39 Melachot: Melacha #7 – Borer (Sorting)

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As discussed in Mitzvah #32, there are 39 categories of constructive labor called melachot. These are the acts that were performed in the construction of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). These and similar actions are forbidden on Shabbos. Once a week for 39 weeks, we will briefly discuss one of the 39 melachos.

In the previous melacha, we discussed how winnowing would cause the papery chaff to blow away in the wind. The heavier kernels would fall to the ground, but there would remain among them some forms of debris that were too heavy to blow away. These rocks and broken bits of plant stem would simply be picked out by hand. That is the melacha of boreir, sorting.

When it comes to Shabbos, boreir involves taking something from a mixture of things that are differentiated by taste, name or function. Raisins and nuts are different and can involve boreir. Red delicious apples and McIntosh apples are different and can involve boreir. Selecting a larger slice of chocolate cake from among smaller slices, however, does not involve boreir as the slices of cake are all of the same type.

Boreir is not limited to food. Anything that can be mixed together – silverware in a drain board or laundry in a bag, for example – can be subject to the laws of boreir.

In order to remove something from a mixture, three conditions must be met. The selection must be done “miyad, b’yad, and ochel min hapesoles.” Miyad means that it must be done for immediate use. B’yad means that it must be done by hand, rather than using a special utensil. Ochel min hapesoles means that the person must remove the thing he wants from the thing he doesn’t want, not the other way around.

Some notes:

The melacha of boreir is the reason we have gefilte fish. Fish typically has small bones and removing them would be a violation of boreir. Gefilte fish, which is boneless, obviates the need to deal with potential problems.

The laws of boreir are among the most intricate of melachos. In-depth study is required to identify and deal with dozens of situations that present themselves every Shabbos.

This is just an introduction to the concepts of the melacha of boreir; it is not a substitute for a full study of the halachos.