Shabbat Chamin are an enjoyment from another world
A poor widow lived in Ouezzane Morocco. Her name was Dona Sarah Bibas. One Shabbat an Arab entered the Jewish courtyard. He stole her pot of Hamin (Cholent) for Shabbat. When Dona Sarah came to take her Chamin for the Shabbat meal, she only found a stove with hot coals in it. Her tears flowed like a fountain; she went to the Amram Ibn Divan’s Synagogue and complained with a harsh criticism to the creator of the universe. “Is this my reward?” I happily volunteered to daily clean the synagogue. At this moment, Eliyahu Hanavi appeared to her and invited her to his feast at his Shabbat table, situated between the ancient Holy Ark and the Prayer stand. It was filled with vast goodness of food and drink. A seat was organized for her next to the righteous who were waiting to dine with her. She sat down and was served from her very pot. Eliyahu said to her, look, I have not forgotten your righteousness; I have always been observing you. I see that you have reached the golden age and that you have become weak. You don’t need to cook Chamin anymore for Shabbat. Your place is next to me from this Shabbat on you will dine with me. From that Shabbat on Eliyahu the prophet invited Dona Perla Bibas to dine with him at his Shabbat table in the Garden of Eden. Thanks to the Lord who takes care of us. (from stories praising tzadikim Amram Ben Divan 5669 – Tangier)
Jews from Eastern Europe have a similar story connected to the Baal Shem Tov.
Mrs. Maizy In the old city of Mezibiz was a very poor widow. She would volunteer to clean the bet midrash of the holy Rabbi Yisrael “Baal shem Tov”
In honor of Shabbat Mrs. Maizy prepared a simple cholent for herself. These consisted of chicken feet and buck wheat. There was much more buck wheat than feet. She put the cholent pot on the stove and went to the bet midrash of the Baal shem tov to see the tzadik. One Shabbat she returned home to find the house broken into. The thief had taken her cholent.
Wailing and wheeping she forced her way into the Baal ShemTov’s Shabbat feast. Rabbi Yisrael z”l was accustomed to have the evening meal with his close students, while the morning meal was for all. Mrs. Maizy came to complain to the Baal Shem tov. She said, “How does the Holy one Blessed be reward me , a poor woman? I volunteer to daily clean the Bet Midrash in honor of the holy community? The Baal Shem Tov got up to go toward the kitchen. Mrs. Maizy followed him so that he might help her . When she entered the kitchen with the Baal Shem tov she found the heavenly court sitting down to eat its Shabbat feast. The participants included the for-fathers and for-mothers, Eliyahu the prophet and all of the holy Jews. In order to free up a place for her, Sarah Imenu got up in honor of Mrs. Maizy. Sarah served her from her pot that had disappeared. Sarah told her from ‘now on you will dine here with us every Shabbat.’
Food is the pleasure.
What is the meaning of the concept of “Oneg Shabbat” – “the pleasure of Shabbat”? Our Rabbis of blessed memory asked this very question. They stated that Shabbat foods are the “pleasure”. People benefit on Shabbat from heavenly prayers, torah classes and from relationships between him and her. Additionally, people enjoy the unity of bonding with family and community members. All of this is enjoyment of benefit. However “Oneg” – “pleasure” comes only from food. The point of disagreement between Our Rabbis of Blessed Memory is only which foods provide Shabbat pleasure. “So shall you enjoy yourself in the LORD; and He shall give you the petitions of your heart.” (Tehilim 37 4) [The Talmud asks] I do not know what this enjoyment is. When it says you will call Shabbat Oneg – Enjoyment, I conclude that this refers to Oneg Shabbat – Shabbat Enjoyment. In what manner does one make it pleasant, Rav Yehuda son of Rav Shmuel Bar shilat in the name of Rav say with cooked spinach, big fish and heads of garlic. Rav Chiaya Son of Ashi [also] said in the name of Rav, Even something small prepared in honor of Shabbat is Oneg – Enjoyment. What could this be? Rav Papa says fish hash. Rashi states that this is fish fried in its intestinal oil and flour (Shabbat 118b.)
Every Shabbat we read the chapter of Mishnah “Bameh Madlikin” which are from Masechet Shabbat. In it one asks his family “have you tited? Have you made an eruv? Light the candles.” Rashi explains that one always needs to remove tithes from agricultural produce before Shabbat. This applies even to products that children hid in the yard. This is because Shabbat is called Oneg – enjoyment even a small amount of food is considered Oneg.
A person, usually, needs to remove tithes from agricultural products that have been placed in permanent storage like a home or barn. However, if children hid a small product like hazelnuts to eat on Shabbat, these need to be tithed. These foods would not need to be tithed in the middle of the week.
Shabbat saves Israel
There is a Jewish expression that says “The Shabbat has watched the Jews more than Jews have watched Shabbat.” (Based on kuzari 3-10) The phrase is even more applicable to eating “chamin”. During the painful years of expulsion the downtrodden Jews did not work on Shabbat. With meager earnings from back breaking labor they prepared hot food in honor of Shabbat. This food improves through long cooking overnight until the Shabbat meal after morning services. Buckwheat, beans and a tough cut of meat that gets tender while sitting on a slow fire. A great chef thought that he was teaching me a special cooking method that tenderizes meat that is cooked overnight. Jews have known this secret for thousands of years. Additionally the same chef lectured regarding new looking methods called “nouveau cuisine”. That is to say that one should use sweet acidic fruits like strawberries, our cherries instead of sour lemon. The purpose of this is to tenderize and sweeten the meat. My grandma, the greatest chef that I have met, knew the new creativity before that chef was born.
During this discussion we see that the word “chamin” is very wide. Due to its importance there are many rules regarding hot food on Shabbat. Many acts of heating food on Shabbat are forbidden. The word “chamin” hot food is very vague. It includes any hot item that has been warmed in a permissible manner. Drinking tea or coffee using water that was pre-heated before Shabbat and has remained hot is also considered “chamin” – Hot food in honor of Shabbat.
Fire breaks out on Shabbat
It has been asked what is one to do if a fire breaks out on Shabbat? We are speaking about a fire in a home that is separate from others. Its destruction will not kill anyone but will only wreak destruction of property. Even though one panics when his home burns down on Shabbat it is still forbidden to extinguish the fire. However, our Rabbis of Blessed Memory permitted him to save his Chamin and other Shabbat food from the fire. This is because these bring enjoyment. We again see that “Oneg Shabbat” – Enjoyment of Shabbat refers to food.
The decree of one who fasts on Shabbat
The Talmud discusses the subject of one who fasts on Shabbat, “Whomever fasts on Shabbat has a decree of seventy years torn up”. However, he is still held responsible for [transgressing] the rule of “Oneg Shabbat” Enjoyment of Shabbat. How can he mend this situation? Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak says, “He needs to fast another fast to make up for the first fast. (brachot 31b)
One needs to ask several questions: is it permissible to fast on the holy Shabbat? What does “a decree of seventy years” mean?
According to some of the Rishonim (early rabbis) one may only fast a “nightmare fast”. It was customary for one to fast after having a nightmare on specific subjects. However some Geonim said that one who repents from his past sins may declare a fast of repentance even on Shabbat. To this one can add a person who is trapped in a place on Shabbat that one cannot exit so he cannot eat. Or if the doctors told someone to fast in order to have medical tests performed after Shabbat.
A man’s sins are forgiven when he fasts on Shabbat. This applies even if it was decreed that he should suffer for seventy years or even if he has suffered his entire life. Some state that one who fasts on Shabbat suffers greatly, everyone else enjoys a feast of hot Shabbat food that is delicious to the pallet while the one who fasts only smells the food.
Even though all of his sins are forgiven for fasting on Shabbat, fasting is still held against him since he did not keep the mitzvah of Oneg Shabbat. From this we again see the supreme importance of enjoying Shabbat food.
The Karaite Cult
One thousand five hundred years ago the Karaite movement appeared on the scene. They stood for observing Judaism straight from the Torah without the explanations and additions stated by the Rabbis. The Torah states, “You shall kindle no fire throughout your settlements on the Sabbath day.“ (Exodus 35 4) Our Rabbis of Blessed memory have stated that this means that one may not ignite a fire on Shabbat. However, one can use the heat or light of a fire that is already lit, indeed, this is often a mitzvah. Of course one needs to follow the conditions and extreme limitations that are discussed in Halachic literature.
The Karaites stated that this pasuk forbids the very existence of fire during the whole day of Shabbat. Therefore, they eat cold food and sit in the dark on Shabbat.
The chief rabbis of that period were called “Geonim”. The Geonim fought back against these Karaites, when this movement strengthened among the Jews. They went so far as to state that whoever does not eat “Chamin” Hot food on Shabbat might be an apostate. During the Second Temple Period there were similar movements that were called “Baytosim”, “Sadducees” and more. They also disagreed with the rabbinic traditions. Some connect these early movements with the Karaite movement.
Abstaining from eating hot food on Shabbat amounts to apostasy against the “Oral Torah”. Since their act nullifies “Oneg” enjoyment of Shabbat and it’s holiness. They do not even enjoy this apostasy. It is impossible to attain the spiritual high of Shabbat without eating delicious food.
The Geonim, However, did state that we should not suspect a person of apostasy if he simply does not like hot food or if such hot food might harm him. They said that it is best to soften him up so that he can enjoy hot food on Shabbat so that he can have true enjoyment.
The wonders of industrial mass production can produce a Cholent whose flavor is exactly the same each time. When one prepares a homemade “Chamin” one uses seasonal vegetables. Additionally, one changes the amounts and kinds of meat and spices. This produces a true Shabbat Cholent/Chamin/Dafina/Schena whose flavor and texture is slightly different every week. After Shabbat is over the difference in flavor is even greater.
The following quote demonstrates that Our Rabbis of Blessed Memory believe that Shabbat itself adds a special bouquet of fragrance and texture to the food.
A Roman emperor once asked Rabbi Yehoshua ben Hananya the reason for the alluring aroma of the Sabbath meals. The rabbi said: “We Jews have a special spice called Shebet (Dill) which we use to prepare our meals for the Shabbat.” When the emperor asked if he might have some, R. Yehoshua rebuffed him: “It only works for those who diligently keep the Shabbat.” (Shabbat 119a) For a nice discussion on this please see the Dill Discussion at the milknhoney web site.
To complete this discussion I am including an article sent to me from Mr. Dan Albo. It discusses the theory of making delicious “Chamin”. The story at the very beginning of this discussion is also from Mr. Albo. The following exemplifies what his forefather Rabbi Yosef Albo of Spain taught. Yosef Albo’s book “Ikarim” teaches tolerance to all of its readers.
A recipe for Authentic Chamin from Zohar Albo of the Ouezzane Jewish community in Northern Morocco
One tends to notice the similarities between Moroccan Jewish Chamin and Ashkenazic Cholent. Even though there is a great distance between Morocco and Eastern Europe the Ashkenazic Cholent is still very similar to the Moroccan Schena-Frena-Dafina-Chamin. This is different from Shabbat foods of other Jewish communities. It has been theorized that over a thousand years ago this food was prevalent in greater Germany, France, Province and Spain before Jews were expelled to far off countries. These lands include Morocco, far off Poland and Russia. The two Shabbat foods are very similar in ingredients and preparation. The result is also similar in taste and visually. Both dishes contain potatoes, legumes and meat.
The differences are: Ashkenazic Cholent often has dough or Matzah balls and fat while Moroccan Schena has meatballs; In Cholent there is meat and in Schena there are meatballs as well as whole cuts of meat.
The results are very similar to each other. Many times I have eaten Ashkenazic Cholent and I can testify that it is very similar to Moroccan Schena [If you prefer, the Moroccan Schena is very similar to Ashkenazic Cholent, either way is fine] It seems to me that no food from any other Diaspora is so similar to Schena-Cholent.
Here is My Mother, Zohar Albo’s S”T, recipe [daughter of Amram and Simcha, who should remain in good health]. It is in accordance with the custom of the Jews in Ouezzane. She is the daughter of Jews who were expelled in the fifteenth century from Spain to North Morocco.
Preparation: 2 or 3 Medium sized potatoes for each person. The professional’s prefers fresher potatoes to old ones. Add rice or wheat in a white cotton bag or a plastic baking cloth. Every community and family uses different grains and legumes. The families and communities continue to follow their own traditions as they were passed down. In general they use some of the following: rice; wheat; beans; chickpeas, groats (toasted fried buckwheat) whole or cracked.
Wheat: Some use whole grains of wheat. Other prefer cracked wheat which gives more of porridge texture
Groats: In the past Jewish woman would spend much energy preparing the groats. Similarly some preferred whole groats while others prefer cracked which also give a starchy porridge texture.
Some add a couple of heads of garlic and paprika to the bag of wheat or groats. Some leave the Wheat plain. One may cook the bag of wheat together in the same pot while others cook it totally separately and only serve them together. This is useful when the Chamin gets to be bigger than the pot.
Chickpeas or beans: some add one of these while others add both types of legumes. One should certainly soak them overnight from Thursday before cooking them. It is wise to boil them for half hour or so before adding them to the Chamin.
Eggs: Many people add whole eggs in the shell, one egg per person. The eggs are peeled when served. They become a beautiful brown when served.
Meatballs: The Meatballs are prepared with egg and breadcrumbs. They should be rolled in 2-inch long hot dog shaped balls. These are cut into smaller pieces when served. Preparation differs from family to family and from community to community. The women usually keep the exact recipe a secret and are rarely happy to divulge the secret. Every woman receives the recipe from her mother or her mother in-law and keeps it a secret. The primary differences are in the spices. These usually include cinnamon, nutmeg, saffron and other spices. I do not have the complete recipe that my mother uses.
Browning: In order to have an adequate browning effect some add Dates, honey, sugar or onion peels. Most people add at least a spoon of sugar to any Chamin. In southern morocco they tended to use more dates since it is more desert like. In Northern Morocco the climate is similar to Europe. The climate is mountainous with a lot of greenery, rain, springs, streams, rivers and waterfalls. In Northern Morocco they used more honey which is very popular and of high quality.
Basic Spices of the Chamin: Turmeric, salt, black pepper, oil, water, a cinnamon stick, Saffron. Some add other spices, however, these are family secrets that are never discussed with others.
It is best to cook the Chamin for at least 2 hours before Shabbat. Many people cook all of the ingredients before mixing the whole pot together. Before Shabbat one should put it in the oven set to turn off when you need to eat while others put it on top of the Shabbat Hot Plate. It is best to cover the pot with a cloth of some sort to keep the heat in.