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This article states that one can smoothen food only if it is necessary for eating for not for aesthetic reasons.

I have attended a few Shabbat affairs where a sushi chef makes sushi rolls. To do this, he flattens the rice on the seaweed and then rolls it with the fish using a bamboo mat. Granted, the rice is a necessary part of the food, but I'm wondering if the chef is allowed to manually flatten the rice. If he just leaves a clump and presses the mat around it and the filling, the rice will flatten anyway via the rolling process. If that's the case, it seems that flattening the rice is not an essential part of preparing the food.

The chef also makes plain fish slices on a bed of rice. I see that he takes a ball of rice and flattens it a bit then puts the fish slice on top. This flattening seems to be solely for aesthetic reasons, to me. What would be the problem of just taking a handful of rice in whatever shape it comes put it on a plate and put the fish on top of the clump? Yet, I notice that the chef flattens the rice to make the fish lay on it more nicely. (technically, the chef should be making smaller fish slices!)

marked as duplicate by DonielF, mbloch, Avrohom Yitzchok, user15464, sabbahillel Mar 28 at 0:23

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  • "What would be the problem of just taking a handful of rice in whatever shape it comes put it on a plate and put the fish on top of the clump?" It would fall off. That said, fish on rice versus fish near rice is arguably purely aesthetic also. – msh210 Jul 17 '15 at 14:40
  • @msh210 True. Point is, that you didn't smoothen the rice. A blop of humus on my plate doesn't look too nice, but I have to eat it that way. – DanF Jul 17 '15 at 14:45
  • Is it forbidden to "play with the food"on your plate while eating it? I've always understood that there is a substantive difference between something like mashed potatoes, chulent, etc which is a collective mass and rice, which is considered as individual grains... – Isaac Kotlicky Jul 19 '15 at 16:41
  • From what I've read on the interwebs the flattening of the rice serves mostly an estaethic function; For example ("The more even it is, the rounder and more perfect the shape of your final sushi roll.": foodservicewarehouse.com/blog/… ). Can one extend the argument so that this more even shape is critical to the taste of the sushi roll? – RonP Nov 24 '15 at 13:53
  • Hey @RonP! Nice to hear from you. As a chef, I'll ask your "pro" opinion, here. I understand that much what goes into taste is based on the way food looks as well as it's smell. That seems "psychological", to me. Regarding your last sentence, I might argue that the shape of the rice doesn't physical alter its taste (rice is rice) and its psychological. But, I wouldn't really know regarding sushi. Does flatter rice really make sushi taste differently? – DanF Nov 24 '15 at 15:51
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Rabbi Dovid Rabiat is brought in the footnote (#11,12) of your Pathways article as a source for explaining the idea of avoiding the smearing or spreading of foods for simply aesthetic purposes, on Shabbos.

Rabbi Dovid Rabiat on page 921 and 925, points out that in order to ever violate the law of "Memarayach" (smoothing) on Shabbos, one would need to apply lateral action (a smearing spreading motion back and forth) to the substance in question. Simply "pressing" the substance vertically, (flattening it or changing its shape) is not "Memarayach" at all.

One of his sources for this is Shulchan Aruch 316 with Mishnah Berurah 51. He brings Gemara and other halachic sources which say or show the same thing.

Furthermore, the general thing that is to be "smoothed" needs to be mushed out of its current hard or pliable shape and change into a spreadable substance. As far as I can tell, this does not happen with rice (being made into sushi). Even if this does happen to the rice slightly as part of the process, since it is incidental and not the aim of the sushi maker, it is permitted.

However, spreading peanut butter, egg salad, icing, etc. is done with a smoothing action. The Magen Avraham (brought down in Shulchan Aruch 321; see Mishnah Berurah with Beur Halachah) says that it is ok to spread cooked apple filling over an area of pastry that is empty of the filling. (This is like spreading peanut butter on a bagel) This is because the apple mush is edible anyway, as is, without the smoothing; and you are presenting the food in its usual way to make a sandwich and eat it. (Furthermore, there is no possible "D'oraisa" of "Memarayach" with foodstuffs used as food. The only question is if there is a "D'Rabbanan" to be applied.)

There is an argument among the poskim if there is a D'rabbanan here if the spreading is purely for aesthetic purposes. It seems that those who forbid rely on the SeMaK. However, the Rema simply says: "Whoever avoids it, should receive a blessing." "Tavi Alav Brachah." Essentially, the Rema is unwilling to forbid, so the lenient opinions rely on the Rema.

Interestingly, the pathways article brings R' Rabiat in its footnote. He actually says that "it should be avoided", and there is merely "a firm basis for Rabbinic restriction to be applied." pg. 927-928. His footnote #91 on that spot simply refers the reader to the Rema! (the lenient source!Shulchan Aruch 321:19) R' Rabiat therefore does not forbid it. Your pathways article may be assuming the general stance of the more stringent poskim who apply a D'rabbanan here (at least) to aesthetics. They may be quoting R' Rabiat as a source in English that can better explain the reasoning behind the potential "issur".

In addition, shaping the sushi into rounds, would not be "Boneh", "building" (like making cheese which would be an act of "Boneh" because the particles are pressed into a new hard single mass etc.) since the smooth looking rounds are a simple circle shape (as opposed to an animal shape or a tower or sculpture of a person in chopped liver etc.) and lack having the particles pressed into a new single form. It is also not "Kotev", "writing", since no meaningful symbol or message or image is being formed here. The only thing to worry about is that the rice should not be hot, so it will not cook the raw fish and vegetables, ("Bishul", "Cooking") and that one cuts the vegetables into thin small pieces before Shabbos. (avoiding "Tochein", "Grinding")

Otherwise, it would seem that it is fine to make sushi on Shabbos.

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