To Cook By The Book
by Rabbi Moshe Rosenstein
We all know that the laws of Shabbos are complex, and many of us have spent a significant amount of time on working to understand and remember them. Then, all of a sudden, Yom Tov comes and we are thrown for a loop – we know that many things that we can’t do on Shabbos are permissible on Yom Tov, but it is not always so clear exactly what these things are and when can or cannot do them. I would like to focus on just one area of the laws of Yom Tov for this month. Since the melacha that probably comes up the most over the course of a Yom Tov is bishul, cooking, I wanted to outline those halachos here.
The General Concept
While melacha in general is prohibited on Yom Tov, there are certain melachos, that under certain circumstances, we are allowed to do. Melachos that are done for purposes of “ochel nefesh,” basic human comfort, are at times permissible. Cooking is one such melacha. Since cooking food is considered a basic human need, the melacha of bishul, cooking, is permitted on Yom Tov. But even those melachos that are permitted, there are certain rules that must be adhered to. We will outline some of the basic halachos of when it is and is not permissible to cook food on Yom Tov.
· The cooking must be done for the benefit of a Jew. Since the prohibition of any melacha of Yom Tov is only lifted for ochel nefesh of another Jewish person, no melacha whatsoever may be done for the benefit of non-Jews. [Similarly, if one has a pet, one may not do any melacha whatsoever for the benefit of the animal.] In fact, because cooking for a non-Jew on Yom Tov is a full melacha min haTorah, and it is something that a person can easily forget about, Chazal instituted a rule that one is not permitted to explicitly invite a non-Jew to his or her home on Chag. This often comes up when a person is looking to undergo a conversion, but is still halachically a non-Jew. Members of the community are not permitted to invite the prospective convert to Yom Tov meals. Many poskim permit one to inform the Ger-to-be of the time and place of the meal, and if he shows up, one is not required to send him away and he may partake of the meal, even if it was cooked on Yom Tov. As long as no melacha at all is done for him, it is permissible for him to stay and eat. But the host must be careful to not accidentally do any melacha – even pouring hot water on a tea bag is an act of bishul that is only permissible for another Jew on Yom Tov. [Note: On Shabbos, since all melacha is prohibited anyway, there is no need for this gezeirah. It is therefore permissible to invite a Gentile to a meal on Shabbos. This can make a good Yom Tov Seudah riddle: In what situation are the exact same words said to the exact same person prohibited on Yom Tov but permissible on Shabbos…?]
· The cooking must be done for use on that day of Yom Tov. The dispensation for doing melacha on Yom Tov is only if the melacha being done will enhance one’s ability to enjoy Yom Tov. Melacha that is done for after Yom Tov is prohibited, once again, min haTorah. It is important to note that “after Yom Tov” means any time after that day of Chag. Meaning, while one may do melacha at night for use the next morning or day, one may not do melacha any time throughout the day, if one’s intention is to benefit from that melacha after sunset of that day. This is regardless of whether the next “day” (beginning at sunset/nightfall) is a regular weekday (like following the last day of any Yom Tov), Chol HaMoed (like after the first days of Succos or Pesach), or even a second day of Yom Tov. One may only do melacha for use on that day itself. This is something that one must keep in mind as the evening draws near. One is not permitted to heat up water or do any melacha if it will only be benefitted from after sunset. In addition, between sunset and nightfall (between shkiat hachamah and tzeit hakochavim) one should not do any melacha at all. Because during this time it is unclear which day it is, melacha done at that time may very well end up being enjoyed only once it is halachically the next day – which in this situation may be the very next instant. [The exception to this rule is when Yom Tov falls on Erev Shabbos and one made an Eiruv Tavshilin – but we have a couple of years before we need a column on that.]
When is cooking more than one needs for Chag allowed?
Looking at these halachos, one may ask what the halacha is if there are leftovers from what one cooked on Yom Tov. If there is food left over after Yom Tov ends, it turns out that that food was actually cooked on Yom Tov, but never enjoyed during it – does that mean that that cooking that extra food was an aveirah? The answer is that it depends. Extra food may be cooked only if the following three conditions are met:
1. There is only one act of cooking being done. Since the actual placing of the food onto the fire is the melacha of bishul, one would not be allowed to do two “acts” of cooking unless all the food is being planned to be eaten on Yom Tov. An example would be placing a pan of chicken into the oven even though there is extra chicken in the pan that will not be eaten on Yom Tov. If, however, there is too much chicken to fit into one pan, one may not put the extra, unneeded pan of chicken into the oven at all.
2. There is no specific,extra effort involved. In the above example of putting many pieces of chicken into a pan and then cooking them, not only was there just one act of cooking involved, but there was also no extra effort exerted for the preparation of the extra food. If, however, making extra food for after Yom Tov will require a specific extra action in order to have the extra food prepared, it is prohibited. So, for example, one would be allowed to make a large cake, even if a portion of it is to be used after Chag. But extra cookies would not be permissible. Since each individual cookie needs its own effort, one may not make cookies that are not planning on being used on Yom Tov. This same rule applies to breading and frying pieces of schnitzel, making latkes or blintzes, or even making a larger-than-necessary potato kugel – because each individual extra potato needs to be peeled. All of these situations would not be permissible if some of the food is being made with the intent to eat it after Yom Tov.
3. There is no verbal mention of the fact that some of this cooking is being done for after Yom Tov. Finally, even if one is only doing one act of cooking, and even if there is no extra effort involved, one is not permitted to verbalize that there is food being prepared for after Yom Tov.
Wishing you a wonderful and uplifting kabbalas haTorah! Good Yom Tov!