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After peanut butter sits in a jar for a while, the oil separates and floats to the top. Is one permitted to pour out this oil on Shabbat? I'm concerned this might be borer, because this could be considered taking out the bad from the good. Here are some factors that might be relevant:

  1. There might be a minority of people who would consider the oil "good" (e.g. useful for dipping bread in).
  2. I personally consider the oil "bad" and would discard it.
  3. If one eats pure olive oil, there are varying opinions on whether one should say a bracha at all. In other words, there's a question whether oil on its own is edible.
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This is the subject of a machlochet. Poskim debate the analagous case of water gathering on top of leben (a thick Middle Eastern dairy product somewhere between yoghurt and cream cheese in consistancy, often known in English by its Arabic name, "labne").

Shemirat Shabbat Ke-hilkhata (3:20) rules that this water is psolet ("bad") being removed from okhel ("good") and therefore the separation of the two substances constitutes the forbidden melacha of borer.

Yalkut Yosef (319:47) and Orchot Shabbat (2:28), however, argue that as leben is relatively solid and water is a liquid, the two substances are not in fact mixed and so no borer is involved in separating them.

Either opinion would appear to be directly analagous to the peanut butter case, as people drink water and so it could be considered "good" but then most people in most situations would probably prefer not to drink yoghurt water, just as most would probably prefer not to dip their bread in peanut butter oil. The consistancy of many brands of peanut butter is also close to that of laban.

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  • Does this apply to tuna sitting in oil/water as well? If not, why not? I'm trying to understand how much this example can be extrapolated to other situations. – Josh Grinberg Aug 2 at 19:25
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    @Josh is the tuna in a chunk at the bottom with all the oil above it? Or are they mixed up? – Double AA Aug 2 at 20:19
  • I'm imagining albacore tuna, which (I think) typically comes in one "block" sitting in the liquid. In other words, the liquid surrounds the block of tuna, including inside the crevices. – Josh Grinberg Aug 2 at 20:34
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    I can't imagine pouring off the leben water and peanut oil gets rid of it completely enough to be called borer, even if borer would apply when actually separating them. – user6591 Aug 2 at 20:39
  • @Grinberg the sefer I sourced this answer from (Rabbi Eliezer Melamed's excellent Peninei Halakha Laws of Shabbat vol 1) addresses this question in the very same footnote, saying "One may remove tuna from the oil or water in which it is canned with a spoon (but not a fork), even if it will be eaten soon at the upcoming meal. Since one is not immediately putting the food in his mouth, using a fork is considered borer with the help of a utensil – Josh K Aug 3 at 4:21

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