There are a number of decrees that were established by Chazal in order to prevent (or reduce) assimilation and intermarriage. One of those decrees is the rule against bishul akum (food cooked by a non-Jew). There are various rules and regulations surrounding the decree as to when and how it's applied and how much involvement a Jew must have in the meal preparation.
Since this is a rabbinic decree and not a commandment from the Torah, it makes sense to take a look at it. My understanding of it (and *please*, feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) is that thousands of years ago, when the decree was enacted, eating with non-Jews could lead to assimilation and intermarriage. I would imagine a hired cook in the home or an innkeeper would probably have been the primary cases where eating such foods could lead to intermarriage and assimilation.
Of course, the world today is a different place. Unlike inns in the past, you're not likely to run across the cook in a modern hotel of any decent size. You're also unlikely to meet the chef in a restaurant or nursing home. That's not to say that the halachos surrounding bishul akum should be tossed out -- much like the laws surrounding the 2nd day of Yom Tov outside of Israel, they're here to stay. But nonetheless, in many cases, the consequences of assimilation and/or intermarriage is not present. Indeed, you'd probably have a much higher probability of intermarriage with the waitstaff at a restaurant or the person who brings around the trays at a nursing home rather than with the cook.
Yudel Shain mentions a conversation he had with R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt"l. As he puts it:
Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurbach, OB"M told me that the reason of the high rate of assimilation is because as of the kulos & heterim of de americaner Rabonim in "bihul-akum und Yayin-nesech" halachos- I asked perhaps the Heteirim are acceptable? Reb Shlomo Zalman, responded it can't be-As CHAZAL said........otherwise we wouldn't have the high rate of assimilation.
He said "if we eliminate a bishul akum in New York, it will eliminate an intermarriage in Pariz.
To me, this sounded very strange and quite unbelieveable. We all know that the intermarriage rate among Jews is very high -- in some places in the neighborhood of 50%. I'm sure that the causes of intermarriage are fairly complex and numerous, but I can probably think of half a dozen things that would influence the rate of intermarriage more than kulos (lieniences) in the halachos of bishul akum. Even if you want to limit the study to Orthodox Jews alone (who have a much lower rate - but not zero - of intermarriage), there are probably still quite a few factors that would come into play in determining the causes of intermarriage before kulos in bishul akum. I could even accept that a violation of the bishul akum laws in New York may lead to intermarriages in New York, but how would they lead to intermarriages in Paris or anywhere else on a regular enough basis to merit mention by R. Auerbach?
Since the statement was troubling to me, and since I don't think R. Auerbach was a fool, I asked for some background and an explaination. When I pressed Yudel Shain for an explaination, I was told that in manufacturing plants and mosdos (institutions) bishul akum is the norm. I don't know whether that's true or not, but for the my reply, it didn't matter. My response to that was:
But even in those cases, how often does the consumer come into contact with the cook? In how many nursing homes do the residents get to meet the cook (and in how many of those cases does it lead to marriage between a resident and the cook?!)
The same thing applies all the more so in a manufacturing plant. I have no idea who is cooking the food - and I will certainly never meet them in the context of being the cook of my food.
If the point of bishul akum is to prevent intermarriage (something I agree with), then please tell me how it applies in these situations.
Or, to put it a different way -- I think there are other causes for intermarriage and assimilation that rank MUCH higher than bishul akum does in today's society.
SORRY, YOU MISSED IT COMPLETELY!
If you are lenient in Bishul-Akum in New Jersey, that will cause intermarriage in Paris.. FAR'SHTEIST????
Later on in the thread, it was stated that R. Avigdor Miller would state that people who ask such questions are Apikorsim (heretics). Fine, whatever... so I'm an apikores for asking, but I still would like an explaination. Or do you think R. Auerbach was simply engaging in a bit of hyperbole?