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Thought for the Day: Cutting Through Graphics on Shabbos

In case you don't know (I didn't, but that's never a proof of anything other than my cluelessness; which needs no further proof at all), there is now edible paper.  I don't mean, paper that if you eat it will not harm you (remember all that paper we chewed up in our youth?).  I mean truly edible -- with a hechsher and everything -- paper; not to mention edible inks and printers that won't mangle or get gummed up, to boot.  Why would you want edible paper?  Why, so you can put extraordinary pictures on cakes and whatnot!  And even better... if you serve them on Shabbos, we have a whole new level of concerns!  Cool!

We have all been duly brainwashed (I mean that in the best sense; our minds are clean enough to accept this idea) that one may not cut through letters on cakes; we are all careful to cut through any lettering on the cake or to put the fancy "Happy Birthday, Little Shmerel!" on a piece of paper that can be removed before cutting.  On the other hand, we also know that we can eat M&Ms (even though they have letters on them), Jelly Bellys (even though they have whole words -- albiet tiny -- printed on them), and certainly Hershey bars (with "Hershey's" boldly engraved across the whole bar).  So where does edible paper with pictures on it fall?

I had (I though) a reasonably convincing argument that one should not only be able to bite through the pictures, but even cut through it to serve portions of cake.  I was right on the first point and mostly wrong on the second.  It's worth understanding why.  The argument has four main points.

First, when the Shulchan Aruch says that one must not cut through letters on cookies (340:3), the Mishna Brura comments (sk 16): there are those who are stringent with pictures.  "Hah!", I reasoned, "the Mishna Brura could have said that pictures are the same!  Seems like there's some wiggle room about cutting pictures!"  Second, the Mishna Brura further says (sk 15) that if one drizzles honey mixed with water onto the cake (thus making the writing part of the cake itself), then there is no problem.  Third, Shulchan Shlomo (sk 8) says that there is no concern at all when the letters don't have any tangible substance (like ink on a page, I am thinking...).  The Shulchan Shlomo further adds (in a footnote) that there is no issue with tearing the graphics printed on the the plastic milk bags used in Israel.

I proudly took my arguments to R' Fuerst, along with a sample of the paper.  R' Fuerst examined the paper and said, "I don't see a possibility of being lenient."  But... but...

On my first point, R' Fuerst told me to go learn the Biur Halacha there.  It's one of those tome of a Biur Halacha that you want to save for Shabbos when you have lots of time.  So I did.  Turns out the Mishna Brura here just meant. "There are some very serious reasons and big time authorities who include picture as equal with letters."  Oh.

On the honey/water argument... I looked around and found that the Mishna Brura is lenient because that stuff doesn't stay as letters in the cake.  It's so fluid that it spreads out quickly.  Similarly for the Shulchan Shlomo's "no tangible substance".  Oh.

On the graphics issue, I went back to re-read it... and found some words that (in my enthusiasm for a bomb leniency) had missed on first reading.  Namely, he is taking about simple designs that are made as part of the background, not vibrant pictures made for themselves.  The designs that are not a problem to cut includes lines, boxes, swirls, even cloud shaped blobs; but it excludes logos, which have an importance for themselves.

Bottom line: the edible paper pictures can certainly be eaten, so if it is on a cupcake or you are a glutton, you can bite through them.  It is forbidden, however, to cut through them; even though you are only cutting with the intention of making them serving sized.  Live and learn.

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