkenazic, Sephardic or Chabad by Rabbi Chaim Jachter