Food Coloring and Shabbos
Question #1: Mixing drinks
“May I mix red and white wines on Shabbos?”
Question #2: Cake decorating
“May I decorate a cake on Shabbos?”
One of the 39 melachos, prohibited activities, of Shabbos is tzovei’a, dyeing. Tzovei’a was performed during the construction of the Mishkan when they dyed the rams’ hides red, as well as when they dyed the woolen threads used in the curtains and the clothing of the kohanim (Yerushalmi, Shabbos 7:2, referring to Shemos 25:5, 26:14, 35:7,23; 36:19, 39:34). Staining furniture, dyeing cloth or painting a rustproof finish on a metal trim (see Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah 32:15) on Shabbos or Yom Tov all violate this melacha. Someone who paints a house on Shabbos is punishable for two different melachos, tzovei’a and boneh, construction (Tiferes Yisrael, Kalkeles Shabbos #15).
The opening questions concern the following topic: May one color food on Shabbos or Yom Tov? As we will see shortly, many halachic authorities contend that the melacha of tzovei’a does not apply to edible items. Why should food be treated differently from furniture or clothing?
Egging on your mustard!
To begin, let us note a Talmudic passage that implies that tzovei’a does not apply to food. The Mishnah (Shabbos 139b) rules that one may add egg to mustard seeds on Shabbos, which the Gemara (140a) explains to mean even when the goal is for the yolk to color the mustard more yellow than it is naturally. Why is this not prohibited as dyeing on Shabbos?
An early authority, the Shibbolei Haleket (#86), explains that adding egg to mustard is permitted because of a halachic principle that he calls ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, the melacha of dyeing does not apply to food. Because of this principle, he permits dipping bread into fruit juice on Shabbos in order to color it. Since the position of the Shibbolei Haleket is the only opinion on the subject quoted by the Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 320), we are not surprised to find that Rav Yosef Karo, the author of the Beis Yosef, ruled in the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 320:19) that ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, without even mentioning that some authorities reject this ruling. Because of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, the Shulchan Aruch permits using saffron to color food on Shabbos.
Although we have now established a halachic precedent for ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, we still do not know a rationale why this principle should be true. Among the later authorities, we find several approaches to explain why ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin.
Dyeing is forever!
The first approach requires a bit of an introduction, because we will be comparing dyeing to other melacha activities that do not apply to food. The Gemara cites a dispute whether salting meat heavily so that it will not spoil, as was done commonly in earlier generations, violates the melacha of tanning (me’abeid) on Shabbos (Shabbos 75b). Rabbah bar Rav Huna contends that salting meat on Shabbos to preserve it for a long trip is prohibited min hatorah, whereas Rava maintains that salting meat or any other food can never violate this melacha min hatorah, a position he explains as ein ibud ba’ochlin, the melacha of tanning does not apply to food.
Both Rabbah bar Rav Huna and Rava agree that the salting of meat to remove its blood, what we call kashering, does not violate the Torah prohibition of tanning (Shabbos 75b). According to Rava, even the heavy salting done to preserve meat for months is not comparable to the salting that preserves hides, which is prohibited min hatorah. The goal of tanning hides is to make leather that will last as long as wood does, which is not the goal when salting food, even for preservation purposes.
The Chasam Sofer explains that the reason for ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin is closely related to the principle of ein ibud ba’ochlin — the melacha of tanning does not apply to food. He contends that the melacha of dyeing applies only to items that one can dye permanently (Chasam Sofer, Shabbos 75a, s.v. Rav). The coloring on food is never meant to be forever, since one’s goal is that the food is eaten.
Following this approach, we find that some authorities understand ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin in a very broad way. The Chacham Tzvi (Shu”t Chacham Tzvi 2:92) implies that the principle of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin permits using fruit juice or other edible dye to paint one’s hands on Shabbos. Since the source of the dye is edible, as long as one does not use it to color clothing and other items where the color may set in a permanent way, it is permitted to do so. We should note that later authorities reject this broad heter of the Chacham Tzvi (see, for example, Pri Megadim, Eishel Avraham 320:25).
Others note that the comparison of dyeing to tanning should have us conclude that dyeing food does not constitute a violation min hatorah, because it is not permanent, but it should still be prohibited on Shabbos and Yom Tov because of a rabbinic injunction. The same is true regarding kashering meat on Shabbos. Although it does not violate any Torah prohibition, it is prohibited because of a rabbinic injunction, as noted by Tosafos (Shabbos 75b). Yet, we see that it is permitted lechatchilah to color mustard seeds with yolk on Shabbos. According to what we have just said, this should be prohibited because of a rabbinic injunction.
The Chayei Adam answers that using an item that is commonly viewed as a colorant is prohibited because of rabbinic injunction, but coloring food with an item not usually considered a colorant, such as egg yolk, is permitted lechatchilah (Chayei Adam 24:5, Nishmas Adam 24:3).
A difference in practical halacha results between the two opinions we have quoted: the approach of the Chasam Sofer, that painting food is never considered tzovei’a, and that of his contemporary, the Chayei Adam. According to the Chasam Sofer’s approach, any food coloring may be added on Shabbos, even something commonly used to add color, such as saffron. According to the Chayei Adam’s approach, ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin is limited to items that are not usually considered colorants, such as fruit juice or egg yolk. The Chayei Adam expressly disputes the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, quoted above, who permitted using saffron on Shabbos as a food color, contending that saffron may not be used, since it is a commonly used colorant (Nishmas Adam).
Color is like flavor
There is yet a third way to understand why ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin. The Kehillas Yaakov (Shabbos #40) explains that the melacha of dyeing is violated only when one intends to create a beautiful item. One adds color to food not so that the item should be more beautiful, but to make it more appetizing to eat. As any caterer or restaurateur will tell you, serving food in a colorful and eye-catching way is an important factor in making a repast a pleasant experience. According to this approach, coloring food on Shabbos is permitted, just as one may flavor food, even if one uses a colorant, such as saffron. Thus, we can explain why the Shulchan Aruch permitted using saffron on Shabbos, either according to the approach of the Chasam Sofer or according to the approach of the Kehillas Yaakov.
On the other hand, the approach of the Kehillas Yaakov permits tzovei’a ba’ochlin only when one’s goal is to make the food more palatablee. However, dyeing food to demonstrate that the colorant creates a permanent hue desecrates Shabbos. It is prohibited, perhaps min hatorah, to use food color when your goal is to create an exhibition, and not simply to encourage people to eat (Pri Megadim; Eishel Avraham 320:25). Similarly, one may not color water when one does not intend to serve it, since the purpose of the dyeing is not to make it more attractive as a food (Chayei Adam 24:4; Tiferes Yisrael, Kalkeles Shabbos #15).
We should note that one major authority rules that the last instance of tzovei’a, mixing food color and water, is not prohibited min hatorah, but for a totally unrelated reason. The Rogatchover Gaon explains that the definition of tzovei’a requires that pigment is placed on the surface of an item, such as is done when painting or dyeing (Commentary to Hilchos Shabbos, 9:14). However, in his opinion, mixing dye with water is not placing a color atop an item, but an act of diluting pigment, and, therefore, does not qualify as tzovei’a.
May one decorate a celebratory cake with various food colors on Shabbos? On the one hand, this is food that will soon be consumed, so perhaps this should be included under the rubric of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin. On the other hand, one can argue that, in this instance, the purpose of the coloring is not to attract people to eat the cake. Rather, the decorating is to use the cake as a means of conveying good wishes to the celebrant, and the color, therefore, does not serve a food purpose. Therefore, according to the Kehillos Yaakov, this is similar to coloring food on Shabbos as part of an exhibition, which is prohibited.
Adding red wine to white
Here is another case which might be affected by the dispute why ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin. Based on a pasuk in Mishlei (23:31) that implies that red wine is preferred, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 472:11) rules that it is preferred to use red wine for the four cups of wine at the Seder (based on Bava Basra 97b). The question is raised by early authorities: If one has reasons to use a white wine for the seder, but wants to provide a reddish tinge to fulfill this halachic preference, may he mix red and white wines together on Shabbos or Yom Tov? Is this permitted because of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin?
The Darchei Moshe (end of Orach Chayim 320) quotes a dispute between the Agur and Rav Avraham Mintz. The Agur quotes that he heard from Rav Avraham Mintz that mixing the wines is prohibited because of tzovei’a, whereas the Agur himself permits it, because of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, just as one may add egg yolk to mustard seeds.
According to the first two approaches to explain ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, it should be permitted to mix the wines. The blended wine will soon be consumed, and, therefore, this coloring is certainly not permanent. Furthermore, wine is not usually considered a colorant. So why did Rav Avraham Mintz prohibit it?
We can suggest the following: Perhaps he understood the halacha similar to the way the Kehillas Yaakov did – that the reason we permit coloring food on Shabbos is to make it attractive and this is considered equivalent to flavoring it. This halacha is true only when the coloring is to encourage people to eat the food. However, blending red and white wine because he wants the wine to fulfill those opinions that hold that red wine is halachically preferable is an act of coloring and forbidden. This, reasoned Rav Avraham Mintz, is not included under the heter of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin (see Mishnah Berurah 320:56). (We should note that the Nishmas Adam 24:3 presents a different approach to explain the position of Rav Avraham Mintz.)
Notwithstanding the extensive discussion I have presented of the concept ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, many authorities challenge the conclusion that ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, based on the following Talmudic passage:
The Gemara (Shabbos 75a) cites a dispute between Rav and Shmuel germane to the question of how many melachos of Shabbos someone violates if he slaughters (shechts) an animal on Shabbos. Shmuel rules that he has violated only one melacha, that of taking a life. Rav contends that he violates two, one for taking a life and a second for dyeing, since one desires that potential purchasers see that the meat is fresh (see Rashi ad locum). Since Rav contends that coloring the meat red with blood is prohibited min hatorah as an act of dyeing, he presumably disputes the ruling of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin!
In terms of halacha lema’aseh, the question becomes even stronger, since the majority of authorities rule according to Rav (Semag; Yerei’im; Semak; Or Zarua; Meiri; Rashi, Bava Kama 34b s.v. betzarich). [We should note that several authorities, including the Chasam Sofer, the Nishmas Adam (24:1), and the Avnei Neizer, understand that the Rambam ruled according to Shmuel.] Indeed, we should be aware that, on the basis of this Gemara, one major rishon disputes the entire principle of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin and rules that it is prohibited to color foods on Shabbos (Tosafos Rid, Shabbos 75b; see also Shu”t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim 1:173). It is possible that Rav Avraham of Mintz held this way also, and that this is the reason he prohibited mixing red and white wine on Shabbos. However, most authorities conclude that ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, which means that we must have some way of explaining why Rav prohibited shechting an animal because it violates tzovei’a.
Meat or hide?
It is possible that Rav does not dispute the principle of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, and that he ruled that one violates tzovei’a when slaughtering an animal only when the hide is bloodied, but not for the bloodying of the meat. Hide is not food, and coloring it has the halachic status of dyeing leather, which is certainly forbidden min hatorah. Indeed, there are rishonim who explain that Rav contends that one violates tzovei’a only when he wants the hide to look red (Sefer Yerei’im; Or Zarua).
Although this approach has much merit, there must be another way to explain the difference between Rav’s case and the principle of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin. This is because Rashi explains that Rav ruled that one violates tzovei’a even when he wanted only the meat to look red. According to Rashi, we must look further to find an answer why Rav ruled that providing fresh meat with a bloody surface violates tzovei’a min hatorah, notwithstanding that ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin.
Meat versus mustard!
Indeed, many authorities contend that there is a qualitative difference between coloring mustard seed with yolk and coloring meat with blood. In the meat case, one is not trying to make a ready-to-eat food more attractive, which is halachically equivalent to flavoring food and therefore permitted. Rather, the slaughterer’s interest is to sell the meat, and reddening the meat is to make it more attractive for purchase. This may be no different from painting a house that one is selling, which is done to make it more aesthetically pleasing and attractive to a potential buyer. Both activities are prohibited min hatorah on Shabbos (Nishmas Adam 24:3).
An alternative approach to explain why Rav considered bloodying meat an act of dyeing min hatorah is because ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin applies only to food that can be eaten immediately. However, the freshly slaughtered meat that Rav describes requires soaking and salting to make it kosher for the Jewish table (Shu”t Chacham Tzvi 2:92; Shu”t Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim 1:173).
Food color to whiskey
Would adding colorant to hard liquor on Shabbos to make it more salable violate a Torah prohibition of dyeing? According to the last reason we have cited, it would, and, indeed, the Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 320:25) prohibits adding colorant on Shabbos to whiskey or mead that is for sale, contending that the heter of ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin does not apply in this instance.
Most, but not all, authorities rule that ein tzovei’a ba’ochlin, at least when one is using something that is usually not considered to be a pigment. For example, Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach (Shulchan Shelomoh to 320:19) rules that one may add syrup (petel) to water on Shabbos, even if the syrup contains food coloring that adds no taste, since the purpose is to make the beverage attractive for people to drink. However, someone desiring a specific variety of petel, because of an affinity for its particular color, should not mix it on Shabbos. It seems that this is not adding color to encourage people to drink the beverage, but it is considered producing a particular shade for aesthetic reasons.
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly assume that work is prohibited on Shabbos, in order to provide a day of rest. This is incorrect, he points out, because the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melacha, which implies work with purpose and accomplishment. On Shabbos, we refrain from altering the world with our own creative acts and, instead, emphasize Hashem’s all-encompassing role (Rav Hirsch’s Commentary to Shemos 20:11).
Our current discussion provides an excellent example to prove this point. Whether someone violates the Shabbos melacha of dyeing is not at all dependent on how hard he worked, but on abstract principles that determine whether this act is considered a creative act of man or not. Thus, understanding the laws of tzovei’a on Shabbos provides greater insight into how the true Builder and Creator of the world wants us to understand the beauty of Shabbos.