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Food with Writing

We recently bought cookies with writing etched into them. That got me thinking that perhaps one shouldn’t eat them on Shabbat, since writing and erasing are forbidden. I’m especially concerned because we were going to celebrate my son’s birthday on Friday night with a nicely decorated cake. Is there any concern?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

There is much discussion in Jewish law concerning foods with writing on them – whether in the form of words or of images. I’ll summarize the rules below and then we can discuss your specific questions.

(a) For this context, “writing” is defined as letters or pictures written with a separate substance, such as frosting on a cake. Shapes etched into a food (or if the food itself is made into a particular shape) are not considered “writing” and so may be destroyed (Mishnah Berurah 340:15).

(b) One may not destroy writing on food with a knife by cutting it, but may do so with his teeth by eating the food (Mishnah Berurah 17). This is either because it is considered “unusual” erasing or because it is viewed as an act of “eating” rather than “erasing”. See The Shabbos Kitchen, by ArtScroll Mesorah Publications, 10:6.

(c) Although one may not destroy such writing by cutting it, he may cut in between the letters (Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasa 9:48).

Based on the above rules, cookies with writing etched into them are not a concern at all. Regarding a cake with frosting, you can serve it on Shabbat (I’d hate to spoil your son’s big event!), but be careful to cut between each letter. If you are decorating the cake yourself, be sure to leave enough space to make the cutting easy. You should also avoid elaborately decorating the cake with flowers and designs, making it impossible to find a path for the knife.

Finally, I should mention that the same concern applies with many packaged food items today. Many types of food wrappers may be opened on Shabbat, but one must be careful not to destroy writing or designs on the package.

Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld

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