Shiur #15: Stirring Food in a Pot on Shabbat (Part 2)

  • Harav Baruch Gigi
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

The Laws of Shabbat
Yeshivat Har Etzion

Shiur #15: Stirring Food in a Pot on Shabbat (Part 2)


By HaRav Baruch Gigi


Translated by David Silverberg



            The previous shiur dealt with the fundamental basis of the prohibition against stirring food over a fire on Shabbat, and analyzed the debate among the Rishonim regarding the limits of its application.  This week we will complete this topic by addressing the specific laws of stirring on Shabbat and the practical halakhic conclusions.


Inserting a Ladle into the Pot


            When one wants to remove food from a pot, he inserts a spoon or ladle.  Does this constitute stirring with respect to the prohibition against stirring over a fire on Shabbat?


1. 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."  This appears to mean that inserting a ladle constitutes stirring because it is practically impossible to insert it without stirring slightly.  The Maggid Mishneh, however, explained that inserting a ladle does not constitute "stirring," but the Rabbis forbade doing so out of concern that one might then proceed to stir.  On this basis, the Maggid Mishneh concluded that inserting a ladle is forbidden only in cases where actual stirring would violate a Torah prohibition.  He understood the Rambam as referring to food that had not been fully cooked[1], the stirring of which clearly violates the Torah prohibition of bishul, and for this reason the Rambam forbade inserting a ladle.  Furthermore, this explains why the Rambam introduces this halakha here, in chapter 3, which deals with issurim de-rabbanan (prohibitions enacted by Chazal), rather than the Torah prohibitions of bishul.


            The obvious difficulty with the Maggid Mishneh's interpretation is the straightforward reading of this passage, which clearly suggests that inserting the ladle itself constitutes stirring.  The Maggid Mishneh seems to have understood the words "mipenei she-meigis ba" ("because he stirs with it") to mean "because he might then stir with it"); in any event, his reading is difficult to sustain.  (See also Lechem Mishneh.)


            We might suggest a different explanation of the Rambam's comments.  Inserting a ladle indeed constitutes stirring, but the Rambam deals here with fully-cooked food, as implied by the context of the halakhot in this chapter[2].  Now according to the Maggid Mishneh, the Torah prohibition of stirring does not apply to fully-cooked food.  Hence, we might suggest that the Rambam speaks here of a rabbinically ordained prohibition against stirring fully-cooked food over the fire, corresponding to the rabbinic prohibition against returning cooked food to the fire, which they forbade because it gives the appearance of cooking.[3]  According to this approach, there is no halakhic difference at all between stirring and inserting a ladle.


            We must recall, however, that according to the Kolbo (as we discussed in the previous shiur), the Rambam forbids on the level of Torah law stirring even fully-cooked food over the fire.  If we wish to explain that inserting a ladle does not amount to stirring, then we would claim that for this reason the Rambam presents this halakha as an issur de-rabbanan – because in this case one does not actually stir.  But if we understand the Rambam to mean that inserting the ladle indeed constitutes stirring, we must approach this halakha as a Torah prohibition.  We might then explain that the Rambam included it in this context because this chapter deals with the laws of hachazara – removing a pot from the fire and then returning it, and given the restrictions that apply in this regard, one might remove food from the pot with a ladle while it is on the fire.  The Rambam therefore included this halakha within the context of hachazara as a warning to avoid stirring food on the fire.


            The Rambam's primary treatment of the laws of stirring appears in chapter 9 of Hilkhot Shabbat, where he explicitly classifies stirring as a Torah prohibition:


If one person placed the fire, another placed the wood, another placed the pot, another placed the water, another placed the meat, another placed the spices, and another came along and stirred – they are all liable for bishul, because anyone who performs an act that is among the necessities of cooking is considered cooking.


2. Regarding the position of the Rosh, too, considerable controversy exists among later scholars.  The Rosh writes (Shabbat 1:34), "One who stirs it – he cooks, not to mention that it is forbidden to insert a ladle into a pot while it is on the stove."  The Korban Netanel (ibid. 2) explained that the Rosh draws no distinction between stirring and inserting a ladle.  When the Rosh writes, "not to mention," he means that if stirring is forbidden off the fire, then certainly one may not stir in a pot that still sits on the stove.  He infers that if the Rosh makes this fortiori argument from stirring to inserting a ladle, then clearly he drew no distinction between them.  By contrast, the Tiferet Shemuel, in his commentary to the Rosh (3:11:16), writes:


And that which he wrote above…that it is forbidden to insert a ladle into a pot while it is still on the fire, implying that [inserting is forbidden] even without stirring, but simply taking and removing from the pot – it does not seem correct to me at all that such a thing would constitute bishul; nevertheless, it is forbidden mi-de-rabbanan, lest he mix it and stir and thereby be liable to sekila (stoning).[4]


It is not clear whether he challenges the Rosh because he understood that the Rosh equated inserting a ladle with actual stirring, and he disagrees with this equation, or if he assumes that even the Rosh distinguished between the two, and he feels that one may insert a ladle into a pot off the fire, because inserting a ladle is forbidden only as a safeguard and should therefore be allowed off the fire.[5]


3. As opposed to the comments of the Rambam and Rosh, surrounding which a good deal of ambiguity exists, the positions of two other Rishonim are perfectly clear and unequivocal.  The Rashba writes, "How can one remove [food] from them with a ladle – this is stirring!"  We find this formulation in the Meiri, as well.  By contrast, the Ra'avad writes in his hasagot to Mishneh Torah (Shabbat 3:11), "He exaggerated by forbidding even removing from a pot with a ladle."


            Thus, the Rishonim debate the issue of whether inserting a ladle into a pot is forbidden by Torah law, or only mi-de-rabbanan.  In the next section, we discuss the conclusions of the poskim on this issue.


The Final Halakha


            The Shulchan Arukh (318:18) rules:


A kettle or pot that one removed from the fire while it was boiling – if [the food] was not fully cooked, one may not remove from it with a ladle, as he will turn out to be stirring, which violates mevashel.  If it was fully cooked, it is permissible; but wool in a pot [for the purpose of dyeing] – even though the coloring was absorbed, it is forbidden to stir it (meaning, to move it with a spoon).


It emerges from the Shulchan Arukh that stirring is equivalent to cooking and subject to the same restrictions that apply to cooking, in accordance with his understanding (in Kesef Mishneh), as well as that of the Maggid Mishneh, of the Rambam.  Thus, we may conclude the following points:

1)   Stirring is forbidden so long as the food has yet to be     fully cooked.

2)   The prohibition applies even off the fire.

3)   Even if the food is fully cooked, a rabbinic prohibition    forbids stirring it over the fire, as this gives the    appearance of cooking.

4)   It also appears from the Shulchan Arukh's comments that         inserting a ladle itself constitutes stirring, and       therefore one may not remove food from a pot with a ladle        until after removing the pot from the fire.  However, from           his comments in the Beit Yosef, where he cites the position        of the Maggid Mishneh – that inserting the ladle is        forbidden merely as a safeguard against actual stirring –             without mentioning that others disagree, it appears that he       accepts this opinion of the Maggid Mishneh.  We would           therefore conclude that if the food has been fully cooked,        one may remove food from it even over the fire; since    stirring fully-cooked food is itself forbidding only mi-de-        rabbanan, one may insert a ladle, even over the fire.     Indeed, this is how the Mishna Berura understood the        Shulchan Arukh: "If [the food] is fully cooked, even if it            sits on the fire, one may remove with a ladle; such is the       implication of the Beit Yosef."


The Eliya Rabba, however, disagrees: "However, when it is on the fire, certainly we must forbid removing [food from it]."  In his view, we should concern ourselves with the view of the Kolbo[6], in interpreting the Rambam, that the stirring prohibition applies – on the level of Torah law – even to fully-cooked food over the fire, and thus one should not remove food if the pot is still on the fire.


The Rama rules, based on the Mahari Weil, "Optimally, one must refrain [from removing food with a ladle] in every case, even regarding a pot."  According to his view, one may not remove food with a ladle even if the food has completely cooked and is no longer on the fire.  One must therefore first softly pour the food directly from the pot into a bowl, without using a spoon or ladle.


However, the Magen Avraham writes, "Everyone is accustomed to allow this with types of legumes, removing them with a spoon, since there is no other option, and they have authorities on whom to rely."  Meaning, it is very difficult to pour legumes into bowls without using a spoon because they stick to the bottom of the utensil.  This comment requires further clarification, but in any event, the Mishna Berura brings Acharonim who observe that common practice does not follow this stringent ruling of the Rama.  He adds in Bei'ur Halakha: "The Magen Avraham implies that regarding other types [of food], besides legumes, which can be easily poured from a pot to a bowl, one should optimally pour and not remove with a spoon; but common practice is not to do so."


            According to the Mishna Berura, it is entirely permissible to remove from a pot with a ladle, and even stirring is permissible according to the strict Halakha, since the food is fully cooked and off the fire.  Nevertheless, he writes that one who wishes may be stringent with regard to stirring.  The Taz and Eliya Rabba likewise maintain that one should refrain from stirring in this situation – when the food is fully cooked and off the fire – but need not refrain from removing food with a ladle.


            I then saw the actual comments of the Mahari Weil (in siman 30), the source of the Rama's ruling, and it appears that even he ruled stringently only with regard to actual stirring, while allowing one to remove food with a ladle.  He writes:


When one places[7] a pot from the fire to remove food from it, he should not stir it with a spoon, for this constitutes cooking, as stated in the first chapter of Shabbat, regarding a pot that is sealed and off the fire, that one may not stir it; and this is indeed what I observed in the home of Mahari z"l.


He appears to forbid only actual stirring, and not removing with a ladle.  In fact, he seems to warn that when one wishes to remove food from the pot, he should not stir the food with the ladle, while allowing removing the food with the ladle.  It is possible that when the Rama forbade this "in every case," he referred specifically to actual stirring, and not to simply removing food.[8]


            If one uses a large, heavy pot that cannot easily be removed from the fire, such as in large institutions, where small amounts of food must be removed from a large pot on the fire, Rav Moshe Feinstein nevertheless requires that the pot first be removed from the fire:


If the pot is heavy, then if it is over the fire, such that an issur de-rabbanan applies, it is forbidden even to remove with a ladle…for when it is on the fire there is in any event a reason to forbid, as the Tiferet Shemuel wrote, and there is also the view of the Kolbo that this is forbidden according to Torah law, even if this is difficult to understand… It is therefore a stringent [prohibition] and we should forbid even regarding a heavy pot.  But when one removed it from the fire one need not be stringent regarding a heavy pot, as in [the case discussed by] the Magen Avraham.


            The Chazon Ish addressed a case of a pot over an open flame, such that if one would remove it from the fire, it would be forbidden to return it to the fire (due to the prohibition of hachazara).  He rules, "It seems that if one wishes to leave the pot over an uncovered stove, because if he would remove he would be unable to return it, and he has no option other than removing [food] with a ladle, one may be lenient."


            It stands to reason, in my humble opinion, that the Chazon Ish would apply this ruling even in the case of a heavy pot which is difficult to remove from the stove, and would allow removing food from it even over the fire.


Stirring Water


            The Avnei Neizer (59) cites Rav Yehoshua of Kutna as asserting that the prohibition against stirring does not apply to water.  The reason, it would seem, is that stirring water does not disseminate spices throughout the pot or accelerate the cooking process, since the pot contains just a single, homogeneous liquid.  Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, O.C. 4:74) follows this opinion, on the basis of the aforementioned comments of the Tiferet Shemuel:


Both according to what I wrote regarding the Kolbo, that [stirring is forbidden] because there are small pieces that have not been cooked, and according to the reason of the Tiferet Shemuel, that one may be mistaken [and think the food is fully cooked], this does not apply to water if it has already been completely boiled.  If [the water reached] only the level of yad soledet, one may certainly be mistaken; but if it boiled, there is no longer the possibility of a mistake.


In his view, then, one may stir water only if it has already boiled.


            Regarding, soup and the like, however, it would seem that the prohibition against stirring would apply, since stirring mixes the contents that have sunken to the lower part of the pot and mixes them so that the flavor spreads equally throughout the pot.  Therefore, according to the Rama, one should refrain from removing soup with a ladle from a pot over the fire.  According to the Shulchan Arukh, however, as mentioned earlier, one may remove food from a pot if it has been fully cooked.  If the soup is entirely liquid, one may be lenient even according to the view of the Rama.


            If a pot contains only solid pieces of food, one may remove pieces from it even over the fire, since this does not involve stirring at all.


Covering a Pot


            The Shulchan Arukh (254:4) writes:


Fruits that can be eaten raw – one may place them around [the bottom of] a pot [on Erev Shabbat] even though it is impossible for them to roast while it is still daytime [before the onset of Shabbat].  However, one must ensure not to return the cover if it became uncovered after dark, and not to add to it [the covering] before they are roasted, because this accelerates their cooking on Shabbat.


From this passage it appears that on Shabbat one may not place a covering over an exposed pot containing food that has not been fully cooked, since this contributes to the cooking process.  Covering a pot is considered equivalent to mixing and stirring the food in the pot, and therefore one may not cover a pot containing food subject to the prohibition against stirring.  This equation between covering and stirring emerges from a sugya in Chulin (108b), which states that when a drop of milk falls into a pot, just as mixing the pot spreads the drop throughout the food, so does covering the pot yield this effect of mixing together all the pot's contents as a result of the steam inside the pot.  Accordingly, the Shevitat Ha-Shabbat rules (in Be'er Rechovot, Ofeh, 81), "Therefore, it is forbidden to cover a utensil on Shabbat even if [the food] was fully cooked, just as it is forbidden to stir."


            Nevertheless, it seems clear that if a pot of fully-cooked food was covered, and one removed the cover to assess the status of the food or to remove food when doing so is permissible, as discussed above, he may return the cover afterwards.  Returning the cover in such cases differs from stirring, and more closely resembles returning a pot to the fire, which Halakha permits under certain conditions.[9]  It is permissible to add further coverings to a pot that is already covered if the food has fully cooked, as this does not have the effect of mixing the contents of the pot.  If, however, the food has yet to finish cooking, adding further coverings accelerates the cooking process and is therefore forbidden.[10]  This distinction, between covering an exposed pot and adding onto the existing covering of a pot, emerges from a responsum of Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, O.C. 4:74:10):


Is it permissible to cover on Shabbat a pot that has fully cooked?  For it appears from the Shulkhan Arukh Ha'Graz (254:4) that this is allowed, but the Acharonim are divided on the issue.

Response: Placing a cover on a pot, which the Meiri (Shabbat 73) writes [renders one] liable, refers to a covering over a pot that is totally open on top.  And the covering mentioned in the Shulkhan Arukh Ha'Graz 254:4 is a covering on top of a pot's cover, in the manner of hatmana [smothering food to keep it warm], regarding which there is clearly no liability, for it is unclear whether it can cook in this fashion.  He nevertheless forbids [adding more coverings] if [the food] has not been fully cooked… One must therefore explain that this is because of the fruits which have not been fully cooked, as one had placed them near a hot pot covered with garments, and with respect to them this is like a pot placed over coals.  This still requires further explanation, but in any event, this is dealing with an additional covering.  As far as the final halakha is concerned, since it is fully cooked, there is no prohibition of bishul, and it stands to reason that the Kolbo renders one liable only if he stirs, for the reason that I have written, because of the small pieces [in the pot that may not have been fully cooked], and this does not apply with regard to placing a covering, even on a completely open pot.  Also, according to the final Halakha, stirring over the fire is, after all, only mi-de-rabbanan, and we should thus permit [placing a cover].  But according to the Tiferet Shemuel's reason, that they were stringent regarding stirring over the fire because one might be mistaken [and think the food is cooked], here, too, we should forbid covering an open pot.[11]




1.         One may not stir a pot over the fire, even if the food has been fully cooked, either by force of rabbinic enactment, or out of concern for those who maintain that this involves a Torah prohibition.

2.         One may remove food from a pot of fully-cooked food off the fire.

3.         One may not stir a pot containing food that has yet to finish cooking, or remove some food from such a pot, even off the fire.

4.         According to the Shulchan Arukh, one may remove food with a ladle from a pot of fully-cooked food over the fire; according to the Mishna Berura, this is permissible only off the fire, but when the need arises, such as over an open flame, the Chazon Ish permitted removing food even without taking the pot off the fire.

5.         The prohibition against stirring does not apply to water; the authorities debate the issue of whether it applies to soup, so one should preferably refrain from stirring soup in the situations mentioned above.

6.         One may not cover an open pot over the fire, even if the food inside it has fully cooked.  If a pot over the fire contains fully-cooked food, one may add to an existing cover (such as by placing a towel over the cover); if the food is not fully cooked, one should not add to the covering.


This shiur was the last in our series discussing the Torah prohibition of bishul; starting next week, we turn our attention to the various gezeirot (safeguards) enacted by Chazal regarding warming foods before and during Shabbat.



1.         See our discussion in the previous shiur regarding the Rambam's comments in this passage.

2.         See note 1; the Rambam in this context deals with the laws of hachazara – returning cooked food to the fire.

3.         Later in this series we will iy"H explain the laws of returning cooked food to the fire at greater length.

4.         Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe 6:74) writes the following based on the comments of the Tiferet Shemuel:

But while it is still on the fire there is a rabbinic prohibition, for the reason explained by the Tiferet Shemuel…that one might mistakenly figure that the food is fully cooked and will incur liability to sekila.  It seems that one might make this mistake while it is on the fire, and there is thus some degree of uncertainty.  When he writes mi-de-rabbanan, he means that according to Torah law, we might follow the statistical majority of people who do not make such a mistake.  He therefore wrote that they forbade mi-de-rabbanan even inserting the ladle, out of concern for stirring.  This is not a gezeira le-gezeira [a rabbinic enactment to safeguard another rabbinic enactment, which Chazal generally do not impose], since there is, after all, a degree of uncertainty.  But once it is removed from the fire, it appears that one will not make such a mistake, and therefore even actual stirring is not forbidden.  Nevertheless, it would appear that it is laudable to refrain from stirring even once it is removed from the fire.  This is what the Mishna Berura meant when he wrote (17), "One who wishes to be stringent should refrain from actual stirring," meaning, this does not involve arrogance.  But one should not be stringent at all with regard to removing [food] with a ladle [off the fire] – meaning, this is not a laudable stringency at all.

5.         I am more inclined towards the first reading.

6.         See se'if katan 39-40.

7.         "Ke-she-mesimin."  This is most likely a misprint, and should read "Ke-she-mesirin" – "When one removes…"

8.         See also the comments of the Iggerot Moshe, cited above, note 4.

9.         One must ensure, however, to dry the cover so that no drops of liquid remain on it.  These drops cool off very rapidly, and since we follow the view that a cooked liquid that has cooled is subject to bishul, reheating them would violate bishul.  There is room to discuss whether one may be lenient in this regard since this involves a pesik reisha de-lo nicha lei (meaning, one has no interest in the result of the cooking of these drops), factoring in as well the view among the Rishonim that bishul does not apply to previously-cooked liquids.

10. One should avoid covering a pot with blankets, due to the prohibition of hatmana – a subject that we hope to address in a later shiur.

11. See also Shemirat Shabbat Ke-hilkhata, 1:35 and notes.