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Electric kettle with timer on Shabbat


Rabbi David Sperling

Adar II 26, 5779
Shalom, I was wondering if it was permissible to use an electric kettle (KumKum) on Shabbat in this manner: Set it on a timer to come on at e.g. 9 am Press the boil button before Shabbat starts When the time on the timer hits it boils by itself. I can?t think of a reason why this wouldn?t be allowed
Shalom, Thank you for your question. The short answer is – there are different opinions, some allowing one to set up a kettle on a Shabat clock before Shabat in order to have hot water on Shabat morning, and others forbid it, even though all the labor is done prior to Shabat. In our humble opinion, one should try to avoid this type of set up, unless there are good reasons that create a real need for it. On general it would be better to use a standard Shabat urn that keeps the water hot all Shabat. However, those who are lenient and set a timer from before Shabat, and fill the kettle also before Shabat in such a way that they do not have to touch the set up at all on Shabat, have opinions on whom to rely. Here is a copy of an article by Rabbi David Roth about this issue (it can be found here - where the full article with footnotes can be read) Using a Timer The Mishna records an argument between Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel whether one can start a melacha(activity forbidden on Shabbos) before Shabbos that will continue by itself into Shabbos, such as soaking something in water to extract a dye. The halacha follows Beis Hillel to be lenient on this. Based on this, we are used to assuming that it is permitted to set a timer to turn on or off an electric device on Shabbos. However, R. Moshe Feinstein does not approve of this leniency and argues that it should be relied on only for electric lights. R. Hershel Schachter is also very sympathetic to the position that timers should not be used on Shabbos. Nevertheless, the opinion of most halachic authorities41 as well as common practice is to allow the use of timers for all electric devices whose use does not detract from the spirit of Shabbos. The following discussion assumes that the use of timers in general is permitted. There is another Mishna42 which says that before Shabbos one may not put water into a vessel that is used to hold a lit candle because he may come to extinguish the fire. Tosefos43 explain that the difference between this case and the previous case with the dye is that the soaking of a dye on Shabbos is a very serious prohibition, so people will be careful to avoid it. In contrast, adding water is not an active violation but rather just causing the candle to go out indirectly, about which people will be less careful. This reason is quoted in the Magen Avraham,44 Taz,45 and Shulchan Aruch Ha’Rav.46 Some suggest47 that putting food to cook or coffee to brew on a timer is equivalent to adding water in the vessel below the candle: one might come to add the coffee mix on Shabbos, which would be problematic because he is doing an act on Shabbos that is causing the coffee to be cooked.48 Furthermore, others who see him cooking might not realize that it was set on a timer before Shabbos and might come to do it on Shabbos. Another reason why it might not be permissible to make coffee on Shabbos with a timer is the Rabbinic prohibition of returning an even fully cooked food item to an uncovered fire.49 This prohibition is either because of a concern that one may stoke the coals or because he appears to be cooking.50 The Rama51says that it is even forbidden to ask a non-Jew to return the fully cooked item to the uncovered fire, even though one might have expected permission to ask a non-Jew to do this rabbinically forbidden action in order to fulfill a mitzvah (such as the enjoyment of Shabbos). The Chazon Ish52 explains that the prohibition is to have the food returned to the uncovered fire, whether the Jew does the act himself or not. Thus, the fact that a non-Jew returns the food to the fire is irrelevant; the Jew violates the prohibition passively. Presumably, the same would apply to a timer: even though a Jew does not do any action and the timer turns on the fire which warms up the food, the Jew violates the prohibition of returning food to the fire by virtue of the fact that such a thing occurred in his house, even without an action. In other words, even if the Jew does nothing, there is still a concern that he might stoke the coals. However, if the system is set up before Shabbos in such a way that the oven is sealed and cannot easily be opened on Shabbos, this would not be a concern.53 The same would probably apply to a sealed coffee maker that cannot be easily opened or adjusted. There is an additional reason why it might be prohibited to set up a system to cook on Shabbos using a timer, but it may not be applicable to a coffee machine. The Shulchan Aruch54 rules that if one takes a pot off the fire before it is fully cooked, one may not remove part of the dish with a spoon because he will end up stirring it. Regarding a different case, the Gemara55 says that it is permitted to put wool in a boiling pot before Shabbos, and we are not concerned that he will stir the pot on Shabbos. The pot is covered and sealed, and by the time one breaks the seal, he will remember that it is Shabbos. R. Eliezer Silver56 and R. Eliezer Waldenberg57 argue that if one puts food in an oven which is set on a timer to cook on Shabbos, there is a concern that he will come to stir the unsealed pot. However, I doubt this applies to a coffee machine because it is not normal to stir coffee while it is brewing. R. Gedalia Felder58 states that the Chasam Sofer was lenient to allow one to set up a system to light a fire elsewhere before Shabbos, such that the fire will spread over the course of Shabbos and reach the food at the time when he wants his food to be warmed up. This seems like a precedent that would allow using a timer to cook. However, R. Felder argues that this is different from the case of a timer. In the Chasam Sofer‘s case, there was a fire before Shabbos while in the case of a timer the fire did not yet exist before Shabbos. Therefore, there is no proof that one can be lenient with a timer. For all of these reasons, many halachic authorities59 forbid using a timer to cook or brew coffee. However, some halachic authorities60 permit cooking with a timer in the case of monetary loss or illness, provided that the system is completely set up before Shabbos and the food is already in place before Shabbos, such that no adjustments will need to be made on Shabbos itself. As always, you should ask your rabbi questions about appropriate practice. Blessings
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