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Peninei Halakha > Festivals > 04 - Melakhot Pertaining to Food

04 – Melakhot Pertaining to Food

01. Kotzer, Dash, and Soḥet

The melakha of Kotzer (reaping) involves detaching something from its source of growth. Since this is generally done to meet long-term needs, it is considered melekhet avoda and may not be done on Yom Tov as on Shabbat. One may not even pick some fruit to serve at a Yom Tov meal.

The melakha of Dash (threshing) involves separating grain kernels from their stalks, or any similar activity such as shelling peas or beans. This melakha is generally accomplished using machinery in a field or factory. Since it is generally done in bulk, it is considered melekhet avoda and may not be done on Yom Tov, even for Yom Tov needs. However, if the shelling is done by hand, it is impossible to perform this melakha in bulk, so it is not deemed melekhet avoda and may be done on Yom Tov. Thus, wheat kernels may be separated by hand, and peas and beans may be shelled by hand. No shinui is necessary; it may be done whichever way is most convenient.[1]

There is a tolada of Dash called Mefarek, which involves extracting one thing from within another thing. This includes squeezing grapes to make wine and squeezing olives to make oil – that is, extracting a liquid from solid food. Since this melakha is usually done for the long term, it is considered melekhet avoda and may not be done on Yom Tov as on Shabbat; all the details are the same for Yom Tov as Shabbat. The main rules in brief are as follows. Fruit may not be juiced into liquid form, but a lemon may be squeezed into solid food like salad or onto fish, because the liquid is transferred directly from one solid food (the lemon) into another, and never has an independent status (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 12:8). Milking a cow constitutes a violation of this melakha (ibid. 20:4), and the details of its laws on Yom Tov are the same as those of Shabbat (SA 505:1; see Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 11:17 and 28:7).[2]

[1]. We have seen (in 3:2 above) that the Rishonim disagree about the nature of the prohibition of those melakhot, such as Kotzer and Dash, which are generally done for the long term. Some say that it is rabbinic, while others maintain that it is a Torah prohibition. In any case, on Shabbat, if the separation of food from its husk or shell is done by hand, it is prohibited rabbinically, and if it is done with a shinui it is permissible. On Yom Tov, one may separate by hand even without a shinui (Beitza 12b according to Rif, Rambam, Rosh, and Ramban). Though Rashi and Tosafot rule that even on Yom Tov a shinui must be used, nevertheless, SA 410:1 rules in accordance with the lenient position. (This is the opinion of most poskim; see Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 11:17 n. 21 and Harḥavot.)

[2]. Some permit juicing fruit on Yom Tov with a shinui based on two principles: 1) They maintain that the laws of Seḥita are like the laws of Toḥen. Just as milling spices for home use is permitted (section 2 below), so is squeezing juice. 2) According to about half of the poskim, the only squeezing that the Torah prohibits is that of olives or grapes. The prohibition on squeezing any other fruit is rabbinic (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat ch. 12 n.13). Since a number of Rishonim (and SA) maintain that on Yom Tov the entire prohibition on Mefarek is rabbinic (see 3:2 above), we should not prohibit squeezing fruit other than olives and grapes, as that would be a protective fence around a protective fence (“gezeira li-gezeira”). Indeed, this is the bottom-line ruling of She’arim Metzuyanim Be-halakha 98:7 and Shemesh U-magen 2, OḤ 30; Ḥelkat Yaakov 2:85 is permissive in pressing circumstances. In contrast, most poskim prohibit all juicing: SA 495:2; MA 495:3 following Yam Shel Shlomo; Ḥayei Adam 81:7; MB 495:12; SSK ch. 5 n. 1 in the name of R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach; Or Le-Tziyon 3:19 n. 5; Halikhot Olam vol. 4 p. 100. This is because fruit is generally juiced in sufficient quantities to last a long time, and thus it is always prohibited on Yom Tov. In contrast, grinding and separating are regularly done for at-home use, during or slightly before eating, and therefore they are sometimes permitted. See Harḥavot to Shabbat 12:8:5 on the topic of juicing a lemon for lemonade. Some poskim are lenient even on Shabbat, while most are stringent. Accordingly, I follow the stringent position. There would seem to be room to be more lenient on Yom Tov, but in fact all poskim who prohibit juicing fruit on Yom Tov prohibit squeezing a lemon as well.

02. Toḥen

The melakha of Toḥen (grinding) is prohibited on Yom Tov even if it is being done to prepare Yom Tov food. For example, grinding flour is prohibited, since this is usually done in quantities that are to last for a long time, and thus is considered melekhet avoda and forbidden on Yom Tov. Nevertheless, crushing spices is permitted on Yom Tov, since this is generally done in one’s kitchen for same-day use (Beitza 14a). No shinui is necessary (SA 504:1). Some maintain that it is proper to introduce a minor change, such as slightly tilting the pestle or the mortar containing the spices. This reminds the person doing the crushing that it is Yom Tov, and he will refrain from crushing extra for the upcoming week (Rema, ad loc.).

The permissibility of crushing spices is on condition that it is done with a household mortar – the kind that is generally used to prepare spices for the same day. In contrast, one may not grind peppercorns or the like using a small mill, since that utensil is generally used to prepare spices for lengthier periods of time (Beitza 23a; SA 504:1).

One may grate vegetables or cheese with a grater, since grating is usually done for same-day use. However, if for Yom Tov one needs to grate food which is sometimes grated to last for a number of days, a minor shinui should be introduced, such as turning the grater upside down, or grating over a tray instead of over a plate.[3]

Of course, everything permitted on Shabbat is permitted on Yom Tov. Therefore, one may crumble tea biscuits and matzot on Yom Tov. Since they are made of flour and have already been ground up, there is no prohibition to regrind them. Though on Shabbat it would be prohibited to use a utensil specifically designed for this purpose, such as a grater, so as not to appear to be doing something prohibited, on Yom Tov one may even use a grater (Rema 504:3; Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 12:1-2).

[3]. It would seem that according to SA 504:1 there is no need to use a shinui (so states Or Le-Tziyon, vol. 3 19:5), whereas according to Rema 504:1 and 3 a shinui is required. Nevertheless, if the item that one is grating is generally grated for same-day use only, as its taste would be compromised were it to be grated in advance, then in practice Rema would agree that it may be grated without a shinui (in accordance with his source, Rivash §184). In contrast, if the item’s taste would not be compromised by being grated in advance, even those who follow SA should rule stringently and require a shinui, due to a combination of three factors: 1) MA 504:7 states that one may not use a grater on food that is generally grated for future use, but may do so with a shinui. (It is possible that SA would agree with this, based on what is written in 504:1 about salt. Indeed, Ḥazon Ovadia suggests something similar on p. 71.) 2) As we have seen in 3:8, if food could have been prepared before Yom Tov but was not, one may prepare it on Yom Tov on condition that he uses a shinui. 3) Hagahot Ha-Smak and Rema 504:1 always require a slight shinui, so that people remember it is Yom Tov and do not come to prepare extra food for the long term.

03. Sifting Flour and Lash

The melakha of Meraked (sifting) prohibits sifting flour. After flour has been ground up, coarser particles of bran from the outer layer of the wheat kernel remain. To separate the flour from the bran, it is sifted with a sieve. The fine flour filters through, while the coarse bran remains on the surface. As is the case with all melakhot that are generally done for the long term, this melakha is forbidden on Yom Tov.

However, if one wishes to re-sift flour that has already been sifted, whether to improve it before kneading it or to remove a foreign object that fell into it, there is no prohibition. Nevertheless, in order to make it clear that this sifting is being done for same-day usage, the Sages required a slight shinui. For example, if one generally sifts into a bowl, he may sift onto the table or with the sifter upside-down (Beitza 29b; SA 506:2). This rule applies to the packaged, pre-sifted flour that we buy nowadays: one may re-sift it on Yom Tov with a slight shinui to improve it or check it for bugs.[4]

It is permitted to perform Lash for food that will be eaten on that day of Yom Tov. Thus, one may knead dough to make bread or cake or prepare instant mashed potatoes. However, one may not knead in order to prepare food for the weekday, for non-Jews, or for animals. Of course, it is forbidden to mix water and dried earth in order to make bricks. (See Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 12:3-7 for the details of the melakha of Lash.)

If one produces enough dough for the mitzva of hafrashat ḥalla to apply, the ḥalla must be set aside after kneading.[5] Though the Sages prohibited setting aside ma’aser and ḥalla on Shabbat and Yom Tov, this is because doing so looks like one is fixing or improving the food, since the bread or produce may not be eaten until these parts have been removed. However, if the dough was not made until Yom Tov, ḥalla may be set aside from it since the obligation of ḥalla only came about on Yom Tov, and it was impossible to do the mitzva beforehand. Since baked goods may not be eaten until ḥalla has been set aside, the permissibility of preparing them for a Yom Tov meal implies permission to separate ḥalla on Yom Tov (Beitza 37a; SA 506:3).

Back when Kohanim were ritually pure, the designated ḥalla would be brought to them on Yom Tov so that they could enjoy it. However, now that Kohanim are impure and may not eat ḥalla, during the week many people who separate ḥalla burn it in order to make sure that nobody accidentally eats it. However, doing so on Yom Tov is forbidden, since it serves no Yom Tov purpose. Rather, it is proper to wrap the ḥalla in paper and put it in the garbage. If the garbage can contains filthy items, the ḥalla should be double-wrapped, rendering the disposal more respectful. Once the ḥalla has been separated, it is muktzeh, but as long as it is still in the hand of the person who set it aside, he may wrap it up and take it to wherever he plans to dispose of it (SA 506:4; MB ad loc. 29).

[4]. Even though it would be forbidden to knead the flour without sifting for bugs, the sifting is still permitted, in the same way that it is permitted to re-sift flour into which a foreign object fell (Beitza 29b), since it is clear that the sifted flour will be used that day. (For if one were to wait a few days, it would need to be sifted again to guarantee it had not become infested.) This is the opinion of R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, as cited by Hilkhot Mo’adim 10:14 n. 53. (Or Le-Tziyon vol. 3 19:6 permits the sifting because nowadays flour is considered to be clean, and sifting it is only a stringency.) According to SA 506:2, it is only when the second sifting is meant to improve the flour that a shinui must be used. In contrast, if something fell into the flour, no shinui is required. Nevertheless, some maintain that even in such a case a shinui must be used (Baḥ and Ḥayei Adam as cited in MB ad loc. 9). It is preferable to follow this opinion le-khatḥila, as I wrote above.

[5]. Working with our updated understanding of shi’urim, one who bakes bread using 1.5 kg of flour or more should set aside ḥalla with a berakha, while one using between 1.1 and 1.5 kg sets aside ḥalla without a berakha. According to R. Naeh, one recites a berakha on 1.666 kg or more, while setting aside ḥalla without a berakha is appropriate when using from 1.25 to 1.666 kg; this larger quantity is based on R. Naeh’s calculation, which is based on the Turkish dirhem (drachma), which is more than ten percent larger than the dirhem of the Rambam (see Peninei Halakha: Berakhot ch. 10 n. 11).

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.

05. Specific Laws of Borer

If one has a mixture of okhel and psolet, he should separate them in the easiest way possible, so as to minimize exertion on Yom Tov. Thus, if most of the mixture is okhel, he should remove the psolet, and if most of the mixture is psolet, he should remove the okhel (Beitza 14b).[7]

On Shabbat, some maintain that it is prohibited to peel fruits and vegetables with a peeler, even if the peels are edible (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 11:8). In contrast, on Yom Tov one may peel all fruits and vegetables, even those with inedible peels. On Shabbat, one may not remove olive pits with a device specifically designed for this purpose (ibid. 11:7), whereas on Yom Tov he may. On Shabbat, many adopt the strict view and avoid removing bones from fish or meat before eating them (ibid. 11:7); on Yom Tov, all agree that bones may be removed before the meal.

On Shabbat, one may not spill out the liquid from a can of corn or peas or the oil from a can of tuna (ibid. 11:13); on Yom Tov this is permitted. On Shabbat, one should not use a slotted spoon to separate food from the liquid in which it was cooked (ibid.), but on Yom Tov this is permitted. On Shabbat, one may not use a colander to drain water from pasta, nor may one separate the broth of a soup from pieces of food in it, and it is certainly prohibited to use a strainer to do so (ibid. 11:12); on Yom Tov, all of these actions are permitted (SSK 4:6).

Just as it is permitted to separate food for Yom Tov needs, so too it is permitted to separate clothing, utensils, or game pieces (Or Le-Tziyon 3:19:7).

As we have seen (3:8), whenever it is possible to prepare food before Yom Tov without compromising the taste of the food, any melakha involved must be done before Yom Tov. Nevertheless, if it was not done before Yom Tov, it may be done on Yom Tov with a shinui. The shinui does not need to be a major one. For example, if a plate is the surface that one generally uses for separating, he should use the table or some other surface (SHT 495:10).[8]

[7]. When psolet constitutes most of the mixture, even if it is easier to remove it from the okhel, the okhel must be removed from it (SAH 510:4; SSK 4:3); in such instances, the psolet is not subsumed by the okhel, and is thus considered muktzeh, which may not be moved. However, when most of the mixture is okhel, the psolet may be removed by hand, because the small amount of psolet is subsumed by the okhel and therefore not deemed muktzeh. The psolet becomes muktzeh only after it has been removed from the mixture (based on Tosafot, Shabbat 142b; Ḥayei Adam 82:2). Others maintain that even when the psolet constitutes the majority, one may remove it if this is easier, as the overriding principle is to minimize bother (see Kitzur Shulḥan Arukh 98:7).

[8]. The Sages prohibited straining mustard in the normal way with a strainer even if one wishes to eat it on Yom Tov, since this is usually done for the long term. Similarly, they forbade making cheese, which involves adding a starter culture to milk in order to separate the curds from the whey. If it is truly necessary to strain mustard or make cheese for the Yom Tov meal, it may be done with a shinui (Shabbat 134a; SA 510:3, 5; MB 12:21).

06. Laws Pertaining to Sheḥita

One may slaughter an animal or bird in order to eat it on Yom Tov. He may do so even if he wants to eat only a small amount of meat, as it is impossible to attain a small piece without slaughtering a whole animal.

However, it is forbidden to trap wild animals – whether beasts, birds, or fish. The Sages even forbade feeding them, out of concern that this would lead people to trap them (Beitza 23b; SA 497:2). If animals were trapped before Yom Tov and confined to a small area where it is possible to capture them with one motion and without the help of a net, they are considered already trapped, and one may take one of these animals for a Yom Tov meal (Beitza 24a; SA 497:7; Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 20:6).

Before slaughtering the animal, it must be ascertained that the slaughtering knife is sharp and smooth. If it is nicked, the slaughter is disqualified and the animal is not kosher. On weekdays, the Sages decreed that anyone wishing to slaughter must first have a scholar look at the knife and check that it is not nicked. On Yom Tov, however, a slaughtering knife may not be shown to a scholar, out of concern that if the scholar declares it unfit, the knife’s owner would sharpen it on Yom Tov, thus transgressing Torah law. Rather, the knife must be checked by a scholar before Yom Tov. Nowadays, shoḥtim receive certification attesting to their qualification for kosher slaughter, and thus we rely upon them to know how to check their own knives. Nevertheless, a shoḥet must make sure to check his knife before Yom Tov so that he will not be tempted to sharpen it on Yom Tov. In contrast, the main local rabbi may check his knife on Yom Tov, as we are not concerned that he will end up sharpening it. He may also lend it to others (Beitza 28b; SA 498:1).

Even though Mafshit (skinning) is one of the 39 prohibited melakhot (Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 18:6), on Yom Tov one may remove an animal’s skin and place it somewhere where people will walk on it, to prevent its rotting (see BHL 498:6 s.v. “kedai”). To understand why this is so, some introductory remarks are needed. During the week, after an animal is slaughtered, its hide is tanned, that is, packed in salt and other chemicals that remove its natural moisture. This prevents the hide from rotting, and allows it to be made into clothes, shoes, or rugs that last for many years. Tanning is prohibited on Yom Tov, as on Shabbat. But the Sages were concerned that people might avoid slaughtering an animal they need for Yom Tov meals in order to avoid losing the hide, which was likely to rot before the end of the festival. Therefore, the Sages permitted skinning an animal and placing the hide where people would trample it, thus preventing its decomposition. Additionally, they permitted the salting of meat (as for roasting) on top of the skins so that some of the salt falls on the hide and inhibits decomposition. After Yom Tov the hide may be properly tanned (Beitza 11a; SA 499:3).

When slaughtering a bird or an animal categorized as a ḥaya, there is a mitzva to cover its blood with dirt afterward. Since dirt is normally muktzeh, some of it must be specifically set aside for this purpose before Yom Tov. If this was not done, the bird or ḥaya may not be slaughtered (Beitza 2a; SA 498:14).

One who wishes to slaughter a sheep or goat may not yank out the wool on its neck to make room for the knife, because this violates the melakha of Gozez (shearing). Rather, he should brush away the wool with his hands. If he unintentionally pulls out a little wool, he has not transgressed (SA 498:12). After the slaughter, one who wishes to eat the skin may not shear the wool, because people will assume that he is shearing to obtain wool. Rather, he may singe the wool off the skin (SA 500:4).

Even though one may not set aside ma’aser on Yom Tov, he may give a slaughtered animal’s shank, cheek, and stomach to a Kohen, because those gifts belong to him by Torah law from the moment of slaughter (SA 506:9).

07. Sheḥita Nowadays

During the time of the Aḥaronim, the custom spread in many places not to slaughter animals on Yom Tov, for two main reasons: first, there was concern that people would do business with the meat, and second, many animals proved to be non-kosher. We will now explain.

In the past, most Jews lived in rural areas, raised livestock, and knew how to slaughter them to feed their families. On Yom Tov, several neighbors might join together to slaughter a lamb, taking care not to talk about price or weight. Rather, each neighbor would remember what part he took, and after Yom Tov, he would calculate the cost of his part and pay the animal’s owner (Beitza 27b; SA 500:1; Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 22:3). Later, during the time of the Aḥaronim, slaughtering became a specialty. A butcher would buy animals and slaughter them for the whole city. On Yom Tov, butchers needed to slaughter many animals and distribute the meat to many people. Since they would be unable to remember after Yom Tov who took what, they were likely to end up doing business on Yom Tov, which is prohibited by Torah law (see Peninei Halakha: Shabbat 22:2-3).

The second problem was that in many places adhesions on the lungs were common, to the point that sometimes half of the animals slaughtered turned out to be unkosher. It is true that many opinions maintain that even under such circumstances, slaughtering on Yom Tov is permitted (Rambam; Rosh; Rashba; SA 498:8), but others are stringent, since there is a good chance that any given animal will turn out to be unkosher, meaning that, retroactively, the slaughtering did not provide food for Yom Tov (Or Zaru’a; Ra’ah; Ran).

Therefore, many Aḥaronim ruled that livestock should not be slaughtered on Yom Tov. Fowl, though, was still slaughtered on Yom Tov. Since they are small, the meat did not need to be divided among many families, and there was less concern that people would end up doing business. Moreover, the percentage of birds that turn out to be unkosher is much lower than that of animals (MA 498:16; SAH 16; MB 498:49; Ru’aḥ Ḥayim 497:2).

Nowadays, when it is easy to keep meat refrigerated, the general practice is not to slaughter at all on Yom Tov, in order to avoid all the effort of slaughtering, checking the internal organs, skinning, and salting. Nevertheless, in cases of great need, one may still perform sheḥita on Yom Tov. Thus, if an animal is close to death, one may slaughter it on Yom Tov to avoid losing all the meat (as an animal that dies without sheḥita is not kosher), on condition that there is enough time to roast a kezayit of the meat and eat it on Yom Tov (SA 498:6; MA 16; Ḥayei Adam 89:6) A dairy cow may also be slaughtered in this case (as explained below, 6:6).

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).

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