Question:

The issue with the crockpot has me concerned, not from a halachic perspective (I had the pleasure of learning hotmanah) but from a social one.

Thousands upon thousands of upright, frum and yirei shomayim Jews have been using crockpots since they were invented. Year after year the family waited as the cholent was served from the now-defined ‘treif’ crockpot. What does that say about all these people who came before our enlightened generation? And isn’t there an injunction not to Pasken Le’chumra on the behavior of frum Jews of the earlier generation? What does this do to Chinuch in the home? If well-established, almost-universal practices can be overturned, what’s next? How can we be sure that following the behavior of the frum community will not lead us to other “issurim“?

I would like to get your thoughts.

Answer:

There are two points I would like to make regarding your letter. One is technical and halachic in nature, explaining “the other side of the story.” The second concerns the evolution of halacha, chumros, and the attitude towards maikilim.

You can choose whichever you find interesting, but to me the two are intertwined. Every practice that indicates a halachic position needs to be evaluated to ascertain whether there is a halachic basis for the behavior or whether it is a practice that became widespread without any rabbinic sanction or basis.

I will start with the halachic side.

There is a halachic basis for using a crockpot without any of the techniques mentioned earlier.

The Rema (253:1) argues with the Mechaber and holds that as long as the pot is partially exposed to air, there is no issur of hatmana. The Pri Megadim (259 M.Z. 3) is uncertain if having just the pot cover exposed to air is sufficient or if the Rema requires part of the sides of the pot to be exposed to the air, too.

From the Mishna Berura (258:2) it seems clear that the M.B. holds that even if just the pot cover is exposed (i.e., there is nothing generating heat on top of the pot cover) there is no issur of hatmana. The Mishna Berura understands the Taz to mean that one cannot completely submerge a bottle of cold water in hot water in order to warm it up. His wording clearly implies that if the top is exposed it is muttar, based upon the Rema’s opinion in 253:1. ((S.H. 258:9. See also M.B. 253:48 and 253:69, which repeat this interpretation of the Rema. The Graz 257 in essay #3 also maintains that it is not hatmana even if just the top is exposed.
From the Chidushei Haran’s explanation of the Mishna (Shabbos 47b), it is obvious that he, too, paskens that there can be no hatmana if the cover has no additional covering on it.)) The Rema himself, in Darkei Moshe (253), writes this chiddush almost explicitly. In reference to the Beis Yosef’s statement thathatmana can occur when a pot touches coals, the Darkei Moshe asks why there is a problem of hatmana if the top is exposed.

The aforementioned heter of the Rema (253:1) should apparently apply to every crockpot. This may be the basis for the common practice. ((The Taz, M.B., Graz, and Ran apparently agree with this position, as mentioned above. Another approach permitting the use of a crockpot is to consider all crockpots exposed on the sides as well, since there is a thin space between the heating element and the inserted pot; the S.H. (257:43) writes that if there is some intervening air it is not hatmana. But this argument seems weaker because the space is really minimal.
I do not know of any posek who addressed the question of the crockpot years ago when it first became popular and explained why it is muttar. Therefore, everything is conjecture and speculation. We do not have a definitive psak permitting this new invention. ))

Using the heter mentioned above (hatmana bemiktzas – where the cover is exposed to air) is not so simple, however. The logic behind hatmana bemiktzas is that it is an inefficient method of keeping things warm, since heat escapes easily and this is not derech hatmana. But if this device (the crockpot) was designed to be used in such a fashion, perhaps it is derech hatmana.

Furthermore, the Chazon Ish (37:19) says one cannot rely on the heter of having just the cover exposed. He maintains that there is no support for the Darkei Moshe’s assumption that such a thing is muttar. He agrees with the Mechaber that as long as heat is generated even from the bottom alone and the sides are fully exposed, it is still hatmana and is assur. In order to be muttar, the pot must be raised off the bottom of the crockpot so that it is not touching the heat source. ((I have not found any reference by the Chazon Ish to a situation in which the pot is elevated and the heat source surrounds the pot. It is likely that even then he would be machmir, and 37:19 implies that he does not recognize a distinction between whether the heat source comes from the bottom or from the sides. ))

Thus, although use of a crockpot is not universally accepted, there is a halachic basis for permitting it as is, without any modifications. The Rema states clearly that the minhag is to be maikel on hatmana bemiktzas. He apparently meant that this is so even if only the cover is exposed. The M.B. also understands it that way. The Pri Megadim is uncertain about this and suggests that perhaps the Rema was onlymaikel if the majority of the pot was exposed. ((In a previous teshuva regarding crockpots I have explained the opinion of the Pri Megadim and how to use a crockpot even according to the machmirim. In note 5 the most stringent opinion is mentioned. )) The Chiddushei HaRashba (47b) states explicitly that just having the cover exposed is not enough.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l and y”l Rav Eliashiv shlita apparently did not want to voice a lenient opinion on this subject.

Therefore, in light of the Chazon Ish’s opinion and Rav Shlomo Zalman’s reluctance to go with the Rema’s lenient interpretation, and in consideration of the wording of the question, (“what do we need to do to it so that it is not ‘problematic’?”), which I understood to mean “what can be done to satisfy the machmirim?” I wrote the previous response.

The best solution is therefore to elevate the pot; this satisfies the stringent interpretation of the Rema. ((According to the Chazon Ish it is still probably not acceptable, as mentioned in note 3. Nor will it ever be acceptable for Sefaradim to use a crockpot without first meeting special requirements. )) But, again, there are grounds for being maikelentirely.

That is point 1.

Point 2 is that deciding that it is best to be machmir on a specific question does not mean that we can cast aspersions on those who are maikel when there are grounds for relying on a lenient opinion. In these situations we should say, “Live and let live.” But that doesn’t mean we should not seek the absolute truth and try to do what is correct from an objective and analytical perspective.

When we are dealing with a halachic issue that is not straightforward and requires wisdom to apply, the application can be re-evaluated as we become more familiar with the item. We can question past practices without challenging past psak too strongly. This is because we are just modifying the information that went into making the psak. (( When the use of electricity became widespread, there were different psakim on the issue. Some important  rabbonim allowed it on Shabbos until Reb Chaim Ozer used it for havdala and made a borei meorei ha’esh on an electric bulb. Interestingly, the Mishna Berura makes no reference to electricity even though it was already in use. The wisdom of that decision seems obvious; because he wanted his book to be a classic, he only discussed eternal principles and did not address applications, which can could be challenged and would risk discrediting the entire work. As more and more was understood about electricity, the psak was modified. The one who is considered to have understood electricity especially well was Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, whose first major work (Meorei Eish) was on this topic. That catapulted him into the spotlight as a future posek. Similarly, the greater the understanding that poskim have of the human body and medicine, the better they can accurately apply halacha to medicine.))

A crockpot is a relatively simple device, and if there was a psak le-heter, it probably wasn’t flawed due to lack of knowledge. Still, it is an issue of applied halacha, which by its nature can be trickier than a halachic ruling that does not have to be applied to a modern situation. To this day there is a lively debate regarding machine matzos. Inventions will always be open to scrutiny and re-evaluation.

A decision not to use crockpots today doesn’t denigrate a previous generation that was following its poskim. The Mishna (Shabbos, chap. 19) teaches that the people in Rabbi Eliezer’s area would chop down a tree, carry the wood, light a fire and heat metal to fashion a knife for a bris mila – all on Shabbos – and they were rewarded for following the psak of their rav. ((We may not have a written response on the subject but surely many talmidei chachomim knew of the widespread use of the crockpot and did not find it unacceptable. Although the silence on this matter may not be considered a psak and may not entitle crockpot users to a reward, it should be sufficient to deflect any negative criticism of those who did use it. ))

I am not familiar with an injunction not to be more machmir than the psak of a previous generation. The only reference I know of regarding such a thing is a takanaabout gittin. According to Rabbeinu Tam’s cherem, once a get is deemed kosher, one should not question its validity unless there is something really wrong with it.

I don’t see any negative repercussions for chinuch either. The children will learn that applying halacha is very tricky, and they will learn to search objectively for the truth. No one is casting aspersions on anyone.

Crockpots are not centuries old; we are not overturning old traditions. We are fine-tuning applications. This is progress, development and dikduk be-halacha. At some point in the future, technology and the environment we live in may be understood better or change and we may have to modify our behavior accordingly. Things we take for granted as permissible might in fact become problematic (such as flushing toilets on Shabbos, drinking water on Pesach, walking to shul on Shabbos (surveillance?), wearing eyeglasses – who knows what’s next?

In practice, someone who uses a crockpot regularly has valid opinions to rely on, and I believe it is inappropriate to say anything to that person. But that is not what I was originally asked.

Share The Knowledge

Not what you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged Cooking on Shabbat or ask your own question.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *