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Opening Bags on Shabbas

Author: Rabbi Eli Ozarowski
Article Date: Sunday March 26, 2006
Description: Einayim L'Torah Parshas Tzav 5766. Contemporary Halacha by Rabbi Eli Ozarowski

 
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Last week we discussed the permissibility of opening bottle caps on Shabbos; this week we will focus on the issue of opening bags on Shabbos.
The poskim dispute a case where the bag is used only to hold the contents within until they are finished, such as a bag of sugar or potato chips. According to the stringent opinion, opening such a bag is forbidden due to the fact that you are making the bag a usable kli (vessel) from which you can remove the food. Furthermore, tearing it open normally might violate the prohibition of koreya, tearing. This is the position of Shemiras Shabbos ke-Hilchasah (9:3), Minchas Yitzchok (1:77, 4:82, 6:27), and Chazon Ish (51:11), who forbade the similar case of opening tuna cans as, among other concerns, a form of tikkun kli (making a vessel) when some of the tuna will remain inside until a later use.
However, other poskim, such as R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos ke-Hilchasah note 11), R’ Moshe Feinstein (Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim 1:122 in a lengthy teshuvah), among others, permit the opening of these bags. They argue that this is not considered to be tikkun kli because the bag will be thrown out after the contents are finished. Therefore, it is comparable to the case of a musteki, a talmudic utensil considered to be somewhat non-permanent, which is permitted to be taken apart without concern for violating tikkun kli or the melocha of soseir, destroying (Shulchan Aruch 314:1).
Furthermore, there may be no violation of koreya here either: the Tosefta (Shabbos 17:9), cited in the Mishnah Berurah (314:25), allows tearing the leather covering of a barrel without concern for koreya, and many understand the reason to be that even if the covering is not destroyed, it is batel (subordinate) to the barrel, and tearing the covering is therefore like the mere removing of a nut from its shell (though see Chazon Ish above and 61:2 for a different explanation). Some poskim claim that our case is comparable, and thus permit tearing the bag (see Igros Moshe, Orach Chaim 1:122, R’ Neustadt in The Weekly Halachah Discussion p.134-138, and Tikunim u-Miluim to Shemiras Shabbos ke-Hilchasah 9:11). Others (cited in Shemiras Shabbos ke-Hilchasah, ad loc. note 11) employ other factors for leniency, combining the opinions that the biblical prohibition of koreya only applies when doing so al menas litfor (in order to sew it later), that it is not koreya when the tear itself constitutes a tikkun, and that koreya is not violated when tearing one entity into two (rather than the tear separating two attached items).
However, R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach says that one should nevertheless not tear the bag open on the top seam, as one normally would, because this might constitute asiyas pesach, creating a nice opening; rather, one should tear it partially into the middle of the bag. R’ Moshe Feinstein goes even further and says that because people will end up being lenient in opening items that are absolutely forbidden, in practice one must forbid opening all food items.
Even according to the machmirim (stringent opinions), it may be allowed to open the bag in a destructive manner (derech hashchasah). This is because the concern of tikkun kli is circumvented when the bag cannot be used again, and koreya is not violated when done in this manner because it is similar to the case of tearing the leather on the barrel, where one only desires the contents on the inside. This is the position of the Minchas Yitzchok and Shemiras Shabbos ke-Hilchasah, among others. However, some argue that Chazon Ish forbids opening such bags even when destroying it in the process, perhaps because there is still an issur derabanan (rabbinic prohibition) of soseir, or for other reasons (see Piskei Teshuvos 314, note 2).