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Shabbat Parashat Eikev 5773

Ask the Rabbi: Returning A Stew With Bones to the Fire on the Night of Shabbat

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I have intended to follow the rules in Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata (1:18) for returning a pot to the flame. However, I noticed that he writes that the requirement that the all the food is fully cooked applies even to the bones. I cook stew on a low flame for hours before Shabbat, have some at night, and return the rest for the day meal. I think that the bones that I eat are cooked by the night but that there are other bones that become fully cooked only overnight. Must I stop returning the pot under these conditions?


Answer: We start our discussion with a fascinating machloket about cooking bones between two of last generation’s great poskim, Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (in an exchange of letters that appear in the books of each).

Rav Feinstein (Igrot Moshe, Orach Chayim IV:76-77) writes that the requirement of fully cooked food does not apply to bones, as they are not considered food. He relies both on his logic/observation (people do not eat them) and on halacha (the bones do not have a halacha of meat in regard to the laws of kashrut- see Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 87:7; ibid. 99:1). Therefore, making them soft enough to be theoretically fit for consumption on Shabbat is not considered cooking. Rav Auerbach (Minchat Shlomo I:6), living in Israel, where it is much more common to eat at least some bones, says that bones are food in regard to the laws of Shabbat, even if they are not equivalent to meat regarding kashrut. Therefore, he says that one must make sure that the bones are fully cooked before doing something to hasten the cooking (e.g., returning to the fire, moving them to a hotter part of the surface of a blech, returning a pot cover one had removed). Since Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata was written by a close disciple of Rav Auerbach, it should be no surprise that he was stringent on the matter. However, you now know that his opinion is not unanimous. These two giants argued to an extreme: Rav Feinstein said that even one who eats the bones can have them cook on Shabbat because his nonstandard behavior does not turn bones into food. Rav Auerbach says that even one who does not eat bones must be careful, as it is considered cooking food because many people do eat them.

We are torn as far as which approach to accept. On one hand, Rav Auerbach’s general logic (halachic details are beyond our present scope) is compelling. On the other hand, the fact that common practice had long been to ignore the bones’ status and the lack of explicit earlier sources on this common weekly occurrence, are crucial indicators supporting Rav Feinstein. Furthermore, if one were to take Rav Auerbach’s position to its logical conclusion, one would end up with an untenable stringency (I refuse to share it). Rav Auerbach himself does not take his thesis the whole way.  Although one is not allowed to increase the heat on food on which there is a doubt whether it is fully cooked (Be’ur Halacha to OC 318:4), Rav Auerbach allows those who do not plan to eat the bones to increase the heat in such a case.

In addition to the claim that bones are not food, there are two other basic reasons toward leniency (see a citation of several contemporary poskim in Melechet Shabbat (Leitner) II, pp. 67-76): the fact that one’s intention is on the meat rather than the bones; the claim that it is not clear how to define what is considered cooked (considering also that it is a machloket whether there is cooking after a food is nominally cooked – see Be’ur Halacha ibid.). We would certainly not criticize one who ignores the bones, at least if members of his household do not eat bones. Even if you want to be machmir like Rav Auerbach, you can be lenient in your case. After having the stew cooking (albeit on low heat) for a long time, the bones that are not ready at night are also not the ones that you and presumably most others eat. Regarding those bones, Rav Auerbach presumably agrees with Rav Feinstein that the halachot of cooking do not apply.

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