Question: What is the proper way to use ovens and stoves on Shabbat, when either reheating or serving food that has been left on the flame form before Shabbat?
The Shulchan Aruch (OH 253:5) states: “It is permitted place a previously cooked dish on top of a pot in order to heat it, because this is not a usual method of cooking”. Elsewhere the Shulchan Aruch (OH 318:8) states: “It is permitted to place a cold dish on top of a hot pot which is on the fire on Shabbat, for anything which is permitted to be placed near the fire on Shabbat, such as a dry dish, may be placed on top of a pot which is on the fire.”.
These two statements indicate that it is not permitted to place a cold dish directly on the fire in order to heat it up – there needs to be some distinction between the way things are heated up and they was that they are normally cooked. Therefore, even though reheating on Shabbat is permitted – placing things directly on the fire in the manner of normal cooking, is not.
The Shulchan Aruch is also concerned about the Talmudic prohibition of ‘Shema Yechate’ – lest one stirs the coals. The fear is that one who places something on a fire on Shabbat is likely to do something to adjust the temperature – which would directly violate the prohibition of fire on Shabbat. Any use of an over or stove must ensure that it is impossible to use the controls to adjust the flame.
In our modern context, there are several ways to make sure that food is reheated in an ‘indirect’ manner. One way is the blech – a metal covering which is placed over a stove on Shabbat when the top is used for reheating. The blech must completely cover the gas hob, and also the controls for the gas to prevent any adjustments being made on Shabbat. The Shabbat Plata is an electrical equivalent. The electric heating element is completely covered by a metal box, and it has no temperature controls that can be adjusted.
Liquids may not be reheated on Shabbat, but may be left on the fire from before Shabbat comes in on Friday. The prohibition of Shema yechate also applies. A Shabbat urn is specifically used for keeping water hot over Shabbat. To meet Shabbat regulations the urn must be turned on and brought to a boil before Shabbat. A good Shabbat urn keeps the water just under 100 degrees – so that the water does not boil away. It should ideally have no adjustable temperature controls.
Furthermore, there are other ways that the temperature of food left on the fire might be regulated on Shabbat. The Shulchan Aruch (OH 253:3) states: “One who rises in the morning and sees that his food is overcooked and fears it will burn, may place an old empty pot on the fire and place his pot on top – but he or she must take care not to place his boiling pot on the ground”.
The fear of placing the pot on the ground is because moving a pot on and off a flame is a good way to regulate its temperature, and therefore too much like real cooking. One who places a boiling pot of liquid food on the fire from before Shabbat – may not return to pot to the fire once it has been removed and set down. It is permitted to temporarily take the pot off the fire to serve – as long as the pot is held until it is placed back on the flame.
All these seem like pedantic details. But the Halacha is trying to bridge the gap between two different concerns. It wants to prevent us from cooking – which is one of the major prohibitions, but it knows that a good hot meal is the key to Shabbat enjoyment. The details of law enable to us to enjoy the meal without the preparation of the meal supplanting the enjoyment of the day.
Rabbi Chaim Weiner
Based on R. Ovadia Yossef, Yachve Da’at, 4, 9.
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