A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the
week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.
CROCK-POTS ON SHABBOS
QUESTION: Is it permitted to place food in a crock-pot on Friday afternoon
in order for it to be cooked and warm for Shabbos?
DISCUSSION: There are basically two kinds of crock-pots on the market.
One(1) is designed as a free-standing pot which is filled with food and then
placed on top of the heating element. The heating element does not encircle
the pot at all. This type of crock-pot may be used on Shabbos as long as the
food in the pot is half-cooked(2) by the time Shabbos arrives(3).
The other type of crock-pot(4) consists of a pot holding food which is
inserted into another, bigger pot. The outer pot completely surrounds the
inner pot (insert) on three sides. The heating element is built into the
walls and base of the outer pot. The halachic concern pertaining to this
type of crock-pot is the rabbinic prohibition of hatmanah, insulation. The
Rabbis forbade the insulation of all foods, even prior to Shabbos, if the
insulation will add heat to the food(5). Contemporary poskim debate whether
inserting the inner pot into the outer pot is considered "insulating" it,
which is forbidden by the Rabbis, or not. There are three areas of dispute
which we will attempt to describe briefly:
1. There are Rishonim who hold that it is forbidden to place a pot - even on
Friday - in burning coals. It is considered as if the coals are insulating
the pot. In their view, the only permissible way for a pot to be left on a
fire is to place the pot on a grate, over the fire, not "in it"(6). Other
Rishonim argue and hold that as long as the top of the pot is uncovered "and
air can get to it," the pot is not considered to be insulated. Although the
Rama(7) rules according to this view, it is not clear if he considers it
sufficient that the top is uncovered so that "air can get to the pot," or if
he would require that the sides be exposed as well. Thus, some poskim(8)
understand the Rama to hold that when a pot is surrounded on three sides [as
is a crock-pot], even if the top is not covered, it is still considered
insulated, since no air can reach the sides of the pot.
2. The second issue to consider concerns the proximity between the outer and
the inner pots. There is usually a small air pocket which separates the two
pots. It is questionable whether this small space is sufficient to consider
the insert as being physically separate from the outer pot and thus not
being insulated by it, or if the outer pot is so close to the insert that it
is insulating it(9).
3. The third issue to consider is whether the Rabbis prohibited insulation
when its purpose is not to warm the food but to cook it. Since a crock-pot
is used for cooking, not for warming, it has been suggested that the
rabbinic decree would not apply.
What do contemporary poskim rule? Harav S.Z. Auerbach and Harav Y.S.
Elyashiv rule stringently on all of the points listed above and do not allow
the use of this type of crock-pot on Shabbos. Harav S. Wosner and Harav C.P.
Scheinberg rule leniently and permit this type of crock-pot to be used(10).
There are reliable sources who report that Harav M. Feinstein had also ruled
leniently concerning this type of crock-pot.
Harav Elyashiv, though, suggests a simple solution for those who want to
use this type of crock-pot. He suggests placing several stones(11) between
the insert and the outer pot. This way, the insert will rest on the stones
and not on the floor of the outer pot. Since the stones will raise the
insert above the rim of the outer pot, the sides of the insert will be
exposed to the air. In this fashion, no violation of hatmanah will occur.
Simply putting aluminum foil between the insert and the outer pot does not
resolve the problem of hatmanah.
1 Produced by Westbend, Inc. and others.
2 In time of urgent need, if it is cooked a third of the way through it is
3 Note that we are not discussing removing and then returning the pot on
Shabbos, nor are we discussing stirring or removing food from this pot on
4 Produced by Hamilton Beach, Rival and others.
5 For the reasons behind this rabbinic decree, see Shabbos 34a and Mishnah
6 Shulchan Aruch 253:1 rules like this opinion. According to the Chazon Ish
37:19, the halachah is like this view.
7 O.C. 253:1.
8 This is clearly the understanding of the Pri Megadim 259:3 in explanation
of the view of the Rashba and the Taz. There is some uncertainty as to the
view of the Chayei Adam and the Mishnah Berurah on this issue. See Otzros
ha-Shabbos, pg. 256 for a lengthy analysis.
9 See Sha'ar ha-Tziyon 257:43.
10 Responsa from all of the quoted contemporary poskim are published in
Otzros ha-Shabbos, pg. 514-522. See also Ohr ha-Shabbos, vol. 9, pg. 10,
responsum from Harav Y. Roth, who rules leniently.
11 A more practical choice - in lieu of stones - would be to crumple large
piece of aluminum foil into balls.