Question: Last Shabbat, there was a power outage and for six hours, we had no electricity. Later on in the day when the problem was repaired, the Plata (electric hotplate) turned back on. Is it permissible to eat the foods that were warmed on the hotplate?
Answer: Regarding the aforementioned matter, we are discussing a situation where technicians of the Israel Electric Company (we shall discuss power outages in other countries further) travel by car to the plant or scene of the issue and perform many other forbidden works in order to restore the neighborhood’s electricity. The Halacha is quite clear that if one cooks a food on Shabbat, that food is forbidden for consumption for that individual forever, i.e. even after Shabbat has concluded, this individual may not derive any benefit from this food. Even others may only eat and derive benefit from this cooked food only once Shabbat has concluded. The Rama writes (in his gloss on Shulchan Aruch, Chapter 318) that this law does not only apply to a food that was cooked on Shabbat; rather, this applies to any other forbidden work on Shabbat in that one may not derive any benefit from performance of any forbidden work on Shabbat. Thus, if a Jew picks fruit off a tree on Shabbat, other Jews may not eat these fruits until the conclusion of Shabbat.
In our situation, restoring the electricity requires acts of Shabbat desecration and as a result of this Shabbat desecration, the food on the hotplate was rewarmed and it seems that it should be forbidden to partake of these foods until Motza’ei Shabbat.
Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l deals with this issue in several of his works. In his Chazon Ovadia-Shabbat, Volume 6 (page 158), he writes that nowadays when enemies surround Israel from all sides and evil terrorists wait for any opportunity to inflict terror and murder on innocent Jews, when the city is shrouded in darkness and the Israel Defense Forces cannot protect the citizens properly as a result, restoring electricity is considered a form of a life-threatening circumstance which overrides Shabbat, as the Gemara (Yoma 85a) states, “And they shall live by them-and not so that one die by them.” Thus, the technicians of the electric company are actually pursuing the Mitzvah of saving lives. Thus, all foods warmed as a result of their actions have been warmed in a permissible fashion and they may be consumed on Shabbat. This was actually the last responsa Maran zt”l penned in his holy works before returning his soul to his Creator in Cheshvan of the year 5774. May we merit being reunited with Maran soon with the Resurrection of the Dead, Amen.
Similarly, the Sefer Shemirat Shabbat Ke’Hilchata (Chapter 32, note 182) writes that one derive benefit from the electric lights and the like since every city has ill patients whose lives are in danger and the technicians work to restore electricity on their behalf as well and it is impossible to restore electricity only for those ill patients. Thus, the work performed by the technicians was not done in a forbidden manner and it is permissible to benefit from the electricity.
Thus, halachically speaking, when a power outage occurs on Shabbat and electricity is later restored on Shabbat, it is permissible to benefit from the light and from the heat of the electric hotplate even if the food has completely cooled off and was later rewarmed. Maran zt”l provides ample proofs and supports for this from the works of the Poskim.
We must point out though that we are nevertheless dissatisfied with the work of the Israel Electric Company, for unfortunately, the company is still very far from running all of their operations in accordance with Halacha. It is extremely unfortunate that specifically in the Land of Israel, to which so many of our ancestors wished to move their and live a Torah-observant lifestyle, large-scale Shabbat desecration is performed by the Israel Electric Company on a regular basis. May Hashem shower the owners and managers of the Israel Electric Company with a spirit of purity so that they merit running their company in accordance with Torah law and may the merit of Shabbat protect us one-thousand times over.
Regarding electric and utility companies outside of Israel, if there is a power outage of Shabbat in countries abroad, there is an even greater reason for leniency since the utility companies are owned and operated by non-Jews in addition to the fact that this is being done for a majority of the population who are non-Jewish, such that the above issue does not even begin.