Talmud pages

Shabbat 146

Bottom of the barrel.

The central theme of today’s daf is the celebrating of Shabbat by serving food and drink. But like the discussion of mustard and vinegar we saw a few pages back, the debate here reminds us that preparing for Shabbat in advance can save you a lot of trouble. If you don’t plan ahead, you may get caught in a dilemma like the one that begins today’s page.

What if I have some food in a barrel that I want to serve? Can I make an opening in the barrel to get at it? Naturally, it depends.

The mishnah that opens the page offers this general rule:

A person may break a barrel on Shabbat in order to eat dried figs from it, provided he does not intend to make a vessel. And one may not perforate the plug of a barrel to extract wine from it; rather, one must remove the plug entirely to avoid creating a new opening for the barrel. 

The mishnah is concerned here with the intention behind making an opening. If you’re merely trying to get at the food, one can perform an action that would normally be prohibited on Shabbat, like breaking a barrel, so long as one is not intending to create a new vessel from the old one. Likewise, if it’s wine in a barrel that could be accessed through a small hole, one should remove the plug rather than cut a new perforation, because perforation would amount to creating a new opening in the barrel.

From the debate that follows, the rabbis appear to be concerned with balancing the need to eat on Shabbat with minimizing the possibility that in accessing the food one might perform a forbidden action. If you can access a vessel by removing a plug instead of making a new opening, go ahead. If you must make a small opening in the plug, better to make a small opening in an existing plug than cutting an entirely new one. And if you do make a new perforation, it might be permissible because the opening only allows the liquid to travel in one direction — that is, out of the barrel — and such one-way openings are not really openings. And of course, if the purpose of making an opening is to strengthen the barrel (rather than just to get the wine out) that would surely be forbidden.

Today, we don’t pay such close attention to how our food is stored. But the array of can openers, juice boxes with straws, plastic bags, pull tabs, boxes and bottles of wine with stoppers reminds us of the many varied ways we may be accessing or opening things on Shabbat. Today’s daf also reminds us that our attempts to make Shabbat feel special by abstaining from certain actions must be balanced with our need to perform positive acts, like extending hospitality to guests for meals.

But the main thing we can take away from this page is that when it comes to having a wide menu of food and menu offerings available, preparing them before Shabbat can save you some serious headaches.

Read all of Shabbat 146 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on July 30, 2020. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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