I vividly remember one high-school Shabbaton I attended in Miami. The food preparations had been divided up among many students. At the Friday-night meal, the hostess turned to the person in charge and innocently asked where the salad was. She didn’t see it anywhere. The person thought for a moment and remembered who was charged with the salad preparation. He, in turn, asked that bachur where the salad was. “It’s right here,” he said while pointing to the macaroni salad!
Salad is an important component of Shabbos meals everywhere. However, its preparation can run into some melachah issues. In this week’s daf, we touched on the issue of tochein, grinding. Rav Papa states that someone who minces beets is liable on account of tochein. Tochein is one of the 39 melachos. We would have assumed that the melachah of grinding only comprises turning a solid item into flour-like consistency. However, Rav Papa teaches us that even cutting beets into small pieces can violate the biblical prohibition of grinding on Shabbos.
Before your Shabbos salad preparation comes to a grinding halt, Tosfos declares that Rav Papa’s novel ruling is limited to beets. Tosfos offers no explanation as to his reasoning. One possibility is that beets are customarily eaten while diced. Therefore, grinding them is viewed as a significant act and would be classified as tochein. Other vegetables, which do not necessarily require dicing, can be cut to small pieces if the cook so desires. The Nishmas Adam explains Tosfos in the opposite way. Rav Papa was saying that cutting beets even into large pieces is considered tochein. No vegetables, however, may be cut into small pieces.
Another possibility is that there really is nothing special about beets at all. Tosfos was simply stating that only vegetables can fall under the prohibition of grinding, not other items such as bread. The Shulchan Aruch rules that no vegetables may be cut into small pieces on Shabbos. He does not differentiate between beets and any other vegetable. He rules that the prohibition is biblical and not rabbinic.
The Rema, however, offers a significant leniency. He quotes the Rashba that cutting vegetables into small pieces is permitted immediately before the meal. This is similar to the melachah of borer. One may select the good from the bad for immediate use. If someone wants to follow this leniency and prepare Israeli salad (made with finely chopped cucumbers and tomatoes) on Shabbos, he must do so right before the meal. One would not be allowed to prepare the salad and then go to shul before eating it.
Some Rishonim vehemently disagree with the Rashba and in their view one should not prepare Israeli salad on Shabbos at all. However, the Mishnah Berurah rules that one should not protest against those that choose to follow the leniency of the Rema and Rashba. Nevertheless, he cautions that if one cut vegetables into small pieces and it was not for immediate use, it is likely that salad may not be eaten that Shabbos, since a Torah prohibition was violated in its preparation.
After Rav Papa’s statement, the Gemara provides an exercise to test your knowledge of hilchos Shabbos. How many Shabbos prohibitions would you violate if you made a basket on Shabbos? The answer is either 11 or 13, depending on its construction. Rashi enumerates the prohibitions and lists one of them as tochein. This immediately raises the question of how grinding is used while constructing baskets. Rashi states that cutting reeds into thin strips is also a form of tochein.
Rav Elyashiv, zt’l, extended this to vegetables as well. Someone who cuts vegetables into thin strips on Shabbos could potentially violate the melachah of tochein. Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, disagreed. While cutting reed into strips might violate tochein, cutting vegetables into strips does not. There is a different standard for food and nonfood items.
One note: Mashing fruits or vegetables is also a form of grinding. Some authorities prohibit mashing a banana even immediately prior to its consumption. For practical guidance on all these issues, contact your rav.
A word of advice—if you have no time to cut vegetables immediately before your seudah, you can always serve macaroni salad instead. v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and offers a program to help children with ADD increase focus and concentration. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.