Borer (Part 8) The Melakha of Zoreh

  • Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon


By Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon


Shiur #08: BORER (Part 8)


XV) The Melakha of Zoreh



Is it permissible to scatter pesolet (refuse) by blowing with one's breath?  Is one allowed to use a spray?  Is one permitted to shake out a tablecloth so that the crumbs will be scattered? 


As we have learned, the first stage of processing harvested grain is disha (threshing), removing the chaff from the kernel, and the second stage is zeriya (winnowing), separating the husk and the stalks from the grain.  During disha, each wheat kernel is removed from its husk, but the kernels, stalks and husks are still mixed together, and they must be separated.  One therefore takes a winnowing fan (mizreh), into which the kernels, stalks and husks are placed and then thrown in the air.  The light husks and stalks blow away in the wind, while the heavy kernels fall back into the winnowing fan.  This action is zeriya, and the melakha (or the person performing it) is known as zoreh.


Is there any practical application of this melakha in a non-agricultural setting?  Study of the sources reveals that there are both incidental and direct ramifications.


Performing a Melakha via the Wind


One incidental ramification is found in Bava Kamma (60a), where the Gemara analyzes one's liability for fire-starting in light of the melakha of zoreh.  If a person lights a fire, and the wind fans it and causes it to spread and damage, in certain cases the fire-starter will be exempt from paying for the damage, as it is caused by the wind.  According to this, the Gemara asks why a winnower should be liable on Shabbat, because a winnower only throws the kernels and the husks up in the air, and it is the wind which blows away the husks.


The Gemara resolves this question in a number of ways, but the most resolution for our purposes is that of Rav Ashi:


When we say that zoreh [is liable when] the wind helps, this is true for the issue of Shabbat, because it is “thoughtful labor” which the Torah forbids; but here it is mere causation, and one is not liable for damages by causation.


Rav Ashi explains that the action of zeriya is considered causation (gerama).  Therefore by the laws of damages, the winnower should be exempt; however, by the laws of Shabbat, one will be liable, since "the Torah forbids thoughtful labor (melekhet machshevet)."  In other words, since the person knows that his action will make the husks fly away, and one wants to use the wind as a tool for bereira, this is considered a Shabbat violation for which one is liable, even though one is exempt for causing this type of damage.  The Rosh (ibid. 6:11) explains this further:


There "the Torah forbids thoughtful labor" — even though "it is mere causation," the Torah rules that one is liable in such a case, since this melakha is essentially performed by the wind [and it is considered a melakha nonetheless], "but here [with regard to damages] it is mere causation, and one is not liable for damages by causation."


On this explanation, one is liable for the melakha of zoreh even though one does not perform the action directly, since the melakha is generally done by the wind; this is the accustomed and accepted way to process grain.


The Mishna Berura (316:10; Shaar Ha-tziyun, 13) applies this explanation to one of the Rambam's rulings on the issue of trapping.  The Rambam (10:22) writes that one who stands in front of a deer and startles it, helping one's dogs to reach the deer and grab it, is liable.  The Mishna Berura explains that even though one is apparently doing only an act of causation, nevertheless one is liable, since this is the way of the hunters, just as it is the way of the farmers to select via the wind. 


Scattering Pesolet by Blowing


What direct ramification is there of this melakha?  An act which is similar to zoreh in contemporary reality is scattering the pesolet by blowing with one's breath.  For example, if there is a mixture of peanuts and seed coats, and one blows on them and scatters the seed coats, this action is very similar to zoreh.  Indeed, the Arukh (s.v. Zar) writes that the prohibition of zoreh applies to blowing with one's breath:


For every process which is completed by the wind blowing, one is liable for zoreh, and if one takes by hand okhel (food) which has pesolet or dirt in it and blows [the pesolet] away with one's breath, this is zoreh.


This view is shared by the Ba'al Ha-tanya (Piskei Ha-siddur, Hilkheta Rabbeta Le-shabbeta) and the Tal Orot (Introduction to Laws of Borer, Zoreh and Merakked).  The Shevitat Ha-shabbat also rules along these lines (Zoreh, 5):


Taking grain in one’s hand and throwing it into the wind in order to scatter the husk or dirt, or taking it in one’s hand and blowing it off by mouth to scatter the husk or dirt — these are subcategories of zoreh.   One should also not throw grain to birds from a high place because of zoreh.


However, it appears that the Arukh Ha-shulchan (319:26) rules that one may separate pesolet by blowing:


If one has wheat which was rubbed together on Erev Shabbat, so that [the kernels] are still mixed with their husks, one cannot sift them even with a reed-basket or a tray.  Moreover, [doing so] with a sieve and a sifter would be bereira, making one liable to bring a sin-offering.  Similarly, one may not blow them away with one's two hands, pouring from one hand to another until the husk comes off, because this is a weekday practice.  However, one may blow with one's hand and all of one's strength — i.e., one may take it one's hand, raising the hand and lowering it until the husk comes off, in order to do it with an alteration.  Furthermore, blowing it with one's breath definitely appears to be allowed.


He seems to rule that blowing is not really equivalent to zoreh, since the separation is not done by the wind but through manpower.  Nevertheless, logic seems to demand that if separation effected by the wind is forbidden, all the more so one must forbid separation by manpower!  Therefore, it appears that practically one must forbid separation of okhel and pesolet by blowing with one's breath, since this is explicit in the words of the Rishonim, and most halakhic authorities confirm this — and so it appears logically.


In conclusion, the melakha of zoreh teaches us that sometimes a person is liable even for a melakha that is done using natural forces, such as the wind, when this is the normal way of executing the melakha.  The melakha of zoreh has limited practical halakhic ramifications nowadays, but there are a few derivative actions related to this melakha, including that one may not scatter pesolet by blowing with one's breath.


Scattering Using the Wind


The Yerushalmi (7:2) has a surprising ruling: "If one spits and the wind blows it away, one is liable for zoreh."  How can someone be liable for spitting into the wind?  Ostensibly, this is not similar at all to zoreh, because in the melakha of zoreh a person causes the separation between the kernel and the husks — between okhel and pesolet — and if so, there is only a scattering of the spit, without any separation between okhel and pesolet!


It appears that according to the Yerushalmi, the prohibition of zoreh applies to any scattering of components by way of the wind, even if both of them are okhel or both of them are pesolet.  This understanding of the melakha is apparently opposed to what the Bavli states (73a): "Zoreh is borer is merakked!"  According to the Gemara, the melakha of zoreh is similar in its nature to the melakha of borer: just as the aim of borer is separating pesolet from okhel, so one must define the melakha of zoreh (just that bereira is by hand and zeriya is by wind).


It turns out that there is a basic dispute in the definition of the melakha of zoreh: according to the Bavli, the definition of zoreh is separating pesolet from okhel using the wind; according to the Yerushalmi, the definition of zoreh is the scattering of components using the wind.


Consequently, it appears that we should rule that it is permissible to spit into the wind, since we follow the Bavli.  However, the Rema (319:17) follows the Yerushalmi: "If one spits into the wind on Shabbat and the wind scatters the spit, one is liable for zoreh."  This is astounding — he is ruling against the Bavli!  Indeed, Rabbi Akiva Eger (Responsa, 1st Ed., Ch. 20) argues with the Rema and allows one to spit into the wind.  He speaks of a similar question: is one allowed pour water into the wind, in such a way that the wind scatters the water.  He writes:


As I was walking on Shabbat in the synagogue courtyard here in the holy community of Leszno, I saw a man who poured water out of a bottle through the window, into the enclosed courtyard.  As I watched, it occurred to me that there is a concern of a prohibition, since the wind scatters the drops, one turning this way and one turning that way; this is akin to what we find in the Yerushalmi in Chapter 7, "If one spits and the wind blows it away, one is liable for zoreh."  If so, apparently even with pouring a bit of water — not a great torrent — there is power in the wind to scatter it, so one should be liable for zoreh.  

However, after a bit of analysis it appears that there is good reason to be lenient, because one must justify the view of the earlier halakhic authorities, from whom no secret was hidden — namely: the Rif, Rambam, Semag, Rosh and Tur — who did not cite the abovementioned passage in the Yerushalmi, which is a tremendous halakhic innovation!  It appears that their reasoning is this: they believe that the halakha does not follow this ruling, for our passage [in the Bavli] disputes this by stating: "Zoreh is borer is merakked!" — which implies that the essence of the melakha of zoreh is like borer, for the wind takes and separates pesolet from okhel.  However, when it is all pesolet and one does not select one from the other but only divides it into small parts, it is not included in zoreh...

It also seems, in my humble opinion, that even according to the abovementioned view of the Rema, one has good reason to permit it in our case...  According to this, one may say that here too zoreh is only applicable to that which grows from the ground...  As for the fact that the Yerushalmi makes one liable for spitting into the wind, one must say that this in accordance with the view of Rabbi Yehuda, that threshing applies to that which does not grow from the ground, and the same applies to zoreh; alternatively, it is evident from the view of the Rambam that man and animal are considered as if they grow from the ground...

Similarly, in our case, it should certainly be permissible if there is not a case of pesik reisha (an inevitable, unintended result), because it is clear that one has no intention here.  Even with a case of pesik reisha, according to the Arukh, an unwanted pesik reisha is allowed even rabbinically; in our case, it is unwanted, because what does one care if the wind will divide up one's expectoration?  Furthermore, even according to Tosafot, who argue that it is banned, it would be so only rabbinically...  

So one may rely on these abovementioned leniencies, taking into account that the halakhic authorities omit the Yerushalmi and that, even according to the Rema, there is a great distinction between spitting and winnowing. 


Rabbi Akiva Eger bases his lenient ruling on a number of points:


1.    The Bavli argues with the Yerushalmi and permits this, and the halakha follows the Bavli. 

2.    Major Rishonim, such as the Rif and the Rambam, do not cite the Yerushalmi.

3.    The person has no intent to scatter the spittle.

4.    It appears that zoreh should only be applicable to that which grows from the ground, which would exclude water (although perhaps not spit, as there are those who believe that human beings and animals, because they depend on flora for sustenance, have this status).


The Bei'ur Halakha (319:17, s.v. Mefazzer) cites Rav Akiva Eger's responsum, and appears to accept his view.  He goes on to cite an original view from Rabbi Menasheh of Ilya, one of the Vilna Gaon's students:


In the book Alfei Menasheh, he explains that the intent of the Yerushalmi is that one transports an item four ammot (cubits) in a public domain by the wind.  Thus, this is merely an example, the analogy being that just as with zoreh the wind assists and nevertheless one is liable, so too the one who spits is liable for transporting via the wind.  This is correct.


In other words, the Yerushalmi only forbids spitting in an area in which one may not carry on Shabbat, and the innovation is that even though the person does not take the spittle four ammot away directly, but through the agency of the wind, nevertheless one is liable, just as we find with the melakha of zoreh, but the liability is not because of zoreh but because of the melakha of hotza'a (transporting).


Similarly, the Arukh Ha-shulchan (319:42) is shocked by the Rema's ruling, and he writes that perhaps it is due to a printer's error, that "one is liable for zoreh" should really be "one is liable for zorek" (throwing), and he is speaking of spitting into the wind in an area in which one may not carry on Shabbat, and it is the wind which takes it four ammot away.[1]


However, according to many Acharonim, although spitting into the wind is not a Torah prohibition, there is a rabbinic ban.  This is what the Chayei Adam (15:1; Nishmat Adam) indicates:


One who winnows with a shovel into the wind is liable; therefore, one may not spit into the wind, because the wind will scatter it, and this is akin to zoreh.[2]


The Ba'al Ha-tanya (Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav 446:5; Kunteres Acharon 3) appears to agree with this, based on his solution for one who finds chametz at home during the Yom Tov of Pesach:


So too, by Torah law, one may crumble it and scatter it in the wind, and zoreh is only considered to be a primary melakha when one winnows grain in order to separate husks from it, selecting pesolet from okhel, but when one casts all of the okhel into the wind, there is no Torah prohibition.


From his words, it is implied that throwing chametz crumbs into the wind is not forbidden by the Torah, but is rather prohibited due to a rabbinic decree (which is superseded by the interest of avoiding the Torah prohibitions of owning chametz on Pesach).


In the laws of Pesach, the Mishna Berura (Shaar Ha-tziyun 446:7) rules similarly, stating that throwing crumbs into the wind "is not a biblical melakha" and he refers to the Ba'al Ha-Tanya's words, implying somewhat that he agrees that this act is rabbinically prohibited.  On the other hand, in the laws of Shabbat, the Mishna Berura (319:67) rules that it is altogether permissible to spit into the wind:


We have not seen anyone who is concerned about this, since one has no intention — all the more so that this is not the way of winnowing!


It may be that according to him, one may forbid on a rabbinic level throwing matter into the wind when one has this intention; however, when the person does not intend to scatter, but in fact the wind scatters what one throws, one may permit the matter.[3]


According to this, it is permissible to expectorate or urinate in a windy place when one has no intention of effecting dispersal via the wind, but when one is interested in this dispersal — e.g., one is shaking the crumbs out of a tablecloth into the wind (assuming that this is in an area where one may carry) and one wants the wind to scatter the crumbs so that they will not be concentrated in one place — it is appropriate to be stringent.  There is more of a reason to be lenient when what is being dispersed has not grown in the ground.  (Below we will discuss shaking out a tablecloth in a place which is not windy.) 


Using a Spray


An important practical ramification of this analysis is the use of an aerosol spray on Shabbat.  This would seem to be quit similar to the case of the Yerushalmi: dispersing a substance in the air.  In this case, there is even more of a reason to forbid this practice, because one wants the substance to be dispersed (unlike spittle), and apparently, according to the Mishna Berura, it would be prohibited.  Rabbi Avraham David Horowitz rules in accordance with this logic in a responsum (Kinyan Torah, Vol. V, Ch. 23).


However, it seems that there is a valid halakhic basis for allowing the use of a spray.  First, we have seen that there are halakhic authorities who reject the Yerushalmi absolutely and believe that the melakha of zoreh is not applicable when there is no separation between okhel and pesolet.  However, even if we are worried about the Yerushalmi and say that there is a problem of zoreh (at least rabbinically) in the scattering of components using the wind, this may not pose a problem with an aerosol: in the spray the scattering is done by manpower and not by wind power, and it may be that an act such as this is not considered zoreh at all.[4]  The Minchat Yitzchak (Vol. VI, Ch. 26), after noting that some are concerned about the Rema's ruling and its implication for using perfume, concludes:


However, it appears that in every case such as ours, in which the wind does not do anything and everything is done by human hands, everyone would agree that there is not even a rabbinic prohibition of zoreh... for if one does the dispersal alone, without the assistance of the wind, there is not even a supposition that it would fall in the category of zoreh.


Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yechaveh Daat, Vol. VI, Ch. 25) rules leniently, and Rav Elyashiv concurs (Kovetz Teshuvot Me-harav Elyashiv, Vol. I, Ch. 36), and this is the halakhic consensus.  According to this, it would be allowed to shake out a tablecloth in a place which is not windy, even if one intends to scatter the crumbs, since the prohibition of zoreh is not applicable to scattering done by human beings.


Adding Water to a Humidifier


Similarly, one may add water to a humidifier.  This device separates the water into droplets that are dispersed in the form of vapor.  There is no problem of cooking, and as we have seen now, there is also no problem of zoreh, because a) this is a dispersal of water, and not a separation between okhel and pesolet; and b) the scattering is done in a mechanical way, not by the wind.  Indeed, there are those who forbid this because of molid, creating a new entity (Minchat Yitzchak, Vol. VII, Ch. 28), but the generally accepted view is to be lenient about this, certainly for the sake of a minor or a sick person (as the Rema rules {318:16} that one may be lenient about molid when it is needed).  Rav Moshe Feinstein (cited in Rav Shimon Eider's Halachos of Shabbos, Zoreh, n. 64) also rules leniently in this case.


However, one must be careful not to add water in a way which will cause the device to activate.  (Some devices continue to work without the addition of water, while some stop, in which case adding new water causes it to switch on again).



In conclusion, the Yerushalmi forbids spitting into the wind because of the prohibition of zoreh.  The Rema codifies this, but most halakhic authorities argue with him, and they claim that there is no prohibition of zoreh when there is no separation of okhel from pesolet.  The Mishna Berura rules leniently, at least when one does intend to disperse; but in a place where one aims to have the wind scatter it, it is appropriate to be stringent.


Similarly, one may use an aerosol spray on Shabbat without being concerned about zoreh, since there is no separation of okhel and pesolet, only scattering, and this dispersal is effected by manpower and not by wind power.  Similarly, one may add water to a humidifier, as long as the device is already operating and adding water does not cause it to activate.


XVI) General Summary: Borer



We will try to briefly summarize the main principles of borer (along with its complementary melakhot, merakked and zoreh), as we have learned in this series of shiurim.


Bereira is forbidden by the Torah, but there are circumstances under which one is allowed to perform bereira.  For this we require three conditions (as Tosafot state; this is the accepted halakha): okhel from pesolet, for immediate use, and by hand.



Translated by Rav Yoseif Bloch











[1] However, this does not appear to be the simple meaning of the Rema's words, for if we were talking about the melakha of hotza'a, the Rema would cite this in the laws of hotza'a (Ch. 346), not in the laws of borer (Ch. 319). 

[2] The Tiferet Yisrael (Kalkalat Shabbat, Kelalei Lamed-Tet Melakhot, Zoreh) rules accordingly, arguing that this is the proper reading of the Yerushalmi.  See the Eglei Tal (Zoreh, 1, 8).

[3] Rabbi Akiva Eger also indicates in the end of this responsum that there is reason to be concerned about the Yerushalmi's view when one's intent is to scatter; however when one does not have such an intent, there is room to be lenient.  According to him, even when one is talking about a situation of pesik reisha, one can be lenient, since there are those who allow a pesik reisha when one has no interest in it, and even those who forbid do so only on a rabbinic level.  Since we are talking about a rabbinic doubt, one may be lenient, in accordance with the view of the halakhic authorities who are not concerned about the Yerushalmi.

[4]  However, it may be that according to the Yerushalmi, if dispersal by wind is forbidden, all the more so scattering by a person should be forbidden.