The Chocolate Bar Question

  1. There seems to be a question about unwrapping certain bars of chocolate on Shabbos. Can you explain?
  2. All the Poskim say that we should open packets, cans, bottles etc before Shabbos to avoid numerous questions concerning the prohibition of tearing, building, erasing etc on Shabbos. Because of a little-known halocho in hilchos mochek people can unwittingly transgress a Torah prohibition of mochek (erasing) if we open certain types of chocolate bars on Shabbos. This article will explain the issue from the sources.

Gemoro Shabbos (75b) says: If a person wrote a letter on Shabbos so big that in the same space two letters could have been written, he is potur — he is not required to bring a sin offering. (One has to write a minimum of two letters to be obliged to bring a sin offering even though writing one letter is forbidden by the Torah.) If someone erased one large letter, leaving a space big enough to write two letters, he is chayav (he is obliged to bring a sin offering.) Rebbe Menachem b’Reb Yossi said, “This is an example of erasing (on Shabbos) being more serious than writing.” Rashi explains that the whole essence of the melacha of mochek (erasing) is the creating the possibility of writing. Since here as a result of the erasing one can write two letters in this space, one will be chayav.

The Rosh says that one does not have to erase letters to be chayav. Even if one erases a smudge, creating enough space to write two letters where the smudge was, one is also chayav. This is brought in the Tur (340). As a consequence of this halocho, the Chayei Odom (Siman 40:8) says that we have to be careful not to erase any discolourations from our hands, which are potential writing surfaces, when we dry our hands after netilas yodayim on Shabbos because of mochek. Although others say that the prohibition only applies on a surface which is normally used for writing, we should certainly make sure lechatchila that there are no stains on our hands or the hands of our children before Shabbos comes in, to avoid any question of mochek, besides the mitzvah of washing ourselves to be clean in honor of Shabbos. If childrens’ hands become dirty during Shabbos one may wash them, relying on the more lenient opinion.

The Shulchan Aruch follows on from the Tur (ibid) and says that if someone erases ink from parchment or wax from a writing surface on Shabbos, he is chayav, if there is now enough room to write two letters. Mishna Berura (10) brings from the Bach who bases himself on a Tosefta that he will also be chayav if the wax is currently on top of two letters and someone removes the wax, revealing the letters. And if the wax was over one letter it is forbidden rabbinically. As Rashi wrote earlier, the essence of the melacha of mochek is enabling the creation of letters. Since this act in effect produces two letters one has transgressed mochek. It cannot be the melacha of kosev (writing) since one didn’t write the letters but the re-instatement of the letters as a result of “erasing” the smudge is mochek.

The Be’er Hetev brings the Shevus Yaakov who disagrees sharply with the Bach. “If a person removes wax from two letters which can now be read, he cannot be chayav for mochek or anything else. He has merely revealed two letters which were there all the time. And the Shevus Yaakov gives a totally different explanation of the Tosefta which was the source of the Bach.

This argument between the Bach and the Shevus Yaakov can be very relevant when we have a book or a bencher which have two pages stuck together and we want to turn over the top page revealing the writing underneath. We therefore need to see what other acharonim hold to see what the accepted halocho is. We might find some guidance if we turn to a discussion in Hilchos Tefilin (Shulchan Aruch (32:17). “If a drop of ink falls on to a letter and now the letter is unrecognizable, one may not remove the ink so that the letter is again in its correct form, because it would chok tochos (the creation of a letter by the removal of other ink, rather than writing the letter itself) and not kosher. The Magen Avrohom (23) says that if some ink fell into a letter beis making it look like a peh one may not remove this ink to recreate a beis, but if wax fell on to the letter in a similar way, one may remove it.” Why is this not chok tochos? The explanation must be that the wax, although it made the letters underneath illegible, has not removed the letters. They are still there. Therefore the removal of the wax has not “created” new letters and it is not chok tochos. This seems to indicate that the Magen Avrohom holds like the Shevus Yaakov. Indeed the Machatzis Hashekel says that this Magen Avrohom is against the opinion of the Bach in siman 343. He also brings that the Me’il Tzedoko argues with the Bach. Rebbe Akiva Eiger also seems to agree with this Magen Avrohom. Does this indicate that most poskim would be lenient and not agree with the Bach’s chumra?

The Biur Halacho in siman 343 is unimpressed by this proof from Hilchos Tefilin. He says, “Even though in Hilchos Tefilin, wax stuck over letters has not destroyed the letters and the removal of the wax has not created new letters (which would be not kosher in Hilchos Tefilin,) in Hilchos Shabbos, since at first one could not read the letters and now one can, this repairing process which enables the letters to be read is included in the prohibition of erasing in order to write.” In fact one has to make a distinction between the case of Tefilin and the case of Shabbos because the Magen Avrohom himself (according to some texts) agrees with the Bach as pointed out by the Machatzis Hashekel. Further, the Biur Halocho brings from Rebbe Akiva Eiger that the argument is only about wax. If glue is stuck to the lower surface making the letters illegible, this is comparable to ink falling on the letters which “destroys” the letters and everyone, including the Shevus Yaakov, would agree that it is forbidden to remove that glue if it would reveal letters underneath. Often pages of benchers are just stuck lightly with by some food and this isn’t a problem. But if they are properly stuck together, indeed they should not be separated.

Now let’s return to our chocolate bar. With the bigger bars one can often open the packet without tearing or destroying the outer cardboard. The inside silver paper may be torn indiscriminately in order to reach the chocolate. But with the very small bars, one can only open them by pulling at the top level of paper which is stuck with glue to the bottom level of the paper. Sometimes this tears the bottom paper including some writing, which is not allowed. But even if one does it carefully, and the bottom piece of paper does not tear, the writing on the bottom piece can be read, possibly transgressing mochek min hatorah according to the Bach. And since it is stuck with glue and not just wax, even the Shevus Yaakov would forbid it according to the Biur Halacha we brought above. It might be more lenient if we have no interest in reading any text but that is another discussion. In view of all this, we do need to open these little bars before Shabbos. If we remember, we will be able to enjoy both Shemiras Shabbos and Oneg Shabbos. Enjoy!

Look out for Rabbi Fletcher’s new sefer, The Hidden Light, coming out soon.