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Thought for the Day: טהרה and טומאה and Cholent Friday Night

Chazal (as brought in mascechta Shabbos) decreed that non-Jews carry a certain level of טומא.  Now a days that fact of no real practical importance because we are all טמא anyway.  Back in the day, though, when we were careful about טהרה and טומאה, this decree had as big an impact as the fact that now a days Jewish men are not allowed physical contact -- including shaking hands -- with women (other than wife and daughters, of course).  In fact, Chazal made the decree to prevent the Jewish children from getting to close with certain elements of the non-Jewish world from whom they could learn bad (and decidedly non-Jewish) behaviors.

I found this decree fascinating because we have several decrees that lead to stringencies that we observe even though the original reason is no longer applicable.  Second day of Yom Tov, for example; even though we know precisely when the new moon occurs each month, none the less we still keep a second day of Yom Tov because of the original decree of םפקא דיומא.  In this case, though, the reason for the decree is certainly just as (or even more) applicable today as then, yet the intended effect is no longer achieved.  I asked R' Fuerst, shlita, and he told me that Chazal were precise in the method they chose to achieve the desired result.  Had our Sages wanted to keep more barriers in all situations, they certainly could have.  Here, however, they (apparently) felt that it was only important to keep that extra level of separation when we (Klal Yisrael) are at a high enough spiritual level that תהרה and טומא and important to us.

That concept leads to a very practical question regarding preparing cholent for Friday night.  How so?  In order to have hot cholent on Shabbos, then before the onset of Shabbos it must either be completely cooked (i.e., enough to be edible) - or - it has to contain completely raw meat.  The logic behind the two seemingly contradictory approaches is actually one idea: to take your mind of stirring it to hasten the cooking.  If it is completely cooked there is no reason to stir because there is nothing to hasten; it has arrived.  If it has raw meat in it, then it won't be ready tonight no matter how vigorously it is stirred.  In both cases, you are relaxed and have taken your mind off the cooking cholent till tomorrow's s'uda (yum!).  See Mishna Brura 253, sk 9, 10, 11, and Biur Halacha there.

Today, however, our cholent pots are quite hot and our meat is quite tender; you can certainly cook up a nice pot of cholent in just a few hours.  So... was the original p'sak halacha just good advice that now a days is not longer relevant and therefore the whole raw meat thing doesn't work, or was it the reflection of a decree?

Surprise!  It's a machlokes among the modern poskim.  R' Henken (brought in R' Ribiat's book; the "silver" set) says the whole heter is no longer relevant.  R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach and R' Elyashiv (as brought by the Dirshu Mishna Brura) both learned the Biur Halacha has meaning it is good advice for the way most people eat Friday night; so if you plan to eat right away, then the heter of raw meat works, but if you plan to wait a few hours (for whatever reason) then it doesn't work.  The Chazon Ish (also brought by Dirshu) argues on the Mishna Brura and holds that throwing raw meat into the cholent right before sunset is a decree like any other.

So... if you think you might sometime want to ask your wife to suddenly whip up a Cholent a 1/2 hour before Shabbos because you just invited some buddies over for beer and cholent later than night.... I suggest you (1) CYLOR now to know how he paskens and (2) rethink how well springing this on your wife at the last minute is going to go for you.

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