This document offers important notes about Shabbat observance, especially as it relates to hospitality and food preparation. These guidelines are obviously not a comprehensive list of Shabbat laws, but rather, are focused on a few issues that can help to create an atmosphere in your home welcoming to Shabbat observant guests.
Certainly, we are a community with diverse religious practices, and we are honored and blessed to welcome everyone into our congregation. We take pride in creating a non-judgmental, inclusive community. At the same time, an awareness of certain halachik guidelines can help us feel even more comfortable in each other’s homes. I am also hopeful that this document will provide helpful information to those who are considering increasing their kosher observance, or allow for more open communication about the particular kosher practices of your home. Please feel welcome to reach out with any questions.
– Rabbi Uri Topolosky
Have you shut off the refrigerator light? While nearly all authorities permit opening and closing a refrigerator on Shabbat as many times as needed, despite the impact on the cooling system, there is still a concern on Shabbat about activating lights in the refrigerator/freezer each time it is opened. Light bulbs should be removed or loosened so they do not activate on Shabbat. If there are only LEDs that cannot be removed, the arrangement of certain magnets in specific positions on top of the refrigerator can ensure that no lights activate on Shabbat. It is generally not advisable to tape down the pins, as in some models, this tricks the appliance into thinking that the doors are open, and forces the motor to continuously run.
- Have you provided your guests with either tissues or pre-cut toilet paper in the washrooms? As a footnote, if you find yourself in the washroom without any torn toilet paper, the needs of “Kavod Habriot” – respect for human beings – allows you to use regular toilet paper, just try to tear it in a different way than you would during the week.
- Have you provided liquid soap for those washing their hands? Ashkenazi Jews have the custom not to use solid soap on Shabbat, as it creates a film and liquid out of a solid. Liquid soap is permissible, since when used, it is simply transformed from a liquid to a sudsy liquid.
- Is the light on in the washroom? It is often a good idea to tape light switches in the common bathroom so that guests – Shabbat observant or not – do not inadvertently turn off your lights. Having tape, especially on washroom lights which are normally turned off upon exit, can save a lot of embarrassment and difficulty for the next customer!
Washing dishes on Shabbat is permitted, as it is the normal practice to wash your dishes when you finish a meal, and therefore there need not be a concern about “hachanah” – preparing your dishes for use after Shabbat. However, a few concerns remain:
- Do you have Shabbat appropriate sponges? Use of regular sponges is not permitted on Shabbat, due to the prohibition of “squeezing” on Shabbat. Brushes with plastic bristles are an appropriate alternative.
- Are you conscious of the hot water valve? Use of the hot water from your sink is not permitted on Shabbat, as the opening of the valve causes fresh water to fill the boiler and immediately causes the boiler’s heating system to ignite. It is especially important to be careful about this with sinks that have a single lever for both hot and cold. It must remain all the way over to “cold” for all uses on Shabbat.
As a final note, remember that when you store food away on Shabbat, tearing tinfoil or seran wrap is not permitted.
Food preparation guidelines
Cooking is prohibited on Shabbat, which means that food cannot be placed directly on a flame or cooking element. Some foods that have already been cooked before Shabbat, can be reheated according to the guidelines outlined below, based on the principle of “Ein Bishul Acher Bishul” – “There is no cooking after a food has been cooked.” Liquids, however, cannot be reheated on Shabbat, as they can always be brought back to a boil, effectively “re-cooking” them.
- Do not put any uncooked food or beverage on a hot burner, in a heated oven, in a crock pot that is on, or in a heated urn on Shabbat itself.
- Do not heat any liquids on Shabbat. Water or even fully cooked soup or stew – anything that can be poured out – needs to be put on the heat, in an urn, crock-pot, or on the stove, and left there, BEFORE Shabbat.
- Do not stir food in a pot that is still resting on a blech, warming tray, or crockpot once Shabbat comes in. Instead, one should remove a pot from a warmer, or lift out the inner crock pot from the outer metal element, before stirring or scooping/ladling out the contents.
One may return a pot with liquid contents to its heat source (not a direct flame) after scooping out or stirring its contents, if there was intent to do so from the time it was first removed, and if a hand is kept on the pot throughout the process.
One may reheat solid, cooked foods by adhering to any one of the following procedures:
- Put it on a warming tray* – “plata” in Hebrew.
- Put it on a blech* – metal sheet on top of the burner.
- Put it in a warming drawer or cupboard.
- Put it in an oven set to Shabbat Mode (initialized at no more than 170°F).
* In these cases, the heat adjustment knobs should be covered or removed.
In all cases, the above procedures only work for dry food. For example, one may not remove soup or stew from the refrigerator on Shabbat and put it on a plata, blech, warmer, or in a Shabbat mode oven. One may also not reheat chicken or meatballs that are resting in a marinating sauce or gravy. However, it is permissible, for example, to reheat breaded chicken, or chicken basted in BBQ sauce that has been removed from its saucy pan. There is also no concern about the natural juices released from chicken during reheating.
Furthermore, if you are not using an oven set to Shabbat mode, even if it was turned on before Shabbat, you cannot open the oven door to put any type of food into it on Shabbat. In such a case, you may only open it one time to remove food placed there before Shabbat.
Tea and coffee
When making tea on Shabbat, please transfer hot water from an urn set before Shabbat, into a mug before inserting a tea bag. This establishes the principle of Kli Sheini – a second vessel, allowing the water to cool (even if just slightly), so as to avoid any “boiling” of the tea leaves. These concerns are not relevant to making instant coffee on Shabbat because instant coffee is pre-cooked. Therefore, instant coffee can be placed into the mug before adding hot water.
(It is worth noting that there are various understandings of this principle. Since most packaged herbal teas contain already baked leaves, some authorities allow hot water to be poured directly onto these bags. Other authorities, however, choose to be stringent across the board, and even require the water to be transferred to a second cup before inserting the tea bag. Yet others only permit the use of tea essence, made before Shabbat, and then mixed with a mug of hot water on Shabbat. Our standard is noted above.)
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein did not permit the use of timers on kitchen appliances; however, many later authorities have permitted their use in certain circumstances, especially in light of the dangers posed by hot appliances left on throughout Shabbat. Therefore, it is acceptable to set timers before Shabbat that would turn off appliances such as a hot plate or crockpot on Shabbat. Some authorities also permit setting timers before Shabbat that would turn on these appliances during Shabbat itself.
Yom Tov Food Preparation Standards
Unless a holiday falls out on Shabbat, it is permissible to cook and reheat both liquid and solid foods on Yom Tov for the purpose of Yom Tov meals*. Warming devices that were needed for Shabbat reheating are not required on Yom Tov. However, all cooking must happen from a pre-existing flame, meaning, an electric oven can be used for baking, or water can be added to an electric urn, provided that these appliance were turned on before Yom Tov.
Similarly, a gas stovetop/grill (without a pilot) can only be lit on Yom Tov by transferring a flame – for example, with a match from a burning yartzheit candle set aside near the stove before Yom Tov for this purpose. If your appliance has an electric starter, it must be able to be quickly bypassed (before the “clicking” starts), in order to be utilized.
All gas burners are able to be turned completely off on Yom Tov when not in use.
(It is worth noting that some ovens have a built in Yom Tov Mode, which enables the user to increase or decrease the temperature in the oven in a manner acceptable on Yom Tov.)
*If a holiday falls on a Friday, an Eruv Tavshilin can be made to permit preparing food on Yom Tov for Shabbat.