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The first verse in the Torah portion (and entire book) of Shemos is “וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל הַבָּאִים מִצְרָיְמָה אֵת יַעֲקֹב אִישׁ וּבֵיתוֹ בָּאוּ – And these are the names of the sons of Israel who came to Egypt; with Yaakov, each man and his household came.”
The words אִישׁ וּבֵיתוֹ literally means “a man with his house.” The commentaries translate and explain this expression in different ways:
  • Descendants
The Ibn Ezra says that this is referring to the children of the twelve tribes. He says that בֵיתוֹ cannot refer to their wives (as it sometimes does) since the wives of the tribes were not counted among the 70 family members who came down to Egypt.
(In fact, the wives are mentioned in the verses that discuss those who came down to Egypt, as it says [Gen. 46:26], “All the persons belonging to Yaakov who came to Egypt—his own seed, aside from the wives of Yaakov’s sons—all these persons numbered 66.” The Ibn Ezra means that since they were not counted among the 70, there would be no reason to mention them here.)
  • Houses
The Ohr HaChaim says that the tribes came to Egypt with the knowledge and expectation that they would be exiled there for an extended period of time. They knew this because of the covenant G-d had made with their great-grandfather Avraham Avinu, in which He informed Avraham that his descendants would be exiled (see Gen. chapter 15). For this reason they uprooted themselves from their homes and took all of their possessions with them to Egypt rather than leaving these things in the land of Canaan and expecting to return to them in a short while. Thus the words אִישׁ וּבֵיתוֹ can be understood to mean “each man with his dwelling place.”
  • Hashem and His Court
The Alshich HaKadosh and Rabeinu Bachaye say that אִישׁ (man) is referring to the Almighty G-d who is called אִישׁ in Exodus 15:3 (“G-d is a man of war”).
The word וּבֵיתוֹ (and His household) is referring to G-d’s celestial court, otherwise known as the Beit Din shel Maalah.
G-d accompanied the Jews into Egypt just as He accompanies the Jews in every exile, as it says (Tehillim 91:15), “ עִמּוֹ אָנֹכִי בְצָרָה – I am with them in their pain.” (See Rashi on Deut. 30:3.)
G-d’s court accompanied Him in order to exact appropriate punishment from the Egyptians at the opportune time (Kli Yakar).
  • Wives
The Chizkuni says that אִישׁ וּבֵיתוֹ means each man and his wife. This means that Yaakov made sure that all of his sons were married before they went down to Egypt, as the verse (quoted above) says, “aside from the wives of Yaakov’s sons.” The reason Yaakov did this is because he knew that the Egyptain women were very promiscuous, and he did not want his descendants to learn from their ways. The Kli Yakar points out that, according to the Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 32:5), the Jewish people followed in the path of Yaakov Avinu and no one intermarried with the Egyptian people (with the exception of one case of a forbidden union). This is one of the reasons that they merited to be redeemed eventually . Thus, at the very beginning of the story of the exile, the verse alludes to what kept us spiritually strong during the exile, that is, our purity in relationships.
The rest of this email will focus on several laws of bishul Yisrael as this law was enacted by our sages to protect us from intermarriage. For more information on this topic, see here and here.
Bishul Yisrael
The concept of bishul Yisrael is that a Jew may not eat food that is cooked from beginning to end by a non-Jew as this can engender friendship which can eventually lead to intermarriage. This is true even if all of the ingredients are kosher. It does not apply, however, to food that is edible raw or food that is not fit to be served at a king’s table. Food that is not cooked according to the above specifications is called bishul akum (lit. the cooking of a pagan) and is forbidden to eat.
Nullifying Bishul Akum
In general, if non kosher food gets mixed into kosher food it becomes nullified if the volume of the kosher food is 60 times that of the non kosher food. Regarding bichul akum, some say [Shach 112:23 and 113:21] that this law is more lenient. And that if bishul akum is inadvertently mixed into permissible food it is nullified in a simple majority.
Others (see Bi’ur HaGra 113:8 and 39) disagree and are of the opinion that bishul akum is only nullified in 60. Most authorities accept the lenient position (see Chelkat Binyamin 112:133).
Kashering from Bishul Akum
If a gentile cooked something in a manner that renders the food bishul akum, the utensils he or she used must be kashered before they can be used to cook other (kosher) food (Rashba and Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 113:16). In this respect, bishul akum is treated as non-kosher food.
There is an opinion (Ra’ah and Rosh cited in Y.D. ibid) that such utensils need not be kashered as eating the food that was cooked in such utensils will not lead to friendship or intermarriage. Although the halacha does not follow this opinion, one can be somewhat more lenient regarding the kashering in this case.
Here are two ways in which this kashering is more lenient than ordinary kashering:
1) Kashering Ceramic
If a ceramic pot was used to cook bishul akum, one can kasher the pot by dipping it in boiling water three times. On the other hand, if a ceramic pot is used with ordinary non-kosher food, it cannot be kashered at all unless it is heated in the intense heat of a kiln. This leniency is based on the Jerusalem Talmud, Terumot 11:4 which allows this kind of kashering for certain Rabbinically forbidden foods.
(It is noteworthy that Ba’al Ha’Itur (Rabbi Isaac ben Abba ari of 12th Century Marsielles) is of the opinion that this is an acceptable manner to kasher ceramicware from any non-kosher flavor as long as one waits 24 hours since it was used before doing the kashering. The halacha does not follow this view, however, and generally, ceramicware cannot be kashered in this method. [Tur, Y.D. end of Siman 121].)
2) After Shabbos
In general, the consumption of bishul akum is forbidden even for a sick person unless it is necessary for consumption in a life-or-death situation. The exception is that one may have a non-Jew cook for a seriously ill person on Shabbos, even if he is not dangerously ill. In this case the rabbis were lenient since there is no way for the sick person to get hot food because a Jewish person may not desecrate the Shabbos for a person who is not dangerously ill.
After Shabbos, however, this food becomes forbidden since there is no longer a need for this dispensation since a Jew can now cook for him (Shulchan Aruch HaRav 318:6 and Mishnah Berurah 328:63 in accordance with the view of the Taz Y.D. 313:15 as opposed to that of the Rama 313:16 and Shach in Nekudot HaKessef, end of Siman 113).
Despite this, many say that the utensils which were used by the gentile to cook on Shabbos need not be kashered (see Sha’ar HaTziyun of the Mishnah Berurah 328:41). If one waits 24 hours before using them, there is greater reason to say that they need not be kashered (Pit’chai Teshuvah 113:6).
After Conversion
Before a convert undergoes conversion, he or she usually keeps kosher for some time as practice for their life as a Jew. Despite this being the case, after the conversion is complete, they must kasher their kitchen. This is true even if their dishes were previously kashered from any non-kosher food absorption and were only used (since then) for kosher food. This is because all of the food they cooked before their conversion was bishul akum. Now that they are Jewish, the utensils which they used for cooking are forbidden and must be kashered. In light of this, if a convert wishes to buy new dishes, it is recommended that they “practice” keeping kosher with their old set of dishes and only begin using the new set after the conversion is complete (Rabbi Dovid Cohen in Pas Yisroel and Bishul Yisroel, page 282).
Must Onions be Bishul Yisrael?
As mentioned above, any food that is edible raw is not subject to the laws of bishul akum (Avodah Zarah 37a and Y.D. 113:1). The reason for this is that eating such foods which are cooked by a gentile do not engender feelings of closeness since the cooking was not really “necessary” as the food was already edible prior to that (Chelkat Binyamin 113:2). This brings us to the question as to whether or not onions are subject to the laws of bishul akum. Most people do not eat plain onions when they are raw. It is not uncommon, however, to eat onions raw when they are sliced thinly and added to a salad. Does this form of consumption give them the status of food that is edible raw and thus not subject to the laws of bishul Yisrael?
There are differing opinions about this matter, but the accepted halacha follows the view of Tosfot (D.H. Berativta, Brachot 36b), that food which is only edible raw when combined with other foods, is considered to be edible raw and as such the restrictions of bishul Yisrael would not apply to it. (See Magen Avraham, 203:4 and Mishnah Beruah 203:11. It is noteworthy that the Alter Rebbe chooses not to touch upon this issue in 203:5.)
This leads us to another question. Raw eggs are considered to be edible and, as such, are not muktzah on Shabbat (see O.C. 310:2). (Raw foods which are inedible are muktzah on Shabbat as they have no functional use on that day [see Shulchan Aruch HaRav 308:8].) Regarding bishul Yisrael, however, the halacha follows the opinion that the restrictions of bishul Yisrael do apply to eggs (Y.D. 113:14). The Taz (113:13) explains that eggs are only eaten raw in rare cases (e.g., for therapeutic reasons) but not on a regular basis. So, although for the purpose of the laws of muktzah they are considered to be edible raw, the same is not true regarding the laws of bishul Yisrael.
(See also Tosfot on Yevamot 46a, D.H. Rebi Yochanan for a slightly different explanation.)

In the merit of our purity in these matters, may we merit to be speedily redeemed from this exile!

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach and a Chodesh Tov!

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