June 19, 2024
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June 19, 2024
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Opening Soda Bottles on Shabbat

There is much confusion surrounding the issue of opening soda bottles on Shabbat. So this week, Hillel and I set forth to bring much-needed clarity to this issue.

Metal Bottle Caps

Although we saw last week that he believes that baseline Halacha permits opening cans on Shabbat, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Teshuvot Minchat Shlomo 1:91:12) rules that it is forbidden to open metal bottle caps on Shabbat. He believes that by doing so, one creates a functional bottle cap. He explains:

Even if one should break the container and remove all of its pieces from the bottle cap, as long as it is connected to its bottom ring it cannot serve as a bottle cap for another container. Accordingly, it becomes a functional bottle cap only when one twists the cap and thereby removes the bottom ring from it. Hence, opening the bottle cap constitutes an act of “creating a vessel” (tikkun kli).

In the manufacturing process, small pieces of metal (and not bottle caps) are affixed to the top of the bottles. The metal bottle top becomes a bottle cap only when one twists it and removes the bottom ring.

Rav Shlomo Zalman cites the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 322:4) as a precedent for this ruling. The Shulchan Aruch forbids removing a splinter from a piece of wood to use as a toothpick because doing so constitutes a forbidden action of fashioning a kli on Shabbat. Rav Shlomo Zalman claims that twisting open the bottle cap similarly fashions a functional bottle cap.

Rav Moshe Feinstein (cited by Rav Efraim Greenblatt, Teshuvot Rivevot Efraim 4:189) and Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv (mentioned in Shalmei Yehuda, p.104) are among the prominent poskim who concur with Rav Shlomo Zalman’s strict ruling.

On the other hand, many prominent poskim rule leniently regarding this question. Rav Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yechave Daat 2:42) and Rav Eliezer Waldenberg (Teshuvot Tzitz Eliezer 14:45) are among the significant poskim who subscribe to the lenient approach to this question. Rav Ovadia and Rav Waldenberg argue that the bottle cap serves as a functional bottle cap even before one removes the bottom ring. They point out that it serves as a bottle cap for the bottle it is covering. Thus, the fact that it cannot serve as a bottle cap for another container before it is broken is irrelevant.

Moreover, Rav Waldenberg questions the analogy to the Shulchan Aruch’s ruling that forbids taking a splinter from wood to serve as a toothpick. He argues that the two cases are not comparable because the bottle cap is designed to remove its bottom ring. Thus one is not creating a new kli.

Rav Waldenberg adds that one’s intention when opening the bottle cap is to gain access to the drink and not create a bottle cap. He writes, “No one opens a container to obtain a useful bottle cap for a different container.”

Rav Ovadia Yosef develops this theme further. He cites a crucial insight of the Maggid Mishneh that appears in his commentary to the Rambam, Hilchot Shabbat 12:2. The Rambam writes that if one extinguishes metal in water, he violates a Torah prohibition of mechabeh (extinguishing) only if he intends to temper the metal. The Maggid Mishneh asks why the Rambam requires the intention to temper the metal to violate the prohibition to extinguish Shabbat. Does not the Gemara state many times that one is responsible for an inevitable action even if it is not his intention for that act to happen (pesik reisha)? The Maggid Mishneh answers that Halacha regards one as fashioning a utensil only if this is his intention. In this case, if he does not intend to temper the metal, he is not responsible for doing so, even if it is inevitable that it will happen.

The Maggid Mishneh’s comments are cited by the Magen Avraham (318:36). The Ohr Sameach (commenting to Rambam Hilchot Shabbat 12:2) describes the Maggid Mishneh’s assertion as “a profound insight” and “a precious jewel.” The Ohr Sameach explains that intention, in this case, defines the act. Tempering metal is usually removed from one’s purview, and therefore one is not responsible for tempering metal unless he has a specific intention to do so.

Rav Ovadia reasons that the same applies to opening the bottle cap. Creating a functional bottle cap for another utensil is not one’s intention when opening the bottle. Hence, he is not defined as making a bottle cap since creating a bottle cap is beyond his purview.

Rav Ovadia concludes, though, that it is best to accommodate Rav Shlomo Zalman’s opinion and open the bottle before Shabbat. Rav Waldenberg offers as an alternative solution that one discard the bottle cap immediately after removing it. This action concretely demonstrates that he does not intend to create a functional bottle cap for another utensil.

Plastic Bottle Caps

Interestingly, Rav Shlomo Zalman modifies his original ruling in his revisions and addenda to Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchata (number 61). Rav Shlomo Zalman writes that one may be lenient in a case where it is evident that the bottom ring is distinct from the rest of the bottle cap. In such a design, the cap is functional and complete even before being sealed onto the bottle. Rav Shlomo Zalman’s ruling applies to the plastic caps of currently used soda bottles.

In contrast to metal bottles, bottle caps are affixed to the bottle tops in the manufacture of plastic tops. In other words, the tops are already bottle caps before they are connected to the soda bottles. Hence, when opening them on Shabbat, one is not creating a bottle cap, even according to Rav Shlomo Zalman.

Conclusion

Rav Ovadia Yosef’s lenient approach to opening soda bottles is exceedingly persuasive. Nonetheless, it is worthwhile following Rav Ovadia’s preference to go above and beyond baseline Halacha requirements (middat chasidut) and open metal bottle caps before Shabbat. However, regarding opening plastic bottles, one may open them with confidence, even on Shabbat.

Next week, Hillel and I conclude our learning with a discussion of opening soda cans on Shabbat.


Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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