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Squeezing Lemons on Shabbat: A Sephardic-Ashkenazic Debate

Halachic authorities have debated the permissibility of squeezing lemons into a liquid (such as tea) on Shabbat since the Rishonim. This issue is an interesting example of the same point generating debate from one generation to the next. What emerges is a difference in practice between Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews.


Talmudic Background

Although the Gemara does not explicitly address squeezing lemons on Shabbat, several Talmudic passages discuss the general ban on squeezing fruits on Shabbat. The act of juicing a fruit constitutes mefareik (detaching, also called sechitah), a subcategory (toladah) of the general category (av melacha) of prohibited activity on Shabbat known as dash, threshing (see Rambam, Hilchot Shabbat 8:10 and 21:12).

Rav (Shabbat 145a) clarifies that, “The only fruits forbidden by the Torah to squeeze on Shabbat are olives and grapes,” and nearly all Rishonim accept his view. The Ran (Shabbat 61a in pages of the Rif) explains that olive oil and grape juice are inherently more important than other fruit juices.

Nevertheless, the Rabbis prohibited squeezing berries and pomegranates on Shabbat. The Gemara (Shabbat 144b) explains that people sometimes squeeze these fruits for their juice, so the Rabbis enacted a decree to treat their juice as a significant beverage, which one may not squeeze on Shabbat. The Rama (Orach Chaim 320:1) adds that this prohibition applies to any fruit in a place where some people squeeze it to drink its juice.

On the other hand, the Gemara (Shabbat 144b) permits squeezing she’ar peirot (“other” fruits, which are rarely squeezed for their juice) on Shabbat. Even if some atypical individuals juice a particular fruit, we consider their practice eccentric and halachically insignificant (batla da’ato eitzel kol adam), permitting squeezing the fruit on Shabbat. Today, Rav Yehoshua Neuwirth (Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchatah 5:2, note 2) points out that the modern food industry produces a vast array of fruit juices, so one seldom, if ever, finds a fruit that we may squeeze on Shabbat.



Lemons differ from most other fruit, for hardly anyone drinks lemon juice without first diluting it and (in most cases) adding sugar. Consequently, the Rishonim offer multiple ways to view the halachic status of lemons. Some Rishonim focus on the fact that lemons are frequently squeezed, thus placing them in the Talmudic category of berries and pomegranates (rabbinically prohibited due to the popular practice of squeezing them). By contrast, many Rishonim note that people consume lemon juice only after adding other ingredients, perhaps rendering its juice halachically insignificant regarding the prohibition of juicing fruits on Shabbat.

The Shibolei Haleket (90) cites Rabbeinu Yoshiah, who prohibits squeezing lemons on Shabbat. He equates lemons to pomegranates and berries because people routinely squeeze them for their juice. On the other hand, the Shibolei Haleket also cites Rabbeinu Yehudah ben Rabbeinu Binyamin as permitting one to squeeze lemons on Shabbat:

“It is permitted to squeeze lemons for lemon juice onto a plate, even if there is no food presently on the plate, since one will later mix the juice with food. It is understood… that lemons are squeezed only to add flavor to the food and not to be consumed (on their own) as a drink (it is permitted to squeeze fruits onto solid food; see Shulchan Aruch O.C. 320:4-7).”

The Rosh (Teshuvot Harosh 22:2) adopts a lenient ruling based on similar logic: “Lemons are squeezed for flavoring food and not for consumption as a beverage.” The Rosh and Rabbeinu Yehudah base their lenient rulings on the assumption that people do not drink lemon juice, so presumably, even they would forbid juicing lemons in those locales where people drink lemonade. Accordingly, the Beit Yosef (Orach Chaim 320 s.v. Tutim) expresses bewilderment at the common practice of Egyptian Jews who used to squeeze lemons into sugary water on Shabbat, without any of their rabbis questioning this practice (see Teshuvot Radbaz 1:10). Since people routinely drank lemonade in Egypt, squeezing lemons should have been prohibited in their locale.

The Beit Yosef offers two ways to defend this practice. First, he proposes that the prohibition of squeezing fruit only applies when people consume its juice independently. In contrast, people drink lemon juice only after adding other ingredients, such as sugar and water. Alternatively, he suggests that we forbid squeezing only types of fruit that people normally squeeze directly into empty containers. Accordingly, the Beit Yosef concludes that one may squeeze lemons since their juice is almost always squeezed into containers that already have water. Hence, lemon juice, by itself, lacks the status of a significant drink.


The Shulchan Aruch
And Its Commentaries

Rav Yosef Karo does not definitively indicate in the Beit Yosef whether we may squeeze lemons into another drink on Shabbat. In the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 320:6), however, he permits squeezing lemons on Shabbat in a brief ruling. The concise manner in which Rav Karo writes that concern for sechitah does not apply to lemons indicates that he permits squeezing the juice even into an empty barrel. According to this inference, Rav Karo accepts the approach that the prohibition of mefareik does not apply at all to juices that are not consumed independently, rather than the approach that permits squeezing lemon juice only into non-empty containers. The Shulchan Aruch would thus not only permit squeezing lemon juice directly into tea on Shabbat, but he would even permit squeezing lemon juice into an empty container.

While they fundamentally accept his lenient position regarding lemons, commentaries on the Shulchan Aruch dispute the reason for it. The Magen Avraham (O.C. 320:8) appears to permit squeezing any fruit whose pure juice, without added ingredients, is not drunk (the first reason quoted above from the Beit Yosef). On the other hand, the Taz (O.C. 320:5) adopts the reasoning of Rabbeinu Yehudah ben Rabbeinu Binyamin (mentioned above from Shibolei Haleket), who permits squeezing lemons only because lemon juice generally serves to flavor solid foods, rather than being consumed as a drink. This difference in reasoning affects our practice today because we drink lemonade, so the Taz’s leniency might no longer apply, whereas we still do not drink pure lemon juice, so presumably, the Magen Avraham’s lenient ruling would still stand.



This dispute continues even among the later authorities, including the Shulchan Aruch Harav, Chayei Adam and Mishnah Berurah. The Shulchan Aruch Harav (320:10) appears to adopt the lenient view of the Magen Avraham. He notes, however, that there may be other reasons to be strict. (See the end of the above source and contrast with Biur Halachah 320 s.v. Mutar Lesochtan.) The Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 320:17) appears to wholeheartedly accept the most lenient opinion of the Shulchan Aruch and the Magen Avraham:

“There is no concern (for mefareik) regarding lemons because they are not squeezed for their juice to be drunk independently. Rather, (lemon juice) is squeezed for use as a condiment or as an ingredient in a beverage… Therefore, lemons are excluded from the prohibition of ‘sechitah’ (mefareik).”

The Chayei Adam (14:4), Mishnah Berurah (320:22) and Eglei Tal (Melechet Dash 16:30) adopt a position of compromise. They agree with the aforementioned second reason of the Beit Yosef that we do not consider lemon juice a significant drink, as long as lemonade is usually made by squeezing the juice into a container with another liquid present. However, when the normal procedure for making lemonade is first to squeeze lemon juice into a container and then add water, the status of lemon juice rises to the same significance as other fruit juices. Hence, squeezing lemons would constitute a rabbinic prohibition, even if the juice went directly into another liquid.

These three authorities all point out that the procedure for making lemonade in their time was first to squeeze lemon juice into empty containers and then add water. Therefore, lemon juice was elevated to the status of a significant drink, rendering juicing lemons on Shabbat a rabbinic prohibition.

The Chayei Adam and Mishnah Berurah cite a simple way to squeeze lemons into tea without violating any prohibition, the Radbaz’s suggestion that one first squeeze the juice onto sugar (Teshuvot 1:10). As we mentioned earlier, there is no prohibition of squeezing any juice onto a solid. After the sugar absorbs the lemon juice, we can place the mixture into the tea. Indeed, many observant homes today follow this practice.

However, while the Mishnah Berurah wholeheartedly endorses juicing lemons onto sugar, the Chayei Adam expresses some reservations about it. The Chazon Ish (56:7) firmly objects to it, arguing that people seek to squeeze lemon juice into their tea, so they share the same status as one who squeezes it directly into the tea.


Contemporary Authorities

Contemporary authorities continue to disagree regarding which opinion to follow. Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (reported by Rav Yosef Adler) and Rav Ovadia Yosef (Livyat Chein pages. 83-85, Halichot Olam (5:98) and Chazon Ovadia Shabbat 4:134) rule following the lenient view of the Shulchan Aruch, Magen Avraham and Aruch Hashulchan that one may squeeze lemons directly into a liquid even in a place where people commonly squeeze lemon juice into empty containers. Rav Shimon Eider (Halachos of Shabbos, pages 101) and Rav Yehoshua Neuwirth (Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchatah 5:6) fundamentally adopt the Mishnah Berurah’s approach, to first squeeze the lemon juice onto sugar. Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg, however, told me that he believes one should follow the opinion of the Chazon Ish, who requires either juicing the lemon before Shabbat or placing it directly into the tea.



Bottom line, Sephardic Jews may follow the Shulchan Aruch and Rav Ovadia Yosef, permitting the squeezing of lemons on Shabbat. Ashkenazic Jews, however, should follow the majority of Ashkenazic authorities who rule more strictly.

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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