Halacha for Sunday 17 Av 5779 August 18 2019

Insulation on Shabbat- Elisha of the Wings

Last week, we discussed some general laws of insulation on Shabbat. In previous generations, people would insulate a pot of food for Shabbat in sand or clothing in order to retain its heat for Shabbat morning, as they did not have urns or electric hotplates. Insulation was therefore crucial for them.

Two Different Types of Insulation
We have explained that there are two categories of insulation: Insulating in a material which adds heat, such as sesame seeds or olive sediment, which get hotter as a result of their unique molecular composition and thus increase the heat of the pot of food being insulated within them. Insulation in such materials is absolutely forbidden, even if the insulation is being done before the onset of Shabbat, as a result of a rabbinic injunction lest one come to desecrate Shabbat, as we have explained before.

On the other hand, there are other insulation materials which do not add heat and merely retain the pots current heat, such as feathers, clothing, etc. If one wishes to use such materials to insulate one’s pot of food for Shabbat this will be permissible as long as this is done before the onset of Shabbat. However, any type of insulation is forbidden on Shabbat itself.

Elisha of the Wings
The Mishnah (Shabbat 49a) states that it is permissible to insulate using “a dove’s wings,” i.e. dove feathers, since feathers do not add heat. The Gemara there states that Rabbi Yannai said that one who dons Tefillin must make sure one’s body is clean like Elisha of the Wings. The Gemara inquires why he was called that to which the Gemara explains that there was a period when the Romans decreed that any Jew who donned Tefillin would have his brain plucked out. Elisha, nevertheless, donned Tefillin and wore them in the marketplace because he thought that the Caesar’s officers would not see him. Suddenly, an officer spotted him; Elisha began to run and the officer gave chase. As the officer caught up with Elisha, Elisha grabbed the Tefillin on his head and covered it in the palms of his hands. The officer asked, “What is in your hands?” Elisha replied, “Dove’s wings.” “Open your hands!” the officer commanded. Elisha opened his hands and a miracle occurred and he was actually holding a dove’s wings. It is for this reason he was called “Elisha of the Wings.” Why did Elisha tell the officer specifically that he was holding dove’s wings? This is because of the verse in Tehillim, “Wings if doves hidden in silver,” which is a reference to the fact that just as a dove’s wings protect it, so too, the Jewish nation is protected by the Mitzvot.

Insulation Using a Towel and Returning It
We have explained that since a towel is considered a heat retainer and not something which adds heat, among other reasons, many people customarily cover the Chulent pot on the electric hotplate with a towel before the onset of Shabbat. Those who customarily do so indeed have on whom to rely. If the pot was covered with a towel before the onset of Shabbat and then sometime during the course of Shabbat the towel falls off, one may place the towel back on the pot to cover it again. Nevertheless, the above is only permissible if the Chulent (or other contents of the pot) is already fully-cooked, for if not, covering the pot with the towel again will actually be making the food cook quicker and this constitutes the prohibition of cooking on Shabbat.

This law applies irrelevant of the issue of insulation. For instance, if one left a pot of food on the electric hotplate before Shabbat and the food is not yet fully-cooked and during the course of Shabbat one removes the lid of the pot to check on the status of the food, if one sees that the food is not yet fully-cooked, one may not place the lid back on the pot, for doing so would constitute expediting the cooking time of the food and this is absolutely forbidden. Thus, many people commonly make sure the Chulent is cooked very well before the onset of Shabbat in order to avoid such issues. If this is not possible for whatever reason, they take care not to touch the Chulent pot at all until Shabbat morning so as not to transgress the prohibition of cooking on Shabbat.

Extra Caution
Extra care should be taken that when one covers a pot of food on the electric hotplate with a towel that the towel does not touch the hotplate as this is clearly a fire hazard.

Ask the Rabbi


8 Halachot Most Popular

Taking Haircuts and Shaving During the Omer Period

Abstaining from Taking Haircuts During the Omer It has become customary among the Jewish nation to refrain from taking haircuts during the Omer counting period: According to the Ashkenazi custom, until the 33rd day of the Omer and according to the Sephardic custom, until the morning of the 34th day......

Read Halacha

Producing Sound and Whistling on Shabbat

The Gemara in Masechet Eruvin (104a) tells us that our Sages banned producing sound on Shabbat and Yom Tov, for instance, by playing a musical instrument, for they were concerned that while the tune is being played, the player will come to fix the instrument. This decree would certainly apply eve......

Read Halacha

Clapping and Drumming on a Table on Shabbat and Yom Tov

The Gemara in Masechet Beitzah (30a) states that one may not drum, clap, or dance on Shabbat lest one come to fix a musical instrument (ibid. 36b). This means that just as we have discussed in the previous Halachot that our Sages have decreed that one may not play musical instruments on Shabbat ......

Read Halacha

Toys Which Produce Sound and those Which Operate Using a Spring or Coil

Question: Is it permissible for one to allow one’s young children to play with toys which produce sound, such as a doll which makes noise when shaken, on Shabbat? Answer: In the previous Halacha we have discussed the prohibition of producing sound on Shabbat, such as by banging on a board, ......

Read Halacha


Praying in Pajamas

Question: Can one pray while wearing pajamas? Answer: Approximately one week ago, we have discussed that, before praying, one must prepare a fitting place, proper attire, and cleanse one’s body and thoughts, as the verse in the book of Amos states, “Prepare yourself before your G-d, I......

Read Halacha

Praying Barefoot

Question: May one pray while wearing sandals or while one is barefoot? Answer: When one prays, one must prepare one’s environment, clothing, body, and thoughts accordingly, for one will be standing before the King of all kings. Respectable Garments While Praying The Gemara (Shabbat 9b) ......

Read Halacha

Question: How many “Kezayit”s (olive’s volume) of Matzah must one consume during the Pesach Seder?

Answer: One is obligated to eat altogether three “Kezayit”s of Matzah during the Pesach Seder. Every Kezayit amounts to approx. 30 grams of Matzah. Nevertheless, there is room for stringency to eat four or even five “Kezayit”s of Matzah, as we shall now explain. The Order......

Read Halacha

Kissing One’s Parents’ Hands on Shabbat Night- The Students of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai

Question: Should one kiss the hands of one’s parents and receive a blessing from them on Shabbat night and does the same apply equally to one’s father and mother? Answer: The Gemara in Masechet Avodah Zarah (17a) tells us that when Ulah (a sage who lived during the Talmudic era) would......

Read Halacha