Today’s daf deals with making an opening in an item, in our case a shirt, on Shabbat. If the neck is being opened for the first time then it is called ‘creating a utensil’ and is forbidden on Shabbat. On daf 48b we are also faced with the question of whether it is permitted to take a stopper out of a wine barrel. This may depend on how connected the stopper is to the barrel.
These questions relate nicely to whether or not we are allowed to open bottles and cans on Shabbat?
This complicated question has been extensively debated among contemporary poskim. It would be nearly impossible to quote all the different opinions and views on this controversial issue, let alone to reach a consensus for practical application. For this reason, I have decided to follow the approach of the venerable halachic authority, Harav S.Z. Auerbach, who wrote extensively on this subject and is widely quoted by other authorities.
There are four possible Biblical or rabbinic prohibitions one may violate when opening bottles or cans on Shabbat. They are:
- Fashioning an opening;
- Completing the formation of a utensil;
In order to satisfy the opinions of all the poskim, it is recommended that all bottles and containers be opened before Shabbat. If one forgets to do so, however, there are still possibilities of opening them on Shabbat:
General Guidelines: What is Prohibited? What is Permitted?
It is prohibited to puncture a hole in a can or a bottle if the purpose is to create a “good” opening through which one can pour out its contents. This is considered fashioning an opening. It is permitted, however, to open a can by lifting its tab. It is prohibited to unscrew a bottle cap if, by doing so, one creates a usable bottle cap cover. This is considered completing the formation of a utensil. It is permitted, however, to unscrew a bottle cap which already is a usable bottle cap. It is prohibited to tear the wrapping on a package if letters or pictures will be torn, or if the wrapper will be retained for any later use, such as to rewrap the item. This is considered tearing which is prohibited. It is permitted, however, to rip the wrapping in such a way that it could never be used again. It is forbidden to open a can of tuna, etc., if, after emptying the can of its contents, one will use it for any other purpose. It is permitted, however, to open a can of tuna if the can will be thrown away after its contents have been emptied, even if the contents remain in the can temporarily.
Bottle caps which lift off with a bottle opener may be removed. Bottle caps which break when unscrewed and leave a ring around the bottle neck [and bottle caps which perforate along the edge when the bottle is opened] are forbidden to be unscrewed, since the cap, which originally served as a seal, becomes a functional cap which can now be used as a cover. Thus, the first time the cap is unscrewed, it completes the formation of a utensil–the bottle cap. [If, however, the bottle is opened with the intention of throwing away the cap, it is permissible to unscrew it.] – Harav S.Z. Auerbach in Shmiras Shabbos Khilchasah 9: fn 61 and in Meor Hashabbos pg. 480. See explanation in Binyan Shabbos pg. 143. Other poskim do not agree with this leniency, see Dvrei Moshe OC 12-13 and Meleches Shabbos pg. 342.
But only caps made out of metal are included in this prohibition. It is permissible to unscrew a plastic cap, even if it separates and leaves a ring around the bottle neck. This is because plastic caps are functional even before they are screwed onto a bottle (as opposed to metal ones which, due to technological differences, become operational only after being unscrewed from the bottle the first time.) – Harav S.Z. Auerbach in Tikunim U’milluim pg.14 and in Meor Hashabbos pg. 481-482. see further explanation in Binyan Shabbos pg. 94. It is also permitted to remove the plastic caps that are opened by tearing a litle strip connected to the bottom of the cap – Binyan Shabbos pg. 94 quoting Harav S.Z. Auerbach.
Even if one mistakenly opened a can or a bottle in a manner which is clearly prohibited, the food or beverage does not become forbidden to eat – Shmiras Shabbos Khilchasah 9:23; Harav S.Z. Auerbach in Meor Hashabbos pg. 527.