Rabbis have debated the proper way to make tea on Shabbat for more than two hundred years. This debate illuminates many of the issues regarding the biblically prohibited acts of Bishul and provides a magnificent opportunity to gain an appreciation of these laws.
Irui Kli Rishon and Kli Sheni
The Shaar Hatziyun (318:55) notes that Rav Yaakov Ettlinger (Teshuvot Binyan Tzion 17) and other authorities rule that placing a tea bag into water constitutes Bishul. The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chaim 328:28) confirms this point quite emphatically. Thus, Irui Kli Rishon (pouring hot water from the tea kettle into a glass containing a tea bag) is forbidden since Halacha accepts the opinion that Irui Kli Rishon cooks the outer layer of food (Mishna Berura 318:35).
Rav Yosef Adler cites Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik who reported that his illustrious grandfather Rav Chaim Soloveitchik made tea on Shabbat using a Kli Sheni. This involves pouring hot water from a kettle into a glass and then placing the tea bag into the glass. This ruling is based on the Mishna that appears on Shabbat 42, which teaches that one may place spices into a Kli Sheni containing hot water. Rav Chaim believed that tea qualifies as a spice, and thus the rule articulated by the Mishna applies to tea.
The Mishna Berura (318:39) and Aruch Hashulchan (318:28) vigorously reject this approach. In order to comprehend their strict approach we must further explore the issue of Kli Sheni.
Kli Sheni - Theory and Practice
Tosafot (Shabbat 40b s.v. U'shma) poses a fundamental question: Why should there be a difference between a Kli Rishon and a Kli Sheni? The sole criterion of whether Bishul occurs should be if the water is Yad Soledet Bo! Tosafot answers that Bishul does not occur in a Kli Sheni despite the water being Yad Soledet Bo. This is because the walls of the Kli Sheni cool down the water. Tosafot explains that water that is in the process of being cooled cannot cook.
The Acharonim debate whether the rule that cooking does not occur in a Kli Sheni applies even in a situation where Tosafot's explanation is not relevant. Tosafot's explanation seems to apply only to liquids held in a Kli Sheni but not to solids (Davar Gush) contained by a Kli Sheni. The walls of the container have the effect of cooling down only liquid contents. Thus, the Maharshal (Yam Shel Shlomo Chullin 8:71) rules that solids can be cooked even in a Kli Sheni. The Rama (Yoreh Deah 94:7 and 105:3), however, does not distinguish between liquids and solids.
Later authorities had trouble resolving this dispute. The Shach (Yoreh Deah 105:8) writes, "I am unable to decide which opinion is the correct one." Accordingly, it is not surprising to find that the Mishna Berura (318:45,65, and 118) and Aruch Hashulchan (Y.D. 94:32 and 105:20) rule that one should be concerned with the stringent view of the Maharshal.
Therefore, one should not pour oil or garlic on a hot potato even if it is in a Kli Sheni. However, one may pour ketchup on a hot potato since the ketchup was already cooked during its processing and the rule of Ein Bishul Achar Bishul applies (Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchata 1:58).
Although the aforementioned Mishna permits placing spices in a Kli Sheni containing hot water, the Mishna that appears on Shabbat 145b indicates that one may not place uncooked salted fish in a Kli Sheni filled with hot water. Similarly, one opinion recorded on Shabbat 42b asserts that salt is unlike spices and cooks even in a Kli Sheni. This opinion believes that since salt is easily cooked (Kalei Habishul), it can be cooked even in a Kli Sheni. The Sefer Yereim (102) believes that since we are not sure which items are similar to salt and can be cooked in a Kli Sheni, we must be concerned that virtually any item may fall into the category of Kalei Habishul. Thus, he urges that virtually no food be placed in a Kli Sheni containing hot water. The Tur (O.C. 318), however, challenges the Yereim's expansion of the concern for Kalei Habishul beyond the cases specifically mentioned by the Mishna and Gemara. Moreover, the concern expressed by the Yereim is not even alluded to by any of the great Rishonim such as the Rif, the Rambam, and the Rosh.
The Rama (318:5) cites the opinions of both the Yereim and the Tur. He notes, however, that common practice is not to place Challah even in a Kli Sheni due to concern that Challah is classified as Kalei Habishul. Parenthetically, we should explain that although the Challah was baked, people were concerned for the opinion of the Yereim that although we believe Ein Bishul Achar Bishul, cooking may occur after baking.
The Mishna Berura (318:42), citing the Magen Avraham, writes that the stringent practice applies to all items in accordance with the view of the Sefer Yereim. Thus, we must be concerned that almost all food items are Kalei Habishul. The Chazon Ish (O.C. 52:19), however, questions the expansion of the concern of Kalei Habishul beyond bread, which is specifically mentioned by the Rama. He suggests that perhaps bread is more easily cooked than other items since it was already baked. The Chazon Ish, nonetheless, honors the common practice to follow the stringent views of the Magen Avraham and Mishna Berura.
Is Tea Classified as Kalei Habishul?
The Yereim's concern applies only to items that the Mishna or Gemara does not specifically mention. The Mishna, however, specifically states that spices cannot be cooked in a Kli Sheni. Accordingly, why do the Mishna Berura and Aruch Hashulchan reject Rav Chaim's ruling that tea is a spice and we are permitted to prepare it in a Kli Sheni? Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (cited in Shmeirat Shabbat Kehilchata 1: note 152) explains that the spices in the Mishna were large and unprocessed. Today, commercially available spices are ground very finely and present a concern for Kalei Habishul. Thus, one might argue that since tea leaves are incomparable to the Mishna's unprocessed spices, they should be classified as Kalei Habishul. Indeed, the Aruch Hashulchan notes that it is observable that tea cooks in a Kli Sheni.
The Kli Shelishi Option - Rav Moshe Feinstein vs. Aruch Hashulchan
The Aruch Hashulchan forbids making tea even in a Kli Shelishi. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe O.C. 4:74:Bishul:18) adopts the approach of a compromise between the Aruch Hashulchan and Rav Chaim Soloveitchik. Rav Moshe writes that he is uncertain whether tea leaves are classified as spices. He therefore rules that one should not make tea in a Kli Sheni, but rather in a Kli Shelishi. This involves first pouring the water from the tea kettle into one glass and then pouring the water into a second glass. Subsequently, one places the tea bag into the second glass. Rav Moshe writes that the same rule applies to making coffee or cocoa on Shabbat.
In order to understand the dispute between Rav Moshe and the Aruch Hashulchan, we must focus on the concept of a Kli Shelishi. The category of a Kli Shelishi is not explicitly addressed in the Gemara or the major Rishonim such as the Rif, the Rambam, and the Rosh. The aforementioned Sefer Yereim, however, specifically mentions the concern that Kalei Habishul can cook in a Kli Shelishi. On the other hand, the Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 318:35) rules that even Kalei Habishul cannot be cooked in a Kli Shelishi.
The basis for the lenient view is that the Gemara and Rama mention concern for Kalei Habishul only in relation to a Kli Sheni. The fact that the Rama, unlike the Yereim, makes no mention of a Kli Shelishi seems to indicate that the tradition is to not be concerned with Bishul in a Kli Shelishi. On the other hand, the Chazon Ish (O.C. 52:19) argues that there was no mention of a Kli Shelishi since conceptually it is identical to a Kli Sheni.
Tea Essence - Mishna Berura and Aruch Hashulchan
The option recommended by the Mishna Berura and Aruch Hashulchan to prepare tea essence before Shabbat involves cooking tea bags before Shabbat, thereby making a tea concentrate. On Shabbat, one may pour the tea concentrate into a Kli Sheni containing hot water. We are concerned for the Rishonim who argue that Ein Bishul Achar Bishul does not apply to liquids only if the heating of the liquid occurs in a Kli Rishon. This is because a Sfeik Sfeika, two lenient considerations, exists regarding reheating a liquid in a Kli Sheni. First, perhaps Ein Bishul Achar Bishul even applies to a liquid, and second, perhaps the tea concentrate does not cook in a Kli Sheni.
We see that there is considerable basis for the three primary methods of making tea on Shabbat: Kli Sheni, Kli Shelishi, and tea essence. The good news is that we may drink tea no matter which of these three methods is used in its preparation since each opinion has a serious Halachic basis (see Mishna Berura 318:2 citing the Pri Megadim).