Borer for Immediate Consumption

  • Rav Moshe Taragin

The gemara in Shabbat (74a) presents multiple scenarios in which an act of borer, separating edible produce from non-edible waste, may be performed. One of these allowances is presented by Abbaye, who allows separating waste if the food is intended for immediate consumption. The halakha follows Abbaye and – under certain conditions – borer may be performed for immediate consumption. Most opinions assert that in addition to enabling immediate consumption, borer is permissible only if it is performed manually (as opposed to with a vessel of some sort) and the edible part of the mixture must be separated from the waste, and not vice versa. In this shiur, we will analyze the variable of immediacy and why it permits a borer action that would otherwise be forbidden.

Many Rishonim claim that any separating of food performed immediately before actually consuming that food is not considered borer, but rather a subsidiary of eating. At all levels, the act of eating includes selection. Discarding pits of fruits, peeling skins, ejecting bones, and cutting meat from fat are just a few of the common forms of separating waste that are integrated into the act of eating. The eating process can be extended to include the immediate preparations for a meal. Preparations are made in advance to expedite the actual consumption process. For all intents and purposes, those same activities could take place at the dining table. Since preparations for the immediate meal are part of the eating process, they do not violate borer.

Rabbeinu Chananel suggests a related but slightly different basis for the allowance. The gemara in Beitza (13b) asserts that common activities are not forbidden on Shabbat unless they are constructive and creative. The gemara permits making heaps of grain because doing so does not alter the grain and does not constitute melekhet machshevet, loosely translated as “transformative activity.” Many Rishonim apply this requirement very broadly to explain a range of different acts that are permissible at the Biblical level. If a melakha was performed without full intent, it may not qualify as melekhet machshevet. Similarly, Rabbeinu Chananel asserts, if the melakha is not performed industrially, but rather for personal benefit, it does not qualify as a melekhet machshevet and is not forbidden. Borer for immediate consumption is a benefit-provider and not industrial, and is therefore not forbidden.

We previously suggested that borer for immediate use is not truly a selection process, but rather a consumption process. Rabbeinu Chananel maintains that borer for immediate use is not part of the eating process. However, since it yields immediate benefit, it does not qualify as the industrial caliber of melakha that is forbidden on Shabbat.

These two explanations for why immediate borer is permissible may lead to some interesting differences. Most prominently, they relate to how immediate the consumption must be to create this allowance. Rabbeinu Chananel claims that any preparations for a meal are permitted. Even if the meal will unfold slowly, borer activities for that meal are allowable. The Beit Yosef stretches this allowance even further, allowing borer activities for the upcoming meal. If lunch has concluded, borer may be performed in preparation for seuda shelishit, even though that meal has not commenced and will not for a few hours. By stark contrast, the Hagahot HaMordechai (Shabbat, beginning of the 7th perek) allows borer only for absolutely immediate consumption. He forbids borer for the meal that is presently being prepared.

Perhaps this technical debate mirrors the fundamental question of why immediate borer is allowable. If immediate borer is cast as an integrated part of the eating process (rather than a process of selection), perhaps the Hagahot HaMordechai is correct that only absolutely immediate borer is allowable. Preparing food for delayed ingestion cannot be conceptualized as part of the eating process and is therefore not acceptable. By contrast, Rabbeinu Chananel permits immediate borer because of the benefit it yields and lack of melekhet machshevet designation. Potentially, any benefit derived from this process would negate melekhet machshevet status and allow borer. As long as the meal has commenced, the borer produces direct benefit and cannot be forbidden as melekhet machshevet.

A second interesting issue pertains to preparing for someone else's immediate consumption. Would this scenario permit borer? The gemara (74a) that permits immediate borer employs a double language, which Tosafot interpret to mean that immediate borer is permissible for the benefit of others, and this is stated clearly by the Yerushalmi as well. Rashi, however, changes the text of our gemara, and some (see Be'er Heitev, section 2) interpret Rashi as denying this permit for another's benefit. If Rabbeinu Chananel is correct and borer that yields immediate eating benefit is not considered industrial melekhet machshevet, it would make little difference whether borer yields eating opportunity for the person who performed the selection or for another person. Perhaps the only way to justify this position – which limits the allowance to borer for personal benefit - is to claim that pre-eating borer is an integrated part of the eating process and an extension of the meal. This would explain why we limit the permit only to the person who will actually eat. A person can stretch his act of eating to an immediately prior act of selection and integrate the two phases. This integration may be less feasible when one person is performing borer while a different person is eating.

An intriguing position emerges from a peculiar language in the Beit Yosef. In siman 319, he claims that if borer was originally performed in order to prepare food for immediate consumption but the food was alternately not eaten, the melakha is retroactively violated. This position is almost roundly rejected by other authorities, who maintain that if the original borer was performed to enable immediate eating, it cannot be retroactively illegalized.

If borer for immediate eating is not considered selection, but rather part of the eating process, the Beit Yosef’s limitation would indeed not be logical. Once the borer was intended for eating, it is defined as part of that process. Even if a person ultimately defers from eating, the melakha cannot be illegal. However, according to Rabbeinu Chananel, borer for immediate eating is still considered an act of borer/selection and not eating. The yield of eating/benefit exempts the act from Shabbat violation. If that benefit never materializes, perhaps the original act of borer is never exempted. Clearly, however, this position remains difficult; once an act was performed under legal mechanisms, it is difficult to envision a subsequent change redefining it as forbidden. However, the best way to explain the Beit Yosef appears to be the logic of Rabbeinu Chananel.

Perhaps the most far reaching issue that stems from these two approaches is the applicability of this permit to other melakhot. Are other Shabbat melakhot permitted if they are performed to enable immediate eating? This question is subject to much discussion. The Rashba initiated the discussion by applying the permit to tochen, grinding. The Taz (siman 340) broadened the parameters of this permit by allowing erasure of letters of a cake immediately prior to its consumption. Many Poskim disagree, however, and limit this permit to the melakha of borer.

Clearly, Rabbeinu Chananel's logic would extend the permit to all melakhot. The immediate benefit of eating disqualifies the act from being industrial and a melakha has not been violated. By contrast, if the immediate consumption incorporates the act as part of eating rather than an act of selection, it may very well be a borer-specific allowance. Selection and eating are two antithetical activities. Incorporating borer immediately prior to eating as part of the consumption process eliminates the identity of borer. However, incorporation within the eating process may not disqualify other melakhot from constituting a Shabbat violation.