Shiur #14: Stirring Food in a Pot on Shabbat (Part 1)

  • Harav Baruch Gigi
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

The Laws of Shabbat
Yeshivat Har Etzion

Shiur #14: Stirring Food in a Pot on Shabbat (Part 1)


By HaRav Baruch Gigi


Translated by David Silverberg



            This week's shiur will discuss the halakha of meigis – stirring hot food in a pot on Shabbat.


The Fundamental Basis of the Halakha


            The Berayta states (in Beitza 34a): "If one person brings the fire, another brings the wood, another places the pot, another brings the water, another places spices in it, and another stirs – they are all liable."  Rashi explains:


They are all liable: The one who brings the fire – because he kindles the coal, since as he carries it, it is kindled from the wind of his walking; the one who brings the wood for the fire – because he kindles [the wood].  The one who places the pot – later it will explain what he did [that constitutes a violation of Shabbat].  The ones who add water and spices, and the one who stirred – because of mevashel, which is also a primary category of forbidden activity.[1]


The Gemara does not clarify the precise nature of the liability for stirring on Shabbat; a number of Rishonim held that stirring constitutes bishul in that it accelerates the cooking process.


            In Masekhet Avoda Zara (38a), amidst the discussion of bishulei akum (the prohibition against eating food cooked by gentiles), the Gemara states:


Rav Yehuda said in the name of Shemuel: If a Jew placed meat on coals and then a gentile came and turned it over, it is permissible.  What is the case?  If we say that it would have cooked even had he not turned it over, then this is obvious.  Rather, [the case must have been] that had he not turned it over it would not have cooked; [then] why is it permissible – this is food cooked by a gentile!  No, it is dealing with a case that had he not turned it over it would have cooked in two hours, and now it cooks in one hour.  One would have thought that accelerating cooking is of significance [and constitutes cooking]; he [Rav Yehuda in the name of Shemuel] therefore teaches [that this is not the case].


The Gemara here indicates that expediting the cooking process does not amount to halakhic bishul, and it thus calls into question the explanation mentioned earlier concerning stirring food on Shabbat.  An additional problem arises from the sugya in Masekhet Shavuot (17b) which discusses the case of a non-kohen who turns over the sacrificial meat on the altar:


Rav Huna said: A non-kohen who turned over [the sacrifices] with the pitchfork is liable to death.  What is the case?  If we say that they would not have been consumed had he not turned them over, then this is obvious.  And if they would have been consumed even had he not turned them over, then what has he done?  No, it is dealing with a case where had he not turned them over they would have been consumed in two hours, and now they are consumed in one hour.  This is what he [Rav Huna] comes to teach: that anything that accelerates avoda [the sacrificial service in the Temple] constitutes avoda [and thus a non-kohen who accelerates avoda violates the prohibition against non-kohanim performing the avoda].


We thus have two sugyot – one in Beitza and one in Shavuot – indicating that expediting a process is considered equivalent to the process itself, whereas in Avoda Zara, the Gemara does not consider expediting the cooking process tantamount to cooking with respect to bishulei akum.

            The Ritva (in Masekhet Avoda Zara) writes:


What is correct is the following explanation: One would have thought that accelerating cooking is of significance as we say generally, "accelerating avoda is avoda."  He [Rav Yehuda in the name of Shemuel] therefore comes to teach that even though it is of significance, here, with regard to food cooked by gentiles, they [the Sages] were lenient and followed the beginning of the process.  And now it becomes clear what it said a bit later, "If it was completed in the hands of a gentile, it is permissible" – because they were lenient and said that accelerating cooking is not of significance; but if it was completed in the hands of a Jew then it is certainly permissible, because according to the actual law accelerating cooking is [equivalent to] cooking.


In his chiddushim to Shavuot, the Ritva adds:


And the same applies as well with respect to cooking on Shabbat, that it is possible that he is liable.  But there, regarding food cooked by a gentile, the Rabbis were lenient even in such a case, for there is no concern of [marriage with] their daughters [as a result of excessive social contact], since part of it came about through a Jew.


The Ritva maintained that fundamentally, expediting the cooking process constitutes avoda when dealing with the sacrifices on the altar, and with respect to the prohibition of bishul on Shabbat.  A unique, lenient provision applies regarding bishul akum, since the entire prohibition was enacted as a safeguard against intermarriage, and if a Jew was somehow involved the cooking process, this concern does not arise.


            The difficulty in the Ritva's comments arises from the word "efshar" ("it is possible") that he inserts in his discussion in Shavuot.  The sugya in Beitza states explicitly that one who stirs cooking food on Shabbat is liable, and it is therefore unclear why the Ritva would express ambivalence in this regard.  We might answer that although the sugya holds one liable for stirring, this does not necessarily stem from the fact that he accelerates the cooking process; one could attribute this halakha to the enhancement of the food's taste through the even distribution of the spices and other ingredients that results from stirring.


            The Ritva himself alludes to this understanding of the prohibition against stirring, in his commentary to Masekhet Shabbat (18b): "We might answer that only the initial stirring constitutes mevashel with respect to the pot because he mixes everything together, and this constitutes the acceleration of cooking."  Stirring involves mainly enabling quality cooking by mixing the ingredients.  It would appear that even when the Ritva here adds the term "keruvei bishula" ("acceleration of the cooking"), he refers not to the quantitative acceleration of the time required for cooking, but rather to the qualitative enhancement.[2]  For this reason, we might suggest, the Ritva, in his comments in Masekhet Shavuot, adds the term "efshar" in the context of stirring on Shabbat, because it is possible that on Shabbat the prohibition relates to not the quantitative acceleration, as in the contexts of bishul akum and avoda, but rather the qualitative issue, which perhaps forms the basis of this prohibition.


            Furthermore, we might draw proof from the Gemara that accelerating a melakha such that it will occur more rapidly, in a situation where it would have occurred without the person's involvement only at a slower rate, does not render him liable for violating Shabbat.  The Gemara (Shabbat 19a) addresses the question of on which guiding principle Beit Shammai arrived at their view regarding the activities forbidden on Erev Shabbat:


What is the difference between all those [activities on Erev Shabbat] regarding which Beit Shammai enacted [a prohibition], and the beams of the olive press and the weights of the wine press, regarding which they did not enact [a prohibition against loading them before Shabbat to allow the pressing to occur on Shabbat]?  Those [activities] that were they to be done on Shabbat one would be liable to a sin-offering – Beit Shammai enacted [a prohibition against doing them] before dark on Erev Shabbat; the beams of the olive press and the weights of the wine press, that were they to be done on Shabbat one would not be liable to a sin-offering, they did not enact [a prohibition].


The sugya clearly presumes that Torah law does not forbid loading a press on Shabbat.  Rashi[3] explains this assumption as follows:


They [Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai] agree that one may load them while it is still daytime [on Erev Shabbat] such that the liquid will continue to flow throughout Shabbat.  The Gemara asks what the difference is, that Beit Shammai does not disagree [with Beit Hillel] regarding these, and it explains that even if one does this on Shabbat, there is no liability to bring a sin-offering.  For when do we say that pressing olives and grapes constitutes an av melakha [primary category of melakha] – only regarding olives and grapes that had not been crushed while it was still daytime, for it would then involve extricating something from its encasement in which it grew, which constitutes a toleda of [the melakha of] dash (threshing).  But here, one does not place a beam over olives until they are first ground in the mill, and grapes, too, are first treaded upon by foot.  Thus, even without the beam liquid naturally flows, only it does not flow as well as it does now [in the press], and [therefore] it does not resemble dash.


This proves that accelerating the process of the oil or wine's extraction does not violate the Torah prohibition of dash because this would occur even without loading the beam.  This is indeed the Gemara's ruling later in the sugya:


Who is the Tanna [that is of the opinion] that anything that would come in any event – it is permissible [to accelerate the process]?  Rabbi Yossi Bar Chanina said, it is Rabbi Yishmael, as it says in a Mishna: "Garlic, half-ripe grapes, and parched ears that were crushed while it was still daytime [before Shabbat] – Rabbi Yishmael says, one may finish after dark, and Rabbi Akiva says, one may not finish."  And Rabbi Elazar [Ben Pedat] said, it is Rabbi Elazar [Ben Shamua], as it says in a Mishna: "Honeycombs that were crushed before Shabbat and began flowing independently – it is forbidden [to eat the honey on Shabbat], and Rabbi Elazar allows [eating it on Shabbat]."[4]


In light of this, it would seem that the Ritva was understandingly ambivalent as regards the issue of whether stirring on Shabbat constitutes a violation because of the acceleration of the cooking process; after all, Torah law does not forbid accelerating the process of extracting oil from olives.  If we wish to distinguish between bishul and pressing olives, we might claim that the prohibition of bishul differs fundamentally from pressing, in that a person does not actually cook an item through active involvement; he merely places the food over the fire and the process occurs independently.  The Torah prohibition of bishul forbids setting the process into motion, and therefore specifically in this context one might bear liability for merely accelerating the process.  With regard to pressing olives, by contrast, there is, on the fundamental level, a concept of actively pressing, and hence accelerating the process would not be of significance in terms of violating this prohibition.


            The Shevitat Ha-Shabbat (introduction to Dash) likewise addresses this problem: "Regarding all melakhot one bears liability even for accelerating [the process], as we find with regard to bishul, that if it would have cooked without his actions in two hours, and now it will cook in one hour, he bears liability."  He answers, "The main rationale is as they said in the Yerushalmi (Shabbat 1:9) that every drop was [already] released [from its original location in the olive] while it was still daytime, and the concept of 'threshing' is not initiated through his actions."  In his view, accelerating the process indeed does, fundamentally, render one liable, but the melakha of threshing differs in that the process is completed already at the first moment.  The melakha's definition, the Shevitat Ha-Shabbat claims, is releasing the drops from their initial location, and this occurs at the very first moment of pressing.  According to our approach, accelerating a melakha process fundamentally does not render liability, and bishul marks an exception for the reason we discussed.


Conditions and Limitations on the Prohibition


            The Gemara in Masekhet Shabbat (18b) questions why Beit Hillel allowed placing wool in a pot (for dyeing) before Shabbat, and were not concerned (as they are in other instances) that one may stir the coals to accelerate the process.  Shemuel responds that Beit Hillel allow placing wool before Shabbat only in a pot that is off the fire.  The Gemara then asks, "Let us be concerned that he might stir it?" to which it responds that Beit Hillel deal with a case of a pot that is off the fire and sealed shut, such that a person will not mistakenly open the lid and stir the dyes.  It thus emerges that we are, in fact, concerned that one may stir the contents of a pot even off the fire.  The Gemara here deals with the process of dyeing, rather than cooking, and the Rishonim disagree in explaining the sugya and as to its impact upon bishul.


            Rashi (s.v. meigis) comments, "He stirs it, and regarding [the melakha of] mevashel[5], it constitutes bishul."  It appears that Rashi accepts the equation between the laws of bishul and those of tzovei'a (dyeing); the Gemara's discussion relates to the issue of tzovei'a, but under the same conditions in the context of food one would be liable for bishul.[6]

            The Rosh (Shabbat 1:34) explained Rashi to mean that "it constitutes mevashel; even though it is off the fire, one who stirs it while it is boiling 'cooks'."  According to the Rosh's understanding, stirring wool in a pot violates the melakha of mevashel.  The only difference between the two explanations involves this case – whether one violates tzovei'a or mevashel.  When dealing with food, however, both would certainly concur that one violates mevashel even if the pot is off the fire.


            To which kind of food would this apply: only a food that has yet to be completely cooked, or even a fully-cooked item?

            The Rosh writes elsewhere (Shabbat 3:11):


It stands to reason that so long as [the food] has not reached [the point of] ma'akhal Ben Derusai [where it can be eaten under extenuating circumstances], one who accelerates its cooking is liable.  And after it reaches ma'akhal Ben Derusai, if it cooled and one boiled it, he is liable… And that which the Gemara asks in the first chapter, "Does he not stir?" even with regard to a boiling pot – we might say that dyes used for coloring always require cooking; or, it does not ask on the basis of bishul, but rather on the basis of tzovei'a: when one stirs, he brings the dyes into the wool.


The Rosh here raises the question of why the Gemara holds one liable for stirring a boiling pot of wool in dyes off the fire, at which point it has presumably already passed the point of ma'akhal Ben Derusai, seemingly warranting the application of the rule of ein bishul achar bishul (items that have already been cooked are no longer subject to bishul).  He suggests two answers:


1)   The process of dyeing wool always requires more cooking; this corresponds to the Rosh's position we saw earlier, that the Gemara there refers to the prohibition of mevashel.

2)   The violation in this case involves not the melakha of mevashel, but rather tzovei'a, because stirring does not violate bishul if the item has already passed the point of ma'akhal Ben Derusai.[7]


According to the approach we suggested earlier in explaining Rashi, no difference exists in this regard between tzovei'a and bishul, and stirring constitutes a violation even when dealing with a cooked food that is off the fire.  It stands to reason that this would apply even if the food is fully cooked, since one does not normally take a pot off the fire before its contents have fully cooked.  The difficulty inherent in such a view notwithstanding, we find it explicitly cited in Darkhei Moshe (318) in the name of Mahari Weil, and the Rama even brings it as the final halakha: "Optimally, one must be careful even regarding a pot, under any circumstances."  Meaning, one must refrain from stirring even a pot of fully-cooked food that was already removed from the fire.[8]


            This position also emerges – and in even sharper fashion – from a question raised by the Rashba in our sugya:


From that which is said [here in the sugya] regarding a pot that is off the fire and sealed shut, it seems that [the prohibition of] stirring applies even with a pot off the fire, because stirring a keli rishon is tantamount to bishul.  I find it difficult: If this is so, how do we remove with a spoon [liquid] from a kettle or pot that was taken off [the fire] while it was boiling – this is stirring!


The Rashba's question is predicated on the assumption that stirring is forbidden even with fully-cooked food that has been removed from the fire, as we understood within Rashi's view.  In addition, the Rashba works off the even more stringent assumption that merely removing the contents of a pot with a utensil amounts to stirring, such that we cannot allow removing food from a pot on Shabbat.


            The Rashba did not accept these two assumptions as the final halakha, as he presents two answers to his question, which reflect different understandings of the prohibition of stirring.  His first answer is as follows:


Only the initial stirring constitutes mevashel with respect to the pot because he mixes everything together, and this constitutes the acceleration of cooking.  But this is not the case with the subsequent stirrings, because after the first one mevashel does not apply to a pot.


The distinction between the initial stirring and subsequent stirrings lies in the fact that only the initial stirring results in the qualitative enhancement of the food through the equal distribution of the spices' flavor throughout the entire pot.  The Ramban answers similarly, but I believe there is a significant difference between the two formulations.  The Ramban writes: "It would appear that one is liable only for the initial stirring, because it cooks quickly only through this stirring, such that this, too, turns out to be cooking."  According to the Ramban, the initial stirring differs in that only it yields the effect of accelerating the cooking process, whereas the Rashba focuses not on the quantitative acceleration, but rather the qualitative acceleration, which, in his view, occurs only during the initial stirring.


            The Rashba then presents a second approach:


I can also answer that anything that is cooked to the point of ma'akhal Ben Derusai is not subject to [the prohibition of] stirring, for stirring renders liability only because [it amounts to] cooking, and once it reaches ma'akhal Ben Derusai, it is no longer subject to mevashel.


            This answer hinges the prohibition of stirring on that of bishul, and is more clearly understood according to the view which sees stirring as the acceleration of the cooking process: the moment the food is already cooked, we can no longer speak of further cooking, not to mention that we can no longer speak of accelerating the cooking process, which has already been completed.


The Rambam's View


            The Rambam writes (Hilkhot Shabbat 3:11), "It is forbidden to insert a ladle into a pot on Shabbat while it is on the fire to remove [food] from it, because he stirs with it, which is among the necessities of cooking, and it would thus turn out that he cooks on Shabbat." 


            Several important points emerge from this passage:


A. Stirring is forbidden only while the pot is over the fire.  The Kesef Mishneh, however, explains, "It seems to me that what our Rabbi wrote – 'while it is on the fire' – is not [intended] to be precise; rather, anything that was taken off while it was boiling is referred to as 'on the fire'."  This reading, however, is far from simple; the Kolbo (31), for example, accepted the straightforward reading of the Rambam's comments: "And even though it is forbidden to cook or to stir a pot while it is still on the fire because this is a toleda of mevashel… and it is forbidden to insert a ladle into a pot to remove meat from it while it is on the fire because one [thereby] stirs it."


            Later in Hilkhot Shabbat (21:13), the Rambam rules, "Therefore, it is permissible to complete the pounding of the grits with the wooden ladle inside the pot on Shabbat after it is removed from the fire."


            The Rambam clarified his ruling in a responsum (305, cited in Beit Yosef, end of O.C. 321):


A pot of porridge that is left on the stove on Shabbat – the next day, when the pot is taken off the stove, one inserts the wooden ladle and stirs it excessively, mixing it and striking it with the wooden ladle against the sides of the pot or inside the pot until the meat, the grits and the water are mixed and become dense, and they all become a single entity.  Sometimes one would remove water from its surface and then mix it, and sometimes one would add hot water, according to what it needs.  Are all these things forbidden or permissible?

Answer: All of this is undoubtedly permissible… This is a fortiori: If it is permissible to complete the pounding of parched ears, which have not been completely pounded on Shabbat, then certainly [this would apply to] the grits, which have already been pounded and fully cooked and require only mixing… And pouring water into the pot is permissible.  Therefore, one is permitted to do all these things after removing the pot from the stove, for this involves only pounding."


Regarding these comments, too, we encounter a debate between the Beit Yosef and the Kolbo.  The Beit Yosef gives the following explanation for the Rambam's restriction of this halakha to when the pot is no longer on the fire: "And even according to what I wrote in siman 318, that so long as the pot is boiling [stirring] is forbidden because stirring is tantamount to cooking, here, immediately upon its removal from the fire one may stir it, since it has already been fully cooked."  According to the Beit Yosef, the prohibition of stirring applies even after the pot's removal from the fire, because stirring has the status of actual bishul, which applies even in a keli rishon off the fire.  Therefore, he must explain that when the Rambam allows stirring only when the pot is off the fire, he refers only to fully-cooked food, to which bishul does not apply, and thus stirring is permissible.[9]


            The Kolbo, however, writes (ibid.), "It is permissible to pound gourds or onions with the wooden ladle inside the pot after it is removed from the fire."  Later in this chapter, the Kolbo writes:


They must ensure not to add that water while the pot is over the fire, because they mix and stir in the pot in order to mix it thoroughly, and we maintain that stirring renders one liable for mevashel even in a previously-cooked pot[10], so long as it is on the fire.  But a pot off the fire is not subject to [the prohibition of] stirring.  And that which [the Gemara] asks in the first chapter of Shabbat regarding a pot off the fire, "But does he not stir with it" – it says this not in reference to mevashel, but rather in reference to tzovei'a; and this is how they z"l and the Rambam explained.


The Lechem Mishneh likewise understood the Rambam to mean that the prohibition against stirring applies only to food over the fire.


B. It also emerges from the Rambam's comments that the prohibition against stirring applies even to fully-cooked food.  He mentions this halakha in the context of the laws of hachazara – returning a pot to the fire[11], and the Rambam certainly held that one may not return to the fire a pot of food that has yet to be fully cooked, since bishul applies until the food is completely cooked.  Nevertheless, the Maggid Mishneh understood the Rambam to mean that only if the food has yet to be fully cooked stirring is forbidden, and the Kesef Mishneh understood this way, as well.  The Kolbo, however, explained that the prohibition applies even to a pot of fully-cooked food.


            In summary, we have seen three main views concerning the scope of the prohibition of stirring:


1.   The prohibition has the same parameters as standard bishul; it applies even in a keli rishon off the fire, and only to food that is still subject to bishul.  According to the view that bishul does not apply to food that has already reached the point of ma'akhal Ben Derusai, stirring would likewise be permitted; and if bishul remains applicable until the food is completely cooked, so does the prohibition of stirring (conclusion of the Rashba and Ramban; Maggid Mishneh and Kesef Mishneh in interpreting the Rambam).

2.   Stirring is forbidden even with fully-cooked food, and even off the fire (our understanding of Rashi; Mahari Weil, cited by the Rama in Darkhei Moshe and his glosses to the Shulchan Arukh).

3.   The prohibition of stirring applies even to fully-cooked food, but only over the fire (Rambam as understood by the Kolbo).[12]


In conclusion, let us briefly explain the rationale underlying the various positions.  If stirring is forbidden due to the quantitative acceleration of the cooking process, it should be restricted to the parameters of actual bishul (first view).  If we speak in terms of the qualitative enhancement of the food as discussed earlier, then we could perhaps apply the prohibition even to fully-cooked food, and even off the fire (second view).


            We might explain the Rambam's view in light of his own description of stirring as "mi-tzorkhei ha-bishul" – "among the necessities of cooking."  The Rambam employs similar terminology in two other contexts: he describes wringing a wet garment as "among the necessities of laundering," and stretching a stitching thread as "among the necessities of stitching."  These three instances share the common denominator of an action that only indirectly impacts upon the cooking, laundering of the garment, or stitching a torn garment, but that nevertheless comprises an integral part of the general process of the given melakha: stirring is part of cooking, wringing a garment is part of the laundering process, and stretching the threat is an integral component of sewing.


            The concept underlying the stirring prohibition, then, is its comprising an inseparable part of the cooking process, irrespective of its precise role.  It can function either to mix the tastes or to regulate the cooking of all parts of the food, or serve any other purpose.  But the liability for stirring stems from its being part of the process.  Hence, one would violate this prohibition so long as the cooking process is taking place, meaning, so long as the pot is on the fire.  Once the food is removed from the fire, the cooking process has ended and one can no longer be held liable for stirring.


            In the next shiur we will iy"H continue our discussion of this subject.




1.         It appears from context that Rashi classifies stirring as a toleda (derivative) of mevashel, and that mevashel, too, is a primary category of melakha.  This emphasis regarding the status of mevashel is perhaps intended to inform us that although the Mishna that lists the thirty-nine melakhot mentions ofeh, baking, rather than mevashel (cooking), nevertheless, mevashel, too, constitutes an av melakha (primary category of melakha) even though it did not earn explicit mention in the Mishna's listing.  Furthermore, Rashi perhaps meant that had mevashel been but a toleda of ofeh, one would not be liable for stirring as a toleda of mevashel, since toledot do not themselves have toledot.  It should be noted that Rabbenu Chananel (Shabbat 73b) was of the opinion that toledot can, in fact, have their own toledot.

2.         Later we will discuss other aspects of these comments of the Ritva.

3.         In his commentary to the Mishna, 18a.

4.         The Ritva (chiddushim to Shabbat 19) elaborates on the dispute between Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Akiva; iy"H we will discuss his comments in a future shiur on the subject of dash.

5.         This is the correct text, whereas in prevalent editions the word reads, "u-ve-mevushal."

6.         I believe this is how the Maharshal, in Chokhmat Shelomo, understood Rashi's position; see Maharsha.  See also Bach, beginning of O.C. 252.

7.         Tosefot write that the violation here is that of tzovei'a, perhaps following the second explanation of the Rosh; see Maharsha's discussion of Tosefot's comments.

8.         In next week's shiur we will address the basis for such a position and the poskim's reaction to it.

9.         The food may not be stirred before its removal from the fire, despite the fact that it has already fully cooked, because Chazal forbade cooking of any sort on the fire on Shabbat, as the Rambam writes earlier in Hilkhot Shabbat (9:3), "One who cooks over the fire an item that is fully cooked or an item that does not need cooking at all is exempt [from punishment, indicating that it is forbidden mi-de-rabbanan]."

10.       See below, paragraph B.

11.       Later in this halakha, the Rambam writes, "It is permissible to return [a pot] from one stove to another stove…"; this is the general context of this chapter.  In the next shiur we will address the Rambam's inclusion of this halakha specifically in chapter 3, and we will suggest several other approaches in understanding the Rambam's view.

12.       As mentioned in the previous note, other approaches, as well, have been taken in understanding the Rambam's position.