Sufganiot and Jewish Law

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sufganiyotby R. David Brofsky


This essay is dedicated to a topic central to the observance of Chanuka: Sufganiot (fried donuts).

Many attribute the custom of eating sufganiot (i.e. dough fried in oil), to a passage authored by the Rambam’s father, R. Maimon (Sarid Ve-Palit, 1945). He writes:

One should not be lenient regarding any custom, even the lightest of customs. And one is obligated to make every effort to prepare festivities (mishteh vesimcha) and actions to publicize the miracle that God did for us on those days. It has become customary to make “sufganin,” known in Arabic as “alsfingh” … This is an ancient custom (minhag ha-kadmonim), because they are fried in oil, in remembrance of His blessing.

Apparently, R. Maimon felt that it the custom of eating fried dough is rooted in the miracle of the pach ha-shemen, the flask of oil which burned for eight days. Seemingly, thin custom could be fulfilled by eating other fried foods, such as latkes, as well. However, some suggest (Halikhot Shlomo, Chanuka, ch. 17) that the custom is to specifically eat foods upon which one says the blessing of Al Ha-Michya afterwards in order to say the words “ve-al mizbechacha,” mentioning “the altar,” which was rededicated on Chanuka.

This week, we will discuss various halakhic issues relevant to the preparation and consumption of sufganiot, including hafrashat challah, the preparation and consumption of dairy bread, the proper blessing, whether the laws of pat akum or bishul akum are relevant to sufganiot, and whether they may be prepared immediately following the lighting of the Chanuka lights.

Hafrashat Challah

The Torah (Bamidbar 15: 17-21) teaches that one must separate challah from “reishit arisoteichem,” the “first of your dough.” Among the many halakhot relating to hafrashat challah, the Rishonim discuss the manner in which the dough is cooked or baked. Generally, when enough dough is baked in an oven, one is obligated to separate challah. Even when dough is baked in a pan, one must separate challah (see Pesachim 37a; Shulchan Arukh YD 329:2). What about dough that is boiled?

The mishna (Challah 1:4) teaches:

Sponge-biscuits (sufganin), honey-cakes (duvshanin), dumplings (askritim) … are exempt from challah.

Although the mishna does not explain why these foods are exempt from challah, the Talmud (Pesachim 37a) assumes that they are not subject to challah due to the manner in which they are prepared. Reish Lakish maintains that these foods are prepared in a pot (ma’aseh ilfas), and not in an oven. R. Yochanan insists that regardless of how they are baked, breads are subject to the obligation of challah; these breads, however, were baked in the sun and are therefore exempt. The Rishonim note, based on the Yerushalmi (Challah, ch. 1), that even R. Yochanan agrees that if the dough was boiled (al yedei mashkeh), it is exempt from challah.

The Rash (Challah 1:5; see also Rif, Pesachim 11b; Rambam, Hilkhot Bikkurim 6:12; Rosh, Pesachim 2:15, et al.) rules in accordance with R. Yochanan. Thus, dough is only exempt from the obligation of separating challah if it is either baked in the sun or boiled. However, bread baked without liquid, whether in an oven or in a pot, is subject to the obligation of challah. The Rishonim add that the appropriate blessing over boiled dough is accordingly Borei Minei Mezonot. Rabbeinu Tam disagrees. Based on his understanding of another mishna (Challah 1:5), he concludes that one must separate challah from both baked and boiled dough.

Due to this debate, the Maharam Mi-Rutenburg (see Rosh, Pesachim 2:16) instructed the members of his house that if they wished to knead a thick dough and then boil it, they should bake a small portion of it so that the entire dough would become obligated in challah according all opinions.

The Shulchan Arukh (YD 329:3-4) rules in accordance with the Rash. Therefore, one who kneads dough with the intention of boiling/frying it is exempt from taking challah. The Shakh (329:4) writes that one should preferably separate challah without a blessing, in deference to the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam.

Thus, if one prepares an amount of dough that would ordinarily be obligated in challah in order to fry sufganiot, he should separate challah without a blessing.

Which Blessing is said over Sufganiot?

Interestingly, the debate cited above is also relevant to another question: which blessing is recited before eating sufganiot?

According to the Rishonim cited above who maintain that boiled dough is exempt from challah, the blessing of Mezonot is said before eating. Rabbeinu Tam, however, grappled with the implications of this position, as Tosafot (Berakhot 37b, s.v. lechem) records:

Initially, Rabbeinu Tam wished to say that they are only subject to the laws of challah, as the mitzvah of challah begins while it is still dough (issa), as it says, “arisoteichem” (Bamidbar 15:21), and since it began as dough, it is subject to challah, but one does not recite Ha-Motzi. However, that does not seem to be the case.

At first, Rabbeinu Tam suggests that while baked dough is certainly considered to be bread, when it is boiled, the laws of challah dictate that one must separate challah despite the fact that the food is not defined as “bread.” He concludes, however, that the proper blessing for dough which is boiled is Ha-Motzi; apparently, even after being boiled, it is still considered to be “bread.” Rabbeinu Tam adds that although pasta is subject to challah, as it is made from a thick dough (issa), one does not recite Ha-Motzi over pasta, as “they do not have a turita de-nehama (the appearance of bread).”

The Shulchan Arukh (168:13) cites both opinions and concludes: “A God fearing [person] should only eat [dough which has been boiled] after first reciting the blessing [of Ha-Motzi] over bread.” The Rema adds that one always says the blessing of Borei Minei Mezonot before eating pasta, as it does not have “an appearance of bread” (to’ar lechem). In contrast, “pashtida and kreplachdo have a to’ar lechem, and therefore those who are concerned with the view of Rabbeinu Tam should only eat them during a meal. The Rema, however, reports that “it is customary to be lenient” (nahagu le-hakel). It is therefore customary to say Borei Minei Mezonot before eating boiled or deep-fried breads, such as doughnuts and sufganiot.

The Acharonim debate whether, according to the lenient opinion, one who eats boiled dough as the basis of his meal (kevi’at se’uda) must wash, say Ha-Motzi, and then Birkat Ha-Mazon after eating, like one who is kove’a se’uda on pat ha-ba’ah be-kisanin. While some Acharonim (Ginat Veradim, OC 1:24; Perach Shushan 1:4) maintain that one must say Ha-Motzi, others (Magen Avraham 168:38; Mishna Berura 168:57) insist that one always says Borei Minei Mezonot over boiled or deep-fried dough.

If one eats sufganiot during a meal and as part of the meal, then one certainly does not say another blessing over them. However, if suganiot are eaten at the end of the meal for enjoyment, as dessert, then seemingly one should say the Mezonot blessing before eating them, as we learned previously.

May One Make Dairy Sufganiot?

The Talmud teaches that one is not permitted to knead or bake dairy bread. The gemara (Pesachim 36b) states:

One should not knead dough with milk, and if one did, the entire loaf is prohibited, because of “hergel aveira” (the likeliness of habitual behavior leading to sin)… [If it is] like an oxen’s eye [it is permitted].”

After relating that one must not make and eat dairy bread lest one come to eat it with meat, the gemara states that if the bread is “ke’en tura” (like an oxen’s eye), it is permitted.

The Rishonim debate the meaning of the term “ke’en tura” (like an oxen’s eye). The Rif (Chullin 30a) explains that if “one changes the shape and makes it like an oxen’s eye, then it is permitted.” In other words, dairy bread is permitted if its shape is noticeably different, which will serve as a reminder not to eat it with bread. Rashi (Pesachim 36a) explains that an “oxen’s eye” is “small… and is eaten in one sitting (be-vat achat), and one does not leave it over and forget that is was kneaded with milk.” Rashi requires that this dairy bread be small so that one will not forget that it is indeed dairy and come to eat it with meat.

The Tur (YD 97) cites both opinions. Similarly, the Shulchan Arukh (YD 97) rules:

One should not knead dough with milk lest one come to eat it with meat, and if one did, the bread it prohibited… However, if the bread is small enough to eat in one sitting (be-vat achat) OR if one changes the shape of the bread and it is apparent that one should not eat it with meat, then the bread is permitted.

Based on this ruling, the Rema writes;

Therefore, it is the custom to knead bread with milk for Shavuot or with meat fat for Shabbat because this is considered “small” and its shape is also different than other breads.

The Shulchan Arukh clearly rules in accordance with BOTH the Rif and Rashi.

Seemingly, since sufganiot are noticeably different than bread and it is not customary to eat them with meat, one may prepare dairy sufganiot.

Furthermore, the Pitchei Teshuva (YD 97:3) cites the Maharit, who rules that the prohibition of dairy bread applies only to bread products that will be eaten WITH meat. However, cookies and cakes that are generally eaten AFTER meat may be dairy. While most Acharonim (see Chokhmat Adam 50:3 and Arukh Ha-Shulchan YD 97:5-6) agree with the Maharit, some “mehadrin” kashrut organizations in Israel demand that cheese burekas be made in a different shape (triangular) than potato burekas (square). Similarly, Rav Soloveitchik zt”l (cited in Mi-Peninei Ha-Rav, pg. 153) apparently disagreed with the Maharit and prohibited dairy cakes that are not clearly chalavi (i.e. cheese cake).

Interestingly, the Rabbanut Ha-Rashit (Chief Rabbinate) requires that dairy filling be seen from the outside of doughnut and that the dough should not be made with milk.

Pat Akum and Bishul Akum

Are sufganiot subject to the laws of pat akum and/or bishul akum? This question is especially significant, as most workers who fry sufganiot in bakeries are not Jewish.

The Talmud (Avoda Zara 35) teaches that the Rabbis prohibited a number of foods that were prepared by non-Jews. Notably, the mishna mentions pat akum (bread baked by non-Jews) and bishul akum (food cooked by non-Jews).

The Rishonim debate whether the original prohibition of pat akum is still legally binding and under which circumstances. The Shulchan Arukh (YD 112:1) records the prohibition of pat akum, without any exceptions. In 112:2, however, he notes that there are some places in which the custom is to be lenient and purchase bread from non-Jewish bakers, as it is considered a “sha’at ha-dechak,” i.e. extenuating circumstances. The Rema adds, “Some say that even if pat yisrael is available [one may be lenient].” The Acharonim debate whether optimally one should strive to eat pat yisrael when it is readily available (see Shakh 112:9, Arukh Ha-Shulchan 112:9, and Biur Ha-Gra.)

It is customary to be lenient regarding pat akum. Even those who wish to be stringent assume that minimal Jewish involvement in the baking of the bread, even simply lighting the oven or throwing a twig into the fire (hashlachat kisam) renders the bread pat yisrael (see Shulchan Arukh 112:9).

The Talmud explains that food which is cooked by non-Jews, bishul akum, is prohibited under certain circumstances. This prohibition is so severe that not only is the food prohibited, but the Shulchan Arukh (YD 113:16) cites two opinions regarding whether the pots themselves are rendered not-kosher. The gemara limits this prohibition to food that cannot be eaten raw and food that can “be served on the tables of kings.”

The Rishonim debate whether the leniencies applied to pat akum are relevant to bishul akum as well. The Shulchan Arukh (YD 113:17) rules stringently and only permits food which a Jew played a significant role in its cooking. The Rema disagrees and rules that even if a Jew merely lit the fire or threw a twig into the fire, the food is kosher.

Are sufganiot considered to be pat akum or bishul akum? If they are considered to be pat akum, then we may forgo Jewish involvement in the cooking process altogether. However, if we consider them to be subject to bishul akum, then Ashkenazim would require that a Jew light the fire each day, and Sephardim might require that the sufganiot be fried by a Jew!

R. Ovadia Yosef (Yechaveh Da’at 5:53) relates to this question. He suggests that since the Rishonim debate whether or not a boiled or fried dough is considered to be “lechem,” regarding the rabbinic prohibition of bishul akum, one may be lenient and treat them as bread, which is not subject to the concern (see Rema 113:11). In addition, some suggest that sufganiot may not be considered to be “oleh al shulchan melakhim” (fit to be served to a king), and therefore the laws of bishul akum do not apply. The policy of the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, however, is to insist that the deep-fryer is turned on by a Jew.

Preparing Sufganiot while the Candles are Lit

The Tur (670) cites the custom of women to refrain from melakha while the nerot Chanuka are burning.  While some criticized this custom (see Chakham Tzvi 87), other Acharonim approvingly record the custom for women to refrain from melakha until midnight or for the entire first and eight days. The Sefer Chassidim (121) even suggests that men should also refrain from work.

The Acharonim offer different reasons for this custom. Some suggest that it serves as a reminder not to derive benefit from the Chanuka lights. According to this reason, the Mishna Berura (4) suggests, women should refrain from melakha only during the first half-hour, after which, strictly speaking, the Halakha allows deriving benefit from the lights.  Alternatively, the Levush (670) suggests that the custom serves to underscore the fact that the days of Chanuka were established as festive days, similar to Rosh Chodesh and Chol Ha-Mo’ed. Women, who are responsible for bringing about this miracle, therefore refrain from melakha while the lights are burning.  It would appear that according to this theory, women should refrain from melakha as long as the lights burn, and not merely within the first half-hour.

The accepted custom is for women to refrain from labors prohibited on Chol Ha-Mo’ed (such as laundry and sewing) for the first half-hour after the candles are lit. Other chores, such as cooking (and frying), are permitted.

Preserving One’s Health

It is worth noting one final point regarding the consumption of sufganiot. The Talmud (Berakhot 32b; see also Levush, YD 116) derives from the verse (Devarim 4:15), “ve-nishmartem me’od le-nafshoteichem” (“you shall guard yourselves exceedingly”) that one must take good care of one’s health.

Since each sufgania, deep fried in oil, has approximately 500 calories, every person should consider whether or not a sufgania, or how many sufganiot, may endanger one’s health.

Chanuka Sameach!

This essay is part of a weekly shiur on Hilchot Berachot on Yeshivat Har Etzion’s Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash and is republished here with permission. You can subscribe to Rav Brofsky’s regular shiur here.

About David Brofsky

Rabbi David Brofsky is a senior faculty member at Midreshet Lindenbaum and writes a weekly halakha shiur for the Virtual Beit Midrash (VBM). He is the author of Hilchot Tefilla: A Comprehensive Guide to the Laws of Daily Prayer, and the recently published Hilkhot Moadim: Understanding the Jewish Festivals.

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