The Enactment of “Lest One Stoke”
In the times of our Sages, it was common for people to cook on top of small stoves containing burning coals.
Our Sages forbade leaving a pot of food from before the onset of Shabbat on the stovetops which existed then lest one stoke the coals on Shabbat itself in order to hasten the foods cooking. They only allowed one to leave a pot of food on the fire from before Shabbat if one had either removed the coals from the stove before Shabbat in which case there is no concern for stoking the coals or if one had covered the coals with a layer of ash before Shabbat as a sign/reminder to beware not to stoke the coals on Shabbat, in which case there would no longer be concern for stoking.
A Gas or Electric Stovetop
Nowadays, when our stovetops are gas-powered and there is no longer concern for stoking coals, some say that one is permitted to leave a food which is not fully-cooked on the stovetop from before Shabbat in order for it to continue to cook on Shabbat, for there is no longer concern for stoking. Others, however, posit that it is still forbidden to do so, for there is concern that one may raise the intensity of the flame by turning the knob which controls the amount of gas flow; this also constitutes a Torah prohibition, for this hastens the cooking time of the food as well as making the flame larger. They therefore prohibit leaving a pot of Chulent on the gas range from before Shabbat in order to cook on Shabbat.
Halachically speaking, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l rules that since the issue of raising the intensity of the flame by turning a knob was not an issue at the time that our Sages enacted this decree, this is therefore not included in the enactment of our Sages. He quotes other reasons for leniency as well. Thus, according to the letter of the law, one may leave a pot of non-fully-cooked food on the gas stovetop from before Shabbat in order for it to continue cooking on Shabbat. It is nevertheless preferable to act stringently and place an aluminum sheet (“Blech”) and the like on top of the stovetop in order to separate between the flame and the pot and in this way it will be considered as if the “coals were covered with a layer of ash” in which case there is much more room for leniency to leave the pot of food there from before Shabbat.
Rav Messas’s Visit
In the year 5736 (1976), after the passing of the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem, Hagaon Harav Eliyahu Pardes zt”l, talks began regarding appointing a new Chief Rabbi for the holy city of Jerusalem. It was clear that a great and authoritative Torah scholar would need to be appointed to the post.
Originally, Maran zt”l wished to appoint his dear friend Hagaon Harav Ben Zion Abba Shaul zt”l to this post, for he was well-known by all the great scholars of Jerusalem and beloved by all. His erudition in Torah, especially halachic judicial law, was something to behold. Nevertheless, when the latter declined to accept any official rabbinic position, other names began to surface. Maran zt”l looked into this matter deeply and finally decided to fully support the appointment of Hagaon Harav Shalom Messas zt”l, then the Chief Rabbi of Morocco, whose greatness in Torah was well-known in Israel as well.
During this time, Hagaon Harav Messas arrived in Israel to discuss the possibility of accepting the appointment of Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and officially announce his candidacy. Maran zt”l invited Harav Messas to spend Shabbat in his home which the latter graciously accepted. On Friday, Maran zt”l told his wife that although she generally left the pot of Chulent on an open gas flame, nevertheless, since it is possible that Hagaon Harav Messas ruled stringently on this matter, he did not wish to act leniently this Shabbat as the food was meant to be served to Rav Messas. Thus, that Shabbat, they placed a metal sheet between the flame and the pot. (See Halacha Berura, Chapter 253)