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Hot Plates on Shabbos

 

A proper understanding of the Talmudic laws of cooking on Shabbos requires the translation of ancient kitchen technology to modern appliances. This is certainly the domain of the greatest halakhic authorities, aided by technology experts. But no one lives forever and even great communicators can sometimes be unclear. What happens when a great rabbi’s family disputes his students’ interpretation of his ruling? Who owns his legacy?

Talmudic ovens come in three sizes, and the rules differ slightly between them. Nearly all authorities agree that our stoves, when the top is covered with a metal sheet (blekh–and preferably the knobs are also covered), are categorized as a kirah that is gerufah and ketumah. This means that despite the lack of concern of stoking the fire, because the fire (and knobs) are covered, you still may not put cold dry food on the blekh because you look like you are cooking (michzei ki-mvashel). [While R. Ovadiah Yosef (Yechaveh Da'as 2:45) and R. Nachum Rabinowitz (Melumdei Milchamah, no. 50) reject even the concern that you look like you are cooking, they are far in the minority.]

Less similar to ancient devices is the electric hot plate. Some have only setting, below cooking temperature. Other models have a sole setting above cooking temperature and others multiple settings. Are they considered the same as stovetops or, since they are only used for warming pre-cooked food, are they treated more leniently? The Tzitz Eliezer (8:26:5) argued that hot plates are equivalent to stovetops. R. Shimon Eider asked this question to R. Moshe Feinstein, who replied that they are different; hot plates are used for warming and retain no concern that you appear to be cooking on them (Iggeros Moshe, Orach Chaim 4:74:35). Therefore, if an electric hot plate has only one setting, so there is no concern you will turn its knob, then you may place cold dry food on it on Shabbos.

However, R. Feinstein’s answer is not entirely clear. He responded to a question regarding electric hot plates in general (with only one setting) by discussing one that cannot reach cooking temperature. Does he permit all electric hot plates with only one setting? R. Eider, to whom this responsum was addressed, understood R. Feinstein that way (The Laws of Shabbos, n. 566). R. Simcha Bunim Cohen (The Shabbos Kitchen, p. 43) also rules that you may place cold dry food on an electric hot plate with only one setting based on R. Feinstein’s responsum. R. Eliezer Melamed (Peninei Halakhah, Shabbos 10:18 n. 19) quotes a range of opinions on the subject, attributing a lenient view to R. Feinstein based on his responsum.

However, R. Mordechai Willig (Am Mordechai, Shabbos 7:2) states that R. Reuven Feinstein told him that his father only permitted using in this fashion a hot plate that does not reach cooking temperature. I have heard the same in R. David Feinstein’s name. R. Feinstein’s (the father) responsum is difficult, facing problems according to both readings, as R. Willig explains (if the hot plate does not reach cooking temperature, why the need for only one setting?). Who knew better what R. Feinstein said on this subject–his sons or his students? I don’t claim to know and this is only one of a number of cases where such a dispute exists.

Regardless, R. Willig argues, even without R. Feinstein’s support, that because people do not cook on an electric hot plate, you may put cold dry food on one on Shabbos even if it reaches cooking temperature (as long as it only has one setting). R. Eliezer Melamed (ibid.) quotes R. Dov Lior as ruling similarly although, of course, other authorities disagree.

[As always, ask your rabbi before acting on any halakhic issues you read online or elsewhere.]

 

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Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

28 Responses

  1. Tal Benschar says:

    Some people permit this only when you put a metal tray or tin on top of the hot tray, and they your tray of food on top of that. I guess on the theory of kedeirah al gabai kedeirah.

    Probably for that reason, one thing I have noticed is that Israeli made hot trays (aka platas) are set at much higher temperatures than American ones. (We use one made by Oster. Most American ones, alas, have multiple settings.) The Israeli ones will burn your food in twenty to thirty minutes unless you first put down a tray and then your tray of food.

  2. Mr. Cohen says:

    Torah Musings said:
    … R. Ovadiah Yosef (Yechaveh Da’as 2:45)…

    RESPONSE:
    Actually, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef wrote Yechaveh Da’at.

  3. Hirhurim says:

    Tal: That is the Tzitz Eliezer’s view quoted in the post

  4. shmuel says:

    R’ Gil: Will the poskim who prohibit putting pre-cooked food without liquid on a single-setting hot tray also prohibit putting them on top of a radiator? I assume not, but what is the difference?

  5. Shmuel 2 says:

    A radiator is clearly not a commonly used means of cooking (unless you are a yeshiva bochur residing in a dirah) therefore it would not appear to the casual observer that you were cooking
    A hot plate may appear to the casual observer that its being used for cooking that’s why some require a covering of some sort

  6. Elli Fischer says:

    “A proper understanding of the Talmudic laws of cooking on Shabbos requires the translation of ancient kitchen technology to modern appliances.”
    It also requires proper translation.
    When vetting translators for Peninei Halakha into English, we used this section as a test. One of the things we looked for was how to translate “plata” – which we believe is more accurately – and halakhically – translated as “warming tray” and not “hot plate.” In common usage, as you note, a hot plate refer to a warming device and also to a cooking device. Using the term “warming tray” eliminates much of the confusion and implies that it is not a device that can be used for cooking.

  7. Anon says:

    I’ve occasionally wondered what happens if you hook a plata up to a wall timer aka shabbat clock. Is it still considered to be “only one setting”?

  8. Kovner says:

    With all due respect, Rabbis Eider and Cohen were not students of RMF. They came to him a few times, asked some questions, received some answers, and left.On the other hand, Rabbis Dovid and Reuven Feinstein also learned with their father. Likewise amongst contemporary poskim, Rabbis Felder, Blumenkrantz,Bluth and Greenblat actually learned in MTJ by RMF.

  9. yair hoffman says:

    Yasher koach Reb Gil, but I believe that a blech is just ketima, not grifa – according to either view of the rishonim

  10. shmuel says:

    Shmuel 2: thanks, although I’ve never seen anyone cook anything on a plata either (and can’t imagine doing so).

  11. Y says:

    Is it permissible to place cold dry fully cooked food in an oven on Shabbos if the oven is set very low (say 200 degrees?), just to warm it up? I’ve heard both ways. If it’s not permitted what is the rationale — appearing to cook?

  12. Aryeh says:

    In my community, almost everyone seems to have swtiched to the hot plates. We still use a K’derah Blech (the “unblech”).

  13. Fotheringay-Phipps says:

    I didn’t see anywhere in the post the requirement that the food have previously been cooked. This should have been mentioned.

    kovner: “With all due respect, Rabbis Eider and Cohen were not students of RMF. They came to him a few times, asked some questions, received some answers, and left.”

    You’re wrong WRT R’ SB Cohen. He grew up on the Lower East Side and had a LOT to do with RMF. (He may have lived in the same building but I don’t recall that for sure. In any event, he hung around a lot, and has any number of stories involving his personal interactions with RMF.)

  14. Sass says:

    Tal,

    Interesting to not that IIRC, Rav Ovadya (maybe in Leviyat Chen) takes issue with using an empty tray as a kedeira al gabei kedeira. He holds that the bottom kedeira must have food in it, otherwise it’s just a crooked plata.

  15. shmuel says:

    Y –200 degrees is certainly hot enough to cook according to the halachik definition.

  16. IH says:

    A few months ago, in the post The Shabbat Meal, R’ Ari Enkin wrote:

    The central role that the cholent occupies stems from the mistaken belief that it is forbidden to eat warm foods on Shabbat. To counter this Karaitic misconception, the rabbis encouraged everyone to ensure to eat at least one hot dish on Shabbat day. Hence cholent was born.[26] We are taught that one who doesn’t like cholent might be an imposter who may not be truly Jewish.[27]

    —–

    [25] Rema 257:8; [26] Mishna Berura 257:49; [27] Ba’al Hamaor, Shabbat 16b, OC 257:8; Mateh Moshe 470

    What methods were used by these authorities to keep their hamim or cholent hot, in their respective post-Talmudic eras?

  17. shmuel 2 says:

    What methods were used by these authorities to keep their hamim or cholent hot, in their respective post-Talmudic eras

    1)Hatmana- prior to Shabbos they wrapped the boiling hot pot in insulating materials that are not “mosif hevel” and by Shabbos morning it was still hot enough to eat

    2)They left it on/in the kira that was garuf or katum

  18. shmuel 2 says:

    I beleive that the Rav was lenient based on the Ran and felt that the whole issue of chazara was really an issue of food that was removed BEFORE Shabbos and one wanted to return it to the kirah Fri night. Therefore he was willing to permit (not sure if it was l’cahtchila or only b’deieved) food that was completely cooked & dry (eg a kugel) if it had been on the blech throughout bein hashmashos even though it was later removed and cooled off completely . If I remember correctly R Zeigler records this in one of his “Halachik Positions of R Joseph Soloveitchik” books

  19. IH says:

    Shmuel 2 — that begs the serious question I am asking (and you know it).

  20. Kovner says:

    Forthingay,
    R’ Simcha Bunim Cohen grew up in Boro Park. RMF liked him and spoke to him privately [with divrei chizuk]a few times when he was a bochur, but he wasn’t a talmid of his. He learned in Mir in EY and in Lakewood, and is basically a self-made man in halachah.

  21. Mr. Cohen says:

    I just saved the URL of this article in my file about Shabbat.

  22. Dani says:

    I don’t understand R. Willig’s confusion about R. Moshe.
    I realize that R. Willig quotes the MB to show that if there is not enough heat for בישול then there is no concern for חתוי, but doesn’t that seem to be exclusive to the “leftover-חום” case that the MB is dealing with? I would think that there should be a concern for חתוי when dealing with a hot-plate. Doesn’t it seem like שמא יחתה is a reasonable concern for a case where you might raise the temperature of the hot plate (even if it won’t cook). Of course, this might depend on the מציאות of how hot plates work – how hot does the heating element get, even if the hot plate itself doesn’t cook…

  23. 1)Common practice in Israel is moving increasingly toward the opinions of R. Ovadiah and R.Rabinovitch.

    2) Similarly, my discussions with various local Poskim in Israel lead to the conclusion that even meat with a small amount of gravy may be placed on a warming tray.

    3) The Rav זצ”ל, at least in the 1960′s, allowed food to be warmed inside a catering oven on Shabbat, based on the RaN and the Rema. RHS once noted to me that the Yerushalm on which this was based is itself predicated on a scribal error. (The question of using variae lectiones לחומרא but not לקולא does raise other issues).

  24. IH says:

    What is common practice in Israel regarding: http://www.alplata.com/docs/P174/

    —–

    For those interested, there are helpful illustrations in the new Koren Shabbat 1 volume on pages: 175 (sketch of Masada oven), 182 (photo of an ancient kupah); and 224 (photo of a stove from Masada).

  25. Tal Benschar says:

    Y –200 degrees is certainly hot enough to cook according to the halachik definition

    And according to chefs’ definition too. My wife has a delicious brisket recipe which calls for the meat to be put into an oven overnight at 200 degrees. It works really well.

  26. Tal Benschar says:

    What is common practice in Israel regarding: http://www.alplata.com/docs/P174/

    As I noted in my post here, there is a good practical reasons to use such an intervening piece: the intense heat of most Israeli platas.

  27. chareidilite says:

    Of course, it is possible for a child of a posek to not fully understand the psak of his father. I remember walking with Rav Reuven Feinstein one Shabbos as he told us how he had difficulty understanding his father’s psak regarding shaving between Pesach and Shavuos. He said that when he discussed it with his father, his father would answer every question he had and it all made perfect sense, but when he thought about it later on, his questions returned. Rav Moshe’s total knowledge combined with his overall outlook led to certain decisions that might differ from those of another equally knowledgeable posek with a different outlook. Rav Nissim Alpert, z’l, the talmid of Rav Moshe who could most likely capture the outlook of his rebbe is, alas, no longer with us, to our great loss.

  28. Fotheringay-Phipps says:

    Kovner: “R’ Simcha Bunim Cohen grew up in Boro Park. RMF liked him and spoke to him privately [with divrei chizuk]a few times when he was a bochur, but he wasn’t a talmid of his. He learned in Mir in EY and in Lakewood, and is basically a self-made man in halachah.”

    I myself am not particularly close to RSBC (I’ve spoken to him a few times, but that’s about it) but I know someone who is VERY close to him, and he is the source of my information. In response to your comment I emailed him for confirmation. His response was “The correct story is that he is from the lower east side and not BP”.

 
 

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