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Thought for the Day: When Cooking Isn't Cooking

It is a well known halacha of Shabbos that "kli sheini eino m'vashel" - a vessel into which water has been poured will not cook.  On the other hand, a kli rishon will cook as long as the temperature is above "yad soledes bo" (literally: your hand would recoil from it).  For argument sake we are going to say that temperature is 120 degrees F (a range of values are given by the poskim; that value is in the range).  So we now have the very strange situation that a kli sheini at 170 degrees will not cook, but a kli rishon at 120 degrees will cook.  That seems odd, no?  Worse, it runs counter our experience and it makes our discussions about shabbos rules with the not frum seem almost ludicrous; "Let me get his straight, 170 degree water in a styrofoam cup won't cook, but 130 degree water in a pan will?  Uh-huh."

So here is my take, based on Tosefos in Shabbos, 40b, d"h "sh'ma mina kli sheini eino m'vashel".  Tosafos starts by basically saying what I said in the first paragraph (very free translation, but what Tosefos means).  Before giving my understanding of Tosefos' answer, I want to point out that issurim on Shabbos are not so much at about results as process.  For example, suppose I want peanuts but I only have a bowl of peanuts and raisins.  I am permitted l'chatchila to pick out the peanuts from the raisins to eat during the ensuing meal.  However, if I were to pick out the raisins, or pick out the peanuts Friday night to eat at shalosh s'udos the next day, or use a special peanut/raisin separator I would be transgressing the melacha d'oraisa of borer.  Another example: I am allowed to cook anything directly in the heat of the sun (using a frying pan heated by the sun is forbidden by Chazal); again, l'chatchila.  That's just the way Shabbos malachos work.  They have very precise definitions, and those definitions include how and why you got to the end result.

Back to the problem at hand.  Tosofos answers that "since the walls of a kli rishon are hot and so hold the heat longer, whereas a kli sheini starts with cold walls so the heat is continually moving out, therefore they [Chazal, presumably] gave a measure to what is called transgressing the melacha of cooking on Shabbos; to whit: as long as the water in the kli rishon is hot enough to cause the hand to recoil."  So it is not at all that you can't cook in a kli sheini; just as it is not true that you can't cook in the sun.  Rather, it is simply that one has not transgressed the malacha of cooking on Shabbos if he used a kli sheini.

There; I feel better now.

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