Selected Halachos Related to Parshas Beshalach
By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt
The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week.
For final rulings, consult your Rav.
Tomorrow is a holy Sabbath to Hashem. Bake what you wish to bake and cook what you wish to cook (16:23)
OPENING CANS, BOTTLES AND BOXES ON SHABBOS:
The complicated question of opening cans and bottles on Shabbos
has been debated at great length among contemporary poskim. It
would be nearly impossible to quote all the different opinions
and views on this controversial issue, let alone to reach a
consensus for practical application. For this reason, we have
decided to follow the approach of the venerable halachic
authority, Harav S.Z. Auerbach, who wrote extensively on this
subject and is widely quoted by other authorities(1). Since some
contemporay poskim follow other rulings, however, one should
consult his own rav for guidance.
There are four possible Biblical or Rabbinic prohibitions one
may violate when opening bottles or cans on Shabbos. They are:
1) tearing; 2) fashioning an opening; 3) completing the
formation of a utensil; 4) erasing. Opening all bottles and
containers before Shabbos avoids any actual or potential Shabbos
violations, but if one forgot to do so there are still some
BACKROUND AND BASIC PRINCIPLES:
Tosefta(2) cites the following halachic decision which is quoted
by all the poskim(3): "It is permitted to rip the skin [in olden
times, skins were used to seal barrels] off the top of a barrel
on Shabbos [as long as there is no intention of creating a
spout]." There is a great deal of controversy among the poskim
as to why this is permitted, since it is prohibited to tear on
Shabbos. Several explanations are given, but let us concentrate
on the two basic approaches:
The Chazon Ish(4) explains that it is permitted because the
ripping is done in a destructive manner. The person who opens
the barrel has no interest in preserving the cover for later
use. A melachah done in a destructive manner is not considered a
melachah and is permissible even mi-d'Rabbanan. The Chazon Ish
permits ripping off a salami wrapper, for example, since the
wrapping is destroyed while it is being ripped. Thus, according
to this approach, it is permitted to rip something on Shabbos
only if the packaging will be destroyed as it is being opened.
Other poskim(5), however, explain the Tosefta differently. The
reason it is permitted to rip the skin off the barrel [or the
wrapper off a package, etc.] is that the wrapper is totally
"subordinate" to its contents. Removing the wrapper is like
removing a nutshell from a nut or unwrapping the binding which
surrounds dates from the fruit - both of which are clearly
permissible according to the Shulchan Aruch(6). As long as one is
tearing for the sake of removing contents from a package, it is
permissible to tear. According to this approach, it makes no
difference if the package is destroyed in the process or not.
Even if the wrapper remains partially intact and is able to
retain its contents, tearing is permitted. Harav S.Z. Auerbach's
rulings are based on this explanation of the Tosefta.
This debate has ramifications for opening cans on Shabbos also.
In the view of the Chazon Ish, when one opens a can one
"completes the formation of a utensil." Before the can was
opened it was a closed shell, unusable for anything. After it is
opened it becomes a container which can serve as a utensil.
Since it was not destroyed in the process of being opened, it is
forbidden to be opened on Shabbos. [In the view of yet other
poskim(7), opening a can is not "completing the formation of a
utensil" but rather "breaking an existing utensil" which is also
prohibited on Shabbos.]
But the other poskim mentioned earlier do not consider opening
a can as "completing the formation of a utensil" [nor do they
consider opening a can as "breaking an existing utensil"]. In
their view, since cans are always discarded after their contents
are removed, no usable utensil is created. Opening a can is
merely like the peeling off of a "shell," which is a permissible
activity. Indeed, if the can is made from durable material which
is meant to last for a long time, then it is prohibited
according to all poskim to open it on Shabbos, since none of the
leniencies mentioned above apply. Harav S.Z. Auerbach rules in
accordance with this view.
Bottle caps: Bottle caps which lift off with a bottle opener may
be removed(8). Bottle caps which break when unscrewed and leave a
ring around the bottle neck [and bottle caps which perforate
along the edge when the bottle is opened(9)] are forbidden to be
unscrewed(10), since the cap, which originally served as a seal,
now becomes a functional cap which is used as a cover(11). Thus,
the first time the cap is unscrewed, it completes the formation
of a utensil - the bottle cap(12). [If, however, the bottle is
opened with the intention of throwing away the cap, it may be
permissible to unscrew it(13), but it is not advisable to rely on
If, mistakenly, such a bottle was opened on Shabbos, it is
permitted to drink the beverage. The bottle cap itself, however,
But only caps made out of metal are included in this
prohibition. It is permissible to unscrew a plastic cap, even if
it separates and leaves a ring around the bottle neck. This is
because plastic caps are functional even before they are screwed
onto a bottle [as opposed to metal ones which - due to
technological differences - become operational only after being
unscrewed from the bottle the first time(16)].
Often, people break off the sharp edges of a metal cap [which
was opened before Shabbos] so that they will not injure
themselves on them. It is prohibited to do so on Shabbos(17).
TUNA CANS: Nowadays, it is permitted to open tuna cans on
Shabbos since they are discarded after their contents are
removed. Even though the contents of the can are not removed
immediately, it is still not considered as if one is completing
a utensil, since a tuna can has no purpose except to be opened
and thrown away(18). It remains unclear, however, if it is
permitted to remove the metal lid of a can which is meant to
hold its contents for a lengthy period of time [such as a soup
croutons can, for example] since this type of container is made
to last for a longer period of time than a tuna can. Such cans
are normally not emptied out right away, but are retained for as
long as their contents last(19).
SODA CANS: It is permitted to lift off the tab of a soda or beer
can, whether one pours its contents into a cup, drinks from the
can, or uses a straw(20). It is also permitted to poke a hole and
insert a straw into bags or boxes which contain beverages(21).
PACKAGING: It is permitted to rip off or tear a wrapper which
surrounds wine or grape juice bottle caps, candy bars, etc. It
is permitted to rip off a seal that covers the contents of a
container, such as the inside seal of a coffee jar or an
aluminum foil seal on a yogurt container, etc. When tearing any
packaging, one must be sure that no letters or pictures are
torn. It is permitted to cut or tear between the letters of a
word or between words(22).
BOXES: It is permitted to open any box or bag, even if one does
not immediately empty out its contents and even if the box or
bag is not destroyed in the process. It makes no difference if
the box is made out of carton, plastic or paper, nor does it
make a difference if the box contains food or something else
such as medicine, clothing or toys. It is only prohibited to
open a container which is made of strong, long-lasting material
such as a barrel or a corrugated box which will be kept for a
MILK CONTAINERS: It may be permitted to open the spout of a milk
or juice container(24). Even though one is creating a spout when
opening the container, it is not considered fashioning an
opening or tearing. Whenever possible, however, it is clearly
preferable to open a milk bottle before Shabbos(25). [Another
permissible way of getting milk or juice out of a carton is by
puncturing the bottom of the container before opening the
General note: Even if one mistakenly opened a can or a bottle in
a manner which is clearly prohibited, it is not forbidden to eat
the food or beverage(27).
1. The footnotes will reflect other opinions as well.
2. Beitzah 3:9.
3 Beis Yosef, Magen Avraham and Mishnah Berurah 314:25. See also
S.hulchan Aruch Harav 12 and Chayei Adam 29:4.
4. O.C. 51:13; 61:2. For a complete understanding of the view of
Chazon Ish, see Respona K'nei Bosem 1:22.
5. Shevisas ha-Shabbos, pg. 12b; Chazon Yechezkel (hashmatos to
Tosefta Shabbos); Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos
K'hilchasah and Tikunim u'Miluim 9:11 and responsum in Binyan
Shabbos, second edition, pg. 209. See also Igros Moshe O.C.
1:122 for a complete explanation.
6. O.C. 314:8.
7. Tehillah l'David 314:12.
8. Mishnah Berurah 314:17; Chazon Ish 51:11.
9. Harav S.Z. Auerbach in a written responsum published in Me'or
ha-Shabbos vol.1, pg. 481; Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 9 note
10. One may, however, puncture a hole in the cap and then unscrew
it - Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 9:17, or better yet, puncture
a wide hole in the cap and then pour the beverage through the
punctured hole - Meleches Shabbos, pg. 344.
11. Even if the cap was partially unscrewed before Shabbos, but
it remained attached to the ring, it is prohibited to unscrew it
further on Shabbos - Binyan Shabbos pg. 139; Meleches Shabbos,
12. Harav S.Z. Auerbach in Minchas Shelomo, pg. 551 and in
Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 9:17. While many prominent poskim
(Harav Y.Y. Weiss quoted in Divrei Moshe O.C. 12-13; Harav S.
Vozner quoted in Shomer Shabbos Ka-das; Harav S.Y. Elyashiv
quoted in Shalmei Yehudah pg. 104; Az Nidberu 3:40) agree with
this ruling, there are other poskim (Harav Y.Y. Fischer in Even
Yisrael vol. 2:14; Tzitz Eliezer 14:45; Yechaveh Da'as 2:42;
L'horos Nasan 7:21; Kinyan Torah 4:34; Harav Y. Roth in Ohr
ha-Shabbos, vol. 11) who do not. They allow all bottle caps to
be opened. Igros Moshe does not address this issue, and there
are conflicting reports as to what Harav M. Feinstein's opinion
13. Harav S.Z. Auerbach in Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 9 note 61
and in Me'or ha-Shabbos, vol. 1, pg. 480. See explanation in
Binyan Shabbos, pg. 143. Other poskim do not agree with this
leniency - see Divrei Moshe O.C. 12-13 and Meleches Shabbos, pg.
14. Harav S.Z. Auerbach, written responsum published in Me'or
ha-Shabbos, vol. 2, pg. 584, reevaluating his original lenient
ruling quoted in the above footnote.
15. Harav S.Z. Auerbach, written responsum published in Me'or
ha-Shabbos, vol. 2, pg. 612.
16. Harav S.Z. Auerbach in Tikunim u'Miluim pg. 14 and in Me'or
ha-Shabbos, vol. 1, pg. 481-482. See further explanation in
Binyan Shabbos, pg. 94. [Harav Y.Y. Weiss is quoted (Kol
ha-Torah, vol. 42, pg. 14) as prohibiting plastic caps as well.]
It is also permitted to remove the plastic caps that are opened
by tearing a narrow strip connected to the bottom of the cap -
Binyan Shabbos, pg. 94 quoting Harav S.Z. Auerbach.
17. Harav S.Z. Auerbach (quoted in Binyan Shabbos, pg. 97).
18. Harav S.Z. Auerbach in Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 9:3, in
Tikunim u'Miluim 9:11 and in Binyan Shabbos, pg. 127. Although
there are other poskim (Igros Moshe 1:122; Minchas Yitzchak
4:82; Chelkas Yaakov 3:8) who agree with this leniency in
principle, there are other poskim (Chazon Ish 51:11; Az Nidberu
11:12) who do not. In order to satisfy the views of the other
poskim (see Igros Moshe who is hesitant about this leniency), it
is best to first puncture the can and then open it on the other
19. Harav S.Z. Auerbach did not give a definitive ruling on this
issue (see Binyan Shabbos first edition pg. 128 and second
edition, pg. 208). See also Tikunim u'Miluim 9:11.
20. Harav S.Z. Auerbach (written responsum published in Binyan
Shabbos, second edition, pg. 209, in Me'or ha-Shabbos, vol. 1,
pg. 490 and 528); also quoted by Harav Y.Y. Neuwirth (published
in Moriah, vol. 109-110 (Nisan 5752) and vol. 211-212 (Tamuz
5752). There are other poskim who do not agree with this
leniency, see Ohr l'Tziyon (Harav B.Z.A. Shaul) 26 who only
allows opening a can part of the way. Surely the poskim who
forbid opening a can of tuna also forbid the opening of a can of
soda, even partially.
21. Harav S.Z. Auerbach (quoted in Binyan Shabbos, pg. 127).
22. Entire paragraph based on rulings of Harav S.Z. Auerbach
(Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 9:11-12; Tikunim u'Miluim 9:11;
Me'or ha-Shabbos, vol. 1, pg. 496) based on Mishnah Berurah
314:25. Rabbi P.E. Falk (Zachor v'Shamor, sec. 33, pg. 13,
concerning cutting a cake with pictures on it) maintains that
"pretty patterns such as a zig-zag design along the edges,
criss-cross lines running across the surface, etc.," are not
considered as pictures and it is permissible to cut them.
23. Entire paragraph based on Tikunim u'Miluim 9:11. See also
Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 15:80 [and note 249] quoting Harav
S.Z. Auerbach. We have previously explained that the Chazon Ish
prohibited opening boxes or bags unless they are torn "in a
destructive manner," i.e., they are immediately destroyed and
their contents are removed.
24. Although no ruling of Harav S.Z. Auerbach's concerning milk
containers is published, we have nevertheless quoted this
leniency based on the opinions of Harav Auerbach's son, Harav E.
Auerbach, and Harav C. Cohen [author of Binyan Shabbos and a
close disciple of Harav Auerbach who spent many hours discussing
these matters with him], since in their view Harav Auerbach
would have permitted this. See Binynan Shabbos, second edition,
25. See Igros Moshe O.C. 4:78 who explicitly forbids the opening
of a milk bottle.
26. Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 9 note 20 quoting Harav S.Z.
27. Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 9:23; Harav S.Z. Auerbach in
Me'or ha-Shabbos, vol. 1, pg. 527 and vol. 2, pg. 612.
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