In November of 2020, three men were arrested in Yellowstone National Park. Their crime? Cooking a chicken in a thermal spring. The geysers at Yellowstone can get really hot — more than 400°F (204°C). For public health and safety, it is against the law to get too close, and so the men were charged and banned from the park. But is what they were doing really so weird?
There is a long history of people cooking food in geothermal areas. A traditional Icelandic bread is made by burying it (in a pot) in a geothermal area. Cozida das Furnas is an Azorean meat stew cooked in a similar manner. And, of course, we have the aforementioned Yellowstone chicken. Similarly, today’s daf wonders: What about the Paschal lamb? Can that be cooked in a geothermal spring?
The Book of Exodus insists that the Paschal lamb must be roasted with fire (Exodus 12:9). A corollary of this ruling is that it may not be boiled. But does geothermal cooking count as boiling? Today’s daf explores this question.
Rav Hisda said: One who cooks in the hot springs of Tiberias on Shabbat is exempt. In the case of a Paschal lamb that was cooked in the hot springs of Tiberias, one is liable.
Even today, Tiberias is famous for its hot springs. Spas tout the springs’ therapeutic properties and offer a range of opportunities to soak. Apparently, they could also be used for cooking lamb. But what is the difference between cooking a regular lamb in the springs on Shabbat (which is here permitted, even though cooking on Shabbat is generally prohibited) and cooking a lamb in the springs on Passover (which is prohibited, even though cooking the lamb on Passover is required)?
The Gemara explains:
The reason is that a fire, or a fire derivative, is required for an act to be defined as cooking on Shabbat, but there is no fire here. With regard to the Paschal lamb as well, it is not a fire derivative, and it should not be considered boiling with regard to this prohibition either!
Rav Hiyya, son of Rav Natan, explains Rav Hisda’s reasoning even further: Rav Hisda himself said: One who cooks in the hot springs of Tiberias on Shabbat is exempt, and with regard to a Paschal lamb that was cooked in the hot springs of Tiberias, one is liable to receive punishment for this act. In doing so, he violated a positive mitzvah, due to that which is written: Roasted with fire.
Unlike at Yellowstone, the problem here isn’t one of health and safety. And it’s also not a problem of boiling something that shouldn’t be boiled; for the rabbis, legal boiling has to happen over a flame of some kind. Instead, the problem is not just that the Paschal lamb can’t be boiled, it also must be roasted. And while cooking the lamb in the hot springs of Tiberias is not considered boiling, it’s not considered roasting either.
Note, however, that the rabbis have no issue with cooking in a geothermal spring in general; it just has no place in the preparation of the Paschal lamb. But hey — any other day of the year (even Shabbat!) the rabbis of the Talmud think that you are welcome to give it a try. But please check with the city of Tiberias and Israel’s own health and safety administrations first!
Read all of Pesachim 41 on Sefaria.
This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on January 1st, 2021. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.