The Great Cholent Challenge
This week the worldwide Daf Yomi started learning Perek Kira, the chapter in Gemara Shabbos that deals with the myriad and complex minutiae involved in allowing us to eat a hot Shabbos meal without transgressing the prohibition of cooking on Shabbos.
This article sets out to give some background and explain several common halachic issues involving the serving of the ubiquitous Jewish dish: Cholent.
Cholent is its Name…
Ahh! Nothing smells more geshmak than the awesomely redolent aroma emanating from the kitchen and wafting throughout the house on a Shabbos morning. If you are like most of us, you just can’t wait until you sink our teeth into that piping hot, special for Shabbos, delicacy, Cholent. This exceptional meat and potato, barley and bean (and whatever else you decide to throw in) concoction of a stew has been around for a very long time. In fact, the Ohr Zarua, in the mid 1200s, already mentioned Cholent by name!
Etymologists have a difficult time figuring out where the name comes from. There are several hypotheses regarding it, including the Hebrew / Aramaic ‘shelan’ (food that rested overnight), ‘shaluk’ (thoroughly cooked), and a combination of the French words chaud ("hot") and lent ("slow"). However, most Sefardim stick to the name given to a hot Shabbos food by the Mishna (Shabbos 36b), ‘Chamin’ or ‘Hamin’.
The origins of this humble dish lie in the words of the Ba’al HaMaor, Rav Zerachiah HaLevi from Gerona, who lived in the mid-1100s. He writes that it is a Takanas Chachamim to enjoy the Shabbos with a hot dish. He adds that whoever does not do so is suspect of being a ‘Min’ (heretic, a.k.a Apikores)! The reason being that the heterodox Kara'im (Karaites), who denied the Rabbinic Mesorah, prohibited eating any hot food on Shabbos. The Ba’al HaMaor explains that one who refuses to eat a hot dish on Shabbos (cooked before Shabbos), is suspect of following their heretical interpretation of the Torah and not those of our Chachmei HaDoros.
On the other hand, the Ba’al HaMaor assures that whoever makes sure to cook, heat up (before Shabbos), and eat a hot dish on Shabbos will merit seeing ‘the end of days’. Quite a big reward just for eating Cholent. And this is not just a minority opinion: his words are codified in halacha by the Rema as a ‘Mitzva’ and eating Cholent on Shabbos is considered ‘Minhag Yisrael’ by the Mishna Berura. In fact, I know of a certain renowned rabbi who, although not enamored of Cholent, nonetheless makes sure to “eat one bean every Shabbos”, and that way fulfill “Mitzvas Cholent”.
However, getting the Cholent from a bubbling pot on a blech (a simple sheet of metal placed on the gas burners) onto our plates presents several halachic challenges. Aside from the issues of Shehiya, placing a food on the fire before Shabbos until the time it is being served on Shabbos, and the more stringent Chazara, returning food to the flame on Shabbos, there is also a separate issue of Maygis, stirring, which one might possibly violate by doing the simple innocuous action of lifting the lid off of the simmering Cholent pot and replacing it, or just ladling out some Friday night ‘To’ameha’ Cholent.
Therefore, in order to serve our Mitzva Cholent properly, without Chas V’Shalom unwittingly transgressing any Shabbos prohibitions, authorities have come up with a five- point plan, which enables us to serve a steaming, savory Cholent, and allows us to return it to the flame for seconds (more Mitzvos!). Note: this follows the widespread Ashkenazic practice that one must first remove the pot from the fire in order to serve.
- The pot of Cholent must be on a covered flame, as a reminder that we cannot adjust the flame on Shabbos. In Mishnaic and Gemara terms this is referred to as “Garuf V’Katum”, meaning the coals in the ovens were pushed to the side and /or covered up. There is a famous machlokes Rishonim whether the key reason for doing this is so there will be a reminder that it is prohibited to stoke the coals and make the food cook faster and better, or whether it is meant to actually lessen the cooking heat. Making sure the flame is covered is a prerequisite for committing Shehiya or Chazara on Shabbos in a permitted manner. A blech on the stovetop is the most commonly known example of this.
- The Cholent must be fully cooked.
- It must still be hot or at least warm.
- One must take it off the fire in order to serve it. If one wants to keep it hot for later (Fleishig Shalosh Seudos, anyone?) he must have in mind, when taking the pot off the fire to serve, that he is planning on returning it to the fire.
- One must have his hand on it the whole time.
However, in extenuating circumstances, even if one was not planning to return it to the flame, as long as his hand was still on it, he may nevertheless do so. Similarly, if he placed it on the counter, but still intended to return it to the fire, he is permitted to return it to the blech.
Common Sefardic practice follows the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch that scooping out from the pot does not constitute Maygis. Therefore, once the Cholent is fully cooked, one may scoop out and serve Cholent directly from the pot, even while it is still on top of the blech. However, it should be noted that the Ben Ish Chai and Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul ruled that one may only rely on this L’tzorech Mitzva; otherwise, they maintain that one must take the pot off of the fire before ladling out. Interestingly, the Tzitz Eliezer maintains that Yeshiva bochurim raiding the Cholent pot on a Friday night qualifies as L’Tzorech Mitzva.
When in Bnei Brak…
A third opinion is that of the Chazon Ish. His was a dissenting opinion regarding the permissibility of relying on using a blech, explaining that since a blech does not sufficiently lessen the fire’s heat level, it is not considered a true covered flame. Therefore, he held that one may not put the pot back on a blech on Shabbos. Consequently, he maintained that in order to keep Cholent hot after serving, it is permissible to scoop out Cholent while the pot was still on the fire, provided that the Cholent was fully cooked and one took care not to actively stir the pot. His brother-in-law, the Steipler Gaon followed this as well. According to this ruling, one need not take the pot off the fire in order to serve.
Although, as mentioned previously, most contemporary authorities did not allow one l’chatchila to scoop out of a hot pot while still on a blech, there is one scenario on which many contemporary authorities rule leniently (relying on the Chazon Ish’s shitta): if the pot is too heavy to move off of the fire. An example of this would be the giant Cholent pot found in many a yeshiva kitchen. Many decisors, including the Minchas Yitzchak, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner, and Rav Moshe Sternbuch, allow one to scoop and serve the Cholent without taking the pot off the blech if it is too heavy to move off the flame. However, it should be noted that Rav Moshe Feinstein was not inclined to rule leniently in scooping out Cholent from a pot on the fire, even if the pot was too heavy to move off.
Although these procedures and nuances may seem complicated, they are but a small sampling of the numerous intricate halachos that pertain to the prohibition of cooking on Shabbos. It behooves us all to make sure that we are serving our Cholent in the proper halachic way, as, aside for the earthly reward of eating Cholent on Shabbos, the taste of its Mitzva is eternal.
Ohr Zarua (vol. 2, Shabbos, Hilchos Erev Shabbos, end 8).
Ba’al HaMaor (in his glosses to Gemara Shabbos, Perek Kira, Maor HaKattan end 16b - in the Rif’s pages, end s.v. v’im); also cited by the Orchos Chaim (Hilchos Shabbos 72) and the Kol Bo (31, pg. 32a).
For an expanded explanation and the parameters of this Mitzva, see Shu”t Ba’er Moshe (vol. 1, 1, 2) and Chut Shani (Shabbos vol. 2, pg. 147, Ch. 28, 12).
Rema (O.C. 257, end 8; Darchei Moshe O.C. 259, 2), Mishna Berura (ad loc. 48).
See Bartenura (Shabbos Ch. 7, Mishna 2, s.v. haofeh), Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 254, 4 & 257, 4), Mishna Berura (254, 23 7 Biur Halacha 257 s.v. gorem), Mekor Chaim (118, 18), Shvisas HaShabbos (Mevashel 26, 81), Ketzos Hashulchan (124), Shu”t Igros Moshe (O.C. vol. 4, 74, Bishul 10), Chut Shani (Shabbos vol. 2, pg. 197), Shu”t Titz Eliezer, (vol. 7, 15), Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos (vol. 1, 207, 3), and Shmiras Shabbos K’Hilchaso (new print Ch. 1, 41).
Machzor Vitry (191), Magen Avraham (250, 1), Elya Rabba (ad loc. 6), Shulchan Shlomo (ad loc. 1), Arizal (Shaar Hakavannos , Drushei Seder Shabbos, 1), Shlah (Shabbos, Ner Mitzva 31), Shulchan Aruch HaRav (O.C. 250, 8), Mishna Berura (ad loc. 2) and Kaf Hachaim (ad loc. 5). Although these authorities are referring to tasting the Shabbos food on Erev Shabbos, however, the Zohar (vol. 1, 48b) writes that the ikar tasting is on Friday night.
For the basic machlokes, see Rashi (Shabbos 36b s.v. ad shyigrof), Tosafos (ad loc. s.v. lo) and Ran (15b in the Rif’s pages, s.v. oi ad). Making sure the flame is covered is a prerequisite for committing Shehiya or Chazara on Shabbos in a permitted manner - see Shulchan Aruch O.C. 253 and main commentaries at length.
Although there are those who are stringent that a blech does not qualify [see Chazon Ish (O.C. 37, 9 & 11); also Shu”t Panim Meiros (vol. 1, 84; cited in Shaarei Teshuva O.C. 254, 8) and Shu”t Maharsham (vol. 3, 165)], nonetheless nowadays, the vast majority of contemporary authorities, based on the Magen Avraham (253, 31), Chayei Adam (Hilchos Shabbos, 20, 11), Mishna Berura (ad loc. 81) and Kaf Hachaim (ad loc. 11), maintain that this din translates to a blech. See Shu”t Maharsha”G (vol. 2, 50), Shu”t Igros Moshe (O.C. vol. 1, 93), Shu”t Shevet HaLevi (vol. 1, 91), Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer (vol. 7, 15), Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos vol. 1, 207, 2), Kisvei Rav Henkin (pg. 21), and Shmiras Shabbos K’hilchasa (new print Ch. 1, 20, 5). Several authorities, including Rav Moshe Feinstein (ibid.), maintain that it is preferable to cover the knobs as well.
Regarding the Shabbos hot plate (plata), the other common method to keep food warm on Shabbos, most contemporary authorities [including the Har Tzvi (Shu”t O.C. 136), Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igros Moshe O.C. vol. 4, 74, Bishul 35), Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (cited in Shmiras Shabbos K’Hilchasa new print Ch. 1 footnote 83), the Debreciner Rav (Shu”t Ba’er Moshe vol. 6, Kuntress Electric vol. 1, 1 & 2), Dayan Y. Y. Fischer (cited in Meor HaShabbos vol. 2, pg. 656), Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul (Shu”t Ohr L’Tzion vol. 2, Ch. 17, end footnote 1), Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner (Shu”t Shevet HaLevi vol. 5, end 30), and Rav Ovadia Yosef (Shu”t Yabea Omer vol. 6, O.C. 32)], maintain that it is has the halachic status of a blech, since its temperature cannot be changed, and it is only meant to keep food warm, and not actually cook. However, it should be noted that several of these poskim maintain that this halachic dispensation only applies if one is actually unable to cook on the plata. Others feel that even if one can actually cook on said hot plate, the din still applies as it is not the derech to cook on a hot plate, and therefore no issue of Mechezi K’mevashel arises. Several authorities, on the other hand, [including the Chazon Ish (cited in Orchos Rabbeinu vol. 1, pg. 102, 11), Rav Y. S. Elyashiv (cited in Shvus Yitzchak on Inyanei Shehiya Ch. 8, pg. 91) and Rav Nissim Karelitz (Chut Shani, Shabbos vol. 2, pg. 114); Rav Moshe Sternbuch (Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos vol. 1, 207, 6) rules that only bshaas hadchak may one be lenient to do chazara onto a plata], are stringent that a plata does not constitute a true covered flame, due to a lo plug. Therefore, several authorities feel that it is preferable to place a layer of thick aluminum foil on the plata before Shabbos, in order to be yotzei all the opinions - See Shu”t Shemesh U’Magein (vol. 1, 56), Shvus Yitzchak (ibid., 12), Chut Shani (Shabbos vol. 2, pg. 116 s.v. um”m), and Orchos Shabbos (vol. 1, Ch. 2, 13).
Bais Yosef (O.C. 253, 2 s.v. uma”sh Rabbeinu), Rema (ad loc.), Taz (ad loc. 10), Shulchan Aruch HaRav (ad loc. 18), Mishna Berura (ad loc. 61 and Biur Halacha ad loc. s.v. v’davka), Kaf Hachaim (ad loc. 45).
Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 253, 2), Rema (O.C. 253, 15), Magen Avraham (ad loc. 19), Tosafos Shabbos (ad loc. 23), Ba’er Heitiv (ad. loc. 12), Shulchan Aruch HaRav (ad loc. 18), Mishna Berura (ad loc. 54).
The issue with serving from on the fire is Maygis, stirring, which might technically be an issur deoraysa of Bishul - see Gemara Beitza 34a and Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos Ch. 9, 4). Although we are referring to serving Cholent that is fully cooked, and therefore according to most authorities stirring should no longer be an issue [see Beis Yosef (O.C. 318, 18), Shu”t Ridbaz (vol. 3, 411), Maamar Mordechai (318, 20), and Eglei Tal (HaOfeh 17)], nevertheless the Rema (O.C. 318, citing the Mahar”I Weil - Dinin v’Halachos 30), Elyah Rabba (ad loc. 40, citing the Kol Bo 31), Chayei Adam (Hilchos Shabbos 20, 9), Shulchan Aruch HaRav (O.C. 318, 30), Shvisas HaShabbos (Mevashel 26), Mishna Berura (ad loc. 113), and Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu”t Igros Moshe O.C. vol. 4, 61 & 74, Bishul 9; citing the Tiferes Shmuel’s glosses on the Rosh, Shabbos Ch. 3, 15), are machmir that one should only ladle out the Cholent when it is off the fire. Although the Mahar”I Weil and Rema imply that this might problematic as well, nonetheless the vast majority of halachic decisors [including Shulchan Aruch (ad loc.), Taz (23), Magen Avraham (44, by beans), Pri Megadim (M.Z. 23), Elya Rabba (ibid.), Chayei Adam (ibid.), Shulchan Aruch HaRav (30), Aruch Hashulchan (56), Mishna Berura (117 & Biur Halacha s.v. af), and Kaf Hachaim (177)] rule that this is the preferred method of serving Cholent on Shabbos, (unless you can just pour out directly from the pot).
Tur (O.C. 253, 2), Rema (ad loc.), Shulchan Aruch HaRav (ad loc. 19), Mishna Berura (ad loc. 56 and Biur Halacha ad loc. s.v. v’daato).
Tur (O.C. 253, 2), Rema (ad loc.), Shulchan Aruch HaRav (ad loc. 19), Mishna Berura (ad loc. 56 and Biur Halacha ad loc. s.v. v’daato). Many contemporary authorities maintain that the pot does not need to be held suspended while ladling out Cholent; it may be allowed to rest upon a surface (table, counter, preferably not being placed on the floor) as long as the pot is still being held by the handle. See Shu”t Igros Moshe (O.C. 4, 74, Bishul 33), Shmiras Shabbos K’Hilchasa (new print Ch. 1, 20, 4, footnote 60, quoting Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach), Shvus Yitzchak (ibid. Ch. 14, quoting Rav Y.S.Elyashiv), and Chut Shani (Shabbos vol. 2, pg. 123, 3).
Mishna Berura (253, 56 and Biur Halacha ad loc. s.v. v’daato), Chazon Ish (O.C. 37, 12), Shmiras Shabbos K’hilchasa (new print Ch. 1, 21).
Yalkut Yosef (Shabbos vol. 3, 318, 43, pg. 187), based on Beis Yosef (O.C. 318, 18).
Shu”t Rav Pe’alim (vol. 3, O.C. 45) and Shu”t Ohr L’Tzion (vol. 2, Ch.30, 15, pg. 238). Shu”t Tzitz Eliezer (vol. 7, 15).
Chazon Ish (O.C. 37: 9, 11 & 15), Orchos Rabbeinu (vol. 1, pg. 149).
See Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak (vol. 5, 127, 6), Shvus Yitzchak (Hilchos Bishul Ch. 41, 2, 2, citing Rav Elyashiv’s opinion), Shu”t Shevet HaLevi (vol. 10, 11, 2), Shu”t Teshuvos V’Hanhagos (vol. 1, 207, 4), Shu”t Az Nidberu (vol. 5, 13), and Shu”t Mishna Halachos (vol. 7, 51). Rav Moshe Feinstein’s dissenting machmir opinion is found in Shu”t Igros Moshe (O.C. vol. 4, 74, Bishul 9).
Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.