Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 28 March 2020 / 3 Nisan 5780

The Halachic Adventures of the Potato

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
Become a Supporter Library Library

Although nowadays we all take the potato for granted, it actually has a fascinating history: one which not only has impacted halacha, but due to its travels, enshrined its “discoverer,” Sir Francis Drake, as one of the Chassidei Umos Ha’Olam (righteous gentiles of the world)![1]In this article, we willexplore the halachic impact the potato has made in several different areas.

Ever since first “making the scene” via the victorious Spaniards shipping them from the conquered Incas to their own colonies and armies throughout Europe in the late 1500s, the ubiquitous potato has been a considerable mainstay on the world stage. From circumnavigating the globe with Sir Francis Drake, to famed French physician Antoine Parmentier waxing poetic about this nightshade’s nutritional value, to Queen Marie Antoinette wearing a headdress of potato flowers at a fancy ball (obviously while she still had her head), by the 1770s the potato had become a staple crop throughout Europe.

What other vegetable has been credited with helping facilitate such diverse events as the Industrial Revolution, the Great Irish Famine of 1845 (due to their susceptibility to blight), Russia’s proclivity for vodka, a U.S. vice president’s public spelling debacle, and a themed toy version of itself so popular that it was inducted into the National Toy Hall of Fame? Yet, aside for the tuber’s worldly presence, it also holds a unique place in the annals of halacha, and not just by its significance in latkes, cholent, Pesach cooking, and fresh hot potato kugel.

Bracha Brouhaha — Mind Your K’s andT’s

If one were to take a poll as to the potato’s proper bracha the vast majority would respond that since the potato is a vegetable and grows and gets its nourishment from the ground, its proper bracha is “Borei Pri Ha’adama.”[2]Yet, although this seems clear-cut, interestingly, there are those who make a different blessing: Shehakol, usually reserved for food items not naturally grown.

The source of this remarkable ruling seems to be an enigmatic translation by the Aruch, Rav Nosson M’Romi (literally, of Rome; d. 1106), a contemporary of Rashi.[3]When referring to the proper bracha of mushrooms and other food items that do not actually get their nourishment from the earth and consequentially their bracha being Shehakol,[4]the Aruch translates them as “Tartuffel.” Not familiar with the archaic word, the famed Yismach Moshe maintained that the Aruch must have been referring to “Kartuffel,” colloquially known as the potato.[5] He added that the great Rav Naftali of Ropshitz made a Shehakol on potatoes as well.

This rationale is also found in several other sefarim, and there are prominent authorities who therefore made a Shehakol bracha on potatoes.[6]In fact, Sanz, Bobov (which is a branch of the Sanz dynasty), and Kamarna Chassidim among others, follow this customto this day.[7]

The Klausenberger Rebbe, the Tzehlemer Rav, and Rav Shraga Feivel Schneebalg staunchly defend the practice of making a Shehakol on potatoes.[8] The Klausenberger Rebbe adds areason to do so: since one can make flour out of potatoes and potatoes satiate and are filling, it might be considered in the same category of rice, whose proper bracha is Mezonos.[9]The rule is that if one is unsure what the proper bracha on a food item is,a Shehakol should be made. He therefore opines that potatoes should also be Shehakol.

On the other hand, it must be noted that the Steipler Gaon strongly disagreed with this reasoning, maintaining that the Gemara[10]expressly singled out rice for this special halacha of making a bracha of Mezonos, and that it therefore does not apply to any other foods, no matter how satiating they may be.[11]

R’ Chaim Safrin, the Kamarna Rebbe of Yerushalayim’s son, personally told this author a similar reasoning to the Klausenberger Rebbe’s of why Kamarna Chassidim make a Shehakol.[12]He added that anyway if one makes a Shehakol on any food he is yotzei b’dieved, so kol shekein one may do so by a potato when many great Rabbanim have said to do so.

However, the facts do not seem to corroborate that potatoes should be classified in the same category of mushrooms, as potatoes not only grow and root in the ground, but they also get their nourishment from the ground, as opposed to mushrooms and their ilk. Several contemporary authorities point out that it is highly unlikely, if not outright impossible, for the Aruch, who lived in Europe in the eleventh century, to have been referring to “Kartuffel”(potatoes) as the proper translation for mushrooms, as tubers were unknown on that continent until almost five hundred years later![13] Therefore, the vast majority of authorities rule that the proper blessing on the potato is indeed “Borei Pri Ha’adama.”[14]

Kitniyos Conflict

Another interesting issue related to the potato is its exclusion from the Ashkenazic prohibition of eating kitniyos (legumes; ostensibly based on its semi-literal translation: “little things”) on Pesach. It is well known that the actual prohibition of chometz on Pesach pertains exclusively to leavened products produced from the five major grains: wheat, barley, oats, spelt, or rye.[15]Yet, already in place from the times of the Rishonim,[16]there was an Ashkenazic[17]prohibition against eating kitniyos (legumes; ostensibly based on its semi-literal translation: “little things”)on Pesach, except in times of famine or grave need.[18]Although several authorities opposed this prohibition,[19]nonetheless it is binding on Ashkenazic Jewry in full force, even today.[20]

Although referred to slightly differently by our great luminaries - e.g., the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch references the kitniyos restrictionas an “issur,” the Mishnah Berurah as a “chumrah,” the Aruch Hashulchan as a “geder,” Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank as a “gezeirah,” Rav Moshe Feinstein as a “minhag,” and the Klausenberger Rebbe as a “takkanah,” nonetheless, they all maintain that thekitniyos prohibition is compulsory on all Ashkenazic Jewry.[21]In fact, the Aruch Hashulchan avers that “once our forefathers have accepted this prohibition upon themselves, it is considered a ‘geder m’din Torah’ and one who is lenient is testifying about himself that he has no fear of Heaven.” He adds, echoing Shlomo HaMelech’s wise words in Koheles regarding a “poretz geder,” that one who breaks this prohibition deserves to be bitten by a snake.[22]

Several reasons are given for the actual prohibition[23]including that kitniyos often grow in close proximity to grain; are commonly stored together with grain and actual chometz might actually end up mixed inside the kitniyos container; cooked dishes made from grain and kitniyos look similar; and that kitniyos can likewise be ground up into flour - a “bread” of sorts can actually be made from them. Since there are many who will not be able to differentiate between them and their Biblically forbidden chometz counterparts, kitniyos was likewise prohibited.

A Hot Potato?

So how do our spuds measure up? It would seemingly be quite difficult for anyone to mix up potatoes with chometz grain, so that rationale to regard potatoes as kitniyos is out. But, potatoes can be and are made into potato flour and potato starch, and there are those who do bake potato “bread!” If so, why would potatoes not be considered kitniyos? According to this, shouldn’tthey be forbidden for Ashkenazim to partake of on Pesach?[24]

In fact, and not widely known, the Chayei Adam seemingly considered potatoes kitniyos, and the Pri Megadim mentioned that he knows of such a custom to prohibit potatoes on Pesach as a type of kitniyos.[25]However, the vast majority of authorities rule that potatoes are not any form of kitniyos and are permissible to all on Pesach.[26]

One of the main reasons for this is that at the time when the Ashkenazic Rishonim established the decree prohibiting kitniyos, potatoes were completely unknown! It is possible that had they been readily available they might have found themselves on the “forbidden list” as well! Yet, since they were never included, as well as since they do not fit most of the kitniyos criteria, contemporary authorities could not add “new types” to the list.[27]

However, it must be noted that there are other important reasons as well why potatoes were excluded. Of the four criteria given for the Gezeira of kitniyos, potatoes only fit one, - that it can be made into flour and a “bread” of sorts can be baked from it. No one would mix up a potato with a grain kernel![28]

As Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach noted, Klal Yisrael never accepted the kitniyos prohibition to include potatoes.[29]

Cooking Quarrel

The potato was viewed quite differently by many, respective of the time and place. For example, as noted previously, it was prized by French nobility in the 1770s. Yet, by the mid-1800s, tubers were considered peasant fare in many locales, including Ireland and Russia. This divergence of attitude actually has a halachic impact.

If a non-Jew cooks kosher food (from start to finish), it still might be prohibited for a Jew to consume it, based on the prohibition of Bishul Akum, literally, food cooked by a non-Jew.[30][31]This is a Rabbinic decree, intended as a safeguard to combat the plague of assimilation and intermarriage.[32] However, in order for food to be included in this prohibition, it must meet two requirements: be unable to be eaten raw, and it must be “Oleh Al Shulchan Melachim - Fit for a King’s Table.”[33]Any kosher food cooked by a non-Jew that does not meet these requirements (obviously with no other kashrus concerns) is permitted to be eaten.[34]

A common concern is figuring out which foods are considered “Fit for a King’s Table.” The Chochmas Adam, Rav Avraham Danzig, who lived in Vilna (located in modern-day Lithuania) in the early 1800s, ruled that potatoes are considered an important food item, apropos for nobility.[35]As such, they are “Fit for a King’s Table” and any cooked potato dish must be cooked by a Jew or else will be prohibited as Bishul Akum.

However, the Aruch Hashulchan, Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein, writing in the 1890s in Novardok (located in modern-day Belarus), vigorously disagreed, maintaining that potatoes are food for the common man, and nobles would only partake of them due to the land’s overabundance of them and not due to any inherent importance.[36]Interestingly, and although written more than a century earlier, and in Germany, Rav Yaakov Emden similarly wrote that potatoes are exclusively “peasant fare.”[37]

The Aruch Hashulchan adds that it is entirely possible that in the time and place of the Chochmas Adam a potato dish might have been considered important, but by his time, the potato’s widespread popularity ensured that it no longer could have been rendered “Fit for a King’s Table,” and consequentially is excluded from the Bishul Akum prohibition. It is interesting to note that nowadays potato’s relevance is once again a matter of dispute among contemporary authorities regarding this important halacha:

  • The Maharsham, Rav Shalom Mordechai Schwadron, maintained that in his time (1890s, Berezhan, modern-day Ukraine), a cooked potato was considered Oleh Al Shulchan Melachim, however, if it was roasted it was not, and would not fall under the issur of Bishul Akum.[38]
  • The Debreciner Rav understands this to include potatoes roasting in oil (frying), and adds that nowadays any type of fried potato (French fries, anyone?) would definitely not be “Fit for a King’s Table.”[39]
  • Other contemporary authorities are even more lenient, for example, Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin and Rav Ovadiah Hedaya (the Yaskil Avdi)seems to accept the Aruch Hashulchan’s position that standard potatoes are not Oleh Al Shulchan Melachim, even nowadays,[40] and therefore can be cooked by a non-Jew.
  • On the other hand, Rav Shmuel Halevi Wosner and Rav Moshe Sternbuch are machmir for the Chochmas Adam’s opinion and maintain that nowadays potatoes can be considered Oleh Al Shulchan Melachim, and conclude that even concerning fried potatoes one should be machmir.[41]
  • It should be noted that Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky and Rav Moshe Feinsteinseem to rule that French fries and even potato chips are Oleh Al Shulchan Melachim, but for a different reason (they do seem to accept that nowadays potatoes are chashuv;Rav Moshe’stalmid,Rav Aharon Felder, wrote that indeed Rav Moshe held that potatoes in modern times have the status of an important food and are subject to the strictures of Bishul Akum).[42]
  • Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv is quoted as being machmir as well, but for an entirely novel reason.[43] Likewise, it is known that Rav Asher Zimmerman also deemed potato chips as requiring Bishul Yisrael.[44]
  • However, Rav Yisroel Belskyand Rav Dovid Feinstein disagree with this assessment, asserting that fried and roasted potatoes are in no way nowadays considered Oleh Al Shulchan Melachim, and explain at length that what is commonly quoted in the names of Rav Moshe and Rav Yaakov is not precise, and maintain that they would certainly agree that potato chips are not considered Oleh Al Shulchan Melachim.[45]
  • Many other well-knownPoskim expresslyruled leniently regarding potato chips. Theyinclude Rav Moshe Stern (the Debreciner Rav; as mentioned previously regarding fried potatoes), Rav Asher Weiss (the “Minchas Asher”), Rav Pesach Eliyahu Falk of Gateshead (the “Machazeh Eliyahu”), Rav Yisrael Pesach Feinhandler (the “Avnei Yashpei”), and Rav Yochanon Wosner of Montreal (the “Chayei Halevi”).[46]
  • In fact, the OU’s Kashrus Manual onBishul Akum states simply that French fries and potato chips “don’t require Bishul Yisrael because they aren’t olim al shulchan melachim.”[47]This assessment is shared by most other leading mainstream kashrus organizations, including the Star-K, OK, and COR (Toronto).[48]Similarly, the Swiss IRGZ (Zürich) Koscherliste, known for not relying on leniencies, dedicates a full listing of acceptable commercially produced Pommes Chips (potato chips/crisps) throughout Switzerland.
  • Come what may, it is well known that the Badatz Eidah Hachareidis of Yerushalayim is stringent for the machmir opinion and makes sure that potato chips under their hashgacha are strictly Bishul Yisrael, a much simpler proposition to ensure inEretz Yisrael than in Chutz La’aretz.[49]

This Spud’s forYou!

It’s amazing how not only our, but the entire world’s eating habits, have been changed by this simple vegetable. Can anyone even imagine Shabbos without cholent or kugel, or Chanuka without latkes, or Pesach without the potato? The common potato certainly has an uncommon and fascinating history, especially when viewed through the lens of halacha.

This article was written L’Iluy Nishmas Yisrael Eliezer ben Zev and Shoshana Leah bas R’ Yaakov Eliezer, and l’zechus for Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam v’chol yotzei chalatzeha for a yeshua teikif umiyad.

Rabbi Yehuda Spitz, author of M’Shulchan Yehuda on Inyanei Halacha, serves as the Sho’el U’Meishiv and Rosh Chabura of the Ohr Lagolah Halacha Kollel at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim. He also writes the ‘Insights Into Halacha’ column for Ohr Somayach’s website. His first English sefer, elucidating halachic inyanim pertaining to food, is due out shortly.

Rabbi Spitz can be reached at:

[1] According to the Tiferes Yisrael (Avos Ch. 3: Mishnah 14, Boaz Beg. 1), this act of Sir Francis Drake’s, of introducing potatoes to the European continent, merited him to be classified as one of the Chassidei Umos Ha’Olam, as over the centuries potatoes have saved countless lives from starvation. Others included in this exclusive list include Johannes Guttenberg, who invented the printing press and thus enabled the disseminating of Torah on a mass scale, Johann Reuchlin, who defended the Talmud from being burned in numerous debates against the apostate Pfefferkorn, and Edward Jenner, creator of the modern smallpox vaccine, saving “tens upon tens of thousands” of people. Thanks are due to Rabbi Elchanan Shoff for pointing out this fascinating source.

[2] Gemara Brachos 35a and Tur andShulchan Aruch (O.C. 203).

[3] See Rashi (Shabbos 13b s.v. ha’ochel), where he quotes the Aruch, as well as Teshuvos Rashi (41), where Rashi sends the Aruch a complicated halachic query (regarding a bris on Rosh Hashanah).

[4] See Brachos 40b.

[5] Aruch (Erech Petter), cited in Tehilla LeMoshe (hakdama to Yismach Moshe al Tanach, vol. 3:pg. 12a). See She’arim Metzuyanim B’Halacha (118: end 4).

[6] Likutei Mahariach (vol. 1, Seder Birkas Hanehenin pg. 182b), Maharam Ash(Zichron Yehuda pg. 23b s.v. al esrog), Shulchan HaTahor (204:3 and Zer Zehav 2), Otzar Hachaim (Parashas Vayelech, Mitzvas Birkas Hanehenin), Pischa Zuta (Birkas HaPesach 12:3), Minhagei Kamarna (pg. 25:97).

[7] An interesting upshot of this shittah is that generally speaking, these Chassidim will use a vegetable other than a potato for Karpas at the Pesach Seder as they hold it is not a Ha’adama vegetable. Thanks are due to Rabbi Nosson Wimer of Kiryat Sanz, Netanya for pointing this out.

[8] Shu”t Divrei Yatziv (O.C. vol. 1:82), Shu”t Migdalos Merkachim (O.C. 18), and Shu”t Shraga HaMeir (vol. 6:119).

[9] There is precedent for such rationale regarding “dochen” and other satiating foods from Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah (Brachos 26a in the Rif’s pagination s.v. v’gaon and hinei) and the Shiltei Hagiborim (ad loc. 4). Although there is some debate as whether our rice is the rice mentioned by the Gemara and what the proper bracha should be [see Biur Halacha (208:7 s.v. ad) for a synopsis of opinions], and the Bach (O.C. 208, se’if 7 s.v. ha’ochel), Shulchan Aruch Harav (O.C. vol. 1, Seder Birchos Hanehenin Ch. 1:11), Derech Hachaim (new edition, 120:16-17 and Hosafos HaKitzur Shulchan Aruch ad loc. Dinei Birchos Ha’eitz v’Ha’adamah 8), Chayei Adam (vol. 1:51, 11 and Nishmas Adam ad loc. 9; although he concludes like the Shlah over the Taz, that rice is truly Ha’adamah and not Shehakol), Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (52:17), and Likutei Mahariach (vol. 1, Seder Birchos Hanehenin pg. 183a) write that a Yarei Shamayim should only eat it as part of bread meal (and therefore not to have to make a bracha on it), and if not, should make a Shehakol, and the Kaf Hachaim (O.C. 208:38 and 39) concludes whatever minhag one follows is fine, nevertheless, the vast majority of Poskim rule that the proper bracha to make on our rice is indeed Mezonos (but its after-bracha is still Borei Nefashos as it is not one of the five grains). See Maaseh Rav (71), Birkei Yosef (O.C. 208:6), Ben Ish Chai (Year 1, Parashas Pinchas 18), Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 208:21), Mishnah Berurah (ad loc. 25 and Shaar Hatziyun 31), Shu”t Igros Moshe (E.H. vol. 1:114, end s.v. b’inyan habracha), Halichos HaGr”a U’Minhagav (pg. 167), Dinim V’Hanhagos Chazon Ish (Ch. 7:1), Orchos Rabbeinu (new edition, vol. 1, pg. 172:15), Shoneh Halachos (vol. 1, 208:24), Shu”t Ohr L’Tzion (vol. 2, Ch. 14:22), Yalkut Yosef (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, O.C. 208:10; he adds an interesting mnemonic to remember the halacha: Amen - Orez, Mezonos, Nefashos), and Rav Mordechai Eliyahu’s Darchei Halacha glosses to the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (52:18).

[10] Brachos (36b-37a).

[11] Kraina D’Igresa (vol. 2:88 s.v. v’hadavar).

[12] See Shulchan HaTahor (204:3 and Zer Zehav 2), Otzar Hachaim (Parashas Vayelech,Mitzvas Birkas Hanehenin) and Minhagei Kamarna (pg. 25:97).

[13] Shu”t B’tzeil Hachochma (vol. 4:83), Shu”t Mishnah Halachos (vol. 6:39 and 40), and many of the Poskim whose teshuvos on topic are printed in the recent Teshuvos HaPoskim (11; pg. 143-170). See also Shu”t Igros Moshe (O.C. vol. 3:63), who also defines the potato as such. Interestingly, although another famous Ashkenazic Rishon, the Maharil (Hilchos Erev Yom Kippur, Seudah Hamafsekes, 8; cited by the Elyah Rabba, O.C. 608:9, and Kaf Hachaim, ad loc. 41), quoting his Rebbeim, mentions that a good way to cool off and get nutrition before a fast day is by soaking a so-called “erd-apple,” another common colloquialism used for the potato, in water and eating it, he could not possibly have been referring to our potatoes which were not extant in Europe for another several hundred years. Additionally, he refers to it as a “pri,” and not a vegetable. As an aside, soaked raw potatoes also does not seem to be one of the usual manners which potatoes are nowadays enjoyed.

[14] Including the Yaavetz(Siddur Beis Yaakov pg. 108b, Birkas Hanehenin, Os Kuf: 18), Shu”t Imrei Yosher (vol. 2:113, 2),Likutei Mahariach (vol. 1, Seder Birkas Hanehenin pg. 182b; who cites both sides but concludes that potatoes are indeed Ha’adama), Mishnah Berurah (202:40), Orchos Chaim (Spinka; 204:2), Darchei Chaim V’Shalom (Munkascz; 293), Kraina D’Igresa (vol. 2:88), Shu”t Igros Moshe (O.C. vol. 1:60), Shu”t B’tzeil Hachochma (vol. 4:83), Shu”t Rivevos Efraim (vol. 3:124), Shu”t Mishnah Halachos (vol. 6:39 and 40), Shu”t Az Nidberu (vol. 11:48), Shvilei Dovid (O.C. Klalei Brachos, 5, Ch. 2:14), Yalkut Yosef (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch O.C. 203:10), Shalmei Nissan (on Perek Keitzad Mevorchin, He’aros 99:pg. 314-315), and Rav Asher Weiss, in personal conversation. See also the recent Teshuvos HaPoskim (11; pg. 143-170) who cites the actual teshuvos from many contemporary Poskim, including Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, whom the vast majority conclude that the proper bracha on the potato is indeed Ha’adama.

[15] MishnahPesachim (Ch. 3:1), Gemara Pesachim (42a-43a), Rambam (Hilchos Chometz U’Matzah Ch. 5:1). These are also the only grains with which one may fulfill his obligation of Achillas Matzah; see Mishnah in Pesachim (35a), Rambam (Hilchos Chometz U’Matzah Ch. 6:4), and Tur and Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 453:1).

[16] See for example Mordechai (Pesachim 588), SMa”K (222), Raavad (Hilchos Chometz U’Matzah Ch. 5:1), Hagahos Maimoniyos (ad loc.), Ohr Zarua (vol. 2:256, pg. 59, third column), Rabbeinu Manoach (Glosses to the Rambam ad loc.; cited in Biur Halacha 453:1 s.v. v’yeish), Maharil (Minhagim, Hilchos Maachalos Assuros B’Pesach 16), Terumas Hadeshen (113 and 133), Ritva (Pesachim 35a s.v. hani), and Tur (O.C. 453). Not that they all upheld the prohibition of kitniyos, but they all mention it. See also the Pri Megadim’s Introduction to Hilchos Pesach (vol. 2, Ch. 2:6) and the Chida’s Tov Ayin (18).

[17] The Rambam (Hilchos Chometz U’Matzah Ch. 5:1) explicitly permitted kitniyos, the Ritva (Pesachim 35a s.v. hani) writes that the “minhag pashut b’chol Sefard” is to eat cooked rice on Pesach, and even the Beis Yosef (O.C. 453) refers to it as a strictly Ashkenazic issue. Interestingly, and although not me’ikar hadin, there are some Sefardim who are stringent as well, especially with rice; on this topic, see Knesses Hagedolah (O.C. 453, Hagahos al HaTur 2; citing the Mahari Halevi 38), Pri Chodosh (ibid.), the Chida’s Tov Ayin (9:6), Shulchan Melachim (O.C. 453:1), Ben Ish Chai (Year 1, Parashas Tzav 41), Shu”t Rav Pe’alim (vol. 3, O.C. 30),Kaf Hachaim (O.C.453:10),Shu”t Yabia Omer (vol. 5, O.C. 37:5), Shu”t Yechaveh Daas (vol. 1:9), Shu”t Ohr L’Tzion (vol. 3, Ch. 8:15), Rav Mordechai Eliyahu’s Darchei Halacha glosses to the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (117:2), Chazon Ovadiah (Hilchos Pesach, pg. 82-86), and Yalkut Yosef (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch O.C. 453:1). The Ben Ish Chai adds that in his opinion one who is machmir not to eat rice on Pesach may not cook nor even serve rice to someone who does. [However, see Sdei Chemed (Maareches Chometz U’Matzah 6:6) and Kaf Hachaim (O.C.453:16) for alternate views.] The Kaf Hachaim (ad loc. 10) cites the Pekudas Elazar (51, pg. 64b) who writes that in his day, the Sefardim in Yerushalayim were noheg to prohibit kitniyos. [However, the Kaf Hachaim adds that by his time that was no longer the case, but rather each Kehillah kept their own minhagim.] In a similar vein, seemingly regarding Sefardim and kitniyos, Rav Avraham Azulai, ancestor of the Chida, in his Kabbalistic sefer Maaseh Chosheiv (which was first printed from a manuscript in 5752; end Rimon 13, B’Inyan Chag HaPesach V’Yetzias Mitzraim s.v. matzasi) writes briefly that he found written in the name of the Arizal, “Shekol hamishamer Pesach karui b’chol inyanav shehu to’eles l’nefesh l’chol hashana, v’Hachaveirim (a term generally used to refer to the Arizal and his talmidim) hayu machmirin k’minhag Ashkenazim, ad kan matzati.” Thanks are due to to my talmid, R’ Yitzchak Rubin, for pointing out this fascinating source.

[18] Chayei Adam (vol. 2, 127:1; and Nishmas Adam, Hilchos Pesach Question 20), Mor U’Ketziah (beg. 453), Shu”t Teshuva Mei’ahava (259), Shu”t Chasam Sofer (O.C. 122), the Maharatz ChiyusKuntress Minchas Kina’os (6; printed in Kol Sifrei Maharatz Chiyus, vol. 2, pg. 1029), Mishnah Berurah (453:7 and Shaar Hatziyun 6), and Aruch Hashulchan (ad loc. end 5). For a discussion on what is considered great need in order to allow kitniyos, see Shu”t Zeicher Yehosef (O.C. 157), Shu”t Shoel U’Meishiv (Mahadura Tinyana vol. 4:128) and Shu”t Divrei Malkiel (vol. 1, 28:20). On the other hand, the Vilna Gaon is quoted (Maaseh Rav 184) as being extremely makpid with kitniyos, even “b’shnas b’tzores.”

[19] As mentioned previously, the Rambam (Hilchos Chometz U’Matzah Ch. 5:1) explicitly permitted kitniyos. See also Beis Yosef (beg. O.C. 453), quoting and Rabbeinu Yechiel and Rabbeinu Yerucham, who called the kitniyos prohibition a “minhag shtus, ridiculous custom.” The prohibition is also strongly rejected by the Tur (O.C. 453), who writes that abstaining from rice and kitniyos on Pesach is a “chumrah yeseirah, v’lo nahagu kein.” The Yaavetz (Mor U’Ketziah beg. 453), quoting his father, the great Chacham Tzvi, famously declared that if he had the ability to cancel the kitniyos prohibition he would, as it mostly affects the poor. The controversial sefer Shu”t Besamim Rosh (348) even posits that the kitniyos prohibition was started by Karaites (!) and should not be followed. On the other hand, several authorities, including the Beis Meir (O.C. 453), Shaarei Teshuva )ad loc. 1), and Maharsham (Daas Torah ad loc. 1) counter his words, with the Maharsham emphatically declaring that “ain lanu ela minhageinu, v’chalilah lishmoa eilav.” He then cites the Maharil (Minhagim, Hilchos Maachalos Assuros B’Pesach 16, quoting the Maharash; also cited by the Shaarei Teshuva) that anyone who transgresses the prohibition of kitniyos, “d’kol d’gazru Rabbanan ha’over alav chayav misah, v’over al lo sasur min hadavar asher yorucha.”

[20] Rema (O.C. 453:1 and Darchei Moshe ad loc. 2), Levush (ad loc. 1), Bach (ad loc.) Pri Chodosh (ad loc. 1; he cites a mekor from the Gemara - Pesachim 40b), Vilna Gaon (Biur HaGr”a ad loc. and Maaseh Rav 184; citing the same source), Shulchan Aruch Harav (O.C. 453:3-5), Chayei Adam (vol. 2, 127:1), Shaarei Teshuva (ad loc. 1), Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (117:4), Mishnah Berurah (453:6 and Biur Halacha ad loc. s.v. v’yeish), and Aruch Hashulchan (453:4 and 5). See also the Maharsham’s Daas Torah (ad loc.), the Chida’s Tov Ayin (18), as well as the MaharatzChiyusKuntress Minchas Kina’os (6; printed in Kol Sifrei Maharatz Chiyus, vol. 2, pg. 1029), Shut Chasam Sofer (O.C. 122), Shu”t Tzemach Tzedek (Hachadoshos; O.C. 56), Shu”t Maamar Mordechai (32), Shu”t Maharam Brisk (48), and Shu”t Divrei Malkiel (vol. 1:28), all of whom discuss the strength of this compulsory prohibition. Rav Elazar Flekles (Shu”t Teshuva Mei’ahava, vol. 2, on O.C. 459), prime disciple of the Noda B’Yehuda, avers rather strongly, that there is not a Beis Din in the world that can abolish the kitniyos prohibition, not even that of “Shmuel HaRamasi v’Eliyahu (HaNavi) u’Beis Dino,v’chol Gedolei Yisrael af imaheim,” since it was already accepted “b’chol arei Ashkenaz, Tzarfas, Polin-Gadol V’Kattan, Lita, RussiaUngaren…,” etc.

[21] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (117:4), Mishnah Berurah (453:6), Aruch Hashulchan (ad loc. 4 and 5), Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank (Mikra’ei Kodesh, Pesach vol. 2, 60:2), Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igros Moshe O.C. vol. 3:63), and the Klausenberger Rebbe (Shu”t Divrei Yatziv O.C. vol. 2:196).

[22] Koheles (Ch. 10:8).

[23] See Beis Yosef and Rema (O.C. 473:1) and major commentaries, including the Biur HaGr”a (ad loc. 5), Shulchan Aruch Harav (ad loc. 3, 4, and 5), Chok Yaakov (ad loc. 5 and 6), Shaarei Teshuva (ad loc. 1), and Mishnah Berurah (ad loc. 6, and Biur Halacha ad loc. s.v. v’yeish).

[24] This author was recently interviewed on the “Kashrus on the Air” radio show, discussing the topic of kitniyos and potatoes, as well as whether quinoa should be considered kitniyos. A recording of this show may be accessed at:

[25] The Chayei Adam (Nishmas Adam, Hilchos Pesach, Question 20) tells a Maaseh Shehaya that in the city of Fiyorda (Fürth), Germany in 5531-5532, due to starvation conditions their Beis Din allowed them to eat potatoes on Pesach thoseyears, although they normally forbid it due to potato flour being produced there; see also Chayei Adam vol. 2, 127:1, where he avers that the biggest kitniyos issue is the potential for flour mix-up with grain flour. The Pri Megadim (O.C. 453, M.Z. 1) mentions that he knows of such a minhag, nevertheless the vast majority of Poskim, including the Pri Megadim himself (O.C. 464, E.A.1) rule that potatoes are not considered kitniyos.See next footnote.

[26] The vast majority of Poskim, including the Pri Megadim himself (O.C. 464, E.A. 1), rule that potatoes are not considered kitniyos. Others who explicitly write that potatoes are not kitniyos include the Shu”t Sheilas Yaavetz (vol. 2:147, 4 s.v. u’vhiyosi), Shu”t Divrei Malkiel (vol. 2: end 112; he adds an additional reason to be lenient: potato flour doesn’t look like grain flour and has a different consistency, therefore mitigating potential mix-ups), Shu”t Yad Aharon (16:5), Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 453:5; he adds that with the advent of potatoes one should never have to rely on the hetter of permitting kitniyos b’shaas hadchak), Shu”t Levushei Mordechai (O.C. vol. 1:127), Kaf Hachaim (O.C. 453:21), Shu”t Igros Moshe (O.C. vol. 3:63), Halichos Shlomo (ibid.), Shu”t Vayaan Yosef (Mishpatecha L’Yaakov,O.C. 41), and Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov (new edition, O.C. end 207). It is widely quoted that the famed Divrei Chaim of Sanz questioned how the Chayei Adam could possibly have forbidden potatoes on Pesach when his sefer is titled “Chayei Adam,” literally “The Life of Man” and potatoes are one of the necessities of life.

[27] Shu”t Sheilas Yaavetz (vol. 2:147, 4 s.v. u’vhiyosi), Shu”t Levushei Mordechai (O.C. vol. 1:127 s.v. v’hinei), Shu”t Igros Moshe (O.C. vol. 3:63), and Shu”t Chelkas Yaakov (new edition, O.C. end 207), similar to the rule set by the Chok Yaakov (O.C. 453:9). Others who cite this sevara include the Melamed L’Ho’eel (Shu”t vol. 1:87 and 88), and Seridei Aish (Shu”t vol. 2:37, 2; new edition vol. 1:50). The first mention of such a sevara seems to be the Zeicher Yehosef (Shu”t O.C. 157), who writes that b’shaas hadchak one may eat “she’u’it, green beans,” on Pesach due to this logic. [However, it is important to note that he only utilized this sevara to be lenient in extenuating circumstances. Also the Shaarei Teshuva (453:1) seemingly and directly argues, writing simply that they are kitniyos and thereby prohibited.] See Vayaged Moshe (17:7) quoting the Tiferes Shlomo (Ohel Shlomo vol. 1, pg. 35), that we should give hoda’ah for the fact that potatoes were discovered after the Gezeiras HaGaonim.

[28] See Shu”t Levushei Mordechai (O.C. vol. 1:127) and Halichos Shlomo (Moadim vol. 2, Pesach Ch. 4, Dvar Halacha 28). This is a very important factor, as the Levushei Mordechai writes that although there are several reasons mentioned for the kitniyos ban, the most important one is that Kitnyos look similar to grain and get mixed up. This would obviously exclude potatoes from the kitniyos category. To paraphrase the Pri Megadim (O.C. 464, E.A. 1), No one, not even a blind person, would mix up a potato with a grain kernel!

[29] Halichos Shlomo (Moadim vol. 2, Pesach Ch. 4, Dvar Halacha 28). However, Rav Shlomo Zalman personally was stringent with potato flour [starch] (ad loc. footnote 109). It is known that the Badatz Eidah Hachareidis of Yerushalayim were also stringent until the renowned Minchas Yitzchak became the Ga’avad and ruled that there was no reason to be machmir, even with potato starch. Other Poskim who explicitly permit potato starch on Pesach include the Aryeh D’vei Ila’i (Shu”t, Kuntress Avnei Zikaron 10, based on the Pri Chodosh’s hetter - O.C. 461:2 regarding matzah meal), the Levushei Mordechai (Shu”t O.C. vol. 1:127) and She’arim Metzuyanim B’Halacha (117: end 7 s.v. v’ugos). See also Shu”t Maharshag (vol. 2, O.C. 119 s.v. umetchilla) who, as a side point to the main issue discussed, mentions as a davar pashut that there is no problem, even of Maris Ayin, regarding using potato flour on Pesach to bake. Thanks are due to R’ Moshe Langer for pointing out this important source. On the other hand, although the Arugas Habosem (Shu”t vol. 2,O.C. 124) cites several sevaros lehakel, he nevertheless concludes that it is assur, based on the similarity of baking use of potato starch and chometz. Additionally, the Chayei Adam’s stringent position on potatoes was based on the fact that “flour” can be made from it, and leshittaso, that is the biggest problem with kitniyos. See Chayei Adam (vol. 2, 127:1) and Nishmas Adam (Hilchos Pesach, Question 20).

[30] See GemaraAvodah Zarah (38a), Rambam (Hilchos Maachalos Assuros Ch. 17:14-22) and Tur andShulchan Aruch (Y.D. 113) and relevant commentaries, for all related halachos of Bishul Akum. According to the Yerushalmi (Shabbos Ch. 1, Halacha 4; 12a in the Friedman edition and 9b in the Me’orei Ohr edition), the prohibition of Bishul Akum is one of the eighteen Gezeiros that Chazal established on that famous, fateful day when Beis Shamai overruled Beis Hillel. On the other hand, it is noticeably absent from the Talmud Bavli’s list of these Gezeiros (see Shabbos 17b and Avodah Zarah 36a-b). Rabbeinu Tam (Tosafos, Avodah Zarah 37b s.v. v’hashlakos) opines that the prohibition of Bishul Akum actually predates those of Hillel and Shamai.

[31] However, there is a practical distinction between Sefardic and Ashkenazic psak as to how much of the cooking process a Jew must perform in order to classify the food as Bishul Yisrael. Whereas the Rema (Y.D. 113:7) maintains that it is sufficient if a Jew lit the fire or stoked the coals (concluding “v’chein nohagin”), on the other hand, the Shulchan Aruch (ad loc. 6 and 7) rules that a Jew must take an active part in the cooking process, whether by placing the pot on the fire or stirring it on the stove. This is because he understands Bishul Yisrael’s prerequisite to mean that a Jew’s direct actions will cause the food to be cooked, at least to some degree. Rav Ovadiah Yosef (Shu”t Yechaveh Daas vol. 5:54 and Shu”t Yabia Omer vol. 9 Y.D. 6), discussing what Sefardim should do regarding eating in a restaurant that relies on this ruling of the Rema, where the only “cooking” the Jew does is light the fire, maintains that they may be lenient and eat there, due to a sfek sfeika: Perhaps the halacha follows the Rema, and perhaps Bishul Akum does not apply to non-Jewish workers in a Jewish home or establishment [this is the minority opinion of Rabbeinu Avraham ben Rav Dovid, which although the practical halacha does not actually follow [see Tosafos (Avodah Zarah 38a s.v. ela; citing Rabbeinu Tam) and Tur and Beis Yosef (Y.D. 113:1)], nonetheless, the Rema (ad loc. 4 and Toras HaChatas 75:17) still permits reliance on this shittah b’dieved]. However, Rav Ovadiah concludes that it is nonetheless preferable for Sefardim not to rely on this dispensation. Other contemporary SefardicPoskim, including Rav Ben Tzion Abba-Shaul (Shu”t Ohr L’Tzion vol. 2, pg. 12:5) and Rav Mordechai Eliyahu (Darchei Halacha glosses to the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 38:7), based on the Ben Ish Chai (Year 2, Parashas Chukas 18 and Shu”t Rav Pe’alim vol. 3, Y.D. 9), are more stringent, contending that there is no basis for such consideration, and assert that it is forbidden for Sefardim to eat in a restaurant that does not follow the Shulchan Aruch’s strict definition of Bishul Yisrael.

[32] There is an additional reason given for this restriction: that by eating even exclusively strictly kosher food cooked by a non-Jew, one may come to get too comfortable with non-Jews and their cooking and may come to eventually transgress eating Maachalos Assuros.

[33] This rule is based on a difference of interpretation between the great Yeshivos of Sura and Pumbedisa on how they understood Rav Shmuel bar Rav Yitzchak’s statement quoting Rav (Avodah Zarah 38a). The codified halacha follows both versions; seeTur andShulchan Aruch (Y.D. 113:1).

[34] There might also be an additional factor to take into account: When the Gemarateaches the requirements of Bishul Yisrael, after stating that any food that it is Oleh Al Shulchan Melachim is included, it adds “lelafos bo es hapas, to be eaten along with, or together with bread.” There is a difference of understanding between the Rishonimwhether the Gemarawas simply stating a common method of serving or actually meant to qualify the rule, making a further stipulation in the halacha’s application. When codifying the halacha, the Rambam (Hilchos Maachalos Assuros Ch. 17:15) and Rabbeinu Yerucham (Sefer Ha’Adam, Nesiv 17:7, pg. 160b, fourth column) use the same language of the Gemara, leading several notable Acharonimto rule that even if a food item is considered Oleh Al Shulchan Melachim, nonetheless, if it is not commonly served to be eaten with bread, it is exempt from the requirement of Bishul Yisrael. However, this issue is debated, and many Acharonimfollow the Rashba’s (Toras Habayis, Bayis 3, Shaar 7, 94a) understanding, ruling that even if the food is not served with bread, as long as it is Oleh Al Shulchan Melachim, mandates Bishul Yisrael. To further complicate matters, the Tur and Shulchan Aruch (ibid.), though citing “lelafos bo es hapas,” still add “parperes,” generally understood to be dessert, to the list of foods needing Bishul Yisrael. Several Acharonimview this important addition as proof that “lelafos bo es hapas” was not meant be a qualification in the halacha, as who eats dessert with bread? Others understand the issue differently and maintain that any food that satiates and is served as part of a seudah is considered “lelafos bo es hapas,” even if said food item is not eaten with bread at all. There are also several authorities, who maintain that for a food item to be considered Oleh Al Shulchan Melachim it must have sufficient inherent importance that one would “invite his friend over to serve said food product.” It does not seem too common to invite someone over simply to share French fries or potato chips! Practically, there is no clear-cut consensus on the matter, although Rav Shmuel Halevi Wosner (Shu”t Shevet Halevi vol. 2:43; see also vol. 9:23 and vol. 10:124) and Rav Dovid Feinstein (cited in Shu”t Vidibarta Bam vol. 2:255) advise to ensure that both desserts and chashuv food not eaten with bread be Bishul Yisrael, (while allowing leniency b’shaas hadchak). On the other hand, and undoubtedly, following the lenient opinion would permit French fries without requiring Bishul Yisrael, as they are generally served as at most a side dish, and would certainly allow potato chips, which is merely a snack, and not any part of a seudah.

[35]Chochmas Adam (66:4).

[36] Aruch Hashulchan (Y.D. 113:18).

[37] Shu”t Sheilas Yaavetz (vol. 2:147, 4 s.v. u’vhiyosi).

[38] Shu”t Maharsham (vol. 2:262).

[39] Shu”t Ba’er Moshe (vol. 4:49).

[40] Teshuvos Ibra (Ch. 3:42; originally printed in Rav Nissan Telushkin’s Taharas Yisrael in a footnote on pg. 282 and more recently in Shu”t Gevuros Eliyahu vol. 2-Y.D. 26 and 28; however, he held that the reason is that they are not served as an accompaniment to bread, “lelafos bo es hapas,” and therefore excluded from the requirement), and Shu”t Yaskil Avdi (vol. 7,Y.D. 6:4, 4).

[41] Shu”t Shevet Halevi (vol. 2:45; vol. 6:108, 4 s.v. u’mikol makom; vol. 9:23; see also vol. 10:124 where he is machmir even regarding potato chips) and Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos (vol. 1:438). They also take into account that the Chazon Ish was widely rumored to have maintained a novel approach that any food a king or queen might eat during the day, including snacks, are considered Oleh Al Shulchan Melachim.

[42] Emes L’Yaakov on Tur and Shulchan Aruch (Y.D. 113: footnote 42; he is quoted as holding that even though potato chips are not chashuv, nevertheless since potatoes are chashuv, all products stemming from the same basic “min” (species or variety etc.) would be included in the stricture; this shittah is first mentioned by the Shu”t Chessed L’Avraham, Y.D. 8, and cited by the Darchei Teshuva, ad loc. 9), Shu”t Igros Moshe (Y.D.vol. 4:48, 5; writing very briefly that the “hetter” for potato chips is unclear, but not to chastise those who are lenient), and Rishumei Aharon (vol. 1, pg. 35).

[43] Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv is quoted (Kerem Efraim pg. 65 and Ashrei Ha’Ish, Y.D. vol. 1, 8:1; as cited in Ohel Yaakov on Hilchos Maachalei Akum pg. 93) as being machmir regarding potato chips, but for a different, albeit interesting and novel reason: chips can be eaten with soft cheese as an accompaniment to bread, “lelafos bo es hapas,” and are therefore considered Oleh Al Shulchan Melachim.

[44] See Hamodia’s Inyan Magazine (May 9, 2019, “Torah Greatness Amidst Simplicity,” pg. 29-31). It is also reported there that Rav Zimmerman applied the same restrictions to peanut butter; that in his opinion it also requires Bishul Yisrael. This seems to be a quite novel approach as well.

[45] Shu”t Shulchan Halevi (Chelek Birurei Halacha 25;see also the OU’s Kashrus Manual on Bishul Akum (pg. 1-3) and Shu”t Vidibarta Bam (vol. 2:255, 2 s.v. v’shamaati). They also both strongly assert that Oleh Al Shulchan Melachim is not dependent on the “min,” but rather the food item. One of the proofs to this is the case of Rice Bread, which after theShulchan Aruch (Y.D. 112:1) rules is not a true “bread,” the Rema (ad loc.) adds that it is not included in the category of Bishul Akum either, if it is not Oleh Al Shulchan Melachim. Other Poskim argue that there is no way that Rice Bread could possibly be considered “Fit for a King’s Table.” As rice’s status of whether or not it is considered Oleh Al Shulchan Melachim is an earlier discussion [see Teshuvos HaRosh (19:21), Tur (Y.D. 112:1), Bach (ad loc. 4 s.v. v’kasav), Shach (ad loc. 5), and Minchas Yaakov (75:18)], why would the Poskim even entertain the notion that rice bread should be any different, unless this rule does not actually follow the “min,” but rather the individual food item. See also Shu”t Shevet Hakehasi (vol. 6:274) who explains the distinction a bit differently, as follows: when a “min,” such as meat, is intrinsically Oleh Al Shulchan Melachim, then not only steak, but even non-chashuv types of meat, such as innards, are included in this designation as well. Conversely, in a scenario where the “min” does not hold intrinsic importance, but can be cooked and prepared in a manner that makes it fit to be served on a “King’s Table,” then only when it is actually prepared in said manner is it considered Oleh Al Shulchan Melachim. Yet, when this “min” is prepared in a manner which is definitely notfit to be served on a “King’s Table,” it in no way is regarded as Oleh Al Shulchan Melachim. Although he does not apply this outright, this description seems quite apropos of potato chips and French fries vis-à-vis their parent “min,” the potato.

[46] Shu”t Ba’er Moshe (vol. 4:49), Minchas Asher (Parashas Devarim 5:8), Shu”t Machazeh Eliyahu (vol. 2:40 and 41; originally published in Kovetz Am HaTorah, Mahadura 3, vol. 10 pg. 75-89; 5754), Rav Feinhandler’s teshuva on potato chips is printed in Ohel Yaakov on Hilchos Maachalei Akum (pg. 95 and 634), and Shu”t Chayei Halevi (vol. 4, 50:10; however, he personally is machmir with French fries). They explain that as potato chips are eaten exclusively as a snack and generally not served as any part of a seudah, not as “parperes,” and certainly not “lelafos bo es hapas,” there is simply no reason to insist that they be Bishul Yisrael.

[47] The OU Kashrus Manual on Bishul Akum (pg. 36).

[48] See,, and However, these agencies do not necessarily see eye-to-eye on every nuance of this inyan. The OK actually differentiates between French fries, which they mandate be Bishul Yisrael, and potato chips, which they do not, unless they are actually certifying the potato chip production. Rav Moshe Heinemann, Chief Posek for the Star-K, makes an interesting qualification in his ruling in the aforementioned article:“Obviously, in countries where potato chips reach a king’s state dinner, potato chips would also be subject to the laws of Bishul Akum.”

[49] However, it should be noted that there currently are (comparably) small runs of Bishul Yisrael potato chips being manufactured under the hashgachos of smaller Vaadei Kashrus, such as Lieber’s Potato Chips, produced under the supervision of Rav Menachem Meir Weissmandl of Nitra, that are easily obtainable in certain “heimishe” locales in America.

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.

L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda.

© 1995-2024 Ohr Somayach International - All rights reserved.

Articles may be distributed to another person intact without prior permission. We also encourage you to include this material in other publications, such as synagogue or school newsletters. Hardcopy or electronic. However, we ask that you contact us beforehand for permission in advance at and credit for the source as Ohr Somayach Institutions

« Back to Insights into Halacha

Ohr Somayach International is a 501c3 not-for-profit corporation (letter on file) EIN 13-3503155 and your donation is tax deductable.