With the start of the third perek we were introduced to issues relating to the prohibition of bishul – cooking on Shabbat. The first Mishnah discussed two concepts that relate to this prohibition – shehiya and chazara. Shehiya relates to leaving a pot on the stove on erev Shabbat while chazara relates to returning a pot onto its heat source on Shabbat after it has been removed. Both issues are quite involved and this article attempt to provide an introduction to shehiya. Chazara is a separate issue with its own detail and no conclusions should be drawn from this discussion about shehiya to chazara. Also this article should be treated only as an introduction and one should consult their Rabbi before drawing any practical conclusion from this article.
The underlying concern with shehiya is not that the food is being cooked on Shabbat. The first perek revealed the opinion of Beit Hillel that holds that there is no “shvitat keilim” on Shabbat. In other words, in general, one is not concerned if a melacha is being performed in one’s utensils without human assistance. The concern with shehiya is rather that if one sees their pot on the fire and the food is a little underdone, one may be tempted to ‘stoke the coals’ or in modern terms, turn up the heat, which equates to one of the melachot.
The first Mishnah (3:1) contains three statements:
If a stove were heated with straw or rakings, they may place on it cooked food; but if with peat or wood, one may not place it on until he has raked [the coals] out or covered [the coals] with ash.
Beit Shammai says, hot water but not cooked food, while Beit Hillel says also cooked food.
Beit Shammai says, they may remove but not put back, while Beit Hillel says they may also put back.
In the Gemara (Shabbat 36b) a discussion ensues as to how these three statements relate to each other. The result of this discussion has bearing on another debate regarding shehiya. Another beraitah is quoted in which Chananya maintains that once something is cooked to the level of ma’achal ben drusai2 it can even be left on a stove that has not be raked or covered with ashes. The Chachamim however argue that one can only leave a pot on a stove that has not been raked or cover with ash if it is fully cooked and leaving it on the stove would degrade the quality of the food. The Gemara therefore asks whether the first statement relates to shehiya which would be consistent with the opinion of the Chachamim or whether it relates to chazara implying shehiya is permissible even on a stove that is not raked?
After lengthy discussion the matter of how we rule was not resolved. The Rishonim continued this debate with Rashi (37b) and Tosfot (38a) ruling like Chananya while the and the Rambam (Shabbat 3:4) ruled like the Chachamim. The Shulchan Aruch brings both opinions, bringing the Chachamim’s first and Chananya’s as “yesh omrim” implying that he rules like the Chachamim. Nevertheless the Rama holds that we are lenient like Chananya’s opinion. That said, the Biur Halacha writes that ordinarily one should ensure that the food is fully cooked and removed from the fire before Shabbat.
There are two special cases that have bearing on this issue. The first is the electric platter, otherwise known as the “Shabbat platter”. Some Achronim have ruled that since the electric platter does not contain any means of changing the level of heat, there is no longer any concern that one will transgress the prohibition of increasing the flame on Shabbat. Consequently, one could leave anything on the platter on erev Shabbat (Yebiya Omer, Har Tzvi). Nevertheless the Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchata (p 27) rules that one should ensure that food is fully cooked and only placed on a covered fire. The second is the use of a covering or blech on a stovetop fire. Once again, some Achronim maintain that once the fire is covered, it is similar to that case in the Mishnah when the stove is raked or covered with ash (Yebiya Omer). Nevertheless the Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchata (p 27) rules that the food should still be fully cooked even prior to placing it on a blech. The Igrot Moshe (93) adds that one should still cover the dials and switches to prevent one from increasing or decreasing the flame.
1 All the detail in this article was taken from the Mishnah Berurah (253) and Yesodei Halacha (9).
2 There is a debate amongst the Rishonim as to the definition of ma’achal ben drusai. Rashi (Shabbat 20a) maintains it is one third cooked, while the Rambam (Hilchot Shabbat 9:5) maintains it is one half cooked. The Shulchan Aruch (254:2) appears to rule like the Rambam. Nevertheless the Mishnah Berurah (253:38) rules that in pressing circumstances one can rely on Rashi’s opinion.
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