My eldest daughter is learning hilchos shabbos in school and this always seems to lead to amusing discussions as we attempt to try to figure out the logic behind various chumros taught as "THE" halacha. The way girls learn halacha (and it's not much better for boys, but since boys have a gemara background they have the tools to discover more on their own) is by memorizing a list of do's and dont's with scant attention to distinctions between a d'oraysa or a chumra of an acharon and with little more than a smattering of understanding of the principles behind halacha (after all, to derive principles you need to go back to the source and open a gemara, and we would not want to encourage that even in areas where they must know and understand the law.) The do's and don'ts are "THE" halacha -- seldom is there a mention of multiple views or an attempt to understand them. In general, this is what many parents expect -- schools are there to teach dogma, not to teach people to think (but that's another discussion).
So we come to a psak on borer that my daugter came home with that got us involved in a nice review of these halachos, which is what I wanted to write about before starting my rant. My daughter's teacher declared that it is prohibited to remove a sticker from an apple on Shabbos in order to eat the apple.
To begin to understand this we need a quck review of borer. Borer means selecting between items and is permitted if three conditions are met:
1) ochel is being removed from psoles
2) it is for immediate need/consumption
3) a special utensil (e.g. a strainer) is not being used
Rule #1 needs special clarification. Ochel here does not mean exclusively food, nor does psoles mean bad stuff. Ochel in this context means the item you want; psoles is the item being discarded.
The reason why these rules apply (note: this was not explained to my daughter) is because the melacha of borer involved sifting the harvest for storage. The conditions above distinguish the act of simply eating from the prohibited act of sorting the harvest.
So the sticker on the apple is being removed by hand, meeting criteria #3, the apple will be eaten immediatly, meeting criteria #2, but the sticker being removed is psoles because it will be discarded in the trash. We fail on condition #1. QED removing the sticker is prohibited.
Sounds simple, but I think it is totally wrong. I'll save the details for the next post, but let me throw out a hint as to where we are headed: although the three conditions I listed can be found in any hilchos shabbos handbook, there is another condition that is seldomly listed. This condition is not obscure or unknown, but is so basic that it escapes notice, even though without understanding it nothing in borer makes sense. But that's the story for the next post...