Let's remember that the essence of Borer is: selecting items from a mixture, resulting in the mixture's being refined or improved (from the perspective of the person involved).1 Thus, using our previous example of the bowl of chips and pretzels: when I remove the food that I want to eat, I am changing the balance of items in the bowl. That further refines the mixture from the condition it was in before I did anything to it.

Also, recall our previous lesson that to select on Shabbat without violating the melacha of Borer, one must:

  1. Biyad – do this by hand
  2. Miyad – for immediate use, and
  3. Ochel – remove the good part (ochel) from the bad (pesolet)

Armed with our understanding of the principles of Borer, we now move into the full range of practical applications. Of course, there is no way to list all the possible scenarios, but we'll address some common ones. We'll begin, as we often do, with food-related issues.

Appetizers: Fruits and Vegetables

Outer leaves of green vegetables – the outer leaves of lettuce and similar items are usually unsuitable for eating. They are therefore considered 'pesolet'. How, then, can we remove them to get to the fresh leaves inside (the 'ochel')? Just as with fruits surrounded by inedible peels (remember the banana and the egg?), we may remove the outer leaves which are preventing us from reaching the food we want.2

Rotten spots on fruits – this is a common problem, especially as the fruits ripen. The rotten part is pesolet, whereas the good part is ochel. In order to remove the rotten part, we need to "take some good with the bad" – i.e. by cutting away a bit of the fruit surrounding the spoiled part.

Here we come to an important principle in Borer. If you have a mixture of 'good' (i.e. ochel) and 'bad' (pesolet), removing only the bad is forbidden. But if you remove a piece comprised of both good and bad, then the piece you removed is still a mixture of 'good and bad,' albeit in a different proportion. But the important point for us is that in doing so, you have not 'purified the mixture,' hence no act of Borer has been done.

Melon seeds – melons pose an issue because they contain numerous seeds inside. In a cantaloupe, you could scoop out the seeds, along with a bit of the melon itself. Unfortunately, this method won't work for watermelon. With watermelon, the seeds are embedded all over, and you will wind up getting some in your mouth with every bite. So the only good solution is to spit them out (gracefully, of course) as you eat (which seems to be the common way of eating watermelon, anyway).

Wait, you say: Isn't this Borer, because you are removing the 'dregs' (watermelon seeds) from the 'food' (the melon)? It might seem so. However, it is halachically acceptable because spitting the pits out is considered 'derech achilah' – an action done in the course of eating. Borer does not apply to any action that is done with one's mouth, i.e. actual eating.3

A quick review:

From these examples, we've learned two ways that you can avoid the melacha of Borer: (1) removing some of the 'good' along with the 'bad', and (2) removing the 'bad' while you're actually eating. We'll keep these in mind as we move into the next part of our hypothetical meal.

Soup and Main Courses

Fly in the soup4 – In case the proverbial fly gets into your soup (or in some other liquid), how do you get rid of it? By now, we realize that removing the fly itself would be taking 'bad' from 'good'. Technically, this is not considered a "mixture," but the custom is to use the method of removing 'good' along with 'bad' – that is, we take out the fly along with some soup.5

Slotted spoons – A spoon that has slots at the bottom for draining liquid is a common kitchen utensil. It is useful for things like cole slaw and other foods that may have excess liquid in them. But it poses a problem on Shabbat, since the removal of the unwanted liquid is a classic act of Borer: taking pesolet from ochel. Because of this issue, we avoid using slotted spoons on Shabbat.6

Removing bones – Chicken is a common food on Shabbat, and often contains bones when served. To avoid Borer, you should remove the ochel (the meat) from the pesolet (the inedible bone), either with a utensil or by eating it off the bone (as with ribs).7 If this is not practical or convenient, one can hold the bone steady, and pull the meat away from it.8

With fish bones, it's trickier, since the bones are much smaller, and it's very difficult to eat the fish off the bone. The best solution is to spit the bones out, as with watermelon pits, since this is derech achilah (the manner of eating). Where this isn't possible, a person should remove some fish with the bone, as we saw with the rotten spots on fruit. There is an opinion which allows removal of the bones immediately before eating the fish, because this may also be considered 'during the course of eating'.9

When it comes to young children or older people, someone else may remove the bones for them before they eat, as it is quite difficult for them to eat the food otherwise.10

Chicken skin – Skin may be removed, because it is considered to be an edible part of the chicken, and therefore there is no mixture of two types (recall our first lesson on Borer).11 If, however, you never eat the skin, then it is consider pesolet and must be treated the same as with bones.12

Trimming Fat – One may not trim the fat (pesolet) from meat. To separate the fat permissibly, one could cut the meat (the ochel) away from the fat, and not vice-versa. Alternatively, one could remove the fat as long as it has some meat still attached.13

Baby cereal – When making this cereal, frequently the powder and milk form large clumps which are not easily edible for the baby. As we might expect, these should not be removed by themselves, but along with some of the edible cereal.


Teabags – Drinking hot tea is very much a part of our Shabbat enjoyment. Making tea is a pretty complex affair, halachically speaking. The major issues involve the melacha of Bishul (cooking), which we'll learn later.

From a Borer perspective, the issue is removing the teabag from the cup. What's the problem? When we remove the teabag, liquid continues to drip from the bag. Some Sages hold that this constitutes selection – removing the liquid while retaining the tea that is in the bag (kind of like the slotted spoon we discussed before). Thus one should remove the teabag with a spoon, rather than by hand, since then the bag will not drip.14 Although the dripping bag has enough tea-water still in it, so that it can be considered taking out "good and bad" together, which is permitted, there is a problem of the sifting action of the tea bag.15

Next up: We'll conclude our series on Borer with one further lesson examining some common non-food scenarios.

  1. Based on Biur Halacha 319:3; 39 Melochos, p. 406.
  2. Rema – Orach Chaim 319:1 with Biur Halacha s.v. "Min"; 39 Melochos, p. 438. On fruits with inedible peels, see the end of the previous lesson.
  3. As Rabbi Ribiat puts it, “As a rule, the act of eating in itself can never be classified as a Melocho on Shabbos.” 39 Melochos, p. 422.
  4. As unappealing as this sounds, if you’ve eaten outdoors, you know that this does happen.
  5. Mishnah Berurah 319:61; See Halachos of Shabbos, X:F.1 (p. 159-60).
  6. Shvitat Shabbat, Meraked 11; 39 Melochos, p. 439.
  7. There is an opinion that says you may remove the bones from the meat if (a) there is some meat on the bones and (b) you are going to eat the meat immediately. This appears to be a less preferred option. See Biur Halacha 319:4 and Halachos of Shabbos, X:F.16 (p. 171).
  8. Biur Halacha 319:4-5; Chazon Ish (Orach Chaim 5:5); Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchato 3:11.c.3
  9. This is so because fish is commonly eaten in this way. For the discussion on fish, see Chazon Ish 54:3, Biur Halacha 319:4 and Halachos of Shabbos, X:F.17 (p. 172).
  10. Pri Megadim (Eshel Avraham 321); Shu"t Igros Moshe (OC 4:75:7); 39 Melochos, p. 431.
  11. ibid.
  12. On a rabbinic level. See Halachos of Shabbos p. 145, 169 and Mishnah Berurah 319:7
  13. There is a disagreement as to the amount of meat that must be cut away with the fat: according to the Mishnah Berurah 319:61, even a sliver of meat is sufficient; according to the Chazon Ish (Orach Chaim 54:3), a ‘significant’ amount of meat must be taken.
  14. Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchato 3:58; 39 Melochos, p. 440.
  15. Shu”t Minchat Yitzchak 4:99