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Laws of Borer on Yom Tov

Erev Shvi’i Shel Pesach 5779

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The laws of borer are relevant to the final days of Pesach as they are for all the Yom Tov days of the year.
This article will present some of the laws of borer on Yom Tov as they are understood by various opinions.

Borer of Grain Products

The Rambam writes,[1] “On a holiday, we do not harvest, thresh, winnow, separate, or grind grain, nor do we sift [flour], for all these and any similar activities can be performed on the day prior to the holiday without causing any loss or inadequacy.” The Rambam explains the reason for this in the previous halacha, that since these activities can be done before Yom Tov without any loss of flavor to the final product, our sages forbade[2] performing them on Yom Tov lest one spend one’s Yom Tov doing these activities instead of enjoying the holiday.

Borer of Beans

Later[3] the Rambam writes, based on the opinion of Bait Hillel in the Mishna (Beitzah 14b), “A person who separates the pods of legumes from the legumes themselves on a holiday may separate them in an ordinary way in his bosom, and on a large plate. He may not, however, use a strainer, a tablet, or a sifter.”

Understanding the Difference

The commentaries give different explanations to understand why selecting grain is forbidden while separating the legumes from their pods is permissible. Here are three of their explanations:
1)    A Question of Quantity
The Shulchan Aruch HaRav[4] explains that there is a difference between grains and other products. Since grains are normally harvested in large quantities, the sages forbade the labors associated with it on Yom Tov lest one spends one’s time on Yom Tov performing this labor. (Kneading and baking etc. is done in small quantities and is thus permitted.) They even forbade doing these labors in a small quantity and even when one was not able to do them before Yom Tov as they did not distinguish in their decrees. The separating of legumes from their pods, on the other hand, is normally done in small quantities and the sages therefore allowed it.[5]
Based on this opinion, one may not do the labor of selecting with grain products as these are normally selected in large quantities, whereas products normally selected in small quantities (such as legumes) may be selected in a normal manner.
(The reason one may not select legumes with a sieve or a sifter is that would be giving the impression that one is doing it in large quantities.[6])
·      Could Have Been Done Beforehand
It is noteworthy that the Shulchan Aruch HaRav writes[7] that even the selecting of legumes is only permissible if one was unable to do it before Yom Tov. Such as one who purchased the legumes on Yom Tov (in a permissible way[8]) or right before Yom Tov and didn’t have time to select them beforehand. If this is not the case, however, one may not select these products on Yom Tov.[9] This follows the general law for Ashkenazim, that even labors that are done in small quantities, if one can do them before Yom Tov without any loss of flavor, one should do so.
2)    An Abnormal Way
The Chayei Adam[10] explains that since the normal way to select legumes is with a strainer or a sifter, doing so by hand (or even on a plate) is considered a shinuy (an unusual way), and the sages therefore allowed it.[11]
According to this opinion, one would not be allowed to do the labor of selecting on Yom Tov unless one is selecting in an unusual manner.
3)    Yom Tov and Shabbat are the Same
The Rashba is of the opinion that the laws of Borer on Yom Tov and Shabbat are nearly identical.[12] As such, since the Talmud says that one may select the pods from the legumes on Yom Tov by hand, this must be permissible on Shabbat as well. (This opinion is not followed in practice but is quoted by the Tur in the Laws of Shabbat Siman 319. In his opinion, one may remove the waste from the food product even on Shabbat as long as one does so by hand immediately prior to eating.)
According to this opinion, most of the laws of Borer that apply to Shabbat would also apply to Yom Tov. The Taz seems to accept this view.[13]

Three Examples

Here are three examples of selecting and how each of the above opinions would rule in these cases:
1)    Taking Pieces out of Matzah Meal
The Maharil ruled[14] that one may not select pieces of Matzah from matzah meal on Yom Tov.
·      According to the Alter Rebbe[15] the reason for this is that selecting from a grain product is forbidden as such selecting is usually done in large quantities. Although this may not be the case with matzah meal, since it is true of most grain products, the sages forbade it in this case as well.[16]
·      According to the Chayei Adam the reason this is forbidden is that the normal way to select pieces of matzah from matzah meal is by hand. As such the concept of “shinuy” does not apply.[17]
·      According to the Rashba this should be permissible on Yom Tov. The Taz, however, writes that it is forbidden.[18]
2)    Taking a Pebble Out of Flour
·      According to the Alter Rebbe this is forbidden as flour is a type of food that is normally sifted (and thus selected) in large quantities. As such one may not remove the pebble even if it fell in on Yom Tov. One may however sift the flour with a sifter in order to remove it.[19]
·      According to the Chayei Adam this is forbidden as the normal way of removing a pebble is by hand, and this is not considered a shinuy. One may remove it by sifting the flour again but only of one sifts in an unusual manner (e.g. by sifting with an upside-down sifter.)[20]
·      According to the Rashba it is permissible to remove the pebble by hand.[21]
3)    Removing a Fly from Liquids
·      According to the Alter Rebbe it would be permissible to remove a fly from soup on Yom Tov as this is not a labor that is done in large quantities and could not have been done before Yom Tov.[22]
·      According to the Chayei Adam this is forbidden as the normal way to remove it is by hand (or with a spoon). One should only remove it together with some soup.[23]
·      According to the Rashba this should be permissible. The Taz, however forbids it.[24]

Straining Wine

The Mishna says[25] that, on Yom Tov, one may strain wine to remove the dregs. Tosfot[26] explains that the reason this is allowed is that wine tastes better the longer the dregs remain in them. As such one need not strain it before Yom Tov as that would affect the taste. Since it is usual to strain wine (in those days) immediately prior to drinking (and thus, in small quantities), it is understood why, according to the Shulchan Aruch HaRav, it is permissible to strain the wine even with an ordinary strainer (i.e., without a shinuy). It is difficult to understand, however, why this is permissible according to the Chayei Adam[27] and the Rashba.[28]
May Hashem Bless you all with a Chag Same’ach and Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!
[1] Laws of Shevitat Yom Tov 1:7
[2] Most authorities are of the opinion that performing the labors mentioned above on Yom Tov are only forbidden by Rabbinic law since, after all, they are being done to prepare food. See Shulchan Aruch HaRav 495:9 and the sources quoted there in the footnotes.
It is noteworthy, however, that some say these activities are forbidden by Torah law. This is based on the Jerusalem Talmud (1:10) who says that we learn from the juxtaposition of two verses that all labors involved in making bread that precede the labor of kneading are forbidden. The first verse (Exodus 12:16) says, “But what is eaten by any person that alone may be performed for you [on Yom Tov].” And the next verse says, “And you shall watch over the matzot.” We learn from this that the labors permitted on Yom Tov are the ones after which one would have to watch matzot from leavening, that is from the kneading and on. There are several authorities who follow this view. See Mishnah Berurah 495:13 and Sha’ar HaTziyun 18.
[3] Ibid 3:15
[4] Kuntres Acharon 1 on Siman 506 based on Shitah Mekubetzet on the beginning of the third chapter of Beitzah in the name of the Ramban.
[5] It is noteworthy that one may not pick fruits or vegetables on Yom Tov even if they are the type that have a short shelf life and are therefore done in small quantities (in the pre refrigeration era). The reason for this is that the sages didn’t differentiate within the category of harvesting. I.e., since most harvesting is done in large quantities, the sages forbade it even for specific species that are done in small quantities (Magid Mishnah on the Rambam 1:5). Nevertheless, regarding the labor of selecting, there is no clear majority as to how it is performed since for many species it is performed in small quantities. In this case, therefore, (as well as regarding grinding, see Siman 504) the sages differentiated between the various species and allowed the selecting of those that are usually done in small quantities (end of Kuntres Acharon, ibid, as explained by Rabbi Yosef Heller, quoted in Kuntres Shalmei Simcha by Rabbi Yaakov Yehuda Carlebach, pg. 187).
[6] Kuntres Acharon ibid as explained in the footnotes.
[7] 510:5
[8] See O.C. Siman 323
[9] But see 495:5 that in this case one may do the melacha with a shinuy.
[10] Hilchot Yom Tov, Siman 84 in the Nishmat Adam. Quoted in the Biur Halacha of Mishnah Berurah, end of Siman 504 and in various other places.
[11] Both the Shulchan Aruch HaRav (495:9) and the Mishnah Berurah (495:13) rule that the selecting of grain may not be done even with a shinuy. Perhaps the reason a shinuyis sufficient in this case is because this type of selecting is not done in large quantities.
[12] Some understand that the Rashba follows the Talmud Yerushalmy (quoted above in footnote 3) that selecting is forbidden on Yom Tov by Biblical law (Mishnah Berurah, 495:13). As such it is not in the purview of the sages to be lenient regarding these laws.
Others understand the Rashba to mean that selecting is only forbidden by Rabbinic law but that they applied the rules to (almost) all species. According to this opinion, there is some room for the sages to be lenient in certain cases. See the Bait Meir quoted below in footnote 29.
As to why they are not completely identical, see below that straining wine is permissible on Yom Tov.
[13] 495:3. It is difficult to understand the Taz’s position as in the laws of Shabbat (319:4) he doesn’t dispute the ruling of the Mechaber that one may not select bad from good, even by hand for immediate use. So, whereas the Rashba can follow the opinion of the Tur (that this sort of selecting is permissible on Shabbat), the Taz doesn’t do so (Pri Megadim on Taz 510:3).
[14] In his laws of Yom Tov, page 170. Quoted in Shulchan Aruch HaRav 504:6 and in many places.
[15] Kuntres Acharon ibid
[16] Ibid. See Biur Halacha end of Siman 504 who questions the Alter Rebbe’s ruling in this case since the selecting of pieces from matzah meal is normally done in small quantities (in those days) and should be permissible like the selecting of legumes. The reason for the Alter Rebbe’s ruling, however is that once the matzah is ground into flour we treat it like regular flour, not like a different species of flour. As such the laws of selecting apply just as they do for ordinary flour. See Nimukei Yom Tov (by Rabbi Shmuel Roth of Benei Berak) on the Kuntres Acharon ibid.
[17] Biur Halacha, end of Siman 504
[18] 510:3. The Alter Rebbe (Kuntres Acharon ibid) writes that the reason for the Taz is that this selection could have been done before Yom Tov. It seems that the Taz’s opinion differs from the Rashba as the Rashba would hold that this sort of selecting is permissible even on Shabbat.
[19] Shulchan Aruch HaRav 506:4 as explained in the Kuntres Acharon. The Alter Rebbe explains that, although a second sifting is normally forbidden on Yom Tov, that is because it could have been done before Yom Tov. If, however, the pebble fell in on Yom Tov, the sifting could not have been done before Yom Tov.
Why is it not considered a forbidden act of borer when using the sifter? When using a sifter the relevant labor is meraked (sifting), not borer (selecting).
As far as meraked is concerned, that labor only includes the removal of a byproduct of the food itself (such as the chaff from grain) and not when other waste products (like a pebble) are mixed into the food product (Nimukei Yom Tov on the Kuntres Acharon based on Iglei Tal Melechet Borer, 6:8).
[20] Quoted in Mishnah Berurah 506:9
[21] Quoted in Taz 506:3
[22] See Shalmei Simcha pg. 190 that removing a fly from wine may be forbidden according to the Alter Rebbe since, nowadays, straining (and selecting) wine is done in large quantities.
[23] See Mishnah Berurah 506:12
[24] 506:3. The Taz seems to be following his opinion that removing bad from good is forbidden even by hand on Shabbat and, as such, should be forbidden on Yom Tov. This is unclear to me since the Mishnah (quoted above) clearly permits the selecting of pods from legumes.
[25] Shabbat 137b
[26] D.H Tolin
[27] It would seem that the Mishnah Berurah alludes to this question in Biur Halacha at the end of Siman 504 where he writes (regarding the opinion of the Chayei Adam) “Umikol makom tzarich iyun.”
[28] The Rashba (in his Chidushim on Shabbat ibid) asks this question and doesn’t answer it. The Bait Meir (Siman 510) writes that the sages permitted it since it could not be done before Yom Tov without affecting the taste. It seems that the Bait Meir is of the opinion that the Rashba only forbids borer by Rabbinic law on Yom Tov (see footnote 13, above). As such the sages were lenient in certain situations.
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Wishing you a Chag Same’ach, a Shabbat Shalom UMeveorach, and a continued Kosher and Happy Pesach!

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