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Weekly Halacha

Selected Halachos Related to Parshas Bamidbar

By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt

A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.


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 also permissible.

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 Shabbos.

4 Produced by Hamilton Beach, Rival and others.

5 For the reasons behind this rabbinic decree, see Shabbos 34a and Mishnah Berurah 257:1.

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.

Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Project Genesis, Inc.

Rabbi Neustadt is the principal of Yavne Teachers' College in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also the Magid Shiur of a daily Mishna Berurah class at Congregation Shomre Shabbos.

The Weekly-Halacha Series is distributed L'zchus Hayeled Doniel Meir ben Hinda. Weekly sponsorships are available--please send email to the moderator, Dr. Jeffrey Gross

The series is distributed by the Harbotzas Torah Division of Congregation Shomre Shabbos, 1801 South Taylor Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118--HaRav Yisroel Grumer, Marah D'Asra



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