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Borer – Separating Two Edible Foods on Shabbat

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Today's Halacha:

The Shabbat prohibition of Borer forbids separating "Pesolet" (refuse, or undesirable substance) from "Ochel" (food). One is allowed on Shabbat to remove "Ochel" from "Pesolet" (as opposed to removing the undesirable substance from the edible food), provided that he does so with the intention of eating the "Ochel" immediately or very soon thereafter.

The prohibition of Borer applies as well to the separation of two edible foods from one another. For example, if a person has a salad containing lettuce and tomatoes, and he does not want to eat the tomatoes, it would be forbidden for him to remove the tomatoes from the salad. Even though the tomatoes are perfectly edible, they are nevertheless considered "Pesolet" for this individual who does not want to eat them. Therefore, he would have to remove the lettuce – the food he wants to eat – from the salad just before eating. This is the ruling of the Mishna Berura (Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan of Radin, 1839-1933), in Siman 319 (Se’if Katan 3).

If a person has on Shabbat two foods that are mixed together, and he wants to eat them both, he may take first whichever food he chooses, without concern. For example, if one wants to eat both the lettuce and the tomatoes in the salad, he may eat in any manner he wishes. Since he plans on eating both foods, they are both considered "Ochel" and the prohibition of Borer does not apply.

Is one allowed on Shabbat to separate foods which he does not intend to eat? For example, if different fruits are together in a bowl, and a person wants to separate them for the sake of organization, without intending to eat any of the fruits, is this permissible on Shabbat?

This issue is subject to debate among the Halachic authorities. The Peri Megadim (Rav Yosef Teomim,1727-1792) maintained that since the person in this case has no intention to eat any of the foods, they cannot be considered "Ochel" or "Pesolet." As such, the Borer prohibition cannot apply, and it is therefore permissible to separate the foods. Many other authorities, however, disagreed, and ruled that it is forbidden to separate foods that are mixed together even if one does not plan on eating them. This is the ruling of the Menuhat Ahaba (Rabbi Moshe Halevi, Israel, 1961-2001) and also the position taken by Hacham Ovadia Yosef, as indicated in Yabia Omer (vol. 5).

Summary: It is forbidden on Shabbat to separate inedible substances from edible food. Separating is allowed on Shabbat only if one removes the desirable food from the undesirable substance, and if he does so just before eating. This applies as well to separating two perfectly edible foods when one wants to eat only one of them; he must remove the food he wants to eat from the food he does not want to eat, rather than removing the food he does not want to eat. If one has two foods mixed together and he wants to eat both of them, he may eat first either of the two foods. It is forbidden to separate foods that are mixed together even if one does not intend to eat any of them.