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In the previous Halachot we have discussed some issues regarding the forbidden work of selecting on Shabbat. We have also mentioned that selecting is only permissible on Shabbat when three conditions are met: One must select by hand and not do so with the use of a utensil (such as a strainer), one must select the food from the waste and not the opposite, and one must select only with the intention of eating the food immediately (and not to leave it for a later time).
We have also established that the prohibition of selecting does not apply to something which is done in the normal manner of eating for instance, peeling an onion or an egg which is permissible on Shabbat since this is the normal way they are eaten. Nevertheless, one may only act leniently and do so when it is immediately before one intends to eat; however, it is prohibited to peel them in order to eat them in more than a half-hour’s time, since this is no longer considered an “eating manner” and is instead considered a “selecting manner”.
We shall now discuss the matter of separating fish bones on Shabbat. At first glance, it would seem that removing fish bones would constitute “selecting waste from food,” which is forbidden on Shabbat. However, based on several rationales we have already discussed, it would seem that one may indeed act leniently regarding this matter, especially since this is what is normally done, i.e. to remove the bones first and only then to eat the fish.
Maran zt”l deals lengthily with this matter in one of his responses that were published over forty years ago in the periodical entitled, “Kol Sinai”; he proceeds to quote several reasons for leniency in this matter.
His first reasoning is because the bones are attached and stuck to the fish and selecting does not apply to something which is attached, as we have previously established regarding apples which are permitted to be peeled on Shabbat even with the use of a special peeler designated for this purpose since this is not considered “selecting”; rather, it is considered as though one is slicing the fruit in half. If so, it would seem that the same would apply to fish bones that since they are attached to the fish, their removal does not constitute forbidden selecting on Shabbat.
Maran zt”l quotes another reason for leniency which is that according to the opinion of Hagaon Rabbeinu Yaakov Abulafia, any selecting one performs at the time one is actually eating is not considered selecting since this is the way one usually eats; anything which is included in the usual manner one eats is not prohibited on Shabbat. Although many disagree with the opinion of Rabbeinu Yaakov Abulafia, it can nevertheless be included as an additional reason for leniency.
Another reason which can be included to permit this is the opinion of many Poskim who maintain that the forbidden work of selecting on Shabbat only applies to things which grow from the ground, such as fruits, vegetables, and grain; however, selecting does not apply to fish which do not grow from the ground. This opinion can also be included in order to rule leniently in our situation.
Thus, halachically speaking, the spine and all of the bones can be removed from a fish on Shabbat and only then to eat the fish. However, once the fish bones have already been removed from the fish and now lay in one’s plate along with the pieces of fish, one may not completely remove them from his plate, for by doing so, one is selecting actual waste from food. Since the bones are no longer attached to the fish, the primary reason we have quoted to act leniently regarding this matter no longer applies. Rather, one should leave them on the side of the plate and continue eating as usual.