This article first appeared in the January 2024 issue of the Where What When magazine.
This article briefly discusses modern kitchen appliances and how STAR-K has developed innovative halachic solutions to meet the needs of the Orthodox Jewish consumer.
Marketing Terms That Can Be Misleading
It is important to define two terms frequently used by appliance companies to market their products which can be confusing and even mislead kosher consumers:
Sabbath Mode – a feature that enables the consumer to operate their oven so that it can be opened one time on Shabbos and to cook on Yom Tov. Sabbath Mode allows the kosher consumer to open the oven door without enabling lights, icons, or sounds. But in terms of cooking, a better term for this feature might be Yom Tov Mode.
Warming Drawer – a small thermostat-controlled appliance that is either part of a range or installed as a stand-alone unit. Its description as a “drawer” attests only to its convenience but belies its utility as a functioning heating appliance. For accuracy’s sake, it ought to be called a Warming Oven, as it is halachically no different than an oven. STAR-K gets an untold number of calls from consumers who are surprised to discover that a warming “drawer” may not be used on Shabbos.
Sabbath Mode: A Brief History And Overview
Appliance manufacturers, with the aid of modern technology, have designed kitchen appliances to be safer and more efficient while incorporating various features to enhance operation. However, the integration of this technology can pose a challenge to their proper use on Shabbos and Yom Tov.
In 1997, a historic technological project was launched between a major appliance manufacturer and a kosher certification agency, specifically STAR-K. Prior to that time, many of their appliances did not conform to halachic guidelines. Whirlpool Corporation (manufacturers of KitchenAid, Maytag and more) approached STAR-K to help modify their ovens for use on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Following some adjustments, a successful mode was developed. Whirlpool called it a “Sabbath Mode” and was awarded a patent in 1998 for this concept.
(Subsequently, some technologically advanced refrigerators also acquired Sabbath Mode certification. For information about “smart refrigerators,” visit https://www.star-k.org/articles/articles/seasonal/6762/using-an-oven-on-shabbos-yom-tov/.)
Note that not all Sabbath Mode models offer the same features. If you have a STAR-K certified Sabbath Mode oven, please check star-k.org/appliances/ to see which features are available on your particular model, or contact the STAR-K office at 410-484-4110.
Sabbath Mode Ovens
Sabbath Mode ovens are designed to bypass many of the practical and halachic problems posed by the modern oven. When in Sabbath Mode, no lights, digits, solenoids, fans, icons, tones or displays will be activated or modified during normal use.
A safety feature automatically shuts the oven off after 12 hours of operation. Although this safety feature is very important, it creates a problem when preparing food for most Yom Tov meals, which take place more than 12 hours after the onset of Yom Tov. For all types of Sabbath Mode ovens, the 12-hour cutoff is bypassed.
IMPORTANT: Sabbath Mode does not permit us to turn these appliances on or off during Shabbos or Yom Tov, nor does it allow us to use these appliances completely at will on Shabbos or Yom Tov. Rather, it enables us to use these appliances within the guidelines of Halacha as posted on the STAR-K website.
In Sabbath Mode ovens, the door plunger switch is disabled so that it will not directly cause any electronic reaction. On some of these ovens, the cavity light will remain either on or off, depending upon how Sabbath Mode was entered; the disabled door plunger switch will prevent the oven light from going on/off as the door is opened/closed. In some older models without a plunger switch override, the bulb must be unscrewed or the light left on for the duration of Shabbos or Yom Tov.
Why Do Sabbath Mode Instructions Normally Allow For The Oven To Be Opened Only Once On Shabbos?
Aside from the prohibition of cooking and reheating on Shabbos, there is a prohibition against initiating a fire or causing increased burning. In the case of thermostatically controlled ovens and warming drawers, opening the oven or warming drawer will cause a mechanism to increase burning in order to compensate for the loss of heat by opening the door or drawer. The resulting effect is, at the very least, a grama of ha’avara d’Oraysa, which HaRav Moshe Heinemann shlit”a, STAR-K’s Rabbinic Administrator, holds is not permissible on Shabbos if it is done with a need for the elements to be reignited. When one leaves food in an oven before Shabbos and takes all of the food out for the meal on Friday night, the issue of the thermostat is resolved; it’s halachically similar to using a refrigerator.
What Is STAR-K’s “New Sabbath Mode”?
A search of the STAR-K appliance lists for “New Sabbath Mode” will yield a good number of results in both ovens and refrigerators. In an effort to achieve the highest level of hiddur possible, with the encouragement of HaRav Heinemann, “New Sabbath Mode” was developed by a number of the companies certified by STAR-K. This “New Sabbath Mode” standard is, as far as we know, the most halachically and technically advanced Sabbath Mode available in the USA and Canada. Ovens with “New Sabbath Mode” are designed in such a manner that opening and closing the door has absolutely no impact on the gas or electric functions. Not only does this remove many of the shailos associated with open oven doors, it even allows for the door to be opened multiple times over Shabbos.
For a complete list of certified appliances and guidelines for their proper usage, please check STAR-K’s website at star-k.org/appliance/. The models are listed there by company and specific model number.