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Non-Jewish Help Around the House

Non-Jewish Help Around the House

Because of the prevalence of non-Jewish domestic help in Jewish households, we will discuss some of the issues that can arise and some solutions. Some of the halachot discussed here are repeated from earlier chapters for the sake of clarity.

This section pertains only to non-Jewish employees. In regards to a Jew who is not religious, one is advised to discuss the particulars of each situation with a rabbi.

Bishul Akum in the House

If non-Jewish domestic help cooks for you, one potentially has the prohibition of bishul akum on the food that was cooked. There is no practical way for a non-Jew to cook for a Jew, unless the food can be eaten raw or is unfit to be served to a king, as discussed in the section on bishul akum. So, a housekeeper may fill an urn or reheat precooked food, but may not cook or bake most foods from scratch.

Additionally, a housekeeper can make tea or coffee for reasons discussed previously. Even if the housekeeper made the food for themselves and had some leftover, it is prohibited for the Jew to eat it, and the pot needs to be koshered. If the Jew turned on the oven (and according to some poskim if they set a timer for the oven to turn on) the housekeeper may place the food in the oven after. However, the Jew may not place food in the oven and have the housekeeper turn on the oven later. If a non-Jew used your pots and pans to cook food they must be koshered.

Food and Utensils

There is a rabbinic edict regarding meat left alone with a non-Jew, prohibiting the meat because of a concern that the kosher meat may have been switched with non-kosher meat.[1] The original edict was referring to a wild animal or bird that had non-kosher meat in its mouth. The animal or bird might take the piece of kosher meat and drop the piece of non-kosher meat in its place. This edict is only relevant if meat was left in a place where animals can enter and leave freely, and is generally not relevant in our times.

There is a separate edict forbidding food left alone in the presence of a non-Jew, which is derived from the edict regarding meat which may have been switched by an animal or bird.[2]

There are two qualifications for food to become forbidden; there must be benefit to the non-Jew from switching the food,[3] and the food must be left completely in the care of the non-Jew without any supervision.[4]

For example, if the housekeeper does not have lunch and wishes to make food, there is a clear benefit for them to use a pot or pan. Similarly, if the housekeeper wanted some chicken soup, and felt it lacked flavor, the housekeeper might add butter or milk to the whole pot to improve their portion, thus benefitting from prohibiting the kosher food.

It is possible to say that the edict regarding food which may have been switched would not be applicable in our homes, because a non-kosher species’ meat is significantly different than kosher meat, and kosher meat is not qualitatively better than non-kosher meat.[5] The same is generally true of other non-kosher food, if it is the same type, it is generally not better and there is no benefit to be had from switching it. If it is a type of food that is inherently non-kosher it would be recognizably different from a kosher food that was in the house.

There is a separate concern regarding utensils left in the care of a non-Jew. One may not leave utensils in the care of a non-Jew, even if they don’t have a clear benefit from using it.[6] It is fairly easy to make the utensils non-kosher, such as by reheating non-kosher food in them, cooking in them (which would present a problem of bishul akum), or cooking dairy in a meat pot. One should consult a rabbi regarding which precautions one should take when having non-Jewish domestic help.

Only food or utensils that were left in a non-Jew’s total care are an issue. The definition of left in their care is if they can tamper with the food or use the utensils with no fear of being caught. There are two ways to accomplish this. One can be in the house when the housekeeper is around. For this, even a child is enough, provided that the child is old enough to know what the housekeeper is doing. There is a dispute whether this age is nine years old,[7] or as long as the child is bright enough to recognize what is happening in a way that the housekeeper would be nervous to do things in front of the child.[8]

Alternatively, one can go in and out of the house at random. This works only if you come and go frequently, meaning you are in the house every eighteen minutes or less.[9] If you cannot be in the house frequently consult a rabbi for possible solutions.

Yayin Nesech – Wine of a Non-Jew

The Torah forbids benefitting from wine that was poured for avoda zara – idol worship.[10] Rabbinically, drinking wine that a non-Jew touched or may have touched is forbidden, even if the non-Jew never had ownership of the wine, because we are concerned that he may have poured a minute amount of wine for idol worship, forbidding the entire bottle.[11]

There are two types of contact between a non-Jew and wine which can create yayin nesech. The first type of contact is if the non-Jew touches the wine itself. Touching the wine means that the non-Jew either touched the wine itself with his finger, or moved the wine by means of an object such as shaking the bottle or mixing the wine with a spoon.[12]

If the bottle of wine was sealed, then shaking it would not make the wine prohibited.[13]

The second type of contact to make the wine forbidden is if the non-Jew drinks from the wine, even if he did not touch the remaining wine, and did not move the wine in the bottle in any way.[14] Even drinking from a bottle through a straw would prohibit the wine.

Only wine that is not mevushal (cooked) can become yayin nesech. Wine that is mevushal does not become prohibited when a non-Jew touches it. The reason that mevushal wine is excluded is because wine which is cooked is of inferior quality and is unfit to be poured for idol worship.

There is a dispute among the poskim of our times whether pasteurization gives wine a mevushal status or not. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach[15] and Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv[16] rule that pasteurization does not lower the quality of the wine. Further, pasteurization is so commonplace today, that the wine would still be considered worthy of being poured for idol worship. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein[17] rules that pasteurization is enough to lower the quality of the wine to mevushal status.

Because of the prohibition of yayin nesech, one may not leave wine alone with a non-Jew. All the options discussed previously in regard to permit food and utensils left with a non-Jew would apply by wine.

Only wine which was left in a non-Jew’s total care will be subject to the prohibition of yayin nesech. If the wine was not under the total care of a non-Jew, and the non-Jew was instructed not to touch the wine, there is no concern that the wine became forbidden, unless one specifically knows that the non-Jew touched or moved the wine.

For further elaboration on leaving something in the care of a non-Jew, and possible solutions, see Non-Jewish Help Around the House: Food and Utensils.

Ne’emanut – Trust

A non-Jew, or a non-religious Jew, is not believed in areas of halacha, whether to forbid or permit something. Meaning, if a non-Jew said that a food with no identifying kosher symbols that they brought to the house was kosher, they are not believed, and the food is forbidden to be eaten. Similarly, if a non-Jew said that they accidentally poured milk into a pot of kosher chicken soup, they are not believed and the soup is still kosher.[18]

[1] חולין צה.

[2] עבודה זרה לא.

[3] יו”ד סי’ קיח סעי’ י

[4] מבואר שם

[5] תשובות והנהגות ח”א סי’ תפו

[6] שו”ע יו”ד סי’ קכב סעי’ ט, ועי’ אג”מ יו”ד ח”א סי’ סא

[7] ט”ז יו”ד סי’ קטו ס”ק ה, ש”ך שם ס”ק יב, ערה”ש שם סעי’ ח

[8] פרי חדש סי’ קטו ס”ק ט

[9] גר”א יו”ד סי’ קכט ס”ק ב

[10] עבודה זרה כט:

[11] טור יו”ד סי’ קכג סעי’ א

[12] שו”ע סי’ קכד סעי’ יא

[13] שו”ע סי’ קכה סעי’ ט

[14] שו”ע סי’ קכד סעי’ יא

[15] שו”ת מנחת שלמה קמא סי’ כה

[16] קובץ תשובות חלק א סי’ עה

[17] אגרות משה יו”ד ח”ג סי’ לא

[18] ש”ך יו”ד קיח ס”ק לח, ועיין ערה”ש יו”ד סי’ קיח סעי’ לו וז”ל שם, “דאם הישראל מבין מדבריו שיכול להיות כן כגון שאמירתו הוא שלא על דרך השחוק והנקימה אלא דרך התוודות וכה”ג בודאי שצריך לחשוש ולא לאכול דכללו של דבר בענין נאמנות דאף שמדינא אינו נאמן מ”מ אם מבינים לפי ההשערה שאינו משקר צריך להאמין”