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Thought for the Day: Erasing/Destroying Letters and Words on Shabbos

I am an amazing בעל עלייה/growing in spirituality daily in leaps and bounds.  Of course, like any בעל עלייה, I deny myself luxuries to show how serious I am.  My biggest sacrifice is that I eat candy only on Shabbos; and Yom Tov... and Chol HaMoed... and Rosh Chodesh... and Purim... and Chanuka... and the day before Yom Kippur.  Still, if you work that out, it means that I restrict my candy consumption to less than a third of the available time.  Impressive, no?  I thought about adding cookies and cakes to that list, but I don't want to get crazy with the my self-imposed restrictions.

There is one problem we have all experienced with eating cake (especially birthday cake) on Shabbos and Yom Tov; the problem with letters.  Any kosher bakery has a plentiful supply of plastic (or paper) mats on which they write "Happy Birthday/Anniversary/Mazal Tov/Bar/Bas Mitzvah Sprinza/Yaakov!" in cloyingly sweet frosting.  Why?  Because, as we all know, to destroy the words on Shabbos would be to transgress the מלאכה of erasing, as brought in the Shulchan Aruch, O, Ch. 340:3.  Baruch HaShem for plastic and parchment paper, so we can just lift off those problematic words and dig in to our cake unfettered by halachic boundaries.

Hang on, you may very well wonder... how do we eat OreoBloomeo's?  That's why you need to Mishna Brura, who explains (s.k. 15) that we need only be concerned about words that we added onto the cake (ie, written in frosting and the like).  Words that are actually baked into the cake itself is not called "written" and therefore the craft of "erasing" is not relevant.  (Somewhat off topic: that's also why you are allowed to walk on soft dirt with shoes that have writing on the bottom... the words impressed into the ground are not called written.)  That is also why you can eat your Hershey bar; they letters are not written on the chocolate, but are just part of the mold.

But wait!  What about M&Ms and Jelly Belly's?  Those actually have letters written on them.  (You notice these things when your restrictions increase their importance; and my candy is almost as important to me as my beer.)  And don't try to pull that same Mishna Brura on me that continues to say "you also needn't be stringent about words formed on the cake with honey", because there the intent is that they honey gets absorbed into and becomes part of the cake.  Also don't try the old פסיק רישא דלא ניחא ליה trick.  While it is true that the Shulchan Aruch holds that פסיק רישא דלא ניחא ליה is only forbidden for Torah prohibitions and this kind of erasing is certainly only Rabbinic in nature.  If you are S'fardi, ok; but that's not going to help us Ashkenazim who follow the Rema who holds that פסיק רישא דלא ניחא ליה is forbidden even for Rabbinic prohibitions.  Now what?

So... there are many halachic authorities who say that the Rema is only strict if it is single reason that knocks the prohibition from Torah down to Rabbinic; but if there are two or more, then he is fine with it.  What do we have in this case?  The erasure is:

  1. destructive; it is not being done to enable writing (or even to beautify)
  2. it is not the normal way of erasing
  3. it is actually part of the eating process
  4. I have no intention for the erasure
  5. it's not being done for the sake of the erasure  (doesn't help according to the Rambam)
So we are at least five steps away from the Torah prohibition.  Still... even though it is not technically forbidden; is it the right thing to do?  The Mishna Brura helps with a reason buried in a Sha'ar Tziyun -- it enhances one's Shabbos experience; aka עונג שבת (which Google, interestingly, translates simply as "Shabbos")  עונג שבת, of course, never permits something forbidden, but it does often affect the way we conduct ourselves with those actions that are permissible.



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