Talmudic pages

Shabbat 144

When life gives you lemons (or grapes or pomegranates...)

“Making good wine is a skill; making fine wine is an art.” — Robert Mondavi, winemaker. 

Whether skill or art, the rabbis certainly considered making wine to be a melachah (prohibited labor on Shabbat). But what about other forms of juicing? Is the act of juicing any produce prohibited or is it only commonly juiced produce? And does the ultimate use of that juice matter? Today’s daf provides answers to these questions and gives us a glimpse into the produce commonly eaten in talmudic times.

This whole discussion stems from the “parent labor” (av melacha) of “threshing” (dash). Previously, when we read about threshing, it meant removing kernels of grain from their hull — and also other analogous kinds of labor. Here, it is understood as the removal of food or drink from where it has been enclosed (Rashi Shabbat 73b) — in this case, juice from within produce.

The mishnah on the previous daf states that one may not squeeze juice on Shabbat, and even if the juice seeps out on its own, one may not consume it. However, the Gemara softens this strict prohibition by suggesting it applies to only two types of produce, olives and grapes, which were regularly pressed in antiquity to produce olive oil and wine. Furthermore:

Rabbi Yehuda conceded to the Rabbis with regard to olives and grapes that liquid that seeps from them on its own on Shabbat is prohibited during Shabbat. From where do we conclude that the Rabbis concede to Rabbi Yehuda with regard to other fruits? It was taught: One may squeeze plums and quinces and crab apples. However, one may not squeeze pomegranates, because they are typically squeezed for their juice, as people from the house of Menashya bar Menahem would squeeze pomegranates (during the week). 

The Talmud then establishes three categories of produce with regard to juicing on Shabbat:

  1. Grapes and olives: These are regularly juiced and may not be juiced on Shabbat. Not even juice that seeps on its own is permitted.
  2. Pomegranates: These are sometimes juiced and may not be juiced on Shabbat.
  3. Plums, quinces and crab apples: These are not normally juiced and so juicing them on Shabbat is permitted.

So how does this work for contemporary observant Jews? Are trendy green juices permissible? Or, once people start to juice celery, spinach or other greens, do these fall into the category of the pomegranates — now forbidden for juicing on Shabbat? Rabbi Moses Isserles, a 16th century Jewish legal authority in Ashkenaz, ruled that in a place where it becomes common to drink particular juices for thirst or pleasure, those varieties take on the status of “pomegranates” and may not be juiced on Shabbat (Orach Chayim 320:1).

And here’s another leniency found on today’s page:

A person can squeeze a cluster of grapes into a pot of food, but not into an empty bowl.

To translate this into more contemporary cuisine: even though lemons are regularly squeezed for their juice and should not be juiced on their own, some say it’s permissible to add a twist of lemon juice straight into a pot of solid food on Shabbat. Here, the Talmud distinguishes between juicing which produces a new entity, such as grape juice from grapes (which is impermissible) and juicing for the sake of enhancing a dish (which is permitted). But the more interesting insight might be that the talmudic rabbis set juicing standards for their own time while also allowing for Jewish law to adapt to potentially changing juice trends in different times and places.

Read all of Shabbat 144 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on July 28, 2020. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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