Serving cholent on a Friday night - Matan - The Sadie Rennert

Serving cholent on a Friday night Rabbanit Debbie Zimmerman

Tammuz 5782 | June 2022

Topic : Shayla , Shabbat & Yom Tov ,


Sometimes we like to have some of the cholent for Shabbat day on Friday night. I think I remember something about not serving straight from a crockpot – is there anything else I need to know? (If it matters, I follow Ashkenazic halacha)


Serving cholent on a Friday night

Question: Sometimes we like to have some of the cholent for Shabbat day on Friday night. I think I remember something about not serving straight from a crockpot – is there anything else I need to know? (If it matters, I follow Ashkenazic halacha)

Note: This teshuva focuses on cholent in a crockpot, however it applies to all liquid-y foods such as soup or meatballs in sauce, and all cook surfaces – such as a hot plate or blech.

You are correct in thinking that there are certain guidelines you should follow to serve your cholent Friday night. This teshuva will include a clearly delineated list to follow, but before that we should go over the reasons behind these guidelines. These guidelines apply to:

  • The cooking surface – crockpot
  • The food itself – cholent
  • The act of removing and returning to the crockpot

Introduction – basics of bishul

The basic melacha of bishul is the Torah prohibition against cooking or baking food – typically there are two components to this – the element of heat and the transformation or improvement of the food.[i] In Pninei Halacha Rav Eliezer Melamed explains that in addition to the Torah prohibition against cooking the rabbis prohibited certain actions that look like cooking (mechzei k’mivashel) or actions that may lead one to increase the heat (stir the coals).[ii] Therefore, while the Torah allows for one to leave a pot on the fire before Shabbat so that it may cook on Shabbat, the rabbis mandated certain conditions to prevent one from thinking a prohibited action was permitted or from transgressing the biblical prohibition against stirring the coals. (Pninei Halacha Shabbat 10:2)

Today most cooking is not done over coals, yet many of the laws have been applied to the electric thermostats and gas burners used in the modern kitchen. And while the laws applied to the proper heating and serving of food on shabbat may seem pedantic to some, they rest on a chain of tradition that, while complex at times, is also logical.

The state of the food when Shabbat begins

For example, Chazal were worried that someone might try stir the coals to raise the heat and speed up the cooking process. Since both stirring coals and cooking are biblical prohibitions the rabbis decreed that food could only be left on the fire when Shabbat started in cases where this was unlikely – when the fire was prepared a certain way and when the food was either already cooked enough to eat (ma’achal ben dorsai) or raw and only meant to be served the next day. Therefore, if one wants to eat chulent on Friday night it must be cooked by the time shabbat begins. (TB Tractate Shabbat 20a, Shulchan Aruch OC 254:1, 8).

The state of the food before removing it from the heat source on Shabbat

While the food may be cooked enough (ma’achal ben dorsai  – 1/2 cooked) when Shabbat begins, one should not tamper with it at all until it is fully cooked. (Shulchan Aruch OC 318:18) If the cholent is not fully cooked, even if there are parts like a potato or meat, one may not stir it or return it to the fire, as both these things actively aid the cooking process and are considered bishul.[iii]

The type of heat source

Additionally, to return food onto a heat source on Shabbat the heat source must be garuf v’katum.[iv] Essentially this means that the food is not generally placed directly on the fire or regular cooking surface and temperature controls are covered or disabled – this takes care of the rabbinic decrees against actions that look like cooking and actions that may cause one to stir the coals/adjust the temperature.[v]

To serve from the crockpot Friday night the temperature should be fixed (low, medium, or high), and not “automatic” so that changes to the food or removing the pot won’t trigger a reaction in the thermostat, and the dial should be covered or removed.

There are also several halachic issues that can arise when the pot rests directly on the base/heating element.[vi] Therefore – in a crockpot that merely rests on a hotplate there are those that are stringent to have some sort of separation between the pot and base. In the more popular insert models where the heated base also wraps around the pot one can put a few balls of tin foil into the base to slightly raise the insert so it does not sit on the bottom and is not flush with the top.[vii] Though there are many who allow using a crockpot on Shabbat without this added stringency, if one is planning on removing then returning the insert to the crockpot when it is still on this is definitely preferable, and possibly necessary.

The problem with serving straight from the crockpot

Above we mentioned the prohibition of meigis – stirring. This prohibition is mentioned in the Talmud and is understood by Rishonim and Acharonim in a few ways – applicable in various situations for different reasons (TB Beitza 34a, Shabbat 18b). Shulchan Aruch rules according to the Kol Bo that one may not stir a pot that is on the fire, even if the food is completely cooked – as this looks like cooking. Mishna Berurah rules that this also applies to serving from the pot on the fire (Shulchan Aruch 318:18).

Removing and returning the pot from the heating element

As we have seen, many Ashkenazim do not serve food straight from a pot on a heating source when possible. To avoid both prohibitions of cooking or doing something that looks like cooking one may only return a pot with liquidy food to the heating element under the following circumstances (Shulchan Aruch, Rema OC 253:2):

  1. The food is fully cooked.
  2. The food is still warm when it is returned. (Sephardic custom is that the food must still be yad soledet bo, for those who do not heat cold liquids on Shabbat. See final note.)
  3. The pot is not directly on a regular heating surface and the temperature can’t be adjusted. A crockpot one should have a piece of metal or balls of tin foil raise the insert so it is not flush with the crockpot base.
  4. The item is removed in the following way:
    • Removed with the intention of returning it.
    • Ideally the pot should be held the entire time. When this is difficult the following options are allowed in descending order of preference:
      • If possible, both the pot and cover should be held and should not be put down to rest.
      • When the above is difficult one may rest the pot, but it is preferable to still hold one side or keep a side in the air. And since most people don’t have 3 hands the cover can be put down, but one should have the intention to return it.
      • If one must rest the pot on something it should be a counter or table. The pot should not be placed on the ground or floor.[viii]
    • B’dieved, if one has removed the pot from the heat and fulfilled either 4.1 or 4.2, but not both, one may still return the pot to the heat if the food is needed for later (Mishna Berura 253:56)


To serve cholent Friday night and leave it heating for Shabbat day the cholent must be fully cooked. Your question indicated you may have a tradition not to serve directly from the crock pot. If so, it’s preferable to remove the pot from the heat before serving and then return it. In this case the crockpot controls should be covered, and preferably the insert raised so that it does not rest directly on the base. When serving remove the insert from the crockpot with the intention of returning it and hold it as much as possible, returning the insert to the base when the food is still warm.

There are also several possible reasons you may prefer to rely on the Chazon Ish’s opinion and serve straight from the crock pot. Firstly, when the above is not possible – for instance if the crockpot controls are not covered or the insert is too heavy to life –then as long as the cholent is fully cooked you may rely on the Chazon Ish and serve straight from the crockpot. Additionally, if you do not have a specific family tradition that precludes serving straight from the crock pot or if you’re concerned you will not properly remove and return the crock pot you may rely on the Chazon Ish.[ix]


[i] It should be noted that according to Rema (318:4) it is also prohibited to transform food from inedible to edible even without using heat. For example, putting uncooked rice noodles in cold water until they are soft. This is prohibited due to gmar melacha – completing the work, and not bishul – cooking. This opinion is debated.

[ii] Examples of these prohibitions can be found in Shabbat 18b, Rashi Shabbat 36b “lo machzirin”,Yalkut Yosef 318:3, 46

[iii] The prohibition of meigis (stirring) – There are other acts involved in bishul aside from putting the pot on the heat. One may not stir a hot pot with food that is not fully cooked, as this speeds up the cooking process – whether the pot is on a hot surface or any portion of the pot or its contents are hot. (Heat in this case is a temperature of yad soledet bo – 46°C according to Rav Shlomo Zalman Aurebach)

[iv] In this teshuva the issues of mechzei k’mivashel and garuf v’katum are combined. Even though these are also two separate issues applicable in different cases of shehiya, hachzara, and netina a full examination of the various interpretations and applications of these opinions is beyond the scope of this teshuva. Instead, we chose to explain the general ideas behind these halachot so people with a range of halachic knowledge can understand, and then present a bottom line halacha which answers a variety of possible halachic problems. For more on the subject see discussion on TB Shabbat 18b, Shulchan Aruch 253:1.

[v] In a crockpot the heating element itself is generally covered by metal that conducts the heat more evenly. Because a crockpot is a regular cooking method it can be considered directly on the fire even though the heating element is covered, as addressed below.

[vi] There are 3 issues involving a crock pot – how to make it garuf v’katum, how to avoid issues of mechzei k’mivashel, and how to avoid issues of hatmana – insulation. There is a broad range of halachic opinions on these topics, and many people who use crock pots already have a tradition (mesora) that aligns with a respected approach. However, as the original question suggests, this mesora may not address serving from a crock pot that is on or returning an insert to a crock pot. This teshuva offers one approach to address the main halachic issues without delving into the nuances between the approaches. For a clear summary of these issues see Pninei Halacha Shabbat 10:23 and the harchavot.

[vii] Shmirat Shabbat K’Hilchata Vol. 1, Part 1, Footnote 255, as told to the author by Rav Elyashiv. See also Harchavot to Pninei Halacha Shabbat 10:23, note 27 which specifically discusses this case or returning to the crockpot.

[viii] Although if one was holding it while it was on the floor Rav Moshe Feinstein allows it to be returned. (Igros Moshe OC Part IV 74:33)

[ix] This teshuva discusses Ashkenazic halachic traditions. Sephardic traditions may be more lenient, as Yalkut Yosef 318:3, 46 expressly allows serving straight from a pot on the fire as long as one does not stir from the bottom to the top. [However, in terms of putting the pot back on the fire, they may be more stringent, regarding the heat of the content].

Rabbanit Debbie Zimmerman Debbie Zimmerman graduated from the first cohort of Hilkhata – Matan’s Advanced Halakhic Institute and is a Halakhic Responder. She is a multi-disciplinary Jewish educator, with over a decade of experience in adolescent and adult education. After completing a BA in Social Work, Debbie studied Tanakh in the Master’s Program for Bible in Matan and Talmud in Beit Morasha.

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