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Food Preparation on Shabbat

Food Preparation on Shabbat


Included among the thirty-nine melachot are several related to food preparation. In addition to the prohibition against cooking in any form, on Shabbat we are also prohibited from squeezing fruit, selecting, kneading, grinding and mashing. Electrical appliances may not be turned on or off on Shabbat.

Our Shabbat menus reflect our adherence to these various laws. Many traditional Shabbat foods have their origins in the Shabbat laws, including cholent, a warm dish which has been cooked prior to Shabbat, and gefilte fish, which has had all bones removed during its preparation.

Even though cooking boiling, roasting, frying and baking are prohibited on Shabbat, and we may not kindle or extinguish a flame, whether for cooking or any other purpose, there are permissible ways to serve warm food on Shabbat. In fact, it is a mitzvah to eat warm food during the Shabbat lunch. This can be accomplished by keeping food hot on a special covering placed over the stove, as explained below. A gas or electric oven regulated by a thermostat should not be used on Shabbat, since opening and closing the oven door may affect the flame or electricity.

The "Shabbat Stove" - Setting up the Blech

It is permissible to keep food warm on a gas flame or electric burner which has been turned on before Shabbat, as long as the source of heat is covered. This is usually done by covering the stovetop with a thin sheet of aluminum referred to as a blech (Yiddish for "tin"). It is preferable for the blech also to cover the control knobs for those burners which it covers, to prevent one from adjusting the flame on Shabbat.

A blech usually covers two to four burners, of which one or two are left on. If, for example, one wishes to place two pots of food on the blech, it is wise to leave only one burner on. The entire blech will become hot, but the area directly over the burner will be hottest.

When setting up the blech, it is best to use a low flame (or flames) so as not to burn the food. Food can be kept hot effectively even with a low flame.

From a health standpoint, be sure that food kept on the blech for more than an hour remains hot, not lukewarm, to prevent spoilage.

Food placed on the blech for Shabbat must be at least one-third or preferably one-half cooked. All salt, spices and liquid must be added before Shabbat begins.

Keeping Food Warm on the Blech: On Shabbat it is permissible to rearrange those pots which sit directly on the blech, under the following conditions:

  • the food is completely cooked;
  • the part of the blech on which the pot sits is hot to the touch;
  • the food has not cooled down to room temperature.

Warming Cold Food: On Shabbat, one may not place cold wet food, even when fully cooked, into a pot on the blech. However, one may place cold food (such as chicken or kugel) near the fire but not on the blech to take the chill off, as long as it could never become hot (over 113° F) in that spot.

Removing Food from the Blech: One may not serve food directly from a pot on the blech. The pot must first be removed from the blech.

Replacing Pots on the Blech: After removing a pot or kettle from the blech to serve from it, one may replace it on the blech only if all of the following conditions are met:

  • When the pot was removed, the intention was to put it back;
  • The food is fully cooked;
  • The food has not completely cooled off and is still slightly warm;
  • The food has not been transferred to another pot;
  • One holds the pot handle until replacing the pot on the blech. It is preferable not to put the pot down. If necessary, the pot may be placed on a table or any dry place except the floor, as long as one continues to hold the pot.

The Use of a Crock-Pot: The laws concerning the use of a crock-pot resemble those concerning the blech. The cholent stew, whether it is cooked first in a regular pot and then transferred to a crock-pot, or cooked only in the crockpot, should be at least half cooked before Shabbat begins, and the temperature knob should be covered with aluminum foil.

The crockpot must have a removable bowl, which should be taken out before serving, just as a pot is removed from the blech.

In order to return the bowl to the crock-pot on Shabbat, foil or some other material must be placed between the removable serving bowl and the heating element before Shabbat (to serve as a blech). The same rules apply as explained above in Replacing Pots on the Blech, .

Adding to Hot Foods and Liquids

When a hot food or liquid is removed from the blech, nothing may be added to it in the pot until it is transferred to another cup or bowl. In most cases it must be put into a third vessel, such as when adding salt, tea, croutons, etc. to soup or liquid. In addition, if the food from the blech is solid, such as chicken or thick cholent, it should also be allowed to cool down before adding anything to it in a third vessel.

Preparing Hot Beverages: If one wishes to prepare tea, coffee, or other hot drinks, one should set up, before Shabbat, either a kettle of boiled water on the blech or a Rabbinic-approved electric urn .

One may not pour the hot water from the kettle directly onto an uncooked solid or liquid, since this would be considered cooking. Coffee, tea, and cocoa fall into this category. Therefore, to make tea or coffee on Shabbat, use the following method:

  • pour the hot water from the kettle into a clean, dry cup;
  • pour the water from this cup into another cup; and
  • then add teabag, tea essence, coffee, sugar or milk. If using a teabag, do not squeeze it.
  • If using a teabag, do not remove the bag from the drink.

Some authorities recommend that instead of using teabags, a special concentrated "tea essence" be prepared before Shabbat. One cup of tea essence is prepared by allowing six teabags to steep in a cup of boiling water. Use one tablespoon of this concentrate to make a cup of tea.

Other Laws Pertaining to Food Preparation

On Shabbat we are not permitted to squeeze fruit, select, knead, grind, mash, grate, chop, shred, or cut very finely. This applies in many different ways, and one should be aware of these prohibitions whenever preparing food on Shabbat. The following are just a few practical examples:

  • Salads must be made immediately before mealtime, and the pieces should not be cut too small.
  • When mashing foods such as banana or avocado, one should vary the usual weekday method, and do it right before eating. For example, mash with the handle of a utensil instead of a spoon or fork. Vegetables or fruits that have been cooked can be mashed in the usual way.
  • Fruits such as lemons, oranges and grapefruits may not be squeezed for their juice. They may, however, be squeezed directly onto solid foods such as vegetables, salad, or cake, to enhance their flavor.

Borer: On Shabbat it is forbidden to separate or sort out two or more types of items which are mixed together. This melachah is called borer, which means "selection." Selection may be done under the following conditions:

Select that which you wish to use from that which you do not wish to use. For example, if a bowl contains both desirable and undesirable fruit, select the desired ones and leave the rest. Do not pick out the pieces of fruit you don't want. An easy phrase reminds us of the correct way: choose "good" from "bad," not "bad" from "good."

  • The selection should take place only by hand, not by instrument.
  • That which is being selected should be for immediate use.
  • When preparing eggs, fruits or vegetables which have inedible shells or peels, these may be removed on Shabbat immediately before the meal, but not with an instrument especially made for that purpose, such as a peeler. A knife, however, may be used. Some authorities permit the use of a peeler if the peel is edible, as is the case of apples and carrots.

Preparing Food for Children: On Shabbat, there are special ways to prepare formula, warm bottles, mix cereals or mash food for babies or children. Consult one or more of the guides to Shabbat observance available in English or an Orthodox Rabbi.

NOTE: The above melachot on food preparation also affect other activities in addition to those directly involving food. Examples are wiping spills with a sponge, playing with modeling clay, mopping, or sorting broken or unwanted articles such as dishes, chairs or clothing.

Excerpted from Spice and Spirit, The Complete Kosher Jewish Cookbook, published by Lubavitch Women's Cookbook Publications
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Anonymous November 3, 2017

Electrical lights and devices as well? Since electrical appliances are forbidden to be turned on and off during Shabbat, are electrical lights and devices also forbidden? Reply

Rabbi Yossi Grossbaum, for Folsom, CA November 6, 2017
in response to Anonymous:

Yes, electrical lights and devices are prohibited from use on Shabbat. The exception would be if one's life depended on the electrical appliance. For a more detailed explanation regarding electricity on Shabbat see here Reply

Buddy van Zutphen Nijmegen, the Netherlands September 9, 2017

Dear rabbi, thanks for the article. I have a question: when I use a crockpot and the fuses are blown, what is the proper way of acting on such a moment?
Many thanks in advance! Reply

Rabbi Yossi Grossbaum, for Folsom, CA September 11, 2017
in response to Buddy van Zutphen:

If you're food is cooking using a Crockpot that was set before Shabbat and the fuse blows. If the food is already cooked and ready to eat the best thing to do would be to take it out and eat it.
If it's not cooked (or if you're not ready to eat it yet) and the power is restored, it would depend on the circumstance and how the power was restored. If it was restored specifically for you, it would be forbidden to eat the food.
However if it was restored for the entire city, neighborhood or building, and the majority of residents whose power was restored are not Jewish, it would likely be permitted to eat the food.
I must add an important caveat however: In these sorts of situations there are often many different factors that effect the halachic ruling. For accurate instructions regarding your specific circumstance it would be best to discuss the particulars with a knowledgeable Orthodox rabbi. Reply

DJM Bellingham July 3, 2017

Isn't leaving a fire on the same thing as kindling a fire for preparing food? Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for July 4, 2017
in response to DJM:

No, the Torah specifically forbids lighting a fire *on* Shabbat, but does not say anything about lighting it before Shabbat and leaving it on. Reply

malca flushing December 19, 2016

making egg salad Can I peel hard boiled eggs on shabbat and then slice them with a slicer or mash them with a fork or grater----there is no liquid involved so I'm not making juice...if that is an issue. Reply

Jason Wyk November 8, 2016

What are some other activities that constitute “cooking” on Shabbat other than cooking itself? Reply

Carrie PA October 13, 2016

Curious Not to sound ignorant, but who made these rules up? I'm truly curious. Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for June 14, 2016

To Shoshana If it's in your plate and you want to eat the carrots right away, you may use a utensil. But if it's in the general serving bowl and you want to separate the carrots from the rest, it needs to be done by hand. Reply Staff June 14, 2016

To Maia Sorry to hear that. If you'd like to share your question, we'll do our best to help. Reply

Shoshana Arnow Houston June 14, 2016

Can you use a utensil to try and pick out for example carrots from a salad or would that need to be done by hand? Reply

Maia America June 11, 2016

This was not helpful Reply

Anonymous NY February 24, 2016

Unclear statement Warming Cold Food: Can you place cold food (such as chicken or kugel) already placed in a keli rishon in a second keli (keli sheni) directly on a fire covered by blech, as long as it could never become hot (over 113° F) in that spot? Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for December 20, 2015

See this link for information on how eating warm food on Shabbat became a "mitzvah." Reply

Anonymous December 16, 2015

Can you provide the verse that says it is a mitzvah to eat warm food during the Shabbat lunch? Reply

Anonymous November 22, 2015

This helped my homework so well. Reply

Shaul Wolf October 26, 2015

Re: Cereal There is no problem with having cold cereal on Shabbat. Reply

Carbon Yahudah Current Olam June 17, 2017
in response to Shaul Wolf:

But you can't use a spoon after the cereal changes temperatures. It must remain cold in order the use the spoon. Reply

Eliezer Zalmanov for June 22, 2017
in response to Carbon Yahudah:

Room temperature is the same as cold. Food doesn't usually go from cold to hot without a heating element. Reply

Diane October 24, 2015

Is it allowed to make a bowl of cold cereal on shabbot? Reply Staff via June 1, 2015

To Anonymous It truly isn't :) Reply

Anonymous May 31, 2015

This sounds like more work than cooking... Reply

Ruth March 23, 2015

This is an accident waiting to happen & DID I think we need to stop doing this. Use appliances as they are meant to be used. This orthodox Jewish father of 7 just lost his children due to this out-dated practice.

How many more have to die?

From the article
"Studies in Israel have found that hot plates, along with urns of water kept near boiling to use for baths during the Sabbath, are significant risk factors in burn cases among the ultra-Orthodox"

I am very sad. I can't stand to read about any Jews dying. I think safety comes first. You can't leave a blech either, you must never leave a hot plate unattended, you must never leave a fire on the stove top unattended.

The one thing you can do is buy a huge expensive crockpot and keep that on. Not the hot plate.

Please be careful. And make sure the crockpot has enough liquid in it to keep your meals in. Reply

Chana Benjaminson March 2, 2015

to Sonja While it may seem so at first glance, once it becomes part of a routine it is really not that time consuming nor hard. Most people space out the preparations over the course of the week, for example, clean one day, bake challa and cakes another, cook some dishes on Thursday and others on Friday and then come Shabbat we can all relax and enjoy our family and guests. Reply

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