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Cholent! A Guide to Proper Enjoyment

Cholent! A Guide to Proper Enjoyment
By Rabbi Moshe Schuchman, Kashrus Administrator

The savory smell of cholent greets us as we awaken on Shabbos morning. The word “cholent” was coined by the progenitors of Ashkenazic Jewry who settled in the Alsace region of France, over 12 centuries ago, and likely derives from the Old French word chalant meaning heat.1 Cholent covers an array of concoctions, ranging from the typical potatoes, meat, barley, beans and onions, to avant-garde vegetarian and simple Pesachdik versions; every household has its ‘secret’ ingredient.  Whatever one calls it and however they prepare it, whether Sefardic chamim or German gruenkern, it is crucial to adhere to halacha while delighting in this permanent fixture of the Shabbos menu.  The following guidelines address common halachic issues in the preparation and consumption of cholent.2

Eating Cholent – The Mitzvah
One fulfills the mitzvah of Oneg by enjoying good food on Shabbos.3  The Ba’al HaMaor4 cites a view asserting that there is a specific takanah, formal Rabbinic obligation, to eat hot food on Shabbos.5

Rav Moshe Heinemann shlit”a explains that eating cholent on Shabbos morning fulfills the din according to the Ba’al HaMaor, since it would not be possible to keep it hot until morning unless it was kept on a heat source.  Hot soup on Friday night, however, even if kept on a flame, may not fulfill this halacha since its warmth can also be maintained through insulation alone.6

Eating cholent on Shabbos day also has significance, since it commemorates the miracle of the mon.   Each weekday, mon collected for one day would spoil overnight, while mon collected on Erev Shabbos remained fresh the next morning.7 Some observe that just as the mon was tastier on Shabbos morning than it was the previous day,8similarly cholent is a food whose taste improves the longer it stews.

Keeping The Cholent Hot
One may not leave uncooked food over an open flame on Shabbos, even if it was placed there before Shabbos.  Chazal9enacted this prohibition called shehiya, due to the concern that someone may come to adjust the flame and violate the Torah prohibition of ma’avir (lighting a fire).  The Mishnah Berurah (B.H. 253:1) recommends following the view in the Shulchan Aruch that food must be cooked fully prior to the onset of Shabbos,10to the extent that it will not be enhanced by further cooking.  If necessary, one may rely on the lenient opinion that it is enough for the food to be half cooked and, in extenuating circumstances, even only one-third cooked.11

Cholent continually improves the longer it cooks.  Therefore, ideally, cholent should never be left over an open flame.  To circumvent the prohibition of shehiya, Chazal required one to demonstrate that he is no longer interested in adjusting the temperature.  This is accomplished by rendering the fire garuf v’katum, shoveling away the coals or sprinkling them with ash.12

Today, a gas or electric stovetop is made garuf v’katum by covering the burners with a blech (Yiddish for metal sheet).  Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l13 adds that it is also preferable to cover or remove the knobs , since this is where temperature adjustments are made.  Glass stovetops may shatter if they are covered; therefore, based on the position of Rav Aharon Kotler zt”l,  Rav Heinemann rules that it is sufficient to just cover or remove the knobs or control panel.

Hotplates and crockpots contain heating elements that become red hot.  Although these elements are surrounded by a metal casing, they still have the status of an open fire.  Therefore, the heating surface should be lined with a blech or a few sheets of aluminum foil, and the knobs should be removed or covered.  Poskim make an exception for non-adjustable hotplates that can only be used at a single temperature, and thereby do not require any additional covering. 

Using an oven to keep food warm is more problematic because the thermostat reacts to the entry of colder air when the door is opened.  Although the rabbinic prohibition of shehiya is remedied by covering the controls, opening the door may violate ma’avir by causing the flame to either turn on or remain on longer.14 Rav Heinemann shlita permits opening the door of a running oven in order to remove food, provided that the the oven is emptied at that time.15 Thus, one may not remove soup from a hot oven on Friday night and leave the cholent inside until morning.

A word of caution:  If the cholent is not yet fully cooked, one must take great care not to do anything that will hasten the cooking process.  Doing so is called kiruv bishul, and is a potential Torah prohibition.16 For instance, if the lid on the crockpot is not completely situated, one may not fix it; if the pot on the blech is not directly over the fire, one may not move it closer.17

Additional Crockpot Concerns
The heating element in a standard crockpot typically runs along the bottom and partially up the sides. Some Poskim are concerned that this constitutes a violation of hatmanah, which prohibits insulating a pot of food with a heat generating substance, even prior to Shabbos.  Raising the pot by placing a few stones or marbles underneath the ceramic insert alleviates this problem.  Other Poskim hold that since a crockpot is recognized as a device for cooking and not for insulating, there is no issue of hatmanah.18
It is permissible to set a timer to turn off the crockpot automatically, after the cholent will be served.

C H O L E N T   F A Q S

I enjoy sampling the cholent on a long winter Friday night.  What is the procedure for removing some and returning the pot  to the fire?
One may not spoon out food from a pot that is still on the fire, even if the food is fully cooked.19 Therefore, the pot must first be removed from the fire.  Once this is done, replacing the pot involves the prohibition of chazara.  In addition to the concern that one may adjust the temperature, according to many Rishonim, there is also a problem of mechzi k’mevasheil, giving the appearance of actually cooking.  Replacing the pot on a heat source is permitted when the following conditions are met:20
1) The cholent is fully cooked,21 2) The food remains warm,22 3) The pot was initially removed with the intention of returning it to the fire, 4) The pot is continually held and never released from the hand,23 and 5) The fire is garuf v’katum, as discussed above.24

 The fire went out under the blech on Shabbos and the cholent is becoming cold.  What can be done?
This scenario occurs occasionally when a gas stove is left on a low setting, or when an electric device does not automatically turn back on after a power interruption.  Many Poskim25 permit transferring the pot to another flame, as long as:  1) the second flame is garuf v’katum, and 2) the cholent is fully cooked and still warm.  For this purpose, it is enough for the food to remain sufficiently above ambient temperature for a ‘warm’ food, even if the temperature dropped below yad soledos bo.  If the second fire is uncovered, one may cover it with a pot or a blech to render it garuf v’katum.26  If the flame has not gone out, but one detects that the cholent is not hot enough, one may slide it over to a position on the blech that is closer to the fire as long as it is fully cooked and still warm. 

How can I save a cholent that is drying out?
One may pour hot water from a kettle that was on the stove (but not from an insulated thermos) directly into cholent, provided that the heat source under the cholent pot is garuf v’katum.27  This may be done even if the temperature of the water dropped to below yad soledos bo (120oF), as long as the water is still hot enough to satisfy someone who is interested in a warm drink.  Poskim recommend pouring the water gently to prevent the flow from stirring the contents in the pot.28

If the hot water is in an urn which cannot be moved, the pot of cholent may be carried over and held under the spigot.29  Some water heating devices do not heat the water to the boiling point.  Nonetheless, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l  permitted transferring this water to a pot of food, even if it will subsequently reach a hotter temperature.30  When neither the cholent pot nor the urn is moveable, one may use a cup or ladle to scoop hot water from the urn and transfer it to the cholent.  Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach even allowed dispensing hot water into a cup (kli sheini)to pour into the cholent.  In either event, the cup or ladle must be clean and dry.31

May cholent be served on a plate containing liquid residue?
Often, cold liquids from dressings or other foods run onto the section of the plate where one wants to place hot cholent.  This presents a problem since potatoes, a staple of most cholents, are classified as a davar gush, a food that retains its heat for a long duration of time even after being removed from the fire.  Other items that are considered a davar gush are pieces of meat and dense clumps of rice, beans, barley, or noodles (like kugel).  The Mishnah Berurah32 rules that a hot davar gush (yad soledos bo) has the status of a kli rishon and the ability to cook, even when placed onto a cold plate (kli sheini).  Cold liquids, even if they have been previously cooked, are subject to the melacha of bishul once they cool down and, therefore, one should avoid placing cholent onto cold liquids.33  If only a few drops of residual liquid remain on the plate, and that liquid was previously cooked at some point, one may be lenient.  However, if the liquid was never cooked that area should be carefully dried before adding a hot davar gush.

May one add salt or other seasonings to cholent on Shabbos?
Regular table salt is commonly produced using a process that involves evaporation and drying.  If the salt reached the temperature of yad soledos bo during its manufacture, the rule of ein bishul achar bishul (once an item has been cooked it is no longer subject to the melacha of bishul) permits one to add it to hot cholent that has been removed from the fire.34  One should consult with a rabbinical authority about how this applies to the salt we use today.35

Adding other spices, such as pepper, garlic, etc., is problematic since they are ground from the original plant material without other processing.36  Although spices are often dehydrated, they are never heated and remain raw.37  Therefore, spices should not be added to cholent that contains a hot davar gush, even after the cholent is transfered to a serving dish or a plate.  Rav Moshe Feinstein38 says that ketchup or other sauces that were previously cooked may be poured even onto a davar gush.  If there is no davar gush, spices may be added once the cholent is in a kli sheini, such as a plate or serving bowl.39

What is the bracha on cholent?
In recent years, cholent consumption has expanded beyond the traditional Shabbos lunch menu and it is regularly served at kiddushim, as a snack on winter Friday nights, or even during the week.  Therefore, it is necessary to determine the proper brocha when cholent is not eaten as part of a bread meal.
The general rule is that a mixture containing one of the five grains (BROWS – barley, rye, oats, wheat, spelt) in cooked form is a mezonos,even if the grain is only a minority ingredient.40  Barley is a common ingredient in cholent and, therefore, a mezonos will cover the entire concoction.  Whether or not large pieces of potato or meat require a separate brocha depends upon how the cholent is eaten.  If the chunks are cut into small enough pieces so that most forkfuls contain pieces of barley along with the other food items, the brocha will still be mezonos, even if a piece of potato or meat is occasionally eaten alone in the course of a serving.41  When the pieces of potato or meat are large enough so that they are consumed individually without any grains, they require their own brachos both before and after consumption.42  If a k’zayis of barley43 is eaten within k’dei achilas p’ras (4 minutes), an al hamichya is recited.44

In the absence of one of the five grains, the majority element in the mixture determines the brocha. Cholent made from rice, which is not one of the five grains, is a mezonos if the rice comprises a majority (51%) of the mixture.  If no single ingredient is a majority, then multiple brochos are recited; first a mezonos on the rice, and then ho’adoma on the beans, onions or potatoes, followed by a shehakol on the meat.45

The Talmud 46extols the virtues of delighting in the Shabbos, and describes the phenomenal reward that is bestowed upon someone who does so.   Through proper adherence to halacha, our cholent can be a vehicle to enhance Shabbos, with both body and soul.

Enjoy!

1 In modern English, “nonchalant” denotes a cold, uninterested posture.

2 The halachic positions presented here follow Ashkenazic psak; Sefardim should consult their halachic authority.

3 The mitzvah of Oneg Shabbos derives from Yeshaya 58:13. See Rambam Hilchos Shabbos, chap. 30. Rosh (Shabbos 3:1) writes that the assiduous devotion of Jews for this mitzvah sometimes influences psak halacha leniently in regard to Rabbinic ordinances concerning food preparation on Shabbos.

4 Shabbos 16b in Rif

5The Ba’al HaMaor attributes unusual stringency to this obligation, and asserts that one who does not eat hot food on Shabbos is suspect of subscribing to the heretical interpretation that the Torah prohibits maintenance of heat sources on Shabbos. Using a softer tone, the Rema (O.C. 257, end) only condemns someone who does not allow hot food in his home, but does not mention an obligation to eat it. The Magen Avraham adopts a middle position and allows someone to eat cold food if hot food would be injurious to his health. The implication of his ruling is that someone who merely does not enjoy hot food should still make an effort to fulfill the minhag and eat some (Rav Nissim Karelitz, Chut Shani 2:28:12, cited in Dirshu edition of M.B.).

6 Although the Ramo writes “u’mitzvah l’hatmin,” this can be read to mean insulating with a heat generating substance (hamosef hevel). Chut Shani, cited in Dirshu ed., disagrees and holds that food (but not beverages) kept hot in a thermos bottle also fulfills the minhag.

7 Rash Serilio (Yerushalmi Brachos, end chapter 7) says this is the reason for the principle of kavod hayom adif (Pesachim 105a), that one should accord more honor and prominence to the daytime meal.  Yosef Ometz (#641), a compendium of German minhagim (Frankfurt, 16th-17th century), mentions that this principle is the basis for the minhag to eat cholent during the daytime meal. See also Aruch HaShulchan siman 289:2.

8 According to one interpretation in Mechilta (Beshalach), the term “lech mishnah” means “lechem meshunah”, to say that the mon of Shabbos was different.  It was enhanced in both taste and aroma.

9 Shabbos 36b

10 This means sunset, even if one begins Shabbos earlier. (Minchas Shlomo 2:34:9).

11 Mishnah Berurah 253:38. One should seek Rabbinic guidance before relying on this leniency.  The Chazon Ish (37:6) writes that the measurement of a half or a third is quantitative and not qualitative.  Half cooked means half the time it takes to become fully cooked, starting from after the food reaches yad soledes bo (120oF).  Others say that the food must always be at least minimally edible. (See Kaf HaChaim 253:28.)

12 An additional heter is that of k’deira chayasa, cooking raw food.  Its implementation has further limitations which will not be discussed in this article.

13 Iggros Moshe O.C. 1:93

14 This is unlike opening a refrigerator, where operating the motor is assumed to be a Rabbinic prohibition. See Iggros Moshe IV:74:Bishul #28.

15 This is a grama on a melacha sh’einah tzricha lagufah. See Orchos Shabbos III:29:19 quoting Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, who permitted grama on a melacha d’oraisa for a davar she’eino miskaven, even p’sik reisha

16 Shulchan Aruch 254:4, Mishnah Berurah 318:114.

17 No matter the device one chooses, one should be aware that making it garuf v’katum demonstrates a lack of further interest in adjusting the temperature. Therefore, once the coverings are in place, even before Shabbos begins, the temperature should no longer be raised.  Shemiras Shabbos, chapter 1, note 54, 185.

18 See Orchos Shabbos Vol. I, pp. 112-113, for a full discussion.

19 Kol Bo (cited by Beis Yosef 253:4) prohibits meigis,stirring a pot while on the fire, even if the food is fully cooked. Taking food out from the pot is similar to stirring. See Shulchan Aruch 318:18.

20 Orach Chaim 253

21 The status of a cholent containing meat or chicken bones, where the cholent itself is fully cooked but not the bones, has been widely debated, most notably in an exchange of teshuvos between Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach. The prevalent consensus is to permit chazara in this instance.

22 See Mishnah Berurah (M.B.) 253:68 citing Magen Avraham, that this requirement is even for dry food.

23 Iggros Moshe O.C. IV:74:Bishul #33 holds that as long as one hand is holding the pot, the pot may rest on the counter or table. Rav Elyashiv shlita holds that a portion of the pot must remain elevated. (Shvus Yitzchok 14:2)

24 B’dieved, if someone removed the cholent from the fire without intention to return it and then changed his mind, he may still replace the pot if it was never released from his hand.  Alternately, if one inadvertently put it down, he may replace it as long as he always intended to do so.  See M.B. 253:56. The Chazon Ish (37:12) is lenient, even in the absence of both conditions.

25 Iggros Moshe IV:74:Bishul #38, Shemiras Shabbos chap. 1, note 69.

26 Iggros Moshe IV:74:Bishul #29. This would be prohibited if the metal became red hot, which is also a form of bishul. (Rambam Hilchos Shabbos 9:6) There is no problem with changing the shape of a flame.

27 See Shulchan Aruch 253:4 and M.B. Orchos Shabbos 1:2:58.

28 Shemiras Shabbos 1:16. This is a concern of meigis, see above note 19.

29 To avoid making the urn fleishig, the cholent pot should be held far enough away so hot steam emanating from it does not reach the spigot.

30 Iggros Moshe O.C. IV:74:Bishul #1. Orchos Shabbos 1:1:17 cites others who are machmir about this.

31 Shemiras Shabbos 1:16.

32 318:65

33 Iggros Moshe O.C. 1:93

34 See M.B. 318:64,71.

35 To save energy, companies cook the salt brine in vacuum conditions causing the water to boil out before reaching the temperature of yad soledos bo. Nevertheless, poskim offer other reasons to be lenient in accordance with the Rama (318:9), that not placing raw salt in a pot off the fire is just a chumra. Some salts are mined directly from the ground. They should be treated as spices, discussed below.

36 See Kashrus Kurrents, Ta'am Tov B'Tuv Ta'am: A Flavorful Blend of Kashrus and Spices, by Rabbi Tzvi Rosen.

37 See Iggros Moshe O.C. II:85.

38 Iggros Moshe O.C. IV:74:Bishul #5.

39 Shemiras Shabbos, chapter 1, note 152 cites Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach as not allowing the finely ground spices that are common today to be placed in a kli shieni. Other Poskim challenge his assertion.

40 Orach Chaim 208:2. The exception to this rule is when the grain is added solely as a thickening agent.

41 Aruch HaShulchan 212:2. The Chayei Odom (51:13, 54:9) holds that any food item in a mixture that is independently discernable requires its own bracha.  The M.B. (B.H. beg. of 212), citing other Poskim, does not follow this ruling. He advises those who wish to fulfill all opinions to mash the larger items so they will be eaten together with the mezonos foods. See also Teshuvos v’Hanhagos (II:146).

42 Al haMichaya does not cover ho’adama or shehakol foods (Shulchan Aruch 208:2).

43 The volume of 1.1 fluid ounces.  According to Rav Chaim Na’ah, a kzayis is the volume of 27 cc; according to the Chazon Ish it is 45 cc.

44 M.B. 208:48. Because this is difficult to estimate, practically speaking, it is best to eat other foods requiring an al hamichya and borei nefashos and their bracha acharonas will cover the cholent, as well.

45 This is the psak of Rav Heinemann. V’zos Habracha, p. 94, cites an opinion that all the ho’adama ingredients can combine together to constitute a majority.

46 Shabbos 118b



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