Shabbat Parashat Mishpatim | 5769
Use of a Coffee Maker on a Timer on Shabbat
Ask the Rabbi
Question: May one set an automatic coffee maker on a timer so that it brews the coffee on Shabbat morning? (Obviously, the ingredients would be put in and the settings adjusted before Shabbat, and no electrical switches need to be pressed to remove the coffee.)
Answer: The gemara has two main discussions about allowing things to cook by themselves on Shabbat (shehiya). One (Shabbat 36b-38b) discusses when it is required to have the fire covered or removed for fear of stoking coals. One opinion says that if the food has reached maachal ben d’rusai (nominally cooked) it may be left as one desires, while another requires covering. Apparently, if there the fire is covered, so that there is no concern of stoking the coals (or its equivalent), one could leave any food. According to a wide spectrum of poskim, a non-adjustable heat source needs no covering even when it contains uncooked food. Even if a coffee maker has many settings and controls, if it has only one level of heat (and only one speed of brewing), having the machine activate the brewing process on Shabbat would be permitted from this perspective.
Another gemara (Shabbat 18b) deals more broadly with systems set up before Shabbat that would be forbidden if set up on Shabbat. Regarding dyeing wool, the gemara says that due to a concern that one will stir the cauldron, he must seal the lid before allowing it to operate on Shabbat. Regarding uncooked food left on the fire from before Shabbat, the gemara refers only to a problem of stoking coals and not of stirring. R. Akiva Eiger (to Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 253:1) suggests that if the food started cooking but did not reach maachal ben d’rusai before Shabbat started, it would be a concern (for which a blech or a non-adjustable heat source would not help). Although the Biur Halacha mentions this stringency, it appears that the great majority of present-day poskim accept the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling (OC 253:1) that when the rabbinic concern about stoking coals is handled, even uncooked food can be left on the flame (see Orchot Shabbat 2:68).
The Tzitz Eliezer (II, 6), nonetheless, forbids putting uncooked food in a place which will be activated by a timer on Shabbat. He bases himself on the Ramban (Shabbat 18b) who deals with the question of why the concern of stirring is not raised regarding cooking food. One of his answers is that the Rabbis were concerned about stirring only in regard to dye. However, his first answer is that the serious concern of stirring food applies only in the beginning of the cooking process, which, classically, happens before Shabbat. However, says the Tzitz Eliezer, when the timer activates the cooking process on Shabbat, we should be concerned about stirring. Rav S.Z. Orbach (Minchat Shlomo II, 34.1) responded that we accept the Ramban’s lenient answer, that we are not concerned about stirring, paving the way for timers starting cooking on Shabbat. The way (at least most) coffee machines work, it is anyway not feasible to stir the coffee as it brews.
A final issue is that the Rama (OC 252:5, as opposed to the Shulchan Aruch, ad loc.) forbids operating from before Shabbat a mechanism that is forbidden to operate on Shabbat if it makes noise because it is degrading for Shabbat (avsha milta). It is permitted only if people often set up the mechanism in advance and thus there is no reason to suspect Shabbat desecration occurred (ibid., regarding a clock that chimes). Since coffee makers are usually not operated on a time delay, this could be a problem. However, most machines are probably not loud enough to cause a prohibition, which exists when it can be heard in another room (see Igrot Moshe, OC IV, 70).
There are (and will be) many models of coffee makers, so one must ensure that his meets all the requirements and not assume or quote us as giving a blanket leniency.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld
Hemdat Yamim is endowed by Les & Ethel Sutker of
and Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.