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Weekly Halacha

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)



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 solutions.


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 this(14)].

If, mistakenly, such a bottle was opened on Shabbos, it is permitted to drink the beverage. The bottle cap itself, however, is muktzeh(15).

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 long time(23).

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 spout(26).]

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 *61.

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, pg. 343.

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 was.

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. 342.

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 end.

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, pg. 222.

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. Auerbach.

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.

Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 5759 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

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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