For the second night of Yom Tov meal, I am expecting a large crowd. Most of the food I will have prepared before Yom Tov. But, for practical reasons, I will freeze some foods and then warm it up on Yom Tov. I know that we mustn’t prepare on the first day of Yom Tov for the following day. But since defrosting properly may sometimes take a few hours, I’m wondering if it’s permitted to begin defrosting on the afternoon of the first day of Yom Tov something that we will eat that night?


The initial premise of your question was well put. Indeed, the restriction on preparing on the first day Yom Tov for the second day doesn’t stop at melachah (forbidden work); it includes even much lesser efforts. So, on Shemini Atzeret afternoon (for example) we’re not allowed to set out the kiddush for the night of Simchat Torah; we may not fetch wine from the wine-cellar for the night-time Kiddush; we may not roll the Sefer Torah to tomorrow’s reading.

Yet we do see some exceptions. One example, which is quite rare nowadays, is the following:

Kashering meat through salting must be done within three days the animal’s slaughter. After that time has elapsed, the meat can be kashered only through roasting. To extend the time that the meat can be salted, one may soak the meat in water. Although pouring water over the meat would suffice, it is recommended to actually “bathe” the meat in cold water for a while. The “soaking” prevents the blood within the meat from hardening.

Now what happens if the third day is Shabbat or Yom Tov? Well, on Shabbat, this “bathing” of the meat is not allowed, but on Yom Tov it is permitted. The rationale: since cooking is forbidden on Shabbat, it is obvious that the meat is being washed for after Shabbat. On Yom Tov—when cooking is permitted—washing the meat doesn’t disclose that the meat is for tomorrow.

But why should washing tomorrow’s meat be more lenient than setting the table for tonight’s meal?

The Machatzit HaShekel1 says that the benefit of soaking the meat is not immediate. It happens eventually, and at that moment the person is not preparing anything. Contrast this with rolling the Sefer Torah to tomorrow’s reading: Once you’ve rolled it to the right place, it’s ready for tomorrow!

Accordingly, when removing food from the freezer, the benefit is gained only later, once it defrosts. At that time, however, you are no longer actively engaged with the food.

Of course, the leniency given to wash the meat on Yom Tov is because that the option to soak will be unavailable after Yom Tov, resulting in the restriction that the meat will not be allowed to be cooked. Similarly in our instance: By tonight, it will be too late to defrost the food for tonight’s meal. Due to that difficulty, defrosting earlier on would be permitted.

A different path of heter can be gleaned from the Chayei Adom2. He maintains that merely moving items from place to place doesn’t count as preparation. One of his proofs is from the halachah of eruv techumin, that the loaf of the eruv may be carried on the first day of Yom Tov to the city’s borders, in order to permit walking further on the second day of Yom Tov.

He, therefore, rules that, where fetching the wine at night will prove difficult, it is permitted to fetch the wine earlier on. This is comparable to carrying the Eruv to the city’s border, because putting an Eruv in place after nightfall will be too late.

So too with the defrosting: a) merely removing it from the freezer doesn’t count as “preparation”; b) the food is needed at night, and defrosting then will be too late. Therefore, it should be permitted to take the food out to defrost earlier on in the day.

In summation: There are good reasons to permit the defrosting of food on the first day of Yom Tov to be ready for the meal on the eve of the second day. Both reasons, however, are given only in the case of need. A more straightforward solution would be to actually partake of the defrosted food before sunset of the first day.

One last point: The said leniency may be true also for Shabbat leading into Yom Tov. But this will not be acceptable if the food to be defrosted also requires cooking or reheating. In such a case, the act of defrosting will be obviously only for Motzei Shabbat and therefore forbidden.