Tochen (Part 4) Techina of a Cooked Food

  • Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon



Shiur #17: TOCHEN (Part 4)



VII) Techina of a Cooked Food


The Rambam, in his Responsa (Blau Edition, Ch. 305, cited by the Beit Yosef, end of Ch. 321), raises the following question:


Question: A pot of grits is usually left on the stove over Shabbat [evening].  On the next morning, one takes the pot off of the stove, puts a wooden ladle in and stirs it a great deal, mixing it up and splashing it with the wooden ladle against the walls of the pot or in a bowl, until the meat, grits[1] and water have been thoroughly blended.  At the end, [the mixture] becomes thick, as it all becomes one mass...  Are all of these actions prohibited or permitted?


Answer: Certainly, this is all allowed.  After all, the Mishna explicitly teaches (Eduyot 2:6): "If garlic, half-ripe grapes, or parched ears [of corn] were crushed before sunset, Rabbi Yishmael said: 'One may finish them at night.'"  We have established (Shabbat 19b) that they argue about a case in which they require pulverizing, and the halakha follows Rabbi Yishmael.  All the more so in this case: if one is allowed to finish preparing parched ears, which require pulverizing, [one may certainly finish preparing] grits, which have already been pulverized and fully cooked; all they are missing is mixing alone, so surely should it be permissible!...  These grits do not require pounding, because they have already been thoroughly pounded in a mortar and fully cooked, and all they are missing is a bit of pulverizing and mixing...


The Rambam is addressing the issue of preparing a dish of grits and meat: after it has been removed from the fire, may one stir it while mashing the meat and the grits so that they dissolve and become blended?  The Rambam responds that there is no prohibition in this, and he brings a proof from the Gemara.  The Gemara (19b) discusses the extraction of liquid from garlic, half-ripe grapes and parched ears of grain, which requires three progressive levels of techina: rissuk (crushing), dikha (pounding) and shechika (pulverizing).  The conclusion of the Gemara indicates that if the rissuk and dikha are done before Shabbat, it is permitted to complete the process and perform the shechika on Shabbat.  In light of this, the Rambam argues, it appears that there is no prohibition of mashing grits, because they have already been crushed and pounded, and all they are missing is some minor shechika.


The Rambam’s ruling in Mishneh Torah is along these same lines (21:13):


If garlic, half-ripe grapes or parched ears which were crushed before Shabbat still require dikha, it is forbidden to complete their dikha on Shabbat; however, if they are missing [only] shechika by hand, one is allowed to finish their shechika on Shabbat.  Therefore, one is permitted on Shabbat to complete the shechika of the grits with a wooden ladle, in the pot, after it has been taken off the fire.


Thus, the words of the Rambam indicate that the prohibition of tochen is not applicable to an item which has already been cooked and softened.[2]


This law is cited by the Shulchan Arukh (321:19), and the Mishna Berura (82) adds: "To spread baked apples on bread is certainly permissible, and the same applies to fat and butter."

In other words, there is no prohibition of tochen for a baked apple (and there is also no prohibition of the melakha of memare'ach — also known as memachek, smoothing — in spreading it on the bread).


The Reason for the Allowance


What is the reasoning of this law?  Why is there no prohibition of tochen when it comes to cooked foods?  It appears that one may understand this in one of three ways:


1.    The simple reading of the Rambam implies that the prohibition of tochen is not applicable here because the vegetable or fruit has been softened to such an extent that it is very close to being tachun, ground, and it is further techina is not considered grinding (analogous to the law of tochen achar tochen which we will see in our next shiur).[3]  This is also the implication of the Tiferet Yisrael (Kalkalat Shabbat, Lamed-Tet Melakhot, Tochen).[4] 

2.    We learned previously that Rav Moshe Feinstein is of the opinion that the prohibition of tochen does not apply when the food is left as one mass and does not separate into small bits.  According to this, it may be that the prohibition of tochen does not apply to cooked foods, since generally the rissuk of these vegetables creates a sort of agglomerated mass, not crumbs or grains.  The Tehilla Le-David seems to take this approach (Hashmatot, Ch. 252):


When one mashes a baked apple or cooked potatoes, there is apparently no problem of tochen or kneading, because the substance starts as one body and ends as one body.[5]


3.    It may be that by definition there is no prohibition of tochen for a cooked food.  This arises from the words of the Chazon Ish (58:9, s.v. Siman), who writes: "Its being cooked removes it from the category of the melakha of techina; its techina is so effortless that it is not considered to be a melakha."  On this approach, the prohibition of tochen includes only normal techina as was performed in the Mishkan (Tabernacle), while something which does not require a normal act of techina, such as a cooked food, is free of any concern of tochen.[6]


How Soft Must the Food Become?


A practical ramification of these different approaches is the following question: may one allow crushing any cooked fruit or vegetable, or must it be very soft or even disintegrating?  The Acharonim dispute this point.

      The Chazon Ish (58:9, s.v. Siman), as we have noted, writes: "Its being cooked removes it from the category of the melakha of techina; its techina is so effortless that it is not considered to be a melakha."  This implies that the very fact that the item has been cooked, making it easy and convenient to mash it, removes the prohibition of tochen from it, even if it has not actually been pulped at all. 


The Tiferet Yisrael (Kalkalat Shabbat, Kelalei Lamed-Tet Melakhot, Tochen) writes: "It is forbidden to mash cooked potatoes... because of tochen, but if they have been already somewhat pulped, one may complete their rissuk."  According to him, it is not sufficient that the item is cooked; the cooking must cause the food to be softened somewhat, so that it will be possible to go further and mash it.


On the other hand, Rav Moshe Feinstein (OC, Vol. IV, Ch. 74, Tochen 5) writes that "they must be exceedingly softened, so that all they require is a bit of shechika."  This is also the view of Rav S.Z. Auerbach (cited in Shemirat Shabbat Ke-hilkhata, Ch. 6, n. 21): one may complete the mashing process "only if they have already been crushed and only require a bit of shechika."


This argument can be explained based on the different understandings of the law.  According to the third understanding above, it makes sense that one may crush every cooked fruit or vegetable, since cooked items are excluded from the prohibition of tochen.  On the other hand, according to the first understanding, only if the fruit or vegetable has already been softened can one see it as tachun and allow a further act of techina; if it is stable and whole, there is no allowance to mash it.  Furthermore, according to the second understanding, this is dependent on reality, and one is allowed to crush the fruit or vegetable only if it will create an agglomerated mass.


However, one may explain this differently.  It may be that everyone agrees to the Rambam's logic — the allowance is based on the fact that the item is close to being tachun already, so that in mashing it, one is only putting the finishing touches on its techina — but they argue about applying this logic: to be considered already tachun, must a food actually be disintegrating, or is it sufficient for it to be cooked and soft?  In other words, is it enough that it easy to perform techina, or does the techina need to have already begun?


Uncooked Soft Food


Conversely, does the allowance exist even for soft foods which have not been cooked?  According to Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, OC, Vol. IV, Ch. 74, Tochen 5), the allowance is only for cooked foods, since the cooking process makes the food swell and softens it to a degree which one cannot reach without cooking.  This is the implication of the abovementioned words of the Chazon Ish, limiting this allowance to things which have been cooked.  On the other hand, Rav S.Z. Auerbach (cited in Shemirat Shabbat Ke-hilkhata, 6:7, n. 18) believes that if a food is so soft that it is falling apart — i.e., one cannot hold one end and thereby lift the other end — it is considered already tachun, and it is permissible to spread it on bread. 


Practical Halakha


In practice, it is appropriate to mash only fruits or vegetables which are thoroughly cooked, so that they are very soft and easily crushed.  It is preferable that they already be pulped.  However, if one mashes them proximate to the meal, one may be lenient and allow mashing cooked, soft vegetables or fruits even if they have not been pulped, since one may enlist the views that even actual techina is allowed le’altar.  Similarly, there is no prohibition to mash together a number of types of cooked, soft vegetables, even though it will create one mass, as we will, God willing, explain in our series on lash, kneading.  One may also spread preserves made from fruit on top of bread, even if the preserves contain bits of fruits which have not been totally crushed.




VIII) Altered Techina


The Gemara (141a) cites a dispute about the issue of techina performed with an alteration (shinnui; plural — shinnuyim), i.e., in an unusual manner. 


Rav Yehuda said: "To crush peppercorns one by one with a knife-handle is permitted; in twos, it is forbidden."

Rava said: "Since one does it in a different way, crushing even many [is permitted] too."


Rav Yehuda allows one to crush if two shinnuyim are done: each peppercorn must be crushed separately, and one does this with the knife-handle, not with a normal utensil.  On the other hand, according to Rava, one shinnui is enough, and even a large quantity may be crushed with a knife-handle.


The simple meaning of the Tosefta (15:13) supports the view of Rava:


Pressed or dried figs or carobs, cannot be crushed before the elderly on Shabbat, but one can crush with the handle of a knife or with a wooden ladle without being concerned.


This implies that one is allowed to crush even a large quantity of food with a shinnui.


Most Rishonim[7] rule according to the view of the Rava, that one may pound a great quantity, and both the Rambam (21:20) and Shulchan Arukh (321:7) rule accordingly.


How can it be that a shinnui makes the melakha permissible in our case, when all it usually does is turn a Torah prohibition into a rabbinic one?  The Rid explains (Piskei Ha-Rid, 74a, cited by the Beit Yosef, Ch. 321) that crushing with a knife-handle is a major shinnui, and inherently the action is totally different from techina:


You may ask: if [for doing this] in the normal way, one is liable because of tochen, should [doing the same act] with a shinnui not be forbidden [rabbinically], even if one is not liable?


Answer: [Using] a knife-handle is an absolute shinnui, as choosing a wooden pestle over a stone pestle is already a shinnui, as we have learned in the mishna in the first chapter of Beitza (14a)...  [Using] a knife-handle is an absolute shinnui, and therefore it is permissible in the first place.  This is similar to what we have said concerning borer, that [for selecting] with a sieve or sifter, one is liable to bring a sin-offering; while [for selecting] with a reed-basket or a tray, which is a shinnui, one is not liable but it is forbidden; and [selecting] by hand, which is a total shinnui, is permissible in the first place.


The Rid explains, based on the mishna he references, that grinding is generally done with a stone pestle.  When one uses a wooden pestle, this is considered a shinnui, so that the act is forbidden only rabbinically.  When one does not use a pestle at all, just a knife-handle, this is considered a major shinnui, which makes the act permissible.[8]


The Rambam (21:20) writes that one must pound with a knife-handle and do this in a bowl (not a mortar).  It is implied that one must have two shinnuyim: both a knife-handle and a bowl, not a regular vessel.  This is also the view of the Shulchan Arukh (321:7).   


The Magen Avraham (321:9) is astounded by the Rambam's ruling: why does he require two shinnuyim?  The Gemara does not mention anything of the sort in Rava's view!  Therefore, the Magen Avraham writes that even according to the Rambam, one shinnui is sufficient, and the Rambam's words should be understood as referring to "a knife or a bowl" — meaning that either one is enough.


However, the Taz (7) writes that both conditions are necessary.  Why is this?  The Matteh Yehuda (2) writes that indeed there is a need for two shinnuyim, but regular pounding with a knife is done directly on the table or in a bowl (and only pounding with a pestle is done in a mortar); therefore the Gemara does need to mention this.


However, most Acharonim seem to understand that a bowl is required for a different reason.  The Taz (7) writes that one may not grind with a mortar because this is "similar to the weekday [practice]."  The Mishna Berura (25) provides a similar explanation, asserting that pounding in a mortar "appears like uvda de-chol, weekday practice."[9]  According to this, one may understand that there are two different issues:


1.    Pounding with a shinnui, so that one may avoid violating the prohibition of tochen.  For this purpose, one shinnui is enough, e.g., grinding with a knife-handle.

2.    One may not grind in a mortar because of uvdin de-chol.


Thus the requirement to grind in a bowl is not due to the law of shinnui; it relates to the idea that one should not use a vessel which is specialized for the act of techina on weekdays.  By grinding in a bowl one avoids the appearance of a weekday activity.  It turns out that there is no need for two shinnuyim, but there is a need for one shinnui (knife-handle or spoon) as well as a need that the techina not be done in a specially-designed vessel, but rather in a regular plate (because of uvdin de-chol).




Does one need to do this type of grinding le’altar, for immediate use — i.e., proximate to the meal?  The Eglei Tal (Tochen, 12, 30) writes that techina may be done with a shinnui only le’altar, and this is how he explains why the shinnui here allows the act to be performed in the first place.  However, other Acharonim do not write this, and they allow techina with a shinnui even not le’altar.


Even so, it is good to grind specifically le’altar because of another reason.  The Chazon Ish (57, s.v. Nimtzinu) writes that, for children, one may grind bananas with a shinnui, using the handle of a fork.  Rav Neuwirth (Shemirat Shabbat Ke-hilkhata 6:8) understands that the Chazon Ish allows this only for children, but for adults, it is forbidden.  This appears perplexing, because the allowance of techina by shinnui appears in the Gemara and Shulchan Arukh as a general rule which is not limited specifically to children.  It may be that Rav Neuwirth understands that generally one must have two shinnuyim, but for children, one may be lenient and suffice with one shinnui, so that one mashes with a fork-handle.  (However, he appears to forbid doing so for adults even with two shinnuyim.) 


Nonetheless, in light of the view of the Taz and the Mishna Berura — that essentially one shinnui is enough and the use of the bowl is only necessary because of uvdin de-chol — if one grinds food with a fork-handle and inside a bowl or plate (rather than a specially-designed vessel) or on the table, one should be allowed to do even for adults.  The Orechot Shabbat (5:18) rules accordingly and remains with an unresolved question on Rav Neuwirth (ibid. n. 31). 


In any case, even though it appears that one should permit techina with one shinnui, it is best to do this proximate to the meal, so that one may enlist the views of the Rashba and the Rema that techina le’altar is always allowed.


In light of this, one may grind anything on Shabbat when one does so using a knife-handle, but one may not do so with a specialized vessel or utensil, just in a bowl or plate, on a table and the like.  Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, OC, Vol. IV, Ch. 74, Tochen 2) writes that strictly speaking, one may also crush with a spoon,[10] and this is the view of Rav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemirat Shabbat Ke-hilkhata, Ch. 6, n. 20).  If possible, one should do so proximate to the meal.     




In conclusion, even though it is forbidden to perform techina on Shabbat, it is permissible to do this with a shinnui, using the handle of the fork or a spoon.  One should do this on the table or in a plate or bowl, not in a vessel which is specially designed for techina (such as the receptacle of the blender).



Translated by Rabbi Yoseif Bloch.



[1] The Hebrew term ha-rifot occurs in II Shmuel (17:19): "And the woman took and spread the covering over the well's mouth, and she strewed ha-rifot on top; and nothing was known."  The Radak explains that "crushed wheat is called grits". 

[2] The Rambam seems to imply that the prohibition of lash, kneading, does not apply to cooked foods either.  We will deal with this in our upcoming series dedicated to this topic.

[3] However, this not the same as the law of tochen achar tochen, regrinding.  Tochen achar tochen is based on processes previously undertaken by this food, not its current status.  (This rule is stated with regard to regrinding bread: even if it is currently hard enough to require grinding to be made into breadcrumbs, the fact that the grain was already ground means that regrinding it is not considered tochen.)  In our case, on the other hand, the leniency is based on the status of the food now, when it is so soft that it is considered already tachun; nevertheless, techina of such an item is not considered an important, significant melakha, since it is already so close to being tachun.

[4] "It is forbidden to mash cooked potatoes... because of tochen, but if they have been already somewhat pulped, one may complete their rissuk."  This implies that because they have already been pulped somewhat, they are considered "ground," and there is no prohibition in continuing their techina.

[5] However, the Chazon Ish (Ch. 57, s.v. Le-inyan Chiyuv Tochen) explicitly rejects this argument (as we explained concerning mashing a banana), and he writes that, on the contrary, the abovementioned words of the Rambam indicate the opposite, because he allows one to "grind" cooked foods only because they require a small amount of shechika, and it is implied that "because they adhere as one mass, the prohibition of techina is not lessened."  Thus, while this is a valid explanation for the permit of grinding cooked foods, it is a questionable reading of the Rambam.

[6] According to this understanding, there is a formal law that the cooking removes the techina at the basic level.  (According to this, even if a raw fruit has the same consistency as a cooked fruit, this will be totally irrelevant to the question of techina, since we require that the produce be cooked specifically; see next note).  However, it is difficult to understand the Rambam's view in this way, because he discusses the cases of garlic, half-ripe grapes, and parched ears — which have not been cooked.  In fact, it is possible to understand the view of the Chazon Ish differently.  It may be that his intent is not to say that the very act of cooking removes the prohibition of techina, but that cooking brings it to the state in which "its techina is so effortless that it is not considered to be a melakha," in the view of the Rambam — i.e., it may be ground so easily that its techina is not a significant act, as we have explained above.

[7] Except for the Kol Bo (Ch. 31, p. 124), who rules like Rav Yehuda.

[8] However, the Mishna Berura (321:25) explains that only techina with a knife-handle and the like is considered a true shinnui which removes the name of techina from the act, while techina with a normal utensil but with a shinnui in the place of the techina — for example, grinding on top of the table instead of inside the vessel generally used for techina — is not allowed.  A shinnui such as this is considered a regular shinnui, which is still forbidden rabbinically.

[9] The Mishna Berura writes that one may pound with a knife-handle on top of the table because "this makes two alterations."  However, in light of what we have said about his view above, that the reason is because of uvdin de-chol, it appears that while he demands two alterations, only one of them is designed to prevent violating the prohibition of tochen (using the knife-handle), while the second one (using a bowl) is to avoid uvdin de-chol.

[10] "Note that the Chazon Ish also allows this with a shinnui, and the shinnui he discusses is using the handle of a knife, spoon or fork.  It would seem that the bowl and the handle of the spoon are equivalent when it comes to the difficulty of shechika!  However, is it not true that it is harder to pulverize with the bowl of the spoon than with its handle?  If so, what is the reason that he considers using the handle to be a shinnui?  Perhaps because it is a shinnui in the very nature of its use — which is to use the bowl rather than the handle — it is preferable in his view [to use the handle]."