Shabbat Parashat Eikev| 5764
Ask the Rabbi
Question: What is the proper way to make tea on Shabbat?
Answer: There are a large number of widely varied opinions and endless halachic discussion on this matter. We will have to suffice with bringing up the main issues and suggesting two of the mainstream approaches. There are approaches, more lenient (especially among Sephardic poskim) and stricter, which, while we will not discuss, we do not intend to discount.
In general, we say that water in a kli sheini (a utensil in which hot food is put directly from the utensil in which it was heated) does not cook foods (Shabbat 40b). However, if one pours from the original utensil (kli rishon) onto a food, it likely does cook at least part of the food (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 318:10). Thus, it would seem to suffice to pour the water into the cup (usually a kli sheini) before putting in the tea bag.
However, in order to reconcile an apparently contradictory mishna, Tosafot (Shabbat 39a) makes the following reservation. It looks like cooking (michzi k’mevashel) to put most uncooked foods into a kli sheini, and this is rabbinically forbidden. According to many, tea belongs to the majority of foods, to which this prohibition applies (Mishna Berura 318:39). There is another potential problem, which is likely to apply to our case. The gemara mentions two foods (salted fish, salt) that are or may (depending on the opinion in the gemara) be considered cooked even when exposed to heat sources that usually do not cook, probably including the heat of a kli sheini. The question arises in the Rishonim and Acharonim if this is a closed list (and a limited problem) or two examples of a broad concern. The exact opinion of the Shulchan Aruch and Rama is somewhat unclear (see Shulchan Aruch, ibid.: 5), but the Mishna Berura (318:39) is stringent on the matter. Others note that tea leaves, which are very thin, are likely easily cooked (Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 1:53 & footnote 152). So, most poskim looked for a solution by preparing the tea in a different manner than usual.
One simple method, which enjoys the blessing of many poskim (including R. Moshe Feinstein, Igrot Moshe OC IV, 74. 26) is to pour the water from one cup to another cup. Certainly, they reason, neither of the aforementioned stringencies should apply to a kli shlishi. However, others reason that if the water is hot enough to cook, as it appears to get the job done with the tea, what good is it that it has passed through one more utensil (Aruch Hashulchan, OC 318:28). Another issue is borer (selecting). A tea bag is made in a way that allows the tea flavor to seep out while the leaves stay put. As long as this takes place underwater there is no problem. However, when one lifts up the bag and waits for the last drop(s) to go into the cup (instead of on the table) one has used a specialized utensil to select the drop from the leaves. Thus, we normally instruct those who use this method, to remove the tea bag with a spoon and throw out any tea droplets that materialize upon removal.
The “safest” mainstream approach (you don’t want to know what the Chazon Ish z.t.l. reportedly did!) is to pre-cook the tea leaves. Out of fear that not all the leaves are totally cooked, we don’t reuse the leaves, but use the liquid “essence” which was created as a concentrate while cooking the leaves. One can pour the essence into the hot water on Shabbat, as it has already been cooked, at least to the level of cooking it undergoes on Shabbat. Although most assume that cooked liquids may not be re-heated on Shabbat after cooling off (Shulchan Aruch ibid.:4), they may be re-heated in a kli sheini (ibid.:13). Therefore, we put the water into the cup first and then pour in the essence (Mishna Berura, ibid.).
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