Salting on Shabbos


Question #1: Is this a Bubba Meisah?

“When I was a child, my bubby, a”h, told me that the rav of the shtetl in which she was raised once permitted them to have a gentile kasher meat on Shabbos. Could that possibly be true?”

Question #2: Salting on Yom Tov?

“May one salt vegetables on Yom Tov?”

Question #3: Saltwater at the Seder

“If we forgot to prepare saltwater for the Seder, may we make it on Yom Tov? Does it make any difference this year, when the first night of Pesach falls on Shabbos?”

Question #4: Salting Snow

“May one spread salt outside on Shabbos so that people do not slip?”


Parshas Terumah mentions the construction of the mishkan, which provides the laws of what work may not be performed on Shabbos. We learn from this the 39 melachos involved in building the mishkan that are also the 39 melachos that we may not do on Shabbos.

One of the 39 melachos is me’abeid, tanning. This melachah was performed as part of the construction of the mishkan, because of the need to preserve the hides of the rams and the techashim, whose skins were used for the covering of the ohel mo’ed. The purpose of tanning is to preserve and strengthen hide, and to manufacture leather from it. One of the steps performed while tanning is salting the rawhide, which draws out its moisture. One of the questions that we will be discussing is whether, and to what extent, one may salt food items on Shabbos and Yom Tov. Is this considered similar enough to the melachah of tanning that it is also prohibited?

As always, the intent of this article is not to provide a definitive psak regarding these issues – every person should ask his own rav or posek. Our goal is to give people a better understanding of the issues involved and an appreciation of their rav’s ruling, whatever it may be.

The Gemara’s discussion

Prior to the invention of the freezer, the most practical method of preserving meat for long term use was to pack it heavily in salt. The Gemara (Shabbos 75b) records a dispute between the amora’im, Rabbah bar Rav Huna and Rava, whether salting meat on Shabbos to preserve it is prohibited min haTorah. The dispute between the amora’im was whether this salting, whose purpose is to make the meat last, is comparable to salting hides and therefore included in the Torah’s prohibition. Rabbah bar Rav Huna held that since one’s goal is to preserve the meat, this salting is indeed prohibited min haTorah, whereas Rava held that the melachah of tanning does not apply to food, presumably because this process is considered dissimilar from salting hides to make leather. The goal of tanning a hide is to create strong and permanent leather that will last, perhaps, even for years. Although salting meat to preserve it is for the purpose of making it last, the goals of the two processes are not similar enough to make them comparable – when tanning, one is trying to make leather very tough, which is not the goal of salting meat (see the continuation of the Gemara there).

How do we rule?

Do we paskin according to Rabbah bar Rav Huna, that it is prohibited min haTorah to salt meat in order to preserve it, or according to Rava, that no Torah violation is involved when salting meat? We find that the rishonim dispute how we rule. Whereas the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 11:5) concludes that ein ibud ba’ochalin, the melachah of me’abeid does not apply when salting food, other rishonim rule that one can violate Shabbos min haTorah when salting meat to preserve it (Rashba, Toras Habayis 3:3; Piskei Rid, Shabbos 75b; Me’iri, Beitzah 11a). Among the acharonim, we find this dispute repeated, with the Magen Avraham (321:7) siding with the Rambam and contending that ein ibud ba’ochalin, whereas the Elyah Rabbah (321:9) and the Chasam Sofer (Shabbos 75a) rule that packing meat in salt to preserve it is indeed prohibited min haTorah.

There is an interesting difference in practical halachah that results from this dispute.

Accepted halachah prohibits asking a gentile to perform an act on Shabbos that a Jew is prohibited to do min haTorah. (An exception to this rule is to accomodate the needs of someone who is ill, a topic that is beyond the scope of this article [Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 328:17].) However, under certain extenuating situations, such as major financial loss, one may ask a gentile to perform an activity that, were a Jew to do it, would violate only a rabbinic injunction (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 307:5).

According to the position of the Rambam and the Magen Avraham that packing meat in salt to preserve it does not violate a Torah prohibition, one is permitted to have a gentile preserve the meat, in a situation of major financial loss. However, according to the opinion of the other authorities, one would not be permitted to do so.

Salting korbanos

Prior to placing offerings on the mizbei’ach (the altar), there is a requirement to salt them (Vayikra 2:13). The authorities dispute whether this activity would be considered a melachah on Shabbos. The Rashba* (Menachos 21a) and the Me’iri (Beitzah 11a) rule that this salting qualifies as a melachah, whereas several other commentaries contend that it does not. All agree that since offering the regular daily korbanos and the special Shabbos korbanos supersedes Shabbos, salting these korbanos supersedes Shabbos, similar to the law that a bris milah is sometimes performed on Shabbos. The dispute between the authorities would be applicable to someone who, in error, salted an offering that was not to be offered on Shabbos – did he desecrate Shabbos min haTorah when he salted it?

Kosher salting of meat

Now that we have some background to the laws of salting meat on Shabbos, we can discuss the first question that was raised above:

“When I was a child, my bubby, a”h, told me that the rav of the shtetl in which she was raised once permitted people to have a gentile kasher meat on Shabbos. Could that possibly be true?”

Allow me to provide an introduction: Prior to preparing meat for the table, halachah requires that one salt it to remove the blood. We now need to understand: Would performing this salting on Shabbos be prohibited min haTorah as an extension of the prohibition of salting or tanning leather? In the above-quoted Gemara, Rava rules that it is not. The Gemara subsequently concluded with a comment from a later amora, Rav Ashi, who said that Rabbah bar Rav Huna contended that one violates Shabbos min haTorah only when one is salting meat for the purpose of preserving it, such as when he intends to pack for a lengthy trip. Only this type of salting can possibly be included in the Torah violation of me’abeid. However, salting meat to make it kosher for the Jewish table is certainly not a Torah violation of me’abeid. The Aruch Hashulchan (321:29) explains that salting hides is prohibited min haTorah, because this is one stage in the process of making leather last for a very long time. When kashering meat, one is not trying to have the meat last long; therefore, this is not included in the Torah’s prohibition.

Thus, we see that all opinions in the Gemara conclude that there is no Torah prohibition when salting meat for kashrus purposes. Not being omniscient, I have no idea what were the circumstances at the time that the rav in “bubby’s” shtetl paskined. But the background to the question makes it sound as if that reasonably could actually have happened. Gentiles in the shtetl who assisted in Jewish homes were very familiar with Jewish practices, including how to kasher meat, and they often helped the housewife do so. It is certainly possible that there was an extenuating situation, whereby the local rav permitted instructing a gentile to kasher meat on Shabbos, presumably with someone Jewish overseeing to guarantee that the process was performed correctly. Since kashering meat on Shabbos involves only a rabbinic prohibition, and one may ask a gentile to perform a rabbinic prohibition on Shabbos to avoid a major financial loss, circumstances may have been such that the local rav permitted this.

We should note that there is an opinion that holds that kashering meat on Shabbos might be prohibited min HaTorah for a different reason. This approach contends that kashering meat, which is in order to remove the blood, is similar to squeezing juice out of fruit or milking a cow, both of which are prohibited because they are extracting one substance from a different substance (Rosh Yosef, Shabbos 75b, based on Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 8:7, 10). It would appear that the rav in “bubby’s” shtetl was not concerned about this opinion, at least not under the circumstances and the fact that a gentile was performing the kashering.

Salting on Yom Tov?

Let us now examine a different question that we mentioned above:

“May one salt vegetables on Yom Tov?” First, let us analyze the Gemara’s discussion about salting vegetables on Shabbos. The Gemara (Shabbos 108b, as explained by Rashi) prohibits salting a few slices of radish at a time on Shabbos, but permits dipping them in salt, one at a time, as one eats them.

Among rishonim, there are different opinions why it is prohibited to salt several radish slices at one time. Rashi explains that this is a rabbinic injunction, because when the slices are placed in salt they begin to undergo a process that is somewhat similar to what salting does to preserve hides. However, dipping a radish in salt as you eat it is not comparable to that injunction.

A second approach to explain why we may not salt radishes on Shabbos is because it looks like you are pickling foods on Shabbos. This is prohibited, because it is considered miderabbanan as a type of cooking on Shabbos (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 23:10).

A third approach

We find yet a third approach among the rishonim why it is prohibited to salt foods heavily on Shabbos. The Semag and the Hagahos Semak prohibit salting food on Shabbos because this is considered maaseh chol, an activity that is not in the spirit of Shabbos.

The Rambam, who understands that salting vegetables is prohibited as a type of cooking miderabbanan, needs to explain why pickling is more stringent than cooking directly in the sun, which is permitted on Shabbos (see Shabbos 39a; Shu”t Noda Biyehudah 2: Orach Chayim #23; Shaarei Teshuvah 318:3). It would seem that the difference is that pickling and salting are common food preparation procedures, and were therefore treated more strictly than cooking in the sun, which is not normally done (Nimla Tal, Me’abeid, note 16).

Other veggies

The halachic authorities rule that, although the Gemara mentions specifically that it is prohibited to salt radishes, the law applies to any other vegetable that would commonly be processed or prepared by salting (Taz, Orach Chayim 321:2). Thus, the same prohibition would certainly apply to onions or cucumbers (see Shu”t Shevus Yaakov 2:12).

Ramifications of a dispute

There are several applications in which the dispute among the rishonim as to why one may not salt vegetables on Shabbos results in differences in practical halachah. According to the Rambam, one may not submerge vegetables in vinegar on Shabbos; this would also violate, miderabbanan, the prohibition of cooking on Shabbos (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 321:3). However, according to Rashi, this should be permitted, since placing vegetables into vinegar is not comparable to salting leather (Nimla Tal, Meleches Me’abeid, note 16).

Wine and vinegar blend?

May one mix wine and vinegar on Shabbos? According to Rashi, this is certainly permitted. The Taz (321:3) prohibits it, based on the Rambam, but the Aruch Hashulchan (321:34) disagrees, ruling that pickling is considered comparable to cooking only when pickling a solid item like meat, fish or vegetables, but not when mixing together two liquids.

Not worth its salt

Here is another case that might be dependent on the dispute among rishonim why one may not salt radishes on Shabbos. One has a vegetable that is not usually salted, and one wants to put it in salt on Shabbos and leave it there in order to preserve it. According to the Semag and Rashi, this should be prohibited, either because it is comparable to me’abeid miderabbanan or because it is uvda de’chol. However, according to the Rambam, this might be permitted, because it is not considered a type of cooking, and the rule of ein me’abeid ba’ochalin has no exceptions. In halachic conclusion on this question, the Graz (321:2) prohibits preserving a vegetable in salt on Shabbos, even when it is not usually eaten or preserved this way.

Salting veggies on Yom Tov

One of our opening questions was whether the rabbinic prohibition not to salt radishes and other vegetables applies on Yom Tov, just as it applies on Shabbos. This question is dependent on the dispute between the rishonim that we just raised. According to Rashi, that the prohibition is because it is comparable to tanning, since the melachah of me’abeid is prohibited on Yom Tov, it should similarly be prohibited to salt vegetables on Yom Tov. However, according to the Rambam that the prohibition of salting vegetables on Shabbos is because it is a form of cooking, it should be permitted on Yom Tov, just as cooking is. (The dispute among authorities in this matter is recorded in the Rema, Orach Chayim 510:7).

How do we rule?

Within this dispute among rishonim concerning why one may not salt radishes on Shabbos, what is the halachic conclusion? The Shulchan Aruch, in Orach Chayim 321:2, quotes Rashi’s reason, and yet, in 321:3, he quotes the Rambam’s opinion prohibiting salting radishes, because it is like cooking. It appears that he ruled to be strict and follow the chumros of both opinions. Thus, it would appear that one should follow the stringent approach in the different cases that we have mentioned. This conclusion is consistent with the various rulings of the different acharonim (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 321:3; Mishnah Berurah 321:15; Gra”z 321:2).

Saltwater at the Seder

Let us now examine a different question that we mentioned above:

“If we forgot to prepare saltwater for the Seder, may we make it on Yom Tov? Does it make any difference this year, when the first night of Pesach falls on Shabbos?”

To answer this question, we first need to examine the appropriate passage of Gemara. The Mishnah (Shabbos 108a), as explained by the Gemara (108b), says as follows:

One may not make a large quantity of saltwater on Shabbos, but one may make a small quantity of saltwater, dip your bread into it or add it to your cooked food. Rabbi Yosi disagrees, prohibiting making even a small amount of saltwater on Shabbos.

To answer the question whether one may make saltwater for the Seder on Shabbos, we need to answer two questions:

Do we rule according to Rabbi Yosi or according to the first tanna?

What is considered a “small quantity” of saltwater that the first tanna permits?

How do we rule?

The Gemara in Eiruvin (14b) rules according to the first tanna, and this is the halachic conclusion of virtually all authorities (Rif, Rabbeinu Chananel, Tosafos, Rambam, Semag, Rosh, Tur and Shulchan Aruch. However, the Semak quotes some authorities who ruled according to Rabbi Yosi.)

What is considered a “small quantity” of saltwater that the first tanna permits?

The Ran explains that the amount of saltwater one needs for the dipping of the coming meal. Thus, according to his conclusion, one may make saltwater on Shabbos prior to the start of the Seder, but only as much as one thinks one will need for the one Seder. After Shabbos, one will have to make more saltwater for the second Seder.

Salting snow

And now, time for our last opening question: “May one spread salt outside on Shabbos so that people do not slip?”

Assuming that there is an eruv that permits carrying outside, I see no evidence that there is anything prohibited about spreading salt on the ground to melt the ice. It is therefore permitted. I subsequently discovered that several contemporary authors concur with this conclusion (Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasah; Orchos Shabbos).

In conclusion

All of the 39 melachos are derived from what was done when building the mishkan. In this case, tanning hides was a necessary step in building the mishkan, and our question is to what extent is salting food comparable to salting and tanning hides.

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think 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 melachah, which implies purpose and accomplishment. The goal of Shabbos is to emphasize Hashem’s rule as the focus of creation by refraining from our own creative acts (Hirsch Commentary, Shemos 20:11). By refraining from melachah for one day a week, we acknowledge the true Builder of the world and all that it contains.

* It is generally accepted that the author of this commentary to Menachos is not the Rashba, as once thought, but a different rishon.