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Shabbat Parashat Behar| 5771

Ask the Rabbi: Heating Up Bread on Shabbat

by Rav Daniel Mann

Question: Is it permitted to heat up challa or to defrost sliced bread or challa on a hotplate on Shabbat in a manner that it can or does becoming crisp?


Answer: There is much to say about reheating fully cooked foods on a hotplate on Shabbat, but we will deal just with your question of making baked bread crispy.

Once something is fully cooked, further cooking is permitted (other than possible rabbinic concerns that one might stoke flames, etc.), and baked goods are not subject to the prohibition of further baking (Shabbat 145b). The Yerei’im (274), though, says that it is fully prohibited to cook on Shabbat something that was already baked or bake something that was cooked. (Cooking is done through hot liquids and baking is done with hot air; deep frying is in the category of cooking, and roasting is like baking (see Magen Avraham 318:17)).

One would think that one may turn bread into toast as that is further baking of bread, and indeed important poskim feel that this is so (see Yechaveh Da’at III, 22; Shevitat Hashabbat, Mevashel (92)). However, there are also important dissenters, for various reasons. The Rambam (Shabbat 9:6) says that turning something soft into hard or vice versa is “cooking.” The Sho’eil U’meishiv (III, 2:20) applies this prohibition to food that is already edible if one changes its consistency significantly, e.g., making soft bread into toast. This, however, is a difficult reading of the Rambam, who apparently refers to non-foods (metals, wax) or to using the change to make something edible (see Da’at Torah to 318:5). The Rav Pe’alim (II, OC 52) says that making hardened bread is forbidden as makeh b’patish (roughly, creating a new entity). However, making toast does not always include an extreme change, and, in any case, most disagree with the idea of makeh b’patish for foods (Biur Halacha to OC 318:14; see Yechaveh Da’at op. cit.).

The strongest case to forbid making toast is found in Orach Latzaddik (6). One argument is that making toast is a qualitatively different process than baking. The other is that the fact that toast has such a different taste from bread makes this case an exception to the rule that there is no baking after baking. He is cited and accepted by such important poskim as Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata (I, 71) and Kaf Hachayim (318:78).

We should note, though, that not all reheating of bread that makes it crispier falls under this category. The Orach Latzaddik himself notes that the Shulchan Aruch (318:15) allows putting even cooked foods opposite the fire without the presence of liquid. He says that it depends on whether the food is in a pot/pan or directly exposed to the fire. Only in the latter case is the process and/or result qualitatively different than what had existed before. Thus, one could put the bread in a pan on the hotplate and probably directly on it.

One may not put food in a place where it would cook if left for a long time even if he plans to remove it sooner. However, in this case, where the food is already objectively cooked, the problem of taking it to the next stage may depend on the intention for that to happen (see Taz 318:6, one of the Orach Latzaddik’s main sources). Therefore, one who plans to defrost should not have to worry that he may forget it until it turns into toast. Finally, when a whole challa becomes crispy on the bottom, the character of the challa is not significantly changed, and the reasons to forbid it do not apply.

We would be remiss not to mention one point regarding reheating challa. Often challa (especially, homemade) is not “objectively” fully baked (based on the normal perception in society). If so, it is forbidden to put it in a place where even a small part of it could become fully baked if left long enough (see Rambam, Shabbat 9:5).

In summary, there is some logic for the stringency not to purposely make bread into toast on Shabbat. However, just defrosting or heating it up in a way that is not likely or intended to change the bread’s character significantly is permitted according to almost all.

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