0. Introduction to Laws of Borer

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The following section will deal with the laws of separating foods and items from amongst other foods and items, such as separating cucumbers from tomatoes in a salad, or a white shirt from amongst other colored shirts. Doing so in certain cases involves the Borer/separating prohibition. The laws of Borer are one of the more difficult subjects in Hilchos Shabbos[1], and due to this many of its laws are unknown to the masses which lead to people desecrating Shabbos.[2]

General Rule:

The general rule is the following: Any form of separating which is determined as a form of preparation for the food to be eaten, is forbidden to be done, while when done in the process of eating the food, is allowed to be done. The Sages defined which forms are considered a preparation and which are considered the form of eating. The following section below will explain which mixtures are defined as actual mixtures and thus receive the separating restrictions which will be explained in Halachas 1-2. Any mixture which is not defined as a mixture in this regard does not contain any separating restrictions being that the pieces are already considered separated.


What is the definition of a “mixture” to which the regulations of Borer apply?

1. How close to each other must the pieces be, and are the most outer pieces considered mixed?

A. If a mixture has scattered do the Borer restrictions still apply?[3]

A mixture of foods which became scattered to the point that people would not consider them to be actually mixed together do not have the Borer restrictions apply to them being that they are not considered mixed. Thus, if one placed a spoon of vegetable salad on his plate and the pieces of vegetables scattered from each other to the point that one would not define them as being mixed, one would be allowed to remove even the species that he does not want from his plate. However, see next question regarding if one may purposely cause the mixture to disperse in order to then be allowed to separate the unwanted pieces.

B. May one purposely cause a mixture to become scattered in order so it lose its mixture definition and then be allowed to separate from it the unwanted parts?[4]

This is allowed to be done even initially.[5] However it is initially proper for one to have another person do the separating rather than the person who caused the mixture to become scattered.[6] In a time of need one may rely on the lenient opinions and allow the person who scattered it to then subsequently do the separating.[7]

C. If two pieces are sitting side by side are they considered mixed?[8]

No, a piece is only considered mixed if the piece which one desires to remove is sitting between, and close by, to two other pieces.[9] As well if the piece is sitting between other pieces but at a distance to the point that one would not consider this a mixture then the Borer regulations do not apply, as explained above. Thus if one has one pear sitting near one orange Borer does not apply.


D. Are the outer pieces of a side by side mixture subject to the Borer restrictions?[10]

The most outer pieces which are not surrounded at all on their outer side by any other part of the mixture are not subject to the Borer restrictions.[11] However with regards to a mixture where the items sit one on top of another, see below. [Thus, if one has a vegetable platter with sliced onions on the outskirts of the platter and the other vegetables on the inner part of the platter, the onions may be removed without restriction.]

E. If one has a basket of fruits and on the bottom lies a rotten fruit which he wants to separate does the Borer restriction apply?[12]

One may remove without restriction all the fruits which are not in direct contact with the rotten fruit. However, the fruits that are in contact with it, and certainly the rotten fruit itself is subject to the Borer restrictions.


F. May one remove empty bottles from a table which contains full bottles?[13]

One may do so without restriction even if the empty bottles are touching the full bottles.[14]


G. Do the Borer restrictions apply to removing bottles from a box which contains various bottles of juice or empty bottles?[15]


2. Are two pieces of food which are lying on top of each other considered mixed?[17]

A. The Rule:

If they are a) not stuck to each other and b) are each individually recognizable to the point that they are not considered mixed in people’s eyes: they are not defined as mixed and do not contain the separating restrictions.

  • For example: One may remove a carrot from on top of Gefilte fish, or a cherry from on top of a cake or ice cream.
  • As well if one has a basket of different fruits then the most upper fruits which have no other fruit on top of them are not subject to the Borer restrictions.

If the pieces are stuck to each other, such as the cream that lies on top of cake, then the Borer restrictions apply, and one thus may not remove the cream from on the cake unless he plans to eat the cream right away.

If the pieces are not stuck to each other but are not individually recognizable and are thus considered mixed in people’s eyes then if one desires to reach the lower item and he has no interest to use the upper item at all, then he may remove the upper item even if he plans to use the lower item at a later time. However, if one is interested also in the upper item, such as to use it later on that day or the next day, then all the separating restrictions apply and one may thus only remove that item which he wants, with his hands, in order to use right away.[18]

  • For example: A box of index cards in which one needs to find one card, one may search through the cards in order to use the needed card right away.

B. Removing insects from on top of fruits:[19]

Based on the above, if an insect is stuck onto a fruit removing it retains all the separating restrictions, and thus is only allowed to remove it in close proximity to the meal. If it is not stuck to the fruit, then one may remove it without restriction being that it is not considered mixed.[20] Regarding washing the bugs off, see Halacha 1D Q&A there. For further elaboration on this topic, see next chapter under the section of peeling fruits.

3. Mixtures of a solid within a liquid:[21]

Small solids:[22] Small solids retain all the Borer restrictions with regards to removing them from liquid or vice versa. Thus, separating small pieces of onion, chicken, vegetables from soup contains the Borer restrictions. Likewise, removing a fly or hair from a liquid contains the Borer restrictions.

Large solids:[23] Solid pieces, which are large and thus individually recognizable from amongst the liquid, are not considered a mixture with the liquid and the Borer restrictions thus do not apply. However, this only applies if the solid that one wants to remove is not mixed with other solids, as in such a case, if one desires to select one solid from amongst another, the Borer restrictions would apply, as the solids are considered a mixture with each other, irrelevant of the liquid. Examples:

  • Vegetable or chicken soup: One may remove a Matzah ball, large piece of potato or large piece of meat from soup without following the Borer restrictions so long as there is only one species of solid within the soup.[24] Alternatively, if one desires to remove all the solids from the soup, then if all the solids are large, one may remove it from the soup without Borer restrictions.
  • One may remove a hardboiled egg from within water.
  • One may remove a tea bag from tea. However, one must use a spoon to do so in order to prevent any dripping of tea from the bag back into one’s cup.
  • One may remove a rice bag from amongst the chulent [although according to some Poskim one is to do so in a way that the gravy from within the bag does not drip into the chulent in the process of removing it, such as through removing it with a spoon.]

Cans?[25] Regarding removing the solid from the liquid inside of a can, If the food that is within the can is in small enough pieces to be defined as mixed together with the liquid, then the separating restrictions apply. However, if the liquid only contains large solid foods, then it is not defined as mixed with the liquid and thus none of the separating restrictions apply.

  • Canned whole pickles/sardines/eggplant: Are not defined as mixed and thus may have their liquid removed in any which way.
  • Canned cut pieces of pickles/sardines/eggplant: Are defined as mixed and thus retain all the separating restrictions explained.
  • Canned olives: Are defined as mixed and thus retain all the separating restrictions.
  • Canned Tuna: Is defined as mixed and thus retains all the separating restrictions.

May one pour out the oil from a sardine can?[26] So long as the sardines are whole one may do so as this is not considered a mixture. However, if the sardines are cut to pieces this would not be allowed. Thus, by tuna cans all the Borer restrictions apply being that the oil/water and tuna are considered mixed.


[1] Sefer Hazichronos of Rav Abuhav

[2] M”B 319 Hakdama

[3] Shabbos Kihalacha Vol. 2 P. 108; Maor Hashabbos 1:8-2 in name of Rav SZ”A; Rav Wozner in Kovetz Mibeis Levy 6-1

[4] Shabbos 74a; Igros Moshe 4:74-11; SSH”K 3 footnote 6 in name of Rav SZ”A; Shabbos Kihalacha Vol. 2 P. 108

[5] Igros Moshe ibid based on Gemara ibid

[6] Rav SZ”A ibid

[7] Shabbos Kehalacha ibid

[8] Shabbos Kihalacha Vol. 2 P. 108

[9] Ketzos Hashulchan 125 footnote 14

[10] Shabbos Kihalacha Vol. 2 P. 110

[11] As explained in the previous answer that Borer only applies when the piece which one wants to remove is sitting between two other pieces.

[12] Shabbos Kihalacha Vol. 2 P. 110

[13] Shabbos Kihalacha Vol. 2 P. 110

[14] Being that they are all individually recognizable they are not considered to be mixed, as well as that one is removing the empty bottles in order to make room on the table and not in order to separate. [However regarding full bottles, such as taking certain flavors out from ones freezer, the laws of Borer do apply, as explained in Halacha 5-Q&A there!]

[15] Shabbos Kihalacha Vol. 2 P. 110

[16] As in this case the removing of the empty bottles benefit the box.

[17] Shabbos Kihalacha Vol. 2 p. 110, and 201-206

[18] So rules the M”B in 319 Biur Halacha “Lechol Miyad”

[19] Shabbos Kihalacha Vol. 2 p. 198

[20] As well removing it does not pose a problem of Muktzah being that a) It is insignificant, and b) it is a Graf Shel Reiy

[21] See Shevisas Hashabbos Borer 18; Ketzos Hashulchan 125 footnote 14 and 126 footnote 19; Az Nidbaru 4:21; Shabbos Kihalacha Vol. 2 p. 211; Piskeiy Teshuvos 319:17; Nishmas Adam 179

[22] So is proven from Admur 319:24; Admur in Siddur; Taz 319:13; 506:3; M”B 319:61 and all Poskim who discuss the methods of removing a fly from a soup in a way that will not transgress the Borer restrictions.

[23] Shevisas Hashabbos Borer 18; Ketzos Hashulchan 125 footnote 14 and 126 footnote 19; Az Nidbaru 4:21; Shabbos Kihalacha Vol. 2 p. 211; Piskeiy Teshuvos 319:17; Nishmas Adam 179; See however Kaneh Bosem 3:19 regarding pickels in a can

[24] Meaning, that they are the only solids in the liquid. Such as soup which contains only Matzah balls, or only potatoes, and cases of the like.

[25] Shabbos Kehalacha Vol. 2 p. 212

[26] Shabbos Kehalacha Vol. 2 p. 212

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