Shiur #22: Acceptable Ways to Warm Food on Shabbat

  • Harav Baruch Gigi
Translated by David Silverberg


            In the previous shiurim* we dealt with the issue of leaving food on the fire before Shabbat and returning food to the fire on Shabbat, discussing the basic rules of what is forbidden and what is permissible in this regard.  In this shiur we will focus our attention on the question of when and how foods kept in the refrigerator may be heated on Shabbat.


Warming Near a Fire


            The Gemara establishes in Masekhet Shabbat (40b), "A person may bring a jug of water and place it opposite a fire, not so that it is heated, but to remove its chill."  In an earlier shiur we mentioned the debate among the Rishonim as to whether one must ensure merely that the water does not reach the point of actual bishul, or that it is not even placed close enough to the fire that it could potentially reach that point.  Irrespective of this debate, the Rashba writes:


In any event, it stands to reason that [placing water] opposite a fire or in a keli rishon is forbidden only for cold [water] that has not been cooked - a decree [forbidding] thawing to safeguard against cooking.  But cold [water] that had been cooked may [be placed] even in a keli rishon or opposite a fire, and even at a place where the hand would immediately recoil, so long as one does not place it on the fire or actually on the stove.  And you should know that it states in the Mishna, "Anything that had been in hot water before Shabbat may be soaked in hot water on Shabbat" – meaning, even in a keli rishon, and even though a derivative of fire is like fire and one who cooks with it is liable to a sin-offering as if he actually cooked on fire.  And although they forbade returning [food] to a stove that is not cleared [of its coals] and placing initially even on a [stove that is] cleared or covered – even an item that is hot and fully cooked – there the reason is that it appears like cooking, since this is the normal manner of cooking.  But [placing food] opposite a fire or in a keli rishon, which is not the manner in which people cook most of the time, it does not appear like cooking, but rather as removing the chill.  Therefore, whenever there is reason to decree concerning that very item [to safeguard] against cooking, such as water or oil that had not been cooked, and the like, it is forbidden [to place opposite a fire or in a keli rishon], as a decree lest one leave it [there] and will thus cook.  But regarding that which has been cooked we do not decree lest one will come to cook generally.


It emerges from the Rashba's comments that it is permissible to warm food that is not subject to bishul (because it had already been fully cooked) by placing it opposite a fire.  The Rosh struggled to explain this leniency:


It is very difficult: Why is this different, that we permit placing a jug of water near a fire to remove its chill, and if not for the prohibition of cooking on Shabbat, it would be permitted even [where it could reach the point of] yad soledet bo?  And oil, according to the view that it is not subject to bishul, is permissible [to place it] even [at a place where it could reach] yad soledet bo.  But earlier, we forbid placing [food] on a stove even if it had been cleared or covered, and even though the food had been cooked already on Erev Shabbat, and [in that case] there is no [concern for the Torah prohibition of] bishul, as we said earlier (39a), "Anything that had been in hot water before Shabbat may be soaked in hot water on Shabbat."


The Rosh answers:


We may distinguish between placing on a stove [and placing near] a fire, for [placing] a pot on a stove is forbidden, but near a fire is permissible because it is similar to someikh [having food lean against a stove].  However, it does not entirely resemble someikh, for there the walls of the stove interrupt [between the source of the heat and the food], whereas here, when it is near the fire, we must be concerned lest he stir [the coals].  We might say that since the Sages required distancing [the food] from the fire, as implied from the fact that it said, "ke-neged ha-medura" ["opposite the fire"], rather than "eitzel ha-medura" ["next to the fire"], there is a reminder and one will not come to stir.


The Rosh limits this halakha to placing the food at some distance from the fire, to serve as a reminder not to stir the coals.  From the Rashba's comments, by contrast, it appears that one may place the food even in close proximity to the fire, provided that he does not place it on the fire itself.


Warming Food on Top of a Pot


            The Rashba further writes:


From this discussion it emerges that one may place on top of a pot on Shabbat a food that was fully cooked on Erev Shabbat, such as pandish and the like, in order to warm it, even if it will become [hot to the point of] yad soledet bo, and even if the pot is placed over the fire, for this is not the manner of cooking, and it is merely like placing it next to a kettle or opposite a fire, and after all, there is no concern for bishul here.


The Ran cites the Rashba's comments and adds the following:


It is also possible that something which is not normally baked on the stove, such as pandish and the like, may be warmed on a stove…on Shabbat, so long as ongoing cooking is detrimental for it, since it is clear that this is done only for it to be warmed [and not for the purpose of cooking].


The Rashba applies this halakha specifically to placing food on a pot, since this resembles placing food opposite a fire.  Only the lower pot sits on the fire, and the pandish placed on top of the pot is situated not directly over the fire, but adjacent to it.  The Ran, however, permits this on the grounds that it differs from the normal manner of cooking, such that it is clear that he intends merely to warm the food, and thus it does not give the appearance of cooking.  Therefore, if a food is not generally baked on a stove at all, one may place it on Shabbat even on the stove directly.


            The Beit Yosef cites both views, and he rules in accordance with the Rashba's position, because the Ran himself expressed ambivalence on the matter, as he wrote, "it is possible" to allow placing such a food even on the fire.  Accordingly, he rules in Shulchan Arukh (253:5), "It is permissible to place on top of pots of hot food on Shabbat foods that had been fully cooked on Erev Shabbat, such as a pandish and the like, to warm them, since this is not the normal manner of cooking."  This ruling, however, appears to directly contradict an earlier comment of the Shulchan Arukh (253:3):


One who arises in the morning [on Shabbat] and sees that his food has burned, and fears that it may burn even more, may remove [the pot] and place an old, empty pot on the stove and then place the pot containing the food on top of the empty pot.  He must ensure not to place his pot on the ground, and that it is [still] boiling.


This ruling indicates that placing food on top of a pot is not always permitted.  Placing a pot on top of another pot is merely equivalent to placing it on a stove that is garuf ve-katum, and it is therefore subject to the standard guidelines of hachazara, which require that the food not be placed on the ground in the interim.  In se'if 5, however, the Shulchan Arukh allows placing food on top of a pot even without complying with the conditions of hachazara.


            We find among the Acharonim three main approaches to reconcile the two rulings:


1) The Dagul Mei-revava (318) distinguished between foods that are customarily cooked on a stove, and foods like the pandish, which are not generally cooked over a stove.  In se'if 3, the Shulchan Arukh refers to foods normally cooked on a stove, regarding which the lower pot serves only to render the stove garuf va-katum, and thus one must abide by the standard conditions of hachazara.  In se'if 5, the Shulchan Arukh deals with foods that one does not normally cook on a stove; these may be placed on another pot over a stove in all cases, and are not subject to the rules of hachazara.  But this approach seems somewhat far-fetched given that it was the Ran who explained this halakha on the basis of the fact that one does not normally cook in this fashion, and he therefore permitted placing the food directly on the fire.  The Rashba permitted placing food on top of a pot only because it resembles placing food opposite a fire, and it should therefore be permissible even when dealing with an item normally cooked on a stove.  The Dagul Mei-revava perhaps understood that even the Rashba based this halakha on the fact that one does not normally cook in this fashion, only he did not wish to permit even on the fire and therefore required the additional factor of the bottom pot, which, under these circumstances, may be seen as the equivalent as opposite a fire.  In any event, the Dagul Mei-revava's approach requires further analysis.


2) The Magen Avraham (318:26) suggests distinguishing between liquid and solid food:


We might explain that specifically roasted food may be placed initially on a stove that is garuf, whereas a boiled food [which contains liquid] may not be placed on a stove, even if it is [still] hot such that it is not subject to bishul, because we decree [this prohibition] out of concern lest he place [the food] on it when it is cold, and only returning is allowed [in accordance with the laws of hachazara]… Nevertheless, one may be lenient, for it seems from the Maggid Mishneh that since the pot interrupts [between the pot of food and the stove], it is better than a stove that is garuf, and one may place hot food upon it.


According to the Magen Avraham, one may place dry food, such as a pandish, on top of a pot under all circumstances.  When it comes to liquid food, however, had we permitted placing it on top of a pot people may place it even after it had cooled, which would constitute a Torah violation of bishul.  Chazal therefore allowed placing liquid food on top of a pot only in accordance with the conditions of hachazara.


3) The Peri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 318:26) distinguished between placing food over a full pot, and over an empty pot.  A pot containing food is considered over the fire, such that food placed on top of it is seen as located adjacent to the fire.  By contrast, an empty pot sitting on the stove serves only as a covering over the fire, for this is precisely its intended purpose: to diminish the heat of the stove so that the food will not burn.  We must therefore consider the upper pot as placed on a stove that is garuf ve-katum, and hence we demand compliance with the conditions of hachazara.


            The Bei'ur Halakha (253 s.v. ve-yizaher) writes that the Peri Megadim's answer is "a proper answer with compelling rationale."  Indeed, this answer appears to be the generally accepted approach among the poskim.  Nevertheless, as we will see later, some poskim allowed relying on the Magen Avraham's approach, as we explained it above.


Warming Food on a "Plata" (Electric Hot-Plate) on Shabbat


            In Yechaveh Da'at (2:45), Rav Ovadya Yosef allowed placing a fully-cooked solid food directly on the surface of an electric hot-plate on Shabbat, for two main reasons:


1) The surface of the "plata" is considered an empty pot placed on the heating element, and one may therefore place solid food on it on Shabbat according to the Magen Avraham, who distinguished between solids and liquids.  Rav Ovadya Yosef writes:


Seemingly, it is likewise permissible to place a fully-cooked, solid food on an electric plata, because there is an obstruction between the fire and the pot of food, just as if one places it on a pot of hot food.  However, according to this, we face a difficulty, for our master the Shulchan Arukh himself allowed placing on Shabbat a food that was fully cooked on top of a pot of hot food or on top of a kettle.  And the work Tosefet Shabbat already addressed the fact that the Shulchan Arukh's comments appear to contradict one another.  He answered that with an empty pot this is forbidden because it resembles the normal manner of initial cooking, but on a full pot it is permissible because it does not appear like cooking.  The Peri Megadim writes this, as well, and the Mishna Berura concurred, in Bei'ur Halacha, s.v. ve-yizaher… According to this, placing [cooked food] on an electric plata resembles placing on an empty pot, and it should be forbidden.  However, the Magen Avraham (318:26) distinguishes in this regard between boiling liquid food, which is forbidden to place on Shabbat even on a pot of hot food because we are concerned lest one will place it while it is cold – and cooked liquid food is subject to subsequent bishul – and solid food, which even while cold may be placed on Shabbat on top of a pot (even an empty pot), because cooked solid food is not subject to subsequent bishul.


2) He then advances a second reason to permit placing food on a hot-plate, namely, that one does not customarily cook on a hot-plate since it is intended only for warming cooked foods, and it therefore does not give the appearance of cooking.  He writes[1]:


I came to the realization that regarding this one may be lenient, because an electric plata is from the outset made for use on Shabbat, and it is called a "Shabbat plata," and therefore it has an indication to all people that today is Shabbat and one will not come to use it for forbidden purposes, such as to return to it food that had not been fully cooked, or cold, liquid food and the like.  And since the fire is not visible and there is no concern for stirring, people are therefore accustomed to allow it.  To the contrary, a plata is preferable to a metal covering over the stove, for there it is possible that one might unwittingly remove the metal from the stove, which is not the case regarding a plata, for it is not possible in any way to remove the covering from over the electrical cords.  And since it is made for this purpose, there is no greater indication and reminder than this with which to remember the day of Shabbat.


One may, however, challenge both points he mentions:


1) It is hard to view the surface of the plata as an empty pot, since this is the natural surface intended as the area for placing pots and there is no possibility of placing pots on the actual heating element.  We must therefore consider the placement of a pot on the surface as placing it on the fire.  Furthermore, it is hard to rely on the Magen Avraham's explanation of the Shulchan Arukh, since, as we have seen, most poskim accept the Peri Megadim's approach.

2) While it is true that the plata is designated for Shabbat use and everybody knows that it is intended only to reheat cooked food, nevertheless, it seems to me that the Rashba and Ran debate this very point.  The Ran allowed placing the pandish on the fire since people do not normally cook it in that manner, whereas the Rashba ruled more stringently, forbidding placing it directly on the stove despite the fact that this is not the usual manner of cooking this food.  He allowed placing the pandish only on top of a pot.  One might respond that we should treat a plata more leniently than a stove in this regard, since it is not used for cooking at all, and it thus differs from the case discussed by the Rashba, where one places a pandish on a stove, which, of course, is generally used for cooking.  Still, I believe that since even the plata is occasionally used for cooking, such as in the case of cholent and the like which people leave on a plata to cook over the course of Shabbat, one should not place food directly on a plata.  Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe 4:74) permits placing cooked food directly on a plata on Shabbat, but he speaks there of the American hot-plate which is intended only for warming food and is not capable of cooking given its relatively low temperature.  The platas used in Israel, however, work on a higher temperature and are capable of cooking; as mentioned, some people cook cholent on a plata.


            It therefore seems that one should not place food directly on a plata, but rather on top of pots of food already situated there.  As for placing food on an empty pot on the plata, according to the Peri Megadim this should be forbidden.  Nevertheless, we may permit doing so for a number of reasons:


1) The Maharam Shick (responsa, O.C. 117) draws a different distinction to reconcile the two rulings of the Shulchan Arukh discussed earlier, one which does not undermine the basic principle established by the Peri Megadim.  The crux of the Maharam Shick's approach is that when one wishes to retain the heat of a hot food, placing it on an empty pot does not provide much of a reminder not to stir the coals, since he perhaps placed it in this fashion simply because he does not want to expose it to a high level of heat.  But when dealing with a pot containing cold, solid food, placing it over another pot indeed suffices as an indication that he has no interest in bringing it to a boil for it to cook, since it is now cold.  This indication suffices to eliminate the concern that one might stir the coals.[2]


            We might apply his reasoning to modern-day platas, as well.  Since it can never reach a high level of heat, placing food on an empty pot clearly serves not as a means of diminishing the heat, but rather as an indication of one's desire to place the food adjacent to the fire, rather than directly on it.  Therefore, even the Peri Megadim might allow placing food on an empty pot on our hot-plates, since it serves the same function as a pot containing food for the purpose of the Peri Megadim's distinction.


2) We might allow placing food on top of an empty pot on a plata for an additional reason, as well, based on Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach's understanding of the Peri Megadim's distinction.  If the stove is neither cleared of its coals nor covered, then the empty pot serves as a covering, and thus the pot of food placed on top of it is seen as placed on a covered stove.  If, however, the stove is already covered, such as in the case of a plata, the empty pot is situated on a covered fire and thus the pot on top of it is seen as adjacent to the fire, and not directly over it.[3]


            It would seem that one may rely on this rationale and place cooked food on top of an empty pot on a plata.  As for the definition of an "empty pot," we may include anything that makes an interruption between the plata and the pot of food, but not a sheet of aluminum foil, which does not "interrupt" between them at all.


Warming Food in an Oven or on a Hot-Plate Set on a Timer


            The Terumat Ha-deshen writes (66):


Some people do not have a separate oven for baking and enclosing hot food, and so they          enclose [their food] in the same furnace used in the "winter room," and the next day, on Shabbat, the maid comes and removes all the hot food from the furnace and places it on top of the furnace inside the "winter room."  She then kindles the fire inside the furnace in order to heat the "winter room," and the hot food on top of the furnace is thereby boiled.  Is it permissible to do this or not?


Answer: …It would seem that in this case we may allow [this] even if they [the foods] had completely cooled.  For if the servant or maid intends to warm the food, then when it has completely cooled, it is forbidden.  But here the primary intention of the maid is for something permissible, to warm the "winter room," regarding which the Rabbis allowed instructing a gentile [to perform melakha] since everybody is considered "sick" with respect to cold.  And although the food will inevitably be boiled as a natural result, and she puts it on the furnace with this in mind, nevertheless, at the time she puts it on the furnace there is no fire at all in the furnace, and the kindling that she performs afterwards is intended primarily for the "winter room."  And even though this is a pesik reishei [a melakha that results inevitably] with respect to the food, nevertheless, when it comes to rabbinic prohibitions on Shabbat there is a distinction between clear intent and [an action that results] without intent as a pesik reishei… However, it would seem that one should not allow at all a Jew or Jewess to place some of the food on top of the furnace and the maid to then kindle the furnace, for this would resemble [a case of] one person placing the pot and another kindling the fire, in which case the first is exempt [from punishment] but [it] is [nevertheless] forbidden.  This is implied by the comments of the Rambam, who wrote as follows: "If one person places the pot, another places the water, another kindles the fire and another stirs it, only the final two are liable for cooking."  The fact that he found it necessary to inform us that the first ones are not liable might imply that it is nevertheless forbidden to do this… And therefore, in our case, since one knows that the maid will kindle the furnace, he is certainly akin to placing [the food] in order for it to be cooked, and it constitutes a primary category of melakha like carrying.  She must therefore let the maid place the food on the furnace before she kindles it, and in this manner there are grounds to allow this, as we explained.


Two conclusions emerge from the Terumat Ha-deshen's discussion:


1) It is permissible to allow a gentile to place the food on the furnace when it is turned off if what is involved is only a pesik reishei, because a pesik reishei where a melakha inevitably results from an action of a gentile is permissible.[4]

2) A Jew may not place food in an oven that is currently turned off and that a gentile will later turn on.


            The Rama codifies this ruling of the Terumat Ha-deshen (end of 253).[5]  This prohibition certainly applies to food that is still subject to bishul, such as if it has yet to be fully cooked, or a liquid food that had been cooked and subsequently cooled.  And even when dealing with a solid, fully-cooked food, or a liquid that is still hot or has yet to cool, it would be forbidden to place it in the oven because it is not garuf ve-katum.  The Bei'ur Halakha (end of 253), citing the Peri Megadim, rules that in this case one may allow a gentile to place the pot in the oven, since we deal with the rabbinic prohibition of hachazara which one may perform through a gentile where this is necessary le-tzorekh Shabbat (for the needs of Shabbat).  Therefore, one who is lenient in this regard should not be criticized for doing so.


            This entire discussion deals with a situation where a gentile later comes to kindle the oven.  Nowadays, a different question arises: may a person place food on a stove or plata, or in an oven, that is currently turned off but set on a Shabbat clock that will turn it on later?


            Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank writes in Har Tzevi (O.C. 136):


But there is room to say that placing the pot on the electric stove on Shabbat, since it will inevitably turn on afterward by itself, without requiring any action, should resemble placing a pot on Shabbat in a place where fire will ultimately reach.  And I have already written elsewhere that placing a pot on Shabbat in a place where fire will ultimately reach constitutes a Torah prohibition, in light of what Tosefot wrote in Sanhedrin (77a) regarding damages and capital offenses, that if one bound him [the victim] inside and brought him to a place where the sun will ultimately reach [and the victim died of sun exposure], he is liable according to the view that eisho mishum chitzav [one bears accountability for damages incurred by his fire since it is considered an extension of himself].  And it is stated clearly in Bava Kama (60) regarding [a case where] both he and the wind fanned [the fire], and his [the person's] fanning was [independently] insufficient to fan it – he is exempt [from responsibility for the damages incurred].  And the Gemara asked, "How is this different from one who winnows [on Shabbat] with the help of the wind, who is liable [for violating Shabbat]?"  And Rav Ashi answers, "The Torah forbade [on Shabbat] melekhet machashevet [intentional forbidden activity], whereas here, this [the damage] is merely an indirect cause [of his actions]."  Thus, even that for which one is exempt with respect to damages is considered a melakha with respect to Shabbat, and all the more so, then, when one brings the item to the fire, in which case he would liable with respect to damages – certainly, then, [he is liable] with respect to Shabbat.  And this does not resemble the case of the Terumat Ha-deshen, where an additional action is needed for the fire to be kindled.


From the comments of the Chazon Ish (38:2-3), however, it appears that this does not entail a Torah violation, but merely a gerama (indirect melakha, which is forbidden by force of rabbinic enactment).


            As for a food that has already been cooked, which involves only the problem of hachazara on Shabbat, rather than the Torah prohibition of bishul, the Chazon Ish rules that this is nevertheless forbidden:


When one has an oven that is kindled by electricity, and he prepared a timer on Erev Shabbat to activate the electricity at a certain time, it is forbidden to place the pot on the oven before the electricity is activated, because of the law [forbidding] leaving [food] on a stove and oven on Shabbat.  For they forbade even returning [food to the fire] if it is not cleared [of its coals], and even if it is cleared they allowed only hachazara…but an initial shehiya [placing food on the fire] is forbidden.


The same ruling appears in Har Tzevi (in the Tal Harim section, mevashel 3), who also discusses the question of whether this should be forbidden even before Shabbat, as a precaution lest somebody do this on Shabbat; he concludes, however, that before Shabbat this is permissible.



 * For the full sereis see:

1.         Rav Ovadya Yosef cites these comments from the work Yaskil Avdi.

2.         The Maharam Shick's reference to the concern that one might stir seems somewhat difficult, given that the problem of placing cooked food on the fire stems not from this concern, but rather because it gives the appearance of cooking.  In any event, his basic distinction seems to be correct, as we explained inside.

3.         However, the work Orchot Shabbat (2:66) cites both the Chazon Ish z"l and Rav Elyashiv shlit"a as ruling stringently on this issue; later he brings the position of Rav Shlomo Zalman.

4.         We have explained the Terumat Ha-deshen in accordance with the reading of the Magen Avraham 253:40; see also the comments of the Taz.

5.         The Sha'arei Teshuva cites a responsum of the Beit Efrayim who refutes the proof advanced by the Terumat Ha-deshen from the case of one person who places the pot and another who kindles the fire, since in the Terumat Ha-deshen's case we deal with a gentile, who is not included under the prohibitions of Shabbat.