04. Borer

There are two types of Borer. The first type is done in the field or factory, and it consists of the preparation of wheat for grinding. Sometimes small stones or clumps of earth are mixed in with the wheat, and they must be removed before the wheat is ground. This process of removal is prohibited on Yom Tov. The second type of Borer is done in the kitchen, and since it is for the sake of that day’s food preparation, it is not considered melekhet avoda and may be done on Yom Tov (though not on Shabbat).

The principle is that on Shabbat, any melakha that separates okhel (food) from psolet (waste) is prohibited, unless it is done as part of the normal eating process (ke-derekh akhila). Three conditions must be met for this separating to be considered derekh akhila: 1) The okhel must be removed from the psolet. 2) The removal must take place just before consumption. 3) It must be done with one’s hand or a fork, but not with an implement designed for separating. This is all explained in Peninei Halakha: Shabbat, chapter 11. In contrast, on Yom Tov it is only the melekhet avoda of the fields or factories that is prohibited, whereas Borer to prepare food for same-day consumption is permitted.

Some examples of Borer that is permitted on Yom Tov but forbidden on Shabbat are: If on Yom Tov one is eating a salad containing little pieces of onion that he does not want, he may remove the onion bits and eat the rest of the salad. On Shabbat this would be prohibited, because one is not allowed then to remove psolet from okhel (ibid. 11:5). Similarly, on Yom Tov, one may remove a lemon seed that fell into a salad or a fly that landed in his drink. Rice may be checked for bugs on Yom Tov.[6]

If one has a mixture of walnuts and almonds, he may remove the almonds for a meal which will take place a few hours later. Similarly nuts may be shelled a few hours in advance of a meal. In contrast, these actions would be prohibited on Shabbat, since the permissibility of removing okhel from psolet is limited to cases in which the food will be eaten immediately (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 11:6).

One who has wine mixed with lees may use a kitchen strainer to separate them (Shabbat 137b; SA 510:4). On Shabbat this would be prohibited, as it is prohibited to use any implement to separate okhel from psolet (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 11:7).


[6]. Rema 506:2 writes about the case of flour into which a foreign object fell: “Some maintain that it is permitted to remove the pebble or wood chip using his hands, but others are stringent and forbid it.” The stringent authorities include Raavad and those who follow him. This position is problematic, for we have learned that one may separate items needed for the Yom Tov meal, as is clear from the statement of Beitza 14b and SA 510:2 that legumes may be separated by hand. SAH (Kuntres Aḥaron §1) maintains that those who are stringent limit the prohibition to flour, since it is common to pick out foreign objects from large quantities of wheat and flour intended to last for a long time. In contrast, they would agree that other foods can be separated by hand. Ḥayei Adam (82:3) maintains that those who are stringent limit the prohibition to separating in the normal fashion, such as using one’s hands to remove foreign objects from flour; this is what requires a shinui to be permitted. In contrast, since legumes are generally separated with sifters or sieves, doing so by hand is considered a shinui and is permitted. Additionally, some are stringent not to remove pieces of matza from matza meal (Maharil) and not to remove a fly from a drink. Rather, they require that some flour or drink be removed together with the psolet (Taz 506:3). One who wishes to satisfy all the poskim should follow this stringency (see MB 504:20 and 506:12). However, I did not write this above, since the stringency is a minority opinion, while most poskim allow removing foreign objects from flour in any way (Rif, Rambam, Rosh, and Tur). Even according to Raavad’s stringent opinion, SAH is correct that it pertains only to flour. Since Ḥayei Adam agrees that the prohibition is only rabbinic, we are speaking of a twofold doubt (sefek sefeka) on the rabbinic level, in which case the halakha follows those who are lenient. See Harḥavot 4:2-6.

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