Warming Food on Shabbos
Because the Mishkan and Shabbos are both mentioned in this week’s parsha…
Question #1: Near Fire
“May I warm food on Shabbos by putting it near the stove?”
Question #2: Kugel on Pot
“May I take a kugel from the refrigerator on Shabbos morning and place it on the cholent pot to warm?”
All the questions above relate to the laws of how one is permitted to warm food on Shabbos. Unless specified otherwise, assume that this article is discussing food that is already fully cooked and dry, such as baked or barbecued chicken or a kugel. Cooked liquids, such as soup or gravy, that have cooled off may not be warmed on Shabbos because this might be considered cooking them, a topic we will not discuss in this article.
Chazal prohibited placing food, even fully cooked, to warm on Shabbos on a heat source. This was prohibited because it looks like cooking. However, there are a few ways that Chazal permitted warming food on Shabbos.
Near the fire
One way that they permitted is to place the food near a fire, but not on top of it (Shabbos 37a; Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 253:1). This is permitted, because it is shelo kederech bishul, this is not a usual way to cook. If you build a bonfire or barbecue to roast hot dogs, steak or potatoes, you put the food in the fire or on top of it, but not alongside. On a chilly evening, people sit beside the fire to stay warm, specifically because they usually do not want to be cooked. Similarly, putting food alongside the fire is clearly meant to warm the food, not to cook it, and for this reason is permitted.
The Ran permits several other methods of warming food on Shabbos. Some of these approaches are accepted by the other halachic authorities, whereas others are not. I am first going to mention two methods that he suggests that are not accepted by most other authorities:
In the context of a different but related prohibition called shehiyah, Chazal prohibited leaving cooking food on an open fire when Shabbos starts. This prohibition is to avoid the concern that someone might stoke the fire on Shabbos. However, Chazal permitted leaving cooking food on a fire covered with ashes, called ketumah. The Ran rules that once a fire is ketumah, it is permitted to return fully-cooked dry food to warm on that fire, even if the food is completely cold. However, most other authorities prohibit this (see, for example, Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 253:2; Magen Avraham 253:25; cf., however, Rema 253:2).
Kugel on top of stove
I mentioned above that the Gemara permits warming food alongside a fire, because food is not cooked this way. The Ran permits taking a pashtida (something like a kugel) and placing it on top of a stove, because it is not usually cooked this way – pashtida was always baked in an oven, not atop a stove. This ruling is not accepted by other rishonim, presumably because they feel that Chazal permitted warming food only in a way that no one cooks any food, not this particular food. Although pashtida is not baked on top of a stove, this is the preferred way to cook many items, and therefore, this does not qualify as shelo kederech bishul.
A third approach suggested by the Ran and other rishonim to warm food on Shabbos is in a kli rishon that has been removed from the fire. A kli rishon is a pot, pan or other vessel containing food that is very hot from being on top of a stove or inside an oven, or that was heated in a similar way from a direct source of heat. Since we are discussing warming food that is completely cooked and dry, no one cooks these foods in a kli rishon, and, for this reason, you may warm food this way, even if it become so hot that a person pulls his hand back when he touches it (yad soledes bo). Therefore, you may place a kugel or meat into a pot that was heated on the fire, but is no longer on the fire.
Although using this heter is not that common, I will present you with a situation in which it was used. A caterer was hired to serve a Friday night meal at 8:00 p.m., on a cold winter day. Obviously, there was interest in a hot main course, but placing chicken or meat to warm from before Shabbos would probably dry it out before it was served. The caterer’s suggestion was to place a pot of gravy warming on a fire or blech, and then, prior to serving the food, remove the gravy from the fire and then add the chicken to the pot containing the gravy. This allows serving a very hot, moist dinner, without violating any Shabbos laws.
On top of pot
Let us return to the words of the Ran that we have been discussing. Quoting an earlier rishon, the Rashba, the Ran permits a fourth method of warming food on Shabbos: warming cold food by placing it on top of a pot that is directly on the fire. His words are, “It is permitted to put food that was fully cooked before Shabbos, such as a pashtida or something similar, to warm on top of a pot containing hot food on top of the fire, even if it will reach the temperature of yad soledes bo, since this is not a usual way of cooking.” Many other rishonim accept this approach, and it is recorded in the Shulchan Aruch as accepted halacha, as we will soon discuss.
Things that cook easily
We should realize that none of the options of warming food that we have mentioned may be used for foods that have never been cooked. In some instances, heating raw foods that cook easily, called kalei habishul,is prohibited min haTorah. For example, placing a tea bag, raw spices or a raw egg into a kli rishon violates the melacha of bishul mide’oraysa (see Mishnah, Shabbos 42a). (As a matter of fact, kalei habishul will cook even in a kli sheini, which is the platter or bowl into which food was poured from a kli rishon. There is a halachic dispute whether you may place kalei habishul into a kli shelishi, a utensil into which something was poured from a kli sheini platter, bowl or cup, but this is not today’s topic.)
Returning to the fire
Thus far, we have discussed different methods of warming cold food on Shabbos. There is another way that Chazal permitted rewarming food on Shabbos called chazarah, but chazarah refers to food that was already hot on Shabbos and was removed from the heat source. For example, you decided to serve some of the food now, but you intend to return it to the source of heat in order to serve the rest later. Before addressing the opening questions, we need to analyze the rules governing when and how it is permitted to return food to the fire on Shabbos.
The most frequent contemporary example of this is removing a kettle from the blech to make a cup of tea on Shabbos, and then returning the kettle to the blech to remain hot. This heter applies even to liquid food, provided that it is completely cooked and still hot, or at least warm. It is permitted to return the food on top of the fire, but only when several conditions are met:
(1) The fire must be covered in a way that reduces its heat and will remind someone not to adjust its heat on Shabbos. Covering the fire this way is called ketumah, which means that the fire was covered with ash, as I mentioned above. Although some authorities dispute whether the following method is permitted, accepted contemporary practice is to accomplish ketumah by placing a metal sheet called a blech on top of the stove (Magen Avraham 253:31). In addition, it is preferable to cover the dials that adjust the temperature setting on the stove (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:93).
Several other conditions should be fulfilled before returning food to the blech.
(2) The food must be fully cooked.
(3) The food must still be hot.
(4) The food must have been removed with the intent to return it.
(5) Preferably, the pot of food should remain in someone’s hands the entire time that it was off the fire.
Many Sefardim are lenient, maintaining that as long as the fire is properly covered, the pot may be returned to the blech even if there was no intent to return it to the fire and it was put down, as long as the pot of food was not placed on the ground. Ashkenazim can be lenient about returning the food to the fire, even if someone mistakenly forgot these last two requirements; that is, the food was removed from the fire without any intention to return it, and it was put down. Lechatchilah, these requirements should be observed.
How hot must the food still be to permit returning it to the blech? In this question, Sefardim are stricter than Ashkenazim, contending that the food must be yad soledes bo in order to permit returning it. Ashkenazim rule that the food may be returned to the blech as long as it is still warm enough to eat.
Creating a “blech” on Shabbos
The Mordechai, a German contemporary of the Rashba, discusses the following case:
Someone leaves his cholent cooking directly on the fire when Shabbos started, without the use of a blech, which the Mordechai permits. (In fact, there is a dispute among rishonim whether it is permitted to leave your cholent when Shabbos started on a fire without a blech. Because of this dispute, most people always place their cholent on a blech.) When the person wakes up Shabbos morning, he notices that his cholent was beginning to burn. He needs to reduce the heat that is keeping the cholent warm, so that it does not become burnt, yet he wants it to remain hot for the Shabbos meal. The Mordechai permits taking an empty pot, placing it on top of the open fire, and then returning his cholent pot on top of the empty pot (Shabbos #456, page 80, first column).
A similar situation would be if the food was being kept warm on the blech or an electric hotplate, and someone wants to raise the food a bit above the flame so that it not burn, by placing an empty pan onto the blech and then placing the cholent pot on top of the pan. The Mordechai permits this, provided that the rules of chazarah were followed. However, he implies that it is not permitted to warm cold food on Shabbos by placing it on top of an empty pot on top of a fire or blech.
This ruling of the Mordechai appears to dispute the conclusion of the Rashba that we quoted above. To quote the Rashba again, “It is permitted to put food that was fully cooked before Shabbos, such as a pashtida or something similar, to warm on top of a pot containing hot food on top of the fire, even if it will reach the temperature of yad soledes bo, since this is not a usual way of cooking.”
A superficial glance at these two rulings would imply that they disagree. The Mordechai permits placing food atop a fire or blech only if the food is already hot and the conditions of chazarah are fulfilled, but not otherwise. On the other hand, the Rashba permits placing completely cold food atop a pot to warm on Shabbos, without concern whether the specifications of chazarah were observed. Yet, the author of the Shulchan Aruch quotes both rulings alongside one another in his Beis Yosef commentary and also cites both of them as authoritative rulings in his Shulchan Aruch. Apparently, he did not consider these two rulings to be contradictory. Thus, we need to understand why these cases are dissimilar in order to explain the halachic rulings. The answer that we provide to this question will have major practical ramifications regarding how one may warm food on Shabbos.
Full or empty?
A few approaches are provided to answer this question. The Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 253:33) explains that there is a difference between placing food to warm on an empty pot vs. on top of a pot that has been sitting on the stove or blech with food cooking inside. The Shulchan Aruch permitted warming cold food on Shabbos only when you are putting it atop a pot of cooking food, but not on an empty pot.
What is the difference between an empty pot and pot of cooking food? The Chazon Ish (Orach Chayim 37:9, s.v. Hikshe) explains that when you are putting food on a cooking pot, it is being warmed by the steam that evaporates off the food and not directly by the fire. This is not included in the injunction that Chazal established not to heat food in a way that looks like cooking. However, if the pot is empty, the food is being heated by the fire itself, and this is included in what Chazal prohibited.
The Mishnah Berurah (Biur Halacha 253:3 s.v. Veyizaheir) makes the same distinction between placing the food atop an empty pot and a pot that contains food, but explains the reason for the halacha a bit differently. When placing the empty pot on the blech or fire, it is clear that the reason one is doing this is because you want the fire to heat the food. This is considered the same as putting cold food on the fire to warm, which is prohibited. However, when the pot is already full of hot, cooked food, placing a pot of food on top does not look like a normal way to cook food, and therefore was not included in the prohibition of Chazal.
Dry or liquid?
A third way to explain the difference between the two situations is that the Mordechai’s case involves food that contains a substantial amount of liquid, which is how cholent is usually made. In this instance, one cannot warm cold food on Shabbos, because this will be warming liquid food, which we do not do because of concern that one will be cooking it. Therefore, the Mordechai only permitted chazara, i.e., return of warm, cooked food to a situation in which it will stay warm. However, the Rashba was describing someone warming a dry food that is completely cooked. Since there is no possibility of cooking this food, it is permitted to warm it on Shabbos, as long as one does not do so in a way that people usually cook food (Machatzis Hashekel 253:34).
Thus, we have two different distinctions with which to explain how the Shulchan Aruch ruled. There is a major difference in halacha between the different approaches. According to the first approach, it is not permitted to warm food on Shabbos on top of an empty pan or pot, only on top of one that is already heating food. According to the latter approach, there is no halachic problem with taking fully cooked dry food and placing it to warm on top of an empty pot. Similarly, it is permitted to take a disposable pan, turn it upside down on top of the blech, and place food on top of it on Shabbos to warm. (Our intrepid readers who would like to see other approaches to explain the difference between the two rulings of the Shulchan Aruch are directed to the comments of the Tosafos Shabbos, the Gra and the Dagul Meirevavah.)
As we see, the rules Chazal established to allow proper Shabbos observance of hot food are extremely complicated. Yet, one should strive to eat a proper hot meal on Shabbos, enhanced by the fact that it was cooked and warmed following the myriad details of halacha. This is, indeed, the true oneg Shabbos, celebrating Shabbos through a meal that is delicious and also elevates the soul.