Cooking and Using Fire on Yom Tov

I recently read that you are allowed to use fire on Yom Tov, unlike Shabbat. Can you explain if this is the case and what it means?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Yom Tov is generally similar to Shabbat in its restrictions, but with some major distinctions. One is that we may perform labor (melacha) which relates to preparing food for the holiday, as well as for other basic daily needs. (There are many limitations and further qualifications to this.) See Exodus 12:16, regarding the Yom Tov days of Passover: “All work should not be done on them. However, that [which is done] for the sake of eating for all souls, that alone may be done for you.”

Thus, we may cook on Yom Tov, but only for the needs of Yom Tov – namely, the foods which we will possibly need for the day. (It’s fine to round up the quantities generously, but it must be in the range which will at least potentially be needed – or be the type of food which cooks better in larger quantities, such as meat.) One may also not cook on the first day of Yom Tov for the second day (Shulchan Aruch O.C. 503:1, Mishna Berurah 7-8).

A final restriction is that food which would be 100% as good if cooked before Yom Tov, such as pasta, should be cooked in advance (Rema to Shulchan Aruch 495:1, Mishna Berurah 8).

However, there is a Rabbinical prohibition that we may not create a fire on Yom Tov (Mishna Beitzah 4:7) – although if one already exists, we may increase it and even light new fires from it. Thus, although we may cook food by placing it in on a fire, we may not turn on an oven or stove on Yom Tov. (If it can be done by simply turning on the gas and using an existing flame to light it or just extending an already-burning pilot light, this would be permissible. Using an igniter or the like, however, is forbidden since this creates a spark and a new flame.)

Increasing the flame to cook one’s food better would theoretically be permissible. But modern ovens and stovetops generally involve many related problems. One may not increase the “flame” of an electric oven or range since that would cause new coils to heat up, which is the equivalent of igniting a new flame (Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchata 1:27). Increasing the flame on a gas burner is fine if it’s only a matter of turning a knob and increasing the flow of gas. For a gas oven, increasing the heat usually involves using electronic controls and updating digital displays, both of which are problematic.

Another application of the above is lighting candles for the second day of Yom Tov. We may not strike a match to light the candles, but we may take an existing flame and use that to light them.

Fires may generally not be put out on Yom Tov since this does not serve the purpose of preparing for holiday needs. Thus, after lighting candles on the second day of Yom Tov, the candle used for lighting may not be extinguished but must be left to burn out. We likewise may not turn off or lower a flame on a gas burner when we’re done using it. However, if we have food cooking on a fire and it is getting overdone – and there is no other burner to move it to, then this may be done (for a gas burner only) if it is only a matter of turning a mechanical knob (Shulchan Aruch O.C. 514:1, Mishna Berurah 6-7).

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