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Weekly Halacha

Selected halachos relating 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.


...A holy Sabbath to Hashem. Bake what you wish to bake and cook what you wish to cook (Exo. 16:23).

Opening Cans and Bottles on Shabbos: Rulings of Harav S.Z. Auerbach

The complicated question of opening cans and bottles on Shabbos has been extensively debated 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 rabbonim 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.
In order to satisfy the opinions of all the poskim, it is recommended that all bottles and containers be opened before Shabbos. If one forgets to do so, however, there are still possibilities of opening them on Shabbos:

General Guidelines: What is Prohibited? What is Permitted?

It is prohibited to puncture a hole in a can or a bottle if the purpose is to create a "good" opening through which one can pour out its contents. This is considered fashioning an opening. It is permitted, however, to open a soda or a beer can by lifting its tab. It is prohibited to unscrew a bottle cap if, by doing so, one creates a usable bottle cap cover. This is considered completing the formation of a utensil. It is permitted, however, to unscrew a bottle cap which already is a usable bottle cap. It is prohibited to tear the wrapping on a package if letters or pictures will be torn, or if the wrapper will be retained for any later use, such as to rewrap the item. This is considered tearing which is prohibited. It is permitted, however, to rip the wrapping in such a way that it could never be used again. It is forbidden to open a can of tuna, etc., if, after emptying the can of its contents, one will use it for any other purpose. It is permitted, however, to open a can of tuna if the can will be thrown away after its contents have been emptied, even if the contents remain in the can temporarily.

Practical Applications:

Bottle Caps
Bottle caps which lift off with a bottle opener may be removed (2). 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 (3)] are forbidden to be unscrewed (4), since the cap, which originally served as a seal, becomes a functional cap which can now be used as a cover (5). Thus, the first time the cap is unscrewed, it completes the formation of a utensil--the bottle cap (6). [If, however, the bottle is opened with the intention of throwing away the cap, it is permissible to unscrew it.] (7)

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.) (8)

Often, people break off the sharp edges of a metal cap (which was opened before Shabbos) so that they will not injure themselves on it. It is prohibited to do that on Shabbos (9).
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 (10). It is forbidden, however, to remove the metal lid of a can which is meant to serve as a storage bin for the item for a lengthy period of time [such as a soup croutons can, etc.] since these type of containers are 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 (11).
Soda Cans
It is permitted to lift off the tab of a soda or a beer can, whether one pours its contents into a cup, drinks from the can, or uses a straw (12). It is also permitted to insert a straw into bags or boxes which contain beverages (13).
Packaging
It is permitted to rip off, ("in a destructive manner"), 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 packagaing, 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 (14).
Milk Containers
It may be prohibited to open the spout of a milk or juice container, since doing so might be considered fashioning an opening or tearing [in a "non-destructive manner"] (15). One may, however, puncture the bottom of the container and then pour the contents through the spout into another vessel (16).

General Note:

Even if one mistakenly opened a can or a bottle in a manner which is clearly prohibited, the food or beverage does not become forbidden to eat (17).


FOOTNOTES

1 The footnotes will reflect other opinions as well.

2 Mishnah Berurah 314:17; Chazon Ish 51:11.

3 Harav S.Z. Auerbach in a written responsum published in Me'or Hashabbos pg. 481; Shmiras Shabbos Khilchasa 9: fn *61.

4 One may, however, puncture the cap and then unscrew it - Shmiras Shabbos Khilchasa 9:17, or better yet, puncture a wide hole and then pour the beverage through the punctured hole - Meleches Shabbos pg. 344.

5 Even if the cap was partially unscrwed before Shabbos, but it remained attached to the ring, it is prohibited to unscrew it further on Shabbos - Binyan Shabbos pg. 139; Meleches Shabbos pg. 343

6 Harav S.Z. Auerbach in Minchas Shlomo pg. 551 and in Shmiras Shabbos Khilchasa 9:17. While many prominent poskim (Harav Y.Y. Weiss quoted in Divrei Moshe OC 12-13; Harav S. Wosner quoted in Shomer Shabbos Kadas; Harav S.Y. Elyashiv quoted in Shalmei Yehudah pg. 104; Az Nidberu 3:40) agree to this, there are other poskim (Harav Y.Y. Fischer in Even Yisroel vol. 2:14; Tzitz Eliezer 14:45; Yechave Daas 2:42; Lehoros Nosan 7:21; Kinyan Torah 4:34; Harav Yecheskel Roth in Ohr Hashabbos 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 was.

7 Harav S.Z. Auerbach in Shmiras Shabbos Khilchasah 9: fn 61 and in Meor Hashabbos pg. 480. See explanation in Binyan Shabbos pg. 143. Other poskim do not agree with this leniency, see Dvrei Moshe OC 12-13 and Meleches Shabbos pg. 342.

8 Harav S.Z. Auerbach in Tikunim U'milluim pg.14 and in Meor Hashabbos pg. 481-482. see further explanation in Binyan Shabbos pg. 94. It is also permitted to remove the plastic caps that are opened by tearing a litle strip connected to the bottom of the cap - Binyan Shabbos pg. 94 quoting Harav S.Z. Auerbach.

9 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (quoted in Binyan Shabbos pg. 97).

10 Harav S.Z. Auerbach in Shmiras Shabbos Khilchasa 9:3, in Tikkunim U'milluim 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 side.

11 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (quoted in Binyan Shabbos pg. 128). See also Tikunim U'milluim 9:11. It remains questionable what the halacha is concerning Pringles cans, since, on one hand, the actual can is made to hold the item for a longer period of time, but on the other hand, few people do that. Normally, the contents are consumed within a short period. Note, however, that some Pringles or soup croutons cans do not have a metal lid but a paper one. Those may be ripped open, just like the inside seal of a coffee jar.

12 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (written responsum published in Meor Hashabbos pg. 490 and pg. 528); also quoted (from an unpublished letter) in Binyan Shabbos pg. 127 and by Harav Y.Y. Newuirth (published in Moriah vol. 109-110, Nissan 5752 and vol. 211-212, Tamuz 5752). There are other poskim who do not agree with this leniency, see Shu"t Ohr L'tzion (Harav B.Z. Abba Shaul) 26, quoted in Meleches Shabbos pg. 299. Surely, the poskim who forbid opening a can of tuna, also forbid opening a can of soda. See also Kuntres Yad Dodi pg. 31 quoting Harav Dovid Feinstein as prohibiting one to even ask a non-Jew to open a soda can on Shabbos.

13 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (quoted in Binyan Shabbos pg. 127).

14 Entire paragraph based on rulings of Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Shmiras Shabbos Khilchasa 9:11-12; Tikunim U'milluim 9:11; Meor Hashabbos 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, crisscross lines running across the surface, etc.", are not considered as pictures and are permitted to be torn.

15 There is no clear record of Harav S.Z. Auerbach's view concerning milk containers, although from his rulings quoted in Shmiras Shabbos Khilchassah 9 fn 11 and 13, based on Mishnah Berurah 314:25, it looks like he prohibited this. In the opinion of the author of Binyan Shabbos, a close desciple of Harav Auerbach who spent many hours in discussion of these matters with him, it is permitted, since the bottle it thrown out when its contents are removed. Igros Moshe OC 4:78 clearly forbids this.

16 Shmiras Shabbos Khilchasa 9: fn 20 quoting Harav S.Z. Auerbach.

17 Shmiras Shabbos Khilchasah 9:23; Harav S.Z. Auerbach in Meor Hashabbos pg. 527.

Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Project Genesis, Inc. Rabbi Neustadt is the principal of Yavne Teachers' College in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also the Magid Shiur of a daily Mishna Berurah class at Congregation Shomre Shabbos.

The Weekly-Halacha Series is distributed L'zchus Hayeled Doniel Meir ben Hinda. Weekly sponsorships are available--please send email to the moderator, Dr. Jeffrey Gross jgross@torah.org.

The series is distributed by the Harbotzas Torah Division of Congregation Shomre Shabbos, 1801 South Taylor Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118--HaRav Yisroel Grumer, Marah D'Asra


 






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