YESHIVAT HAR ETZION VIRTUAL BEIT MIDRASH PROJECT(VBM)
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          HALAKHA: A WEEKLY SHIUR IN HALAKHIC TOPICS



               USING A HOT PLATE ON SHABBAT

                    by Rav Shlomo Levi

           Trans. and adapted by Rav Eliezer Kwass


Question
---------

	We are looking for the most efficient way to reheat food 
on Shabbat morning.  Until now, if we wanted something 
reheated, we would place it on top of a pot that had been on 
the fire since the beginning of Shabbat.  Recently we heard 
that some authorities permit placing cold pre-cooked food 
directly on a hot plate Shabbat morning.  Is this really 
permissible?
Answer:
-------

	Though some authorities do permit reheating cold food on 
a hot plate (known commonly in Hebrew as a "plata") on Shabbat 
morning, I find this position difficult.
The Background Issues
Three principles are relevant to our question:
1.	Bishul achar bishul:  Recooking on Shabbat is not forbidden 
by the Torah under certain conditions:  First, the food must 
have been COMPLETELY cooked before Shabbat.  Thus, the 
reheating does not effect a transformation from raw to 
cooked.  Dry food can be reheated even if it has completely 
cooled down.  The Poskim differ about liquids:  The Shulchan 
Arukh forbids reheating, while the Rema permits it as long 
as they still retain some of their heat (Shulchan Arukh OC 
318:4, Rema 318:15)
2.	Hachzara:  Returning something to a fire was prohibited by 
the Sages because of the likelihood of someone stirring up 
the coals (shema yechateh), which falls under the Biblical 
category of lighting a fire (hav'ara).  They did not 
prohibit returning a pot to a fire which it was on since 
before Shabbat under certain conditions: The coals must have 
been removed before Shabbat or the fire be covered (gerufa 
u-ketuma); the pot must still be in his hand and not laid on 
the floor; and the person must intend upon its removal to 
return it to the fire (Rav Sheshet on Shabbat 38b).  
3.	Mechzi ki-mevashel (Looks like cooking):  Placing something 
directly on a fire on Shabbat is always prohibited, even if 
it is dry and was totally cooked before Shabbat.  We fear 
that people will misinterpret this action and come to permit 
actual cooking.  This law flows directly out of principle #2 
-- it is permissible only to RETURN a pot to the fire, but 
not to place it on the fire initially.

Our Case
	What should be the ruling in our situation - taking 
precooked dry food out of the refrigerator Shabbat morning and 
placing it directly on the hot plate?  Rav Ovadia Yosef takes 
a lenient stand and does not apply mechzi ki-mevashel.  Why 
not?  After all, placing food directly on the heat source 
without following the conditions of hachzara should be 
prohibited!
	Two issues must be dealt with to determine how to view 
the hot plate case:
A.		Under what conditions does mechzi ki-mevashel apply?  
Obviously, placing food directly on a fire is prohibited; 
but what about a covered fire, near the fire, on another 
pot, or on top of an overturned pot?
B.		How does a hot plate compare to the situations dealt with 
in the classical halakhic works?

A.		How far does mechzi ki-mevashel go?
  
  	Three passages in the Shulchan Arukh relate directly to 
our discussion, OC 253:3, 253:5 and 318:7.
  *	Commentaries infer from 253:3 that the Shulchan Arukh 
prohibits putting a pot of food on top of an empty pot on the 
fire.  That passage relates to one who fears that his pot will 
burn on Shabbat morning but still wants to keep it hot.  He is 
permitted to place an empty pot under his boiling one only if 
all the conditions of hachzara  are fulfilled.  Apparently, if 
his pot of food was not on the fire when Shabbat came in, even 
though it is dry and precooked, it would be prohibited to 
place it on top of an empty pot on Shabbat.
  *	253:5 explicitly permits placing a completely cooked 
"pandish" (meat pie) on top of a FULL pot on the fire "because 
this is not the normal way of cooking."  Hence, there is no 
problem of mechzi ki-mevashel. 
  *	In 318:7, he presents two opinions about whether one can 
place a pot of food on top of another that is already on the 
fire. 

	These apparently contradictory halakhot pose a challenge 
to the Shulchan Arukh's commentators, who distinguish between 
an empty and a full pot, and dry food and liquids.  Placing a 
pot on an empty pot is prohibited because the fire then serves 
only the pot that we put on top on Shabbat, which appears like 
cooking.  The fire underneath a full pot, though, can be seen 
as basically serving the full bottom pot.  This permits us to 
place a pot on top of it without worrying about mechzi ki-
mevashel.  No distinction is made between solids and liquids.  
At this stage, putting food on the hotplate would seem 
comparable to putting it on top of an empty pot and be 
prohibited.  
	The Magen Avraham, in attempting to resolve the 
contradiction between 253:5 and 318:7 (i.e. is it clearly 
permissible, as in 253:5, or in dispute as in 318:7 to put 
food on top of a full pot on Shabbat?) distinguishes between 
solid foods and liquids.  Since if liquids cool down reheating 
them might lead to a problem of Biblical level cooking, the 
Sages were extra stringent; with solids, though, it is 
permissible.
	Rav Ovadia here makes a jump and assumes that Magen 
Avraham permits placing dry food on top of any pot.  The 
difficulty in this lies in 253:3, where placing on top of an 
empty pot seems to be prohibited for dry food also.  The text 
of the Shulchan Arukh in 318:8 seems to deny this possibility 
as well.  "Placing something cold yet fully cooked on a pot of 
boiling water on the fire: some say this is like placing it 
near a fireplace and permissible; and some say it is like 
placing it on an oven and prohibited."  Were it permissible to 
place food on a covered fire, that should have been clarified.  
It seems to always be prohibited to place food on a fire, 
whether covered or uncovered; always permitted to place dry 
food on a full pot; and questionable whether a liquid on a 
full pot or a solid on an empty one is permissible.

B.	The Hot Plate vs. Ovens and Pots
  
  	The hot plate became the subject of much discussion among 
the Acharonim.  They enumerate four distinguishing 
characteristics of a hot plate: 
1.		The heat cannot be raised or lowered.
2.		The heat does not naturally decrease like coals, but 
remains static.
3.		It is made expressly for Shabbat.
4.		The heated electric wires, covered by metal, give it the 
status of a covered fire.

	Though the first two traits prevent the problem of shema 
yechateh (lest he will stir the coals), they are irrelevant to 
the problem of mechzi ki-mevashel.  A fire covered especially 
for Shabbat never gave any fire a special status beyond gerufa 
u-ketuma (coals shoveled out or covered with soot).  The 
fourth distinction is somewhat difficult to accept:  The 
covering here is simply pragmatic - one never places a pot 
directly on fire, but there is always some metal grating to be 
able to put pots on.  This does not give the hot plate the 
status of a "covered fire".  
	At best, the hot plate could be considered a covered 
fire, not a pot on top of a pot, and certainly not "near a 
bonfire" (a fire used primarily for heat, not cooking).

Conclusion

	Though those who have already adopted the lenient ruling 
could certainly continue to follow Rav Ovadia Yosef (I've 
heard that Sefaradim in Yerushalayim follow this), I would 
advise one who has been stringent until now to continue to do 
so.  However, even for one who is stringent, if food has 
already been heated up on a hot plate it is permissible.

(This aricle originally appeared in Daf Kesher No. 98, vol. 1, 
pp. 397-400.)

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