Shabbat Parashat Nitzavim| 5763
Ask the Rabbi
Question: May I operate a Shabbat hot plate with a Shabbat clock, so that it is off at night and goes on in the morning to heat the food? In general, how may I use it to heat up food?
Answer: We will focus on the rabbinic laws of shehiya and chazara (leaving on and returning to the fire). To avoid actual cooking, the food must be fully cooked, and if it has cooled off, it must also be dry.
There are two major problems regarding heating up food on Shabbat. One is called shema y’chate (lest one stoke the coals), with the modern application being, adjusting the fire. The other is michzi k’mevashel (placing food on the fire looks like cooking).
Some Shabbat hot plates solve both problems; others do not. If the hot plate has only one setting, then shema y’chate is not a concern, at least in regard to leaving the food on the fire before Shabbat. If it also doesn’t get hot enough to cook, then it isn’t deemed michzi k’mevashel,and it is likely permitted to place cooked food on it on Shabbat (Rav Moshe Feinstein, brought in Hilchot Shabbat Rav S. Eider, note 564, in contradiction to Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchata 1:(72)). Some rabbinically certified “Shabbat hot plates” are non-adjustable but can be used to cook. Their certification (according to one certifying organization, with which we spoke) was meant only to permit placing food before Shabbat without a blech. One must check out his specific type of hot plate.
We cannot cover here the whole issue of how one can return food on Shabbat morning in this forum. Let us just point out that one is permitted to put the food in a place where the food will not reach 45˚C even if left there all day. Additionally, one may place food on top of a pot which is sitting on the fire (Biur Halacha 253:3). Many permit placing the food on top of an overturned, empty pot. In the latter cases, the leniency is stronger where there are halachic remedies for the problem of stoking the coals (e.g. a blech or a non-adjustable heat source).
A Shabbat clock can be used and could be helpful. Returning food to the fire on Shabbat (chazara) is more stringent than leaving food where it will be heated on Shabbat (shehiya). Is placing food on Shabbat in a place which is not a heat source at that time but will be later (when the clock turns it on) like shehiya or chazara? TheRama (OC 253:5) allows a non-Jew to put food on a cold furnace, which will later be lit by another non-Jew. The Chazon Ish (OC 37:21) discusses why chazara isn’t a problem when the furnace goes on. According to his more convincing suggestion, the stricter laws of chazara apply only when a person placed the food when the heat is on. Thus, there is logic to permit putting food on a non-adjustable hot plate on Shabbat before the Shabbat clock turns it on. This idea can certainly be combined with other grounds for leniency in various cases.
Much of the above is based on an article by Rav Mordechai Willig of Yeshiva U. (Beit Yitzchak, vol. 29).
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