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By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator

Q. It seems like in the times of the Gemara, bread was always considered kosher, no matter who made it.  Is that still true nowadays?

A. Bread is made from flour and water, and those are both kosher from any source.  Most of the other minor ingredients added, including yeast, should preferably have hashgachah, but are so commonly kosher (and are often batel b’shishim in the bread) that they do not pose a significant concern.  However, there are other ingredients – including milk, cheese, raisin juice concentrate, and oil – which may be dairy or non-kosher and would not be batel in the food.  There are also other ingredients, such as emulsifiers and dough conditioners with chemical-sounding names that most consumers would not be able to recognize as kosher-sensitive.

One example which highlights the unexpected ingredients that might be used for these purposes is l-cysteine which can be isolated from human hairs or chicken feathers boiled together with the neveilah (non-kosher) chicken.  In fact, most consider l-cysteine to be kosher (for reasons that are well beyond the scope of this article), and the example is just noted to show the types of issues that might arise in a product which seems as simple as a loaf of bread.

Even if someone familiar with food science reads the ingredient panel and can determine that there are no sensitive ingredients, that is not yet enough to permit the bread.  That is because even if this loaf is free of non-kosher components, there is a good likelihood that the ovens and other equipment used in the manufacture of this loaf are also used for other breads which contain milk, cheese, or other non-kosher ingredients.  Accordingly, it is recommended that people should only purchase bread which is certified kosher.

We have noted that milk is an ingredient commonly added to non-kosher bread.  In this context it is noteworthy that Chazal forbade the creation and consumption of bread which contains dairy or meat.  This is because bread is a staple food eaten at many meals and always assumed to be pareve.  To avoid mistakes – such as someone eating a cold cut sandwich with dairy bread – Chazal said that bread must always be pareve, and if someone makes it with milk (or meat) the bread is completely non-kosher and cannot even be eaten alone.

There are 3 other issues that are relevant to bread in some situations and for some people.  Firstly, if the dough is owned by a Jew, then challah must be separated from the batter.  This is relatively easy at home but raises challenges for commercial or retail bakeries owned by Jews.  Secondly, bread is made from “spring wheat” which will be chodosh between Rosh Hashanah (approximately) and Pesach.  Consumers who are only eat yoshon will have to purchase bread from bakeries that take special steps (e.g., storing yoshon flour or using modified winter wheat) to produce yoshon bread all year round.  Lastly, many consumers will only eat bread that is pas Yisroel, meaning that a Jew participated in the baking, especially on ShabbosYom Tov, and during Aseres Yimei Teshuvah.  Special efforts must be made to accomplish this at a commercial bakery, and there are also different Rabbinic opinions as to which methods are “good enough”.  The details of those opinions are beyond the scope of this article but are issues that differentiate some hashgachos from others, and consumers are encouraged to ask their Rabbis which standards are appropriate for their use.

This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, March 1, 2024.