There are certain tricks of the trade to being a rabbi. Only one in a million can have every halachah at his fingertips. The rest must simply prepare themselves for possible inquiries. One of the most popular training secrets is now available to the English-reading public.
For many years, Rabbi Mordechai Willig, a senior rosh yeshivah at Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary (RIETS), has been teaching the laws of cooking on Shabbat to advanced rabbinical students. Among the requirements of RIETS ordination is a series of lectures by leading scholars on key issues of practical halachah. These are, essentially, survival courses for the common, complex situations these rabbis will face that are not covered by the standard curriculum. Rabbi Willig’s is among the most memorable lectures.
Cooking has changed dramatically since the days of the Talmud. The sages throughout the centuries have debated how to apply the Talmudic rules of cooking on Shabbat to the technology of their times. The different views grow in number and complexity as we apply them to contemporary technology, which is another step removed from the Talmud. Navigating this maze is a significant challenge, yet rabbis must have decisions ready to teach their congregants, who face these issues every week.
A book for the average layperson would merely lay out the rulings. Rabbi Willig, speaking to the advanced student, provides the background and the logic, points out and resolves contradictions and reaches practical, nuanced conclusions. With his gift of clarity, he makes the hard work of mastering this complex topic seem easy.
As additional tools for students, this book includes comments and different views from Rabbi Willig’s RIETS colleagues, Rabbi Hershel Schachter and Rabbi Yaakov Neuburger. It also includes extensive primary source material in Hebrew and Rabbi Willig’s Hebrew essays on the subject. The result is an authoritative English book about cooking on Shabbat with additional tools for further study, an opportunity to briefly join the world of rabbinic training.
Rabbi Gil Student is book editor of Jewish Action.