7) Actions related to ‘koraya’ (tearing) [Excerpted from The 39 Melachos by Rabbi D. Ribiat, Vol. III pp. 825-833]
Koraya in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). Over a period of time, the cloth coverings of the Mishkan were prone to sustain damage from moths and the like. To skillfully repair these holes, it was necessary to first tear the holes wider to allow for a straight, even seam that could be concealed in the fabric. This constructive tearing was the melacha of koraya/tearing.
The basic premise of koraya. The basic concept of koraya may be described as the tearing of a single object into two parts, or the detaching of two objects that became combined as one (because they were either sewn or glued together.) The melacha of koraya corresponds with the melacha of tofair (sewing), and is in the fact its mirror opposite. (See part 4 of this siman.) As a general rule, koraya applies only where tofair applies.
Tearing to re-sew or for any constructive purpose. The melacha of koraya, as it was performed in the Mishkan, was primarily a preparation for re-sewing. Indeed, according to some poskim, the melacha mid-oraisa (i.e. on the level of a Torah violation) can only occur when the tearing is done for the direct purpose of re-sewing. Other poskim hold that tearing for any useful purpose is also koraya mid-oraisa. The dispute, however, is mainly academic, because it concerns only the melacha mid-oraisa. Tearing for almost any purpose is (at best) Rabbinically prohibited in most cases according to all poskim.
Tearing for food or Shabbos needs. Although tearing paper or plastic, even in a destructive manner, is Rabbinically prohibited, doing so for the purpose of retrieving food or physical needs (contained within) is permitted if one forgot to do so before Shabbos. The Sages waived the Rabbinic ordinance in these cases. Accordingly, one may tear apart food packaging, wrappings around bandages, napkins, medicines, clothing, or even toys, provided that no letters or designs will be torn (as that would violate mochaik/erasing – see part 2 of this siman) and that no vessel, container, spout etc. is thereby created or formed (as that would violate boneh/building or makeh b’patish/final hammer blow – see part 5.)
Practical applications discussed in this segment. The following questions regarding the opening of packaging and containers are discussed in the ensuing paragraphs:
- Matzah and cereal boxes
- Tissue dispensers
- Bottle spouts
- Milk containers
- Small juice containers
- Metal cans
- Twist-off bottle caps
- Tearing toilet paper
Homework: What are YOUR questions? (from the MBY editor) Rather than quoting the voluminous pages on these applications, I would like to leave you with what we have excerpted thus far, and invite you to respond with your questions. They could be from the above list or any other related cases. I will do my best to cite the appropriate answers, with Hashem’s help.