Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Numbers and Letters on Bottlecaps

I've been wanting to see this psak for a while, and finally looked it up today. In Yalkut Yosef Hil. Shabbos vol. 2 p. 519 ROY paskens that if letters are printed on a bottlecap so that when one opens the bottle one rips the letters it is nevertheless permitted to open the cap on Shabbos! He says it is Middas Chassidus to open it prior to Shabbos, but that if one forgot to do so he may do so on Shabbos itself. His rationale (note 21) is that since he does not intend to erase the letters, even though it is a pesik reisha, since he has no hana'ah from the mechikah, and since this mocheik shelo al menas liktov is only assur me'd'Rabbanan, it is permitted. He refers to Tosafos in Shabbos 103a and Yoma 34b, to the Rashash to Kesuvos 6a, and to the Netziv, the Divrei Malkiel, and R' Yitzchok Elchonon in Be'er Yitzchok #15.


  1. What about other wrappings with writing, eg a chocolate wrapper?

  2. This is a famous psak of ROY but the MB as well as virtually all other contemporary poskim disagree as you're probably well aware

  3. I heard a shul rav paskin a different heter for the bottlecaps:
    Rama and the Levush argue in a case where there is writing on the side of the pages of book, and opening and closing the book will disconnect and then rejoin the letters.

    Rama paskins l'hatir b/c anything that is meant to be consistently done and undone does not have the status of being completed. In the case of the book, it is never a completed kesiva, and therefore, it is not kosaiv or mochek.

    I can tell you who i heard it from if you'd like.

  4. Yd, that reasoning would only work on a pre-opened bottle, not one that is being opened for the first time on Shabbos

  5. I think the heter is based on derech tashmisho. A similar case would be opening and closing a door. It's not called boneh b/c it's normal usage is opening and closing. This usage is makfiah it from being called an act of melacha. This heter would apply even to a door that had not yet been opened.

    So in our case, since the derech is for the writing to be broken and reconstituted, it is not viewed as an act of koseiv and mocheik, rather opening and closing the cap.

    Bottom line, the derech is defined by its design. Not whether it had yet been broken.

  6. According to that reasoning it would be muttar to cut the letters on a cake, after all, the intention of the usage is to eat it. MB and many others forbid it.

  7. Okay, good point. Let me change the lomdus a bit:

    The letters written on pages
    1) are meant to be used while being opened and closed and
    2) are already "broken up" because the pages are each individual entities.

    Therefore, breaking up the words is not considered to be erasing and putting them back together is not writing; they maintain their identity as writing even when broken up.

    Similarly, the words on the bottlecap are designed to function as letters even after opened, and the perforation gives the writing an identity as letters even when broken up.

    However, letters on a cake or a wrapper are never meant to be brought back together and therefore are viewed as "erased" once they are separated. Additionally, the writing is not separated at the outset and therefore does not retain its identity when broken up; the opening violates the natural state of the writing.

    I hope this makes sense.

  8. I would agree after you open the bottlecap that it is similar to the book but the first time it's opened I would still argue it's similar to the cake. BTW let's also keep inmind what the MB suggests re: the letters on the book -- if you have another without letters use that.

  9. (Since I'm out of town right now, this is from memory, and should be checked "inside.")

    According to the Shemiras Shabbos K'Hilchasa vol. 3, in the dinim of psik reisha (paraphrasing and elaborating a bit), even Ashkenazim tend to be meikel in the case of a psik reisha d'lo nicha lei - even in a d'orysa, IIRC, but certainly in a d'Rabbanan (to a significant extent, because Reb Chaim held that the Rambam was meikel like the Aruch in this regard - which is why Reb Simcha Zelig, the Dayan in Brisk, was one of the early mekilim on opening fridges on Shabbos).

    OTOH, SSK holds that we are machmir on a psik reisha d'lo ichpas lei, even in a d'Rabbanan (Mocheik shelo al menas LiKtov) - which is the case here. But he does say that b'makom mitzvah or other tzorech one can be meikeil.

  10. So why should the lettering on a cake or any other food be forbidden according to the MB?he saw the Dagul Mervava but disagreed.

  11. Since he wants to eat the letters, doesn't that make it d'nicha lei?

  12. he wants to eat the food, not the letters

  13. I agree, the outcome of the letters being erased is lo ichpas lei, nicha lei would be if it benefitted him to have the letters erased. (maybe if it said the name of his secret identity or something)

  14. Torah.org Home

    Weekly Halacha

    Parshas Noach

    By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt

    A discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week. For final rulings, consult your Rav.


    The Biblical prohibition of erasing letters on Shabbos applied to erasing for the purpose of preparing the surface for future writing. This was the nature of the "erasing" in the Mishkan. The Rabbis, however extended the prohibition to include any and all erasing, regardless of the purpose of the erasure and even when the erasure served no purpose at all, as in tearing the lettering of a package(1).

    QUESTION: On Shabbos, is it permissible to cut letters or pictures which decorate a cake?

    DISCUSSION: Rama(2) quotes a view that prohibits cutting or breaking off a piece of cake on which letters - or pictures(3)- appear. The fact that the person has no intention of erasing the letters and is interested only in eating the cake makes no difference; the letters are erased in the process, so cutting or breaking off a piece of decorated cake is forbidden based on the rule of inevitable consequences (pesik reisheh). It makes no difference, according to this view, if the erasure is done prior to eating by cutting the cake with a knife, or even if the letters are erased by biting into and chewing the cake(4). Either action is considered to be erasing and is prohibited.

    Other poskim(5) differ with the Rama. They maintain that the Rabbis did not forbid cutting or breaking off a piece of cake because: 1) the erasing in this case is not done for the sake of future writing; 2) the erasing is destructive; 3) the erasing is done indirectly (k'lachar yad). According to this view, then, it would be permitted to cut a decorated cake, even before eating it, although the frosted letters would definitely be erased. Latter-day poskim debate what the practical halachah should be. Some tend to be lenient(6), while others are stringent(7). The Mishnah Berurah rules that one may rely on the lenient view only when the erasing comes as a result of biting and chewing. Cutting the cake before eating it is prohibited. However, the following exceptions are discussed by the poskim:

    1. It is permitted to cut between letters even if a word is destroyed(8). It is also permitted to remove a letter on the icing along with a thin sliver of cake on which it rests(9).

    2. It is permitted to cut letters or figures that are baked into the body of the cake itself(10). It is also permitted to cut a cake or cookie that has a meaningful shape(11), such as a gingerbread man.

    3. It is permitted to cut letters which are made from fruit juice or from honey mixed with water. Decorations fashioned from those ingredients are not considered "permanent(12)." The sugar-based frosting commonly found on cakes today which hardens when it dries is not included in this leniency(13).

    4. Although some poskim allow a right-handed person to cut the cake with his left hand and vice versa(14). many others do not allow this leniency(15).

    5. If the cake was cut before Shabbos, one is permitted to separate the pieces on Shabbos(16).

    6. A cake with lettering may be placed in front of a child even though the child may erase the lettering on the cake(17). An adult may not, however, specifically instruct the child to erase the lettering(18).


    1 See Mishnah Berurah 340:41 and Sha'ar ha-Tziyon 76.

    2 O.C. 340:3.

    3 Mishnah Berurah 340:16. Rabbi P.E. Falk (Zachor v'Shamor, sec. 33, pg. 13) maintains that pretty patterns such as a zig-zag design along the edges, criss-cross lines running across the surface, etc., are not included and are permitted to be cut.

    4 Taz 340:2; Chazon Ish O.C. 61:1.

    5 Dagul Mi-revavah O.C. 340.

    6 Sha'arei Teshuvah 340:5 and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 80:63. See also Aruch ha-Shulchan 340:23, who maintains that the entire prohibition is limited to letters that are formed from ink or paint. Nevertheless, he advises to let a child cut the cake, as quoted later.

    7 Shulchan Aruch Harav (343:10) and Chazon Ish O.C. 61:1 who prohibit erasing letters even by biting and chewing.

    8 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 9 note 48).

    9 See The Shabbos Home, pg. 50.

    10 Mishnah Berurah 340:15; Har Tzvi O.C. 214. In other places, however, the Mishnah Berurah seems to contradict himself and prohibits this - see 475:47 and 500:17. Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 11 note 31) attempts to resolve this contradiction. See also Chazon Ish O.C. 61 who questions this leniency.

    11 See footnote 30. In this case, even Chazon Ish seems to be lenient.

    12 Mishnah Berurah 340:15. Chazon Ish questions this leniency.

    13 Tifferes Yisrael (Kalkeles Shabbos - erasing); Ketzos ha-Shulchan (144:3); Be'er Moshe 6:94.

    14 Eliyahu Rabbah 240:11.

    15 Avnei Nezer 209. Mishnah Berurah, too, does not quote this option. See also Mishnah Berurah 340:22 quoting the Chayei Adam who maintains that - with the exception for the prohibition of writing - there is no difference between using the right and left hand in regard to all of the Shabbos prohibitions.

    16 Harav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos K'hilchasah 11 note 30).

    17 Mishnah Berurah 340:14. See explanation in Shulchan Aruch Harav 340:4 and 343:10. See also Chanoch l'Na'ar 17:4-5.

    18 Shulchan Aruch Harav 343:10.

    Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and Project Genesis, Inc.

    Rabbi Neustadt is the principal of Yavne Teachers' College in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also the Magid Shiur of a daily Mishna Berurah class at Congregation Shomre Shabbos.

    The Weekly-Halacha Series is distributed L'zchus Hayeled Doniel Meir ben Hinda. Weekly sponsorships are available--please send email to the moderator, Dr. Jeffrey Gross jgross@torah.org.

    The series is distributed by the Harbotzas Torah Division of Congregation Shomre Shabbos, 1801 South Taylor Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118--HaRav Yisroel Grumer, Marah D'Asra

  15. So, even by cake, not so pashut - and there you do want the letters to begin with, and want to cut them to eat the cake. No?

  16. This is the bottom line: "The Mishnah Berurah rules that one may rely on the lenient view only when the erasing comes as a result of biting and chewing. Cutting the cake before eating it is prohibited."

    We are not discussing the exceptions-- they don't apply to the bottle question anyway. Furthermore you now seem to be indicating that there's a psik reisha d'nicha lei since you want to cut the letters. I can agree and add that the same would apply to the letters on the bottle.

  17. I'm not arguing that it should be muttar l'chatchila for Ashkenazim, but you don't see a chilluk between edible letters and non-edible letters, in which cutting the former would be "more" assur?