08. Various Melakhot

In general, the laws of Tofer (sewing) and Kore’a (tearing) are identical for Yom Tov and Shabbat, as they do not involve food preparation (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 13:10-11; 15:12). However, there is an exception: some people stuff chicken with meat, eggs, and onions and then sew the chicken shut while cooking to make sure that the stuffing remains inside. Since this sewing is temporary, on Shabbat it is prohibited only rabbinically. On Yom Tov it is permitted, as it is in the category of makhshirei okhel nefesh that cannot be prepared before Yom Tov. However, it is still forbidden to cut off the thread from its spool and thread a needle with it, since this can be done before Yom Tov. After one finishes sewing the chicken shut, he may cut off the extra thread, since it will not be put to any use. Nevertheless, the custom is to cut it with a flame instead of the usual way (SA 509:3; MB ad loc.).

Writing is forbidden on Yom Tov, as on Shabbat. Writing down a recipe to be used to prepare food is forbidden as well, because it is not a part of the food preparation itself. Temporary writing is rabbinically prohibited on Yom Tov, just as it is on Shabbat. Therefore, one may not use candies or frosting to write letters or draw pictures on a cake (MB 500:17; SHT ad loc. 20). One may not use a knife to cut the letters or pictures on a cake, but he may cut between the letters. One may also eat a piece of cake with letters or pictures on it, since erasing is not considered a violation of Moḥek as long as one is engaged in the process of eating. When letters or pictures appear on cookies as a result of having been stamped into the cookie dough (as with petits beurres cookies), they may be cut, since they have no significance (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 18:3 n. 2).

If opening a package of food will definitely tear letters or pictures, some rule that it may not be done on Shabbat or Yom Tov. They permit opening the package only if it is possible that the letters or pictures will not be torn in the process (based on Taz). Others maintain that one may open such a package, since all parts of the letters actually remain, but have simply been separated from each other (based on Rema). Le-khatḥila it is proper to be stringent, but when there is no way to open a package without tearing letters, one may be lenient. One who opens the package has no interest in “erasing” the letters, and the action is not constructive but destructive (Peninei Halakha, ibid.).

The Sages prohibit measuring anything on Shabbat or Yom Tov if there is no mitzva involved, because measuring is a weekday activity (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 22:6). Thus, measuring flour for baking or food for cooking is prohibited, as this is not necessary to prepare the food. However, when it is necessary – as is sometimes the case with spices, where the precise amount is important – it is permissible (Beitza 29a; SA 504:4; 506:1).

One may not mold food into complicated shapes because the prohibition of Boneh applies to food as well (MA 340:17; Ḥayei Adam 39:1). When building a fire in order to cook on Yom Tov, it is forbidden to create a structure with the wood (SA 502:1).

One may spread food on bread or crackers, as the prohibition of spreading (Memare’aḥ) does not apply to foods. One also may change the appearance of the spread to make it look more appealing, smoothing it as desired. Thus, one may put hummus on a serving plate and spread it into a circle for aesthetic reasons since the food is ready to eat, and smoothing it does not improve it in any way. Some are stringent and do not permit smoothing foods to make them look more appealing. One who chooses to be stringent should be commended (Rema 321:19).