1 Sivan 5763
Are you allowed to break the letters on top of a cake on shabbos? How about between the letters? If the letters are script and therefore connected can you cut between the letters? If it is an ice cream cake is it considered a “davar sheaimo miskayaim” and therefore maybe permissible to cut? If a parent tells you to cut the cake, and they tell you that you have to break through the actual letters, do you listen?
Thank you for your help,
Name and Seminary Withheld
Dear Name Withheld,
Thank you very much for your questions. I generally prefer giving straightforward yes and no answers to such questions, however, it is not clear that this is forbidden, nor is it clear that it is permitted, as I’ll explain. In this case, when dealing with a Rabbinic law such as this (since the purpose of erasing is not to re-write on that spot it does not qualify as a Torah prohibition), it is preferable to be stringent if possible, but if this would cause discomfort, i.e. defying a parent as in your case, or a child would be disappointed by not having a birthday cake, I believe a person may cut it.
The Mishna Berura (340:15-17) states that there are three possible situations where it would be clearly permitted to erase writing on food: 1. If the writing is from the same ingredients as the food, such as a biscuit or chocolate bar that has the name of the company that produced it on it. 2. If the writing is done with “honey diluted with water or other fruit juices”, it is permitted, since it is not Miskayem – everlasting. 3. If the writing is erased in the actual process of eating, i.e. with your teeth. Therefore, it is permitted to bite into a cookie or piece of cake even if the writing on it is from a different type.
What is not clear from the Mishna Berura is what he holds in a case where the writing is from the same type as the background, but a different color, such as in the case of a birthday cake with icing. Is the fact that it is a different color a problem, or do we say that icing is icing no matter what the color? Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach Zatza’l in Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchoso (11:7) seems to forbid cutting the cake unequivocally, although he does not discuss this case directly. He does seem to indicate there (footnote 31) that the reason why we distinguish between writing from the background material itself as opposed to writing with something foreign is because if it is from the same material this indicates that it is all one item, and cannot be considered erasing. According to this, it would seem that the fact that it is a different color should not be a problem.
Additionally, the Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chaim 340:23) states that any writing done with something edible is not considered writing. According to him, it would be permitted even when the writing is done with two different types.
Therefore, although there is nothing wrong, and it is even preferable, for a person to be stringent on himself and be concerned that the Mishna Berura can be _interpreted_ to be saying that cutting a birthday cake with icing is forbidden, he should definitely not be stringent at the expense of others.
>>How about between the letters?
Rav Shlomo Zalman Zatza”l is clearly lenient in this situation, quoted in Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchoso 9:48. Obviously it would also be permitted to cut between the words.
>>If the letters are script and therefore connected can you cut between the letters?
This would be the same as cutting the actual letters.
>>If it is an ice cream cake is it considered a “davar sheaimo miskayaim” and therefore maybe permissible to cut?
It would seem that even if the Mishna Berura would forbid cutting the icing on the cake, the reason that he is Mattir “honey and fruit juice” is because it is not Miskayaim. Consequently, it is probable that even according to that opinion you could be lenient regarding an ice cream cake.
>>If a parent tells you to cut the cake, and they tell you that you have to break through the actual letters, do you listen?
See above. Assuming that this is all that they are requesting from you, it would seem proper to be lenient (see the Mesilas Yesharim, Perek Mishkal HaChassidus). However, if their ultimate goal is to cause you to transgress other Halachos, a competent Rav must be consulted who can assist you in finding a proper course of action in this situation. I hope that this has been helpful.
Rabbi Aaron Tendler