Rabbi, There’s a Fly in My Soup!

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Parsha Halacha / Parshat Ki Tissa

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The Torah portion of Ki Tissa includes the mitzvah of the observing Shabbat[1] and the instructions of how the Jewish people were to build the Mishkan (tabernacle) in the desert.[2] Our sages explain that the juxtaposition of these two concepts teaches us that the building of the Mishkan was not meant to supersede the observance of Shabbat.[3] This, in turn teaches us that the various labors involved in building the Mishkan are the very ones that are forbidden on Shabbat.[4]
Thus, our sages derived all of the 39 labors (melachot) that are forbidden on Shabbat – from the work involved in the building of the Mishkan.
The Order of the Bread
11 of the 39 Melachot (forms of labor) that are forbidden on Shabbat are called Sidura DePat – the order of (making) bread.[5] These are, plowing, planting, harvesting, bundling, threshing, winnowing, selecting, grinding, sifting, kneading, and baking (or cooking).
The Talmud says that these melachot were done in the Mishkan when they prepared the herbs[6]with which to dye the tapestries is the Mishkan. Specifically, the wool was died to the colors of techeilet (blue), argaman (purple), and tola’at shani (scarlet). While the techeilet (and perhaps the tola’at shani) were made from animal products,[7] the argaman was made from (a) plant product(s)[8] which had to be planted and harvested etc. Therefore, these melachot are forbidden on Shabbat.
Despite this, the Mishnah uses terms associated with baking bread when discussing these melachot (e.g. the melecha of cooking is called ofeh – baking, not bishul – cooking) since bread is made often and is a staple of life.[9]
As I mentioned in the parsha halacha article several weeks ago, the Jerusalem Talmud says[10] that the dyes of tola’at shani and argaman were made from animals.[11] Despite this, there were plant products used in producing the shemen hamishcha (the anointing oil),[12] the techeilet,[13] and in dying the ram’s skin – red.[14]
One of the 11 melachot in the order of making bread is that of borer – selecting. This was done is the Mishkan when they would process the seeds used in making dye (as explained above) and separate them from their shells. When making bread, this melacha is usually done by selecting stones, pebbles etc. from the grains.[15]
The rules of Borer, dictate that one may only select the good (wanted) material from the bad (unwanted) material by hand, immediately prior to use.[16]
Fly in the Soup
The question is, what should one do if there is a fly (or any other small, unwanted object) in their soup (or any other liquid)? How may one remove this in a permissible way?
There are three opinions among the poskim (halachic deciders) as to how to accomplish this. Here are the opinions and a brief explanation as to the logic of each opinion.
1)      The Taz – Take it Out with Some Soup
The Taz writes[17] that, in such a case, one should use a spoon to remove the fly together with some of the soup.
There are several ways of understanding the reason as to why the Taz allows this.
  • Incomplete Removal
The Pri Megadim[18] explains that, in general, if one sorts some of the bad from the good or vice versa, and leaves the rest of the item unsorted, there is no Torah violation of borer. Practically, if sorting a certain mixture would be forbidden by Torah law, it is Rabbinically forbidden to even do an incomplete sorting. But in a case that sorting would only be forbidden by Rabbinic law, one may sort in an incomplete manner.
In this case, removing the fly with a spoon is only forbidden by Rabbinic law,[19] so removing it with some soup is an incomplete selection and is permissible.[20]
  • Not Really Mixed
The Chazon Ish explains[21] that the fly is not considered to be “mixed” with the soup at large. (This is similar to the argument of the Bait Me’ir, see below.) It is only considered to be “mixed” with the soup that is surrounding it. Therefor, if one removes the fly together with the soup surrounding it, he has not done any act of borer (selecting). As he is removing the soup that was considered “mixed” with the fly and the remainder of the soup was not “mixed” in the first place. As to the fact that he is removing soup from soup, this is not borer – since it is the same type of food.[22]
Based on this explanation, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach rules,[23] that if there are three or more flies in the soup, one may not remove them, even together with some soup as, in this case, all of the soup is considered “mixed” with the flies.
  • Not an Act of Bereirah
The Eglei Tal writes[24] that, according to the Babylonian Talmud, the melacha of Borer (selecting) is defined by doing an act that separates between two species. If one, however, does an act that does not effectively separate the two species, it is not included in this melacha. Despite this, since, as a result of the permissible act of ineffective separation, the remainder of the soup remains “clean,” he is considered to be doing an act of selecting the good (i.e., cleaning it from waste) and it therefor may only be done immediately prior to eating.[25] This follows the general rule that one may only select the good from the bad immediately prior to eating (see above).
It is noteworthy that, according to the first two explanations, one may remove the fly (with some soup) in advance, not necessarily immediately prior to eating.[26]
2)      The Bait Meir – Remove the Fly
The Bait Meir[27] (who also quotes the Mahari Tzahalon[28]) says that borer does not apply when taking a solid out of a liquid – by hand. The normal way to separate in such a case would be with a strainer rather than by hand. In addition, since the fly floats to the surface, it is considered a distinct item and is not considered to be “mixed in” to the rest of the soup. So, when separating by hand or with a spoon, it is permissible.
It is noteworthy that this leniency would only apply to a clear broth and not to a thick soup that would not flow through a strainer. Nor would it apply to a minestrone soup (or any similar soup) that has many small, edible, solid pieces.
The Mishnah Berurah writes that one should not rely on this opinion.[29] The Yalkut Yosef writes[30] that, by the letter of the law, one may rely on this opinion, but that it is preferred to use one of the other methods (see above and below).
3) The Alter Rebbe – Pour out the Fly
Although, in the Shulchan Aruch, the Alter Rebbe rules like the Taz (see note 18), in the Siddur he retracted this and wrote that one should not rely on this opinion. Rather, he writes, one should pour the fly out of the soup. (See Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchato, 3:18) Here are the words of the Alter Rebbe.
“One should not rely on the customary leniency if a fly or other unwanted item fell into a cup or a bowl – to remove it with a spoon and to take some of the liquid with it.[31] This is a possible chiyuv chatas and skilah, may G-d protect us (i.e., it may be a Torah violation).
“The only way to remedy this is to pour from the cup until the unwanted item falls from it. One may not blow on it with his breath until it falls. But one may blow on it to push it near the wall of the cup. Then he should tilt it and pour from it until the unwanted item falls out. Since the falling of the unwanted item to the outside is accomplished by the fact that he’s holding the cup in his hand with the liquid in it and turning it, this is considered selecting the good from the bad and is permissible in order to consume immediately. So too if it fell in a bowl with liquid.
“And even if fat is floating on top of soup, one may not discard it with a spoon because this is like selecting the bad from the good and it is a Torah violation.”
There are two ways to understand the Alter Rebbe’s ruling.
  • The Remainder is What is Selected
The Ketzot HaShulchan writes[32] that the soup that remains in his hands (i.e., in the bowl or cup that’s in his hands) is considered to be the item that he is selecting. So, when pouring out the fly, he is considered to be selecting the good i.e., the soup from the bad (i.e., the fly).
  • Using the Food to Select
Rabbi Chaim Sholom Deitch of Kolel Tzemach Tzedek[33] explains that, when one uses the ochel (food) in order to remove the psolet (waste) it is considered like he is selecting the good from the bad (ochel from psolet) and may be done for immediate use. So, since the removal of the fly is accomplished by tilting the (cup or bowl and the) liquid, it is permissible.
All agree that this may only be done immediately prior to consuming the soup as it is considered an act of selecting the good from the bad.
May we Merit to observe the Holy Shabbat to the Fullest Extent!

[1] Exodus, 31:12-17
[2] Ibid, 1-11
[3] Rashi on 31:12
[4] See Shabbat, 96b, Shulchan Aruch HaRav, 301:1
[5] Shabbat 74b
[6] Shabbat ibid and Jerusalem Talmud 7:10 (47a)
[8] See Rambam, Hilchot Klei HaMikdash, 8:13 who says that the argaman was wool died to the color of argaman. The Ra’avad says that argaman comes from the words arug minin – woven of types – and that it was “woven from two types or from three colors.” The Mishnah LeMelech is not sure as to what the Raavad means by two types of three colors.
[9] Penei Yehoshu’a, Shabbat 73a D.H Avot
[10] Kilayim, 9:1
[11] This is how the Yerushalmy is interpreted by the Rash Sirilio. But see the Penei Moshe and the Mahri Fulda who explain that the Yerushalmy is only referring to the Techeilet and the Tola’at Shani.
[12] See Exodus 30:22-24 and Korban Ha’eidah to Jerusalem Talmud, 47a D.H. Shehayu Chorshin
[13] See Rambam, Hilchot Tzitzit, 2:2 “How is the techelet of tzitzit dyed?… The blood (of the chilazon) is placed in a pot together with herbs – e.g., chamomile – as is the dyers’ practice.” Cited by Rav Chaim Kanievsky in his pirush on the Braita of Melechet HaMishkan, pg. 15
[14] Korban Ha’eidah, ibid see Rashi on Exodus 25:5. But see Talmud Yerushalmy, 7:2 (51a) and Tosefta Shabbat, 9:13 where it says that the ram’s skin was dyed by bruising the animals before slaughtering them.
[15] Rambam’s Commentary on the Mishnah, Shabbat, 7:2
[16] See O.C. beginning of Siman 319
[17] Siman 319:13 and Siman 506:3, Shulchan Aruch HaRav, 319:24 (but see below that the Alter Rebbe retracted this ruling), Mishnah Berurah, 319:61
[18] Mishbetzot Zahav, 13
[19] This seems to be based on the argument of the Bait Me’ir, see below.
[20] Pri Megadim as explained in Pri Megadim HaMevu’ar by Rabbi Yosef Rubenfeld, Jerusalem, 2009
[21] O.C. Siman 53. See there that he rejects the argument of the Pri Megadim since, after all, the remaining soup is left clean of any unwanted matter.
[22] See Rama, 319:3
[23] Shmirat Shabbat Kehilchato, chapter 3, note 39
[24] Melechet Borer, 6:8
[25] Ibid, 11
[26] The 39 Melachot of Shabbat by Rabbi Dovid Ribiat, vol. 2, Hebrew notes on Borer, note 194
[27] Beginning of Siman 319
[28] Siman 303 D.H. Omnan HaTa’am
[29] Biur Halacha D.H. Ela BimEtaken, on Se’if 16
[30] 319:24
[31] Perhaps the reason for the Alter Rebbe’s ruling stringently on this method is that, the soup is, after all, cleansed of any unwanted items (see note 21).
In addition, the Ketzot HaShulchan (125, Badei HaShulchan 17) writes that since his intention is to remove the fly and he’s only removing the soup in order to enable him to remove the fly, that soup “nullified” to the fly. Also, since during the week it is usual to remove some of the soup with the fly it is considered an act of borer.
[32] 125, note 19
[33] Cited in Shabbat Kehalacha by Rabbi Yekutie Farkash, vol. 2 chapter 12, Bi’urim 5
Wishing you a Happy Shushan Purim and a Shabbat Shalom!
Sorry for the late hour. It’s been a busy end of the week!

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