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The Definition of a Liquid Food As It Pertains To Heating on Shabbat

The halacha forbids returning a liquid food that has cooled down to a blech. The question that we deal with today is how to define a liquid food. How do we distinguish between a solid dry food and a liquid one?

The extreme cases are clear. A pot of dry rice is considered a solid food, whereas soup is, of course, a liquid. However, not all foods are classified so easily. What is the halacha regarding a solid food that secretes liquids; for example, a roast containing a lot of gravy at the bottom of the pan?

The answer to this question is found in the Rabeinu Yerucham quoted in the Bet Yosef (318) (commentary to the Tur by Maran Rav Yosef Karo). There is considerable debate as to what his opinion is because there are variant texts. Some say that Rabeinu Yerucham holds that any liquid whatsoever in the food renders it a liquid and it is forbidden to return it once it has cooled down. Accordingly, the only type of cold food permitted to return to the blech would be a dish that was absolutely dry. Even food with only Me’at Rotev, a small amount of gravy, would never be allowed to be taken from the refrigerator and put on the blech. Others read the Rabeinu Yerucham as saying that we look at the majority. A food is only designated a liquid if it is comprised mostly of liquid. This more lenient position is the understanding of the Kaf Hahaim (Rav Yaakob Haim Sofer, Baghdad-Israel, 1870-1939).

Hacham Ovadia also subscribes to the opinion that we consider the majority. However, he explains, that this does not mean that we measure the relative volumes of solids and liquids in the pot. Clearly, a soup which has a significant amount of solid vegetables will always be considered a liquid, even if, technically, there are more vegetables than soup. A soup is a soup. We look at the nature of the item: Is it essentially a dry food or a liquid food? For example, a roast by nature is a dry food. Even though the roast, like all foods, contains moisture which is sometimes secreted, that moisture is secondary to the food.

In such as case, where the liquid comes from the item itself and is a small amount, Hacham Ovadia is lenient. Anything more than that, where the liquid is separate from the item itself, if it’s basting in it or its soaking in it, then even Hacham Ovadia will be machmir and forbid returning it to the blech once it has cooled down. One is permitted to empty out the gravy and then place the dry food on the blech.

This is a very important halacha which many people are not aware of. They mistakenly put food back on the blech even though there’s a lot of gravy on the bottom.


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