09. Bones in Fish and Meat

When eating fish with bones, one may remove the bones in the course of eating. In other words, one may begin eating the fish, and when he gets to the bones that are in his way, he may remove them with his hand or a fork and continue eating. The same applies to eating meat with bones. For a small child, one may remove the bones from fish or meat before the child starts to eat, as this is the normal way of feeding children.

Some, however, are stringent and maintain that removing bones from fish or meat is prohibited because it is removing psolet from okhel. In their opinion, one must remove the food from the bones. But the primary position is the lenient one, namely, that as one eats he may remove the bones from the fish or meat, as this is the normal way to eat them.[10]

In contrast, if dried bones that have no meat on them are mixed into food, they are considered the same as all other psolet, and may not be removed from the food. Rather, one should eat the food and leave the bones on the plate (BHL 319:4, end of s.v. “mi-tokh”; Ben Ish Ĥai, Year 2, Beshalaĥ 11).

[10]. The stringent opinion: According to Ma’amar Mordechai 319:7 and Ĥazon Ish 54:3, one may not remove the bones. Rather, one must take the food and leave the bones on the plate. To do this, one may hold the bone with one hand or a knife, and remove the food with the other hand or a fork. Even though one hand is holding the bone, this is not considered removing psolet from okhel, because the other hand is actively taking the food. One may also put the food in his mouth and remove the bones from there. If a bone has a little fish or meat on it, he may remove it from the larger piece of fish or meat, eat what is stuck to it, and then throw it out. But if there is no food on it, one may not remove the bone.In contrast, many maintain that one may remove the bones from fish or meat for immediate consumption. There are three bases for this permissive ruling:

The first basis – and the primary one – is that this is the normal way of eating fish and meat. This is the approach of BHL 319:4, s.v. “mi-tokh”; Ben Ish Ĥai, Year 2, Beshalaĥ 10; and Yalkut Yosef 319:37 (based on R. Yaakov ibn Ĥabib and Tzemaĥ Tzedek).

The second basis is that even if removing the psolet first is not the way that a particular food is eaten, nevertheless, the closer the removal of the psolet is to the time of eating, the more authorities permit it on the grounds that it can be considered derekh akhila. First, as we saw in n. 1, according to Rid and several other Rishonim one may remove psolet from okhel for immediate consumption. Even though SA 319:4 rules that this is forbidden, the permissive opinion may be combined with other mitigating factors to support leniency. Second, even following the ruling of SA, there is still a disagreement about whether the prohibition of removing psolet from okhel applies when the food is being prepared for absolutely immediate consumption. In such a case, Mahari Abulafia permits while Maharit Tzahalon forbids. BHL 319:4 s.v. “ha-borer” states that this is a disagreement among the Rishonim. According to those who are lenient, even if removing the bones first is not the normal way to eat fish, one may still remove them because any time close to consumption is considered derekh akhila. Third, Shevitat Ha-Shabbat (Borer, Be’er Reĥovot 3) states that according to all Rishonim, if one starts eating and reaches a bone, he may remove it, as this is not derekh melakha but derekh akhila.

The third factor is that Rabbeinu Hananel and other Rishonim maintain that Borer does not apply when the psolet is attached (see n. 8 above). BHL derives something similar from Yam Shel Shlomo (See Menuĥat Ahava 7:14-15). This opinion can be combined with the other mitigating factors to support leniency.

In practice, BHL attempts to find justification for those who remove bones from fish before serving it. Some are lenient only when it is for absolutely immediate consumption, and BHL agrees with this le-khatĥila. Shevet Ha-Levi 1:83 and Menuĥat Ahava 7:15 also present this approach. Igrot Moshe OĤ 4:74, Borer 7, is lenient if it would be difficult to eat the food otherwise (SSK 3:12-14 records both of these opinions). In the main text, I write that one may remove the bones as he eats, in order to comply with all the opinions that Shevitat Ha-Shabbat quotes as part of the second factor. Nevertheless, one who wants to feed fish to a small child may indeed remove the bones beforehand, since, as we have seen, this is the opinion of the vast majority of poskim.

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