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by R. Ari Enkin

As a general rule, it is forbidden to eat foods that were cooked by a non-Jew, a concept known as bishul akum. Even if all the ingredients of a cooked food are otherwise kosher, the food may be prohibited to eat if it was cooked by a non-Jew.1  The rules of bishul akum only apply to foods that are “suitable for the table of a king.”2  According to some authorities, only food that is generally eaten in the course of a bread meal is subject to these laws.3  The primary reason that the sages instituted the restriction of bishul akum was in order to curb the chances of intermarriage.4  It is also a precautionary measure in order to better ensure that the food one eats is indeed kosher.5

There is much discussion as to whether coffee is subject to the restrictions of bishul akum. Since coffee is a drink that is made by cooking water, one might think that it is forbidden to drink coffee prepared by a non-Jew. However, foods that are routinely eaten raw, or that are only being cooked because one wishes to enjoy them warm or soft, are not subject to any bishul akum restrictions.6

There may, however, be a different bishul akum concern regarding coffee. Although coffee generally consists of only two ingredients, coffee and water, coffee is never consumed raw. Indeed, it is not possible to properly enjoy coffee beans without first roasting them. Since coffee is a food that is not eaten raw, perhaps it is subject to bishul akum and should, therefore, not be prepared by a non-Jew.

Nevertheless, many halachic authorities argue that since coffee is not a mainstay of a meal, nor is it used as a condiment with bread, it is not subject to any bishul akum restrictions.7  It is also noted that the primary ingredient of coffee (water) is regularly consumed “raw.” It is argued, therefore, that since coffee is a drink that is primarily water – a food item that is not subject to any bishul akum restrictions – it is permissible to drink coffee prepared by a non-Jew.8  Furthermore, coffee grounds lose their identity within the water they are mixed into, which further mitigates any bishul akum concerns.9

There are additional grounds for leniency if one personally adds sugar and/or milk to one’s coffee. This is because, for most people, coffee is considered to be “incomplete” and unfit for drinking until these condiments are added. When one personally adds condiments to one’s coffee, it is as if the non-Jew merely began the coffee-making process while it is a Jew, by adding the needed condiments, who actually completed it. Indeed, there are generally no concerns for bishul akum if a Jew just completes the cooking process of a food item.10

Based on the above considerations, most halachic authorities permit one to drink coffee that was prepared by a non-Jew.11  Although there are those who choose to refrain from doing so, this should be considered a personal stringency and not a halachic requirement.12  Nevertheless, some sources recommend not drinking coffee made by a non-Jew during the Ten Days of Repentance when stringency in halacha, especially in the area of kashrut, is in order.13

Even though it is technically permitted to drink coffee prepared by a non-Jew, one should not use coffee as a medium for frequent socializing with non-Jews, as it could lead to intermarriage.14  In fact, there was once a decree in certain communities that anyone who used “kosher coffee” as a pretext for socializing with non-Jews in their cafes was ineligible to become a rabbi.15  Nevertheless, one should always be civil and cordial with one’s non-Jewish neighbors, and periodic socializing is sometimes in order.16 One should certainly never come across as arrogant or exclusionary over this issue.17

One is permitted to drink coffee in the morning before praying.18  So too, it is permitted to drink coffee while wearing tefillin.19  According to some authorities, a cup of coffee in the morning fulfills the halachic obligation to eat breakfast.20  Common custom is not to recite a blessing when drinking coffee during a meal, even when it is served with dessert — when separate blessings are often recited.21  Similarly, a beracha acharona is usually not recited on coffee, as it is a beverage that is generally only sipped at spaced intervals.22  When faced with no other choice, one may recite Kiddush or Havdala over coffee.23  So too, under extenuating circumstances, coffee may be used in place of wine for the four cups at the Pesach Seder.24  One whose parents instructed him not to drink coffee due to legitimate health concerns, and the like, should obey his parents’ instructions.25 Common custom is not to recite a blessing when smelling coffee, but the matter is disputed.26

It goes without saying that all the ingredients of, and additives to, coffee must be kosher. Coffee is a much more sophisticated and elaborate drink than it once was. Today, all types of flavorings and syrups are regularly added to coffee, so one must be especially careful of any kashrut concerns when ordering coffee nowadays. It is noted that coffee is not mentioned in the Shulchan Aruch which has led scholars to assert that it was only introduced into Jewish communities after the Shulchan Aruch had been completed. There is even a compelling theory that the custom of staying up all night on Shavuot only became widespread after the discovery and proliferation of coffee, which made it easier to do so!27

When making instant coffee on Shabbos, one should not pour hot water directly from an urn of kettle onto instant coffee powder. This is due to the uncertainty as to how the instant coffee was manufactured, and the halachic ramifications of each of the different possibilities.28 Due to the debate over whether instant coffee powder has the status of a liquid or a solid,29 one should, at the very least, first fill a cup with hot water from the urn or kettle, and then put the instant coffee into the cup. In this way, the instant coffee is being put into a kli sheini (a “second vessel”) which is unable to cook a previously cooked liquid.30 If one wants to comply with the more stringent view, one should pour the water from the first cup into another cup, and put the instant coffee into this second cup. Doing so turns the second cup into a kli shlishi (a “third vessel”) which allows one to heat up or even cook almost anything on Shabbat.31

On a related coffee note, Rav Hershel Schachter rules that there is no issue of marit ayin to purchase coffee at a McDonalds, or similar food outlet, when traveling. Rav Yisroel Belsky agrees that this is permitted, but rules that one should not sit down at the restaurant tables, which might lead onlookers to believe that one purchased more than just coffee. Rather, one should sit outside or at some other “neutral” location. Rav Schachter recommends waiting to drink the coffee until one returns to one’s car. He also adds that even one who is ordinarily stringent in such matters should not hesitate to be lenient if one is feeling tired and needs a coffee in order to refresh and “wake up.” This is because driving while tired is a biblical violation of v’nishmartem me’od l’nafshoteichem and is certainly much worse than any marit ayin concerns that may arise from drinking a cup of coffee at McDonalds.32

  1. There is a dispute whether a Jew must be entirely involved in the cooking process in order to remove any bishul akum consideration or whether it suffices for a Jew to simply contribute to the cooking in some way. Ashkenazim generally follow the latter approach. See YD 113:7.  

  2. Avoda Zara 38a. 

  3. Ritva, Avoda Zara 38a. 

  4. Avoda Zara 35b; Rambam, Hilchot Maachalot Assurot 17:9. 

  5. Rashi, Avoda Zara 38b. 

  6. Avoda Zara 38a. 

  7. Pri Chadash, YD 114:6. 

  8. Chochmat Adam 66:14. 

  9. Ben Ish Chai, Chukat 16; Aruch Hashulchan, YD 113:22. 

  10. Teshuvot V’hanhagot 4:193. 

  11. Aruch Hashulchan, YD 113:22; Meishiv Milchama 2:146; Yechave Daat 4:44; Rivevot Ephraim 6:79. 

  12. Ben Ish Chai, Chukat 16; Vayomer Yitzchak, YD 50; Shevet Halevi 2:44; Yechave Da’at 4:42. 

  13. Chemdat Yamim, Yamim Nora’im, Chapter 5; Kemach Solet, Hilchot Aseret Yemei Teshuva, Moed Lekol Chaim 16:2. I found these sources in Eliezer Brodt’s “Bein Kesseh L’asor” p. 114. 

  14. Radbaz 3:637; Maharikash, YD 114; Chochmat Adam 66:14; Ben Ish Chai, Chukat 2:16. 

  15. Bein Yisrael L’nochri, Y.D 11:7 note 21. 

  16. Pitchei Teshuva, YD 114:1; Kaf Hachaim, YD 114:12. 

  17. Kaf Hachaim, YD 114:14. 

  18. Yabia Omer 3:19:4, 4:11; Halichot Shlomo 2:2; Az Nidberu 11:46; Shearim Metzuyanim B’halacha 8:2; Avnei Yashfei 5:14:4; Teshuvot V’hanhagot 1:73. 

  19. Tzitz Eliezer 7:27:1; Rivevot Ephraim 2:27:20, 2:48:9. 

  20. Kaf Hachaim, OC 155:23; Minhag Yisrael Torah, OC 155:16. 

  21. Mishna Berura 174:39; Rivevot Ephraim 8:72. 

  22. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 51:6; Mishna Berura 210:1; Aruch Hashulchan, OC 202:7, Kaf Hachaim, OC 204:40; Rivevot Ephraim 1:131, 4:53. 

  23. OC 296:2; Aruch Hashulchan, OC 272:14. 

  24. Mishna Berura 472:37. 

  25. Shevet Halevi 10:156:2. 

  26. See Maharam Shik, OC 85; Yaskil Avdi 8:14; V’zot Habracha p. 174; Mishna Berura 216:16. 

  27. Elliot Horowitz, Coffee, Coffeehouses and the Nocturnal Rituals of Early Modern Jewry, AJS Review, 1989, pp.17-46. 

  28. See Meor Hashabbat 5:25. 

  29. See for example, Mishna Berura 318:39, 71. See also Igrot Moshe, OC 4:74:1. 

  30. Minchat Yitzchak 1:55; 9:27; Chelkat Yaakov 2:116; Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 1 note 135; Yechaveh Da’at 2:44. 

  31. Meor Hashabbat 1:5:25; Shevet Halevi 8:63; Igrot Moshe, OC 4:74:16. 

  32. Cited at: See also Igrot Moshe, OC 1:96. 

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot.

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