Squeezing Lemons on Shabbat by Rabbi Chaim Jachter



            Parshat Terumah discusses the construction of the משכן and its various utensils.  The Mishkan is the source of derivation for the thirty nine categories of forbidden labor on שבת ()ל"ט מלאכות.  It is hence appropriate to discuss an aspect of Hilchot Shabbat this week.

            The permissibility of squeezing lemons into a liquid (such as tea) on Shabbat has been debated among Halachic beginning with the Rishonim all the way up to contemporary authorities.

Talmudic Background

            The issue of squeezing lemons on Shabbat does not appear in the Gemara.  However, we must first see the Talmudic background to this issue.  Almost all Rishonim accept as normative the assertion of Rav )שבת קמה.( that דבר תורה אינו חייב אלא על דריסת זיתים וענבים בלבד - "the only fruits that are forbidden from the Torah to squeeze on Shabbat are olives and grapes."  They are prohibited because of the subcategory )תולדה( of סחיטה (squeezing) which is part of the general category of work of דש, threshing, (see Rambam Hilchot Shabbat פרק כא הלכה יב and פרק ח הלכה י).  Rashba and Ran (commenting on שבת קמה.) explain that the juices of olives and grapes are considered a significant drink. Therefore it is Biblically forbidden to produce their juice on Shabbat.  The juices of other fruits are not considered significant by the Torah and therefore are not biblically forbidden to squeeze on Shabbat.  We find a similar idea articulated in the Gemara (ברכות לח.) that juices of other fruit are considered זיעה בעלמא, "mere sweat," and therefore the bracha made on these juices is only שהכל נהיה בדברו.

            Rabbinically however, it is forbidden to squeeze תותים ורימונים, berries and pomegranates on Shabbat because the Gemara (:שבת קמד) explains, כיון דאחשיבנהו להו משקה.  Since these fruits are squeezed for juice, the juice are considered significant and they are considered [מדרבנן] to be a drink, and are forbidden to produce on Shabbat. The רמ"א (אורח חיים שב:א) adds that in a place where the practice of some people is to squeeze a particular fruit for its juice as a refreshment or pleasure, it is forbidden on שבת to squeeze such a fruit in that locale. The Gemara, (:שבת קמד) states that שאר פירות, other fruits, that is fruits that are hardly ever squeezed for their juice are not forbidden to be squeezed on שבת. Even if there is one individual who does squeeze a particular fruit, his actions are considered eccentric (בטלה דעתה אצל כל בני אדם), and therefore halachically insignificant.  Hence, it would be permissible to squeeze that fruit on Shabbat.  It appears that in our times, almost all fruits are squeezed by some elements in the food industry and one would be hand-pressed to find a fruit that would be permitted to squeeze on Shabbat.


            Lemons, however, are different than almost all other fruits, in that hardly anyone drinks lemon juice alone without mixing it with water and (in most cases) sugar.  Therefore, the Halachic status regarding lemons as far as the prohibition of סחיטה is concerned, is unclear.  On one hand, it is frequently squeezed and should therefore be in the Talmudic category of תותים ורמונים, berries and pomegranates.  On the other hand, since lemon juice is not consumed by itself without additions, perhaps its juice is not considered Halachically significant.  The first Rishon to deal with this issue was the Shibolei Haleket (סימן צ).  He cites two opinions regarding this issue.  He cites the opinion of Rabeinu Yishai who believes that it is forbidden to squeeze lemons.  He reasons that since people squeeze lemons, lemons are Halachically identical to תותים ורמונים.  However, he cites the opposing view of Rav Yehudah Ben Rav Binyamin who rules that "it is permitted to squeeze lemons for lemon juice onto a plate, even if there is no food presently on the plate, since he will later mix the juice with food and it is understood that by all, that lemons are squeezed only to add flavor to the food and not to be consumed as a drink."  The Rosh (תשובות הרא"ש כב:ב) likewise adopts a lenient ruling based on basically the same logic - "that lemons are squeezed for the purpose of flavoring food and not to be consumed as a drink."

            It should be apparent to the reader that even according to the two lenient opinions we cited, it would seem to be forbidden to squeeze lemons if in that culture, lemon juice was used as a drink, even if it was not drunk alone without additions. The lenient opinions were based on the fact that lemon juice was not consumed as a drink. Accordingly, the Beit Yosef (אורח חיים סימן שכ ד"ה תותים) is puzzled by the common practice in Egypt "for Jews to squeeze lemons into water which has sugar added to it, and everyone does so on Shabbat as well, and no Rabbi questions this practice."

            The בית יוסף offers two ways to defend this practice of Egyptian Jewry. First he suggests that it is not forbidden to squeeze a fruit such as a lemon, whose juice is not consumed independently. The second suggestion is that it is forbidden to squeeze a fruit whose juice is first squeezed directly into containers. Lemons are permitted to be squeezed since their juice is almost always squeezed into containers that already have water in them.  Hence, lemon juice is not elevated to the status of a significant drink.

Shulchan Aruch and Commentaries

            Rav Yosef Karo (the author of both the בית יוסף and the שלחן ערוך) does not indicate in the בית יוסף which answer he considers to be normative. However, in the שלחן ערוך (אורח חיים שכ:ו), Rav Karo unequivocally states מותר לסחוט למוני"ש"", "it is permissible to squeeze lemons". This follows the first approach he adopted in the בית יוסף, that squeezing lemons is not included in the prohibition of סחיטה since lemon juice is not consumed independently. Accordingly to the שלחן ערוך it would be permissible to squeeze lemon juice directly into tea.

            The commentaries to the שלחן ערוך disagree as to how to rule on this issue. The Magen Avraham (ס"ק ח) appears to accept as normative the ruling of the שלחן ערוך that squeezing lemons is permissible "כיון שאין דרך לשתותן לבדו" , since it is not consumed independently.  On the other hand, the ט"ז סיעף קטן ה'() seems to adopt a strict view on this matter.  He adopts as normative the opinion that it is permissible to squeeze lemon only if the juice is intended to be used to add flavor to food and not to be consumed as a drink.  The ט"ז apparently rejects both of the Beit Yoseph's justifications for the practice of Egyptian Jewry to squeeze lemon on Shabbat.

Late Codifiers

            This dispute continues even among the later codifiers such as the שולחן ערוך הרב, חיי אדם, ערוך השולחן, and משנה ברורה.  The שולחן ערוך הרב (שכ:י) appears to adopt the lenient view of the שולחן ערוך and מגן אברהם.  However, he notes that there is reason to be strict according to the minority view that prohibits squeezing שאר פירות (all fruit even if it is never squeezed).

            However, the משנה ברורה (ביאור הלכה סימן שכ ד"ה מותר לסחטן) rules that one need not be concerned with this minority view that שאר פירות may not be squeezed for their juice.  The ערוך השולחן (שכ:יז) appears to wholeheartedly accept the most lenient opinion of the שולחן ערוך and the מגן אברהם.  The ערוך השולחן writes "there is no concern [of סחיטה] regarding lemons because they are not squeezed to drink its juice independently."  Rather, its juice is squeezed to be used as a dip or into water or other beverages, but not to be consumed independently.  Therefore, lemons are entirely excluded from the prohibition of סחיטה."

The חיי אדם (יד:ד), משנה ברורה (שכ:כב), and אגלי טל (מלאכת דש סעיף ט"ז, וסעיף קטן ל'), adopt a middle position regarding this issue.  They regard as normative the aforementioned second answer of the בית יוסף.  This approach was that the lemon juice is not regarded as a "significance drink" only if the normal procedure for making lemonade is squeezing the juice into a container that already has a liquid present.  In that situation, lemon juice has not been "אחשבינהו" elevated to the status of a "significant drink."  However, in a culture in which the normal procedure for making lemonade is to first squeeze lemon juice into a container and subsequently to add water, then the status of lemon juice would be elevated to a "significant drink."  In that culture squeezing lemons for its juice would be Rabbinically forbidden, even if the lemon is squeezed into a liquid.

            The three aforementioned major authorities, חיי אדם, משנה ברורה, and אגלי טל all point out that the procedure for making lemonade in "their time" (and many people today) was to first squeeze lemon juice into empty containers and subsequently to add water.  Therefore, the status of lemon juice was elevated to a significant drink and it would be forbidden to squeeze lemons for its juice on שבת.

            The חיי אדם and משנה ברורה offer a simple way to squeeze lemons into tea without violating the סחיטה prohibition.  They cite the recommendation of the רדב"ז (תשובות הרדב"ז א:י), that one first squeeze the juice onto sugar (juice may be squeezed into food but not liquid).  Then, after the sugar absorbs the juice the sugar is placed into the tea.  Indeed, this has become common practice in many observant homes.  The reasoning of this leniency is that the juice is being squeezed into a solid and not into a liquid.

            Nevertheless, some authorities question this procedure.  Even the חיי אדם already expressed some reservations regarding this procedure, although the משנה ברורה wholeheartedly accepts it.  The חזון איש (see נה:ו and נו:ז) firmly objects to this procedure.  He argues that since one's intention and objective is to squeeze lemon juice into tea, it is considered as if one is squeezing the lemon directly into the tea.

Contemporary Authorities

            Contemporary authorities continue to disagree as to which opinion to follow.  The opinions range from the most lenient to the most strict.  Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik זצ"ל (cited by our מנהל, Rav Yosef Adler, who served as Rav Soloveitchik's assistant for a number of years) ruled in accordance with the lenient ruling of the שולחן ערוך, מגן אברהם, and ערוך השולחן that it is permitted to squeeze lemons directly into a liquid (even when lemon juice is commonly squeezed into empty containers).  Rav Hershel Schachter told this author that he believes that it is preferable to follow the approach of the משנה ברורה to first squeeze the lemon onto sugar.  Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, however, told this author that one should follow the approach of the חזון איש.  According to this ruling, if one wants lemon juice in his tea, the juice should be either squeezed before Shabbat or the lemon should be placed directly in the tea.  One should consult his Rav for guidance as to which opinion one should adopt in practice.

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