Open, Sayeth Me!!
Dateline: Friday Evening, Seudah Dessert
A Bitter Tasting Shabbos
Question #1: Daniel asks you on Monday morning, “We spent last Shabbos at a hotel bearing a proper hechsher, and the coffee was served with small packets of sugar, sweetener, and pareve ‘creamer.’ I always thought that one may not open these packages on Shabbos, so I drank my coffee unsweetened – a bitter experience. What was the hotel relying on?”
Dateline: Shabbos Morning, Bright and Early:
A True Family Crisis
Question #2: The Klein family is in crisis this Shabbos morning! Someone finished the box of Sweetios before everyone ate breakfast! May they open a new box this morning, or are they condemned to a Sweetios-less Shabbos?
Dateline: Shabbos Late Afternoon
Forgot the Flats
Question #3: Judith knocks on the rav’s door Shabbos afternoon. “I purchased very expensive disposal flatware for a sheva berachos/seudah shlishis, but forgot to open the package before Shabbos. May I open the package on Shabbos? Would it help if I recite the magic formula, nicht garet on Shabbos, before doing so?”
Daniel, the Kleins, and Judith are all raising very common questions regarding the opening of packaging on Shabbos. None of the scenarios above is unusual, and occasionally the entire Shabbos day is filled with such interesting predicaments. As usual, our goal is not to resolve everyone’s halachic issues; that we leave for one’s rav. Our purpose is to present the background material so that our readers understand the halachic issues much better. In a different article (listed on rabbikaganoff.com as Uncanny Shabbos Regulations, or available from me as an e-mail), I discussed the questions involved in opening cans on Shabbos. Since many of the subjects covered then apply here as well, let us first review some points mentioned there that are germane to today’s topic.
Is making an opening permitted on Shabbos?
In that article, we discovered that the laws of Shabbos prevent making a nice opening in a vessel, such as boring a hole in a storage drum (Shabbos 146a). I noted that Rav Moshe Feinstein prohibits opening a milk or juice carton on Shabbos, since creating the spout constitutes making a nice opening (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:78). Does opening a single serve package, a cereal box, or a package of disposable tableware constitute making a nice opening? Does it involve any other Shabbos prohibitions?
The previous article also analyzed the law of mekalkeil, literally, ruining, and noted that an act whose direct result is destructive is prohibited only miderabbanan. For example, digging a hole in the ground when one needs the earth but is not interested in the hole is halachically defined as a destructive activity and is therefore prohibited only miderabbanan.
Razing or demolishing a building in order to renovate violates a Torah melachah called Soseir. As we learned in the previous article, many authorities understand that demolishing a container is included under this melachah; however, since this activity is usually mekalkeil, it will be prohibited only miderabbanan. For example, although smashing a barrel to obtain its contents constitutes Soseir, since the smashed barrel is mekulkal it is prohibited only miderabbanan. Some authorities permit smashing a barrel to obtain the food inside, but most prohibit this (Bi’ur Halachah 314:1). Some conclude that one should not admonish those who do, provided they do not make a nice opening in the process (Aruch Hashulchan 314:8).
All authorities agree that one may break open a mustaki to obtain the food inside. A mustaki is a barrel that was previously broken and then reconstructed in a feeble way using resin as glue. Since a mustaki is not considered a proper vessel, smashing it open to obtain the food inside is permitted, provided one does not make a nice opening in the process (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 314:1).
Are any of the packages that Daniel, the Kleins, and Judith asked about comparable to a mustaki, which would permit them to tear the packaging open for its contents?
The previous article also cited the Gemara that permits ripping open a chosal, a type of basket made of lulav branches, in order to access the unripe dates or dried figs stored inside. Although one may not smash open containers on Shabbos, one may tear apart a chosal because it is considered an artificial peel or shell around the fruit, and not a vessel (Kolbo, quoted by Beis Yosef and Shulchan Aruch 314:8). Just as one may remove the natural peel or shell of a fruit on Shabbos, and it is not making or destroying a vessel, one may remove an artificial “peel” or “shell” on Shabbos. Do any of the above-mentioned packages constitute chosalos? Do non-edible items, such as paper goods, have a halachically-recognized artificial peel?
Tearing through Letters or Designs
In addition to the above questions, several other halachic concerns may arise while opening packages on Shabbos. Erasing, Mocheik, is one of the thirty-nine melachos of Shabbos performed in the building of the Mishkan. Each board used in constructing the walls of the Mishkan was marked in order to identify its correct place when the Mishkan was reassembled (Shabbos 103b; Rashi, Shabbos 73a). Sometimes a board was mislabeled, requiring one to erase the numbering and re-mark it. When the result of the erasing is that one can now write in its place, this erasing creates a positive result and therefore incurs a Torah violation. Thus, erasing a blackboard is prohibited min haTorah since the primary purpose in doing so is so that one can write anew on the board. (Some contend that this is prohibited only miderabbanan because the writing with chalk on a blackboard is not considered permanent. This is a topic for a different time.)
Erasing that does not create any direct positive benefit is prohibited only miderabbanan since it is mekalkeil. It is unclear whether erasing because one wants the board to be clean is prohibited min haTorah or only miderabbanan.
Tearing through a letter is also prohibited as Mocheik (see Magen Avraham 519:4), since one obliterates the lettering. However, since tearing through the lettering does not make the communication any clearer, this latter type of Mocheik usually constitutes a mekalkeil and involves only a rabbinic prohibition. Thus, tearing lettering or a design on a package entails a rabbinic prohibition of Mocheik and must be avoided.
Mocheik can be avoided by tearing in a way that one is not deliberately attempting to tear lettering and that tearing of lettering or a design is not inevitable. This involves the subject of aino miskavein, which is beyond our current topic and will be left for a different time.
Cutting Him Down to Size
Another melachah called Mechateich involves cutting items to a very precise size or shape. Mechateich was performed in the Mishkan when a hide was trimmed to a requisite size, and is also involved when cutting leather to make shoes or when cutting material for a pattern (see Rashi, Shabbos 73a).
If a sugar packet includes markings to advise someone how to open it, does tearing it there violate Mechateich?
One of the 39 melachos of Shabbos, Korei’a, tearing, was incurred while weaving the Mishkan’s elaborate tapestry. Artisans sometimes repaired a curtain by tearing the woven material and then re-sewing or reweaving it (Shabbos 75a). Thus, tearing material on Shabbos as a step in manufacturing or repairing involves a Torah prohibition. Is opening packages prohibited because of tearing?
Wine or Brine
Understanding the melachah of Korei’a presents us with many challenges and certainly requires an article of its own. In this article, I will simply note two cases mentioned in Talmudic sources that appear to involve tearing and yet do not violate the melachah of Korei’a. In one instance, the Tosefta permits ripping a leather cover attached to a barrel of wine or brine (Tosefta, Shabbos 17:9 and Beitzah 3:9). Also, there is a Gemara that implies that tearing a piece of papyrus in order to grill food on it does not violate Korei’a (Beitzah 32b). (The Gemara’s word niyar means papyrus and not paper. Paper was unknown in the Mediterranean Basin and Western Asia at the time of the Gemara.) Why does neither of these cases involve the melachah of Korei’a? Without going into all the discussion about this melachah, I will share two answers offered to this question:
Some contend that the prohibition of Korei’a applies only to woven material and therefore does not apply to paper or leather (Gra’z 340:17; Ketzos HaShulchan 145:4). This compares favorably with the source for the melachah of Korei’a in the Mishkan, which was tearing clothing that requires repair or re-sewing. Others maintain that Korei’a applies only when both sides of the ripped item will subsequently be used (Bi’ur Halachah 340:13 s.v. ein shovrin). According to either of these approaches, no prohibition of Korei’a is involved when tearing the leather cover off a barrel, either because one does not intend to use the cover or because leather is not woven, nor does it apply when tearing papyrus or paper to grill on it when one has no use for the part torn off. Similarly, one would not violate Korei’a when opening the sugar and cream packets Daniel asked about, or the Sweetios cereal box, or the package of disposable tableware. Nevertheless, there are other authorities who prohibit tearing any of these items on Shabbos (Pri Chodosh, Yoreh Deah 118:18).
Did Shabbos’s Coffee need to be Bitter?
Now that we have mentioned many of the basic principles involved, let us discuss Daniel’s question:
“Last Shabbos, the coffee was served accompanied by small packets of sugar, sweetener, and pareve ‘creamer.’ I was under the impression that one may not open these packages on Shabbos. Could I have opened the packets?”
We now know that several halachic issues must be analyzed carefully in order to resolve Daniel’s question.
1. Is opening these packets equivalent either to creating or to destroying a vessel?
2. Is tearing the top of the packet comparable to creating a spout or opening?
3. Does this violate Mechateich, cutting to size, particularly since one usually opens these packages along a premarked dotted line?
4, Can there be any concern of erasing or tearing?
The authorities debate whether one may open a bag of sugar on Shabbos. Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah prohibits opening such a bag because it is creating a new, serviceable vessel and/or a nice opening. He permits access to the sugar only if one rips the bag in a way that destroys it and then one empties the contents into a different container. On the other hand, Rav Moshe Feinstein contends that opening a bag of sugar is not deemed creating a new vessel (Shu’t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 1:122). In his opinion, a sugar bag is considered a chosal (“peel”), which he defines as any packaging that is not reused for any other product; once its product is used, everyone disposes of the chosal. As mentioned above, a chosal is considered to be a “peel” for its contents. Just as one may peel a fruit or vegetable without it being considered making or destroying a vessel, so too, opening a chosal is not considered making or destroying a vessel.
Single Serve Packets
Regarding single-serve packets, many authorities feel that these are considered chosalos, since they are certainly not meant for reuse after the contents are emptied, and the small packets themselves are flimsy and do not lend themselves to any type of reuse. Those who are lenient feel that there is also no problem with Mechateich even if one opens the packets along their perforations, since one is not interested in having a packet that has such a specific shape or size. The line is there simply to facilitate opening the packet without spilling sugar all over the place.
When opening these or any other types of packets, one must be careful to try not to tear any lettering, which would involve a rabbinic prohibition of Mocheik. Should lettering tear notwithstanding one’s best efforts, one need not be concerned; Shabbos was not violated.
In our above discussion, we noted that, according to many authorities, there is no concern of Korei’a.
Despite his conclusion that no Shabbos violations are involved in opening any packaging that is disposed of when its contents are finished, Rav Moshe concludes that one should always open these packages before Shabbos, since people might misunderstand the laws and mistakenly open packaging that is prohibited (Shu’t Igros Moshe 1:122:10). Many other authorities quote similar positions (Kaf HaChayim 314:38; Minchas Shabbos 80:164:9; Minchas Yitzchak 4:82:38). However, if someone is making a sheva berachos or has invited guests and finds, to his embarrassment, that he does not have enough food to serve, Rav Moshe permits having a gentile open the packages on Shabbos (Shu’t Igros Moshe 1:122; for a similar approach, see Shu’t Chelkas Yaakov 3:8). Presumably, having a gentile open them under these circumstances will significantly reduce the risk of error.
Other authorities are less concerned about the human error problem and permit opening such types of packets on Shabbos (Shulchan Shelomoh). Thus, the hotel that served these condiments in unopened single-serve packages held that they could allow its guests to rely on these opinions.
The Kleins’ Cereal Box
At this point, we can try to resolve the crisis at the Kleins’ breakfast table. May they open the new cereal box or may they not?
Opening the box is presumably not creating a new vessel – the box existed before it was glued shut. Here, the question is whether tearing the glue that seals the box violates Shabbos.
One may not glue items together on Shabbos, and therefore, ripping apart a glued item also violates Shabbos (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 10:11). Thus, some authorities contend that opening the cereal box tears apart two parts glued together, as does opening the bag inside the box. This author feels that this applies only if one uses a very strong permanent paste such as that used in binding, not the type used to close the top of the box (Nimla Tal, Meleches Korei’a #17).
On the other hand, if we consider this box and the bag inside as chosalos, whose entire purpose is to be a “peel” for the cereal, one may open them. It may be prohibited to make a nice, neat opening, but this is not a major concern for five-year-old Yanki Klein, who is only interested in accessing his Sweetios and pays no attention to the condition of the bag. Again, one should try not to tear any lettering in the process. Also again, many authorities still rule that one should avoid doing this on Shabbos, since the laws are very complicated, and people may err. I refer the Kleins to their posek to get halachic guidance on this issue.
By the way, many packages are stuck together with very light glue. My wife mentioned that this is common practice for packages of ladies’ socks and disposable tableware. Many authorities feel that opening this type of glue is not considered Korei’a, and I refer the reader to his/her rav for guidance.
Sheva Berachos Flatware
At this point, I would like to look at our last question: “I forgot to open the packages of disposal flatware that I purchased for the sheva berachos I am making. May I open the package on Shabbos?
Personally, I would consider this kind of packaging to be a chosal that is flimsy and not meant for reuse. I also think that there is no problem of Mechateich for the same reasons mentioned above. Some authorities prohibit opening this package because of Korei’a, and others contend that there is no heter to consider this a chosal, since the product is not edible. However, many authorities permit opening packages of napkins or disposables (see Shulchan Shelomoh 314:4:4; Orchos Shabbos 12:23 and footnote 37).
Nicht Garet on Shabbos
I presume that we are all aware that there is no magic formula, such as nicht garet on Shabbos, that permits doing anything on Shabbos that is otherwise prohibited.
We can now understand well, why after writing a very lengthy responsum on the subject, Rav Moshe Feinstein still concluded that one should not open these packages, out of concern that people will violate the laws involved. Creating a beautiful Shabbos entails much planning and organization. It is worthwhile that one’s preparation list include opening packaging, perhaps even immediately when bringing the items home from the store, before placing them on the shelf. Studying all the melachos of Shabbos helps us appreciate Shabbos more, and to get the maximum joy out of this special day.