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Q&A

What exactly is "cooking"?

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I'm having trouble putting this question into words so hear me out, while I struggle:

What is cooking halachically?

I don't mean "at what temperature does cooking happen?" but more like "what is considered cooking and how/why is it considered that?"

Is "cooking" a change in some item's chemical structure? Is it about physical form? It isn't just about heat, but what is it about heat, or a particular threshold of temperature which makes something "count" as heat to effect cooking?

It seems to be about method and not about the actual cooking so I'm not sure what it is, intrinsically, which counts as "cooking."

By the way, I'll limit this, for now, to bishul but am looking for an answer that spans shabbos and akum or which explores different definitions/qualifications for each.

See, I told you I'm struggling to figure out exactly what I'm asking.

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2 comments

I wrote up some basics. If someone comes up with a better referenced answer, that's fine with me - no time to finish it right now. manassehkatz‭ 25 days ago

1 answer

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Generally speaking, cooking - including Bishul but also Afiah (baking) and other variants - is about "improving food through the application of heat". The key words include:

  • Improving - e.g., if a food is fully cooked and then gets burnt/overcooked, that is not intrinsically Bishul
  • Food - it gets expanded (as many other things) in applications relating to Shabbos, but as I understand it, Bishul normally applies primarily to edible substances
  • Heat - there are some additional things that are similar (in particular, pickling or similar activity), but in most respects the key is heat.

How this gets applied varies quite a bit. In the case of solid food, simply adding heat that does not result in a change that materially improves the food does not count. That is why, within certain constraints, fully cooked (so no improvement) solid food can be heated up on Shabbos.

On the other hand, liquids are considered to "improve" simply by the addition of heat, even if they have been heated up before. As a result, if you have a kettle of cold water, you can't put it on a flame, even over a blech, on Shabbos.

How much cooking of a solid food counts as Bishul varies a bit. One key is Maachal Ben Drusai - 1/3 or 1/2 cooked. If it is cooked at least that amount then there are certain leniencies with respect to handling the partially cooked food on Shabbos. On the other hand, unless it is fully cooked, it can't be heated up on Shabbos if it was not already warm (and still cooking) before Shabbos.

Bishul Akum, as I understand it, uses largely the same rules for defining cooking, but the limitations are quite different from Shabbos. In general, a single step taken by a Jew - e.g., turn on the flame or even add to an existing fire - is sufficient to remove the prohibition of Bishul Akum.

Halachic cooking may, with the exception of liquids, where just raising the temperature is sufficient to count as Bishul, be a chemical change or a physical change. But normally we don't concern ourselves with the nature of the specific changes. Rather, it is "gets better" (cooks, bakes, etc.) or doesn't.

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3 comments

But if I use a non-traditional method of heating, then the application of heat is no longer the same issue. And if I use a lower heat to, for example, melt something then the level of heat isn't the issue. rosends‭ 24 days ago

Generally speaking, the key level of heat is "Yad Soledes Bo". A quick search (not definitive) shows a range of 110 F to 160 F. Meaning that if a temperature is below 110 F then there is no issue of cooking, at all. And if a food is fully cooked and warmed to > 160 F before Shabbos then there is no issue at all. Problems occur in between, but generally we rule Lechumra. If you melt chocolate at 100 F (I checked, and that does work - the whole M&M thing) then it isn't cooking. Melt it at 120 F manassehkatz‭ 24 days ago

and then you have a real issue (on Shabbos). On the other hand, a hot plate or blech at 180 F is not a problem if the food is already cooked (or liquid already heated) - maintaining heat is different from cooking. manassehkatz‭ 24 days ago

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