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By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator
Q. I’ve heard of chalav Yisroel, but what’s pas Yisroel? Do I have to keep it?
A. The Mishnah teaches that one cannot eat “pas” (literally, “bread”, and defined in more detail below) unless a Jew participated in its baking; this is called pas Yisroel. [This was instituted to discourage fraternity between Jews and non-Jews, which in turn, might lead to intermarriage.] But the Gemara says that people found this decree too difficult to maintain – since bread was a staple food, and it was difficult to obtain bread which is pas Yisroel – so the prohibition was retracted as relates to pas made by a baker/paltar. The thinking was that (a) there is a strong need for people to be able to buy pas (as above), and (b) purchasing pas from a baker is a financial transaction, rather than the social interaction of getting pas from a neighbor, which means that it is unlikely to lead to intermarriage. Accordingly, the pas Yisroel requirement was relaxed to not include pas paltar.
Some Rishonim are of the opinion that since pas paltar was only permitted due to the great need, it remains forbidden in situations where pas Yisroel is readily available. But others say that once the pas paltar portion of the prohibition was rescinded, it became completely permitted, regardless of the circumstances. Rema – and most Jewish people – follows this latter opinion, and, therefore, will eat (and certify!) commercially produced pas products even if they are not pas Yisroel.
But Shach encourages people to follow the stricter stand, and, therefore, many people will not consume pas paltar when there is a similar item available as pas Yisroel. Some even go a step further and will not eat pas paltar even if there is no comparable pas Yisroel option. [Many who follow Rema will, nonetheless, follow the stricter approach on Shabbos and during Aseres Yimei Teshuvah.]
Which foods are included in the term “pas”? Any food for which the bracha rishonah is hamotzi – if one eats it alone or as part of a meal. The basic requirements for that are (a) it must contain one of the five grains (wheat, rye, spelt, oats, and barley), and have (b) tzuras hapas (the “form” of bread), a term which is not always so easy to define. (Pasta and Cheerios-like cereals do not have tzuras hapas. There is a difference of opinion regarding wraps.) In practice, pas includes all types of breads and matzah, since the bracha for them is always hamotzi, and also includes pizza, cookies, cake, and crackers, since one recites hamotzi if they eat enough of them as part of a meal.
This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, November 3, 2023.