Applying Cosmetics on Shabbat and Yom Tov – Part 2 by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

(2004/5765) Introduction
Last week we introduced the sensitive question regarding
the permissibility for women to apply cosmetics on Shabbat and
Yom Tov. We presented the background in the Gemara and
Rishonim as well as the strict approach to this issue that many
of the twentieth century Halachic authorities articulate. This
week we shall present the lenient approach developed by many
prominent twentieth century Poskim.
Twentieth Century Poskim – The Motivations for the Lenient
Many major Poskim present a lenient approach to permit (in
certain circumstances) women to apply some cosmetics on
Shabbat and Yom Tov. These authorities include Rav Moshe
Feinstein (Teshuvot Igrot Moshe O.C. 1:114 and 5:27), Rav
Avraham Chaim No’eh (Ketzot Hashulchan ad. loc.), and Rav
Ovadia Yosef (Teshuvot Yabia Omer 6:O.C.38 and Teshuvot
Yechave Da’at 4:28). Rav Yosef Adler reports that Rav Yosef
Dov Soloveitchik agrees with the lenient approach to this issue.
The point of departure for the lenient approach is that the
prohibition to apply Serek (the cosmetic discussed by the
Gemara) is only rabbinic in nature.
We should note that this is a typical approach of Poskim
who seek to present a lenient approach in case of great need.
The first step is to demonstrate (if possible) that there is no
possibility of violating a Biblical prohibition. Thus, the first step
of the lenient argument regarding cosmetics is to prove that the
prohibition to apply Serek is only rabbinic in nature and thus
there is more room to be lenient than had it been classified as a
biblical prohibition. For examples of this phenomenon, see Biur
Halacha 364:2 s.v. V’achar (in the context of relying on
communal Eruvin) and the Aruch Hashulchan Yoreh Deah 293
(in the context of relying on the lenient opinions regarding
In this context Rav Ovadia Yosef explicitly states a
motivation for adopting a lenient approach to this issue. In
Teshuvot Yabia Omer he states that his concern is “Shema
Titganeh Ishah Al Baalah,” that domestic tranquility might be
disturbed. The source for this idea is the Gemara (Shabbat
64b), which records that Rabi Akiva permitted wives to wear
makeup even when they are Niddot, in order to promote Shalom
Bayit (domestic tranquility) between husband and wife.
We may add that the Gemara (Bava Kama 82a) records
that among the ten Takanot enacted by the biblical Ezra was a
requirement for salesmen to travel from town to town to supply
perfume and fragrances to the women of each community. We 

see the sensitivity the Torah has towards the needs of women
and families regarding these matters.
In Teshuvot Yechave Da’at, Rav Ovadia refers to the
oft-cited Gemara (Pesachim 66a) that states regarding an
area of uncertainty with respect to the Halachot governing
Korban Pesach, “leave it to the Jewish People, if they are not
prophets then they are the children of prophets.” Rashi (ad.
loc. s.v. B’nai) adds “and [therefore] observe what they (the
Jewish people) do” and that will resolve the uncertainty. Rav
Ovadia applies this principle to this situation, as he notes that
many women who are meticulously observant rely on the
lenient approaches of Rav Moshe and the Ketzot Hashulchan.
We should note that this principle of “if they are not
prophets then they are the sons of prophets” applies only to
an area of uncertainty in Halacha and only to the practices of
those who carefully observe Halacha. The sin of the golden
calf clearly demonstrates that it is not an all-embracing
A third and unstated motivation of those who adopt
the lenient approach seems to be the concept of Kavod
HaBeriyot (human dignity). The Gemara (Berachot 19b and
see Rav Daniel Feldman’s The Right and the Good pp. 189-
206, for a full discussion of this issue) states that rabbinic
prohibitions may be waived in case of a great affront to
human dignity. Many women are profoundly uncomfortable to
appear at a formal gathering (such as Shul on Shabbat and
Yom Tov) without wearing makeup. This might have
motivated Poskim to search for a possible lenient approach to
this issue.
We should note before we begin our presentation of
the lenient view that there are cosmetics that are specially
formulated to last throughout Shabbat. Some women who
follow the strict view apply this type of makeup before
Shabbat. Applying this type of makeup before Shabbat and
wearing it the entire Shabbat does not violate the prohibition
of Marit Ayin (appearing to have sinned). Rav Yonatan
Eiybeshitz (Kreiti Upleiti 87:8) Mishnah Berurah (467:33) and
the Aruch Hashulchan (Yoreh De’ah 298:4) note that Marit
Ayin does not apply when it is known that there are
permissible ways to perform an action. For example, it is not
forbidden to drink red wine even though it appears that he is
drinking blood, since people know that many people drink red
wine. Similarly, one does not have to be concerned in this
case of violating Marit Ayin because people will think that she
applied the makeup on Shabbat, since it is known that there is
makeup that lasts throughout Shabbat after applying it on
Erev Shabbat.
The Lenient Approaches of Rav Moshe, Rav Avraham Chaim
No’eh, and Rav Ovadia
The Ketzot Hashulchan distinguishes between the
Serek cosmetic discussed in the Gemara, Rishonim and
classic Acharonim and blush that does not adhere to the skin
for a significant period of time. He argues that Chazal only
prohibit Serek, which does not adhere to the skin. However,
Rav No’eh argues that blush that is applied directly to the skin
without first applying a cosmetic base (“foundation”) does not
adhere to the skin and thus is not included in the rabbinic
prohibition to apply Serek to one’s face. Rav Ovadia, though,
clarifies that this leniency applies only to a non-oil based
powder that contains no creams.

Rav Shlomo Zalman criticizes this approach
stating that there is no source for such a leniency (we
should note that Rav Shlomo Zalman was an
extraordinary expert regarding Hilchot Shabbat and that his
assertion is exceptionally authoritative). Moreover, Rav
Shlomo Zalman writes that one should be especially
cautious about this issue since (as we discussed last
week) according to a number of Rishonim, the
application of makeup is always biblically prohibited. In fact,
Rav Gedalia Felder (Yesodei Yeshurun 4:72) notes that the
fact that the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 303:25) forbids a
woman to spread dough on her face to give it a red
appearance, seems to demonstrate that the Halacha
forbids coloring the face even in a manner that is
Rav Moshe, though, writes in his first (and
exceptionally brief and cryptic) responsum on this topic,
“white (in the later Teshuvah he clarifies that this
applies to colored powder as well) powder that does not last
at all (Eino Mitkayeim Klal) is not included in the
prohibition of Tzovei’a”.
We must elucidate the concept of Eino
Mitkayeim K’lal in order to understand Rav Moshe’s
ruling. We mentioned last week that in very limited
circumstances, a Melacha that lasts for an exceptionally brief
period of time is permitted. The fact that we are
permitted (see Shulchan Aruch O.C. 317:1) to tie our
shoes (if one ties and unties them daily) is a classic
application of this principle. Another example is the
lenient ruling of many Poskim (see Shmirat Shabbat
Kehilchata 15 footnote 250; Teshuvot Yechave Da’at
6:24; and Rav Moshe Feinstein, cited in The Thirty Nine
Melochos 1:137 in the Hebrew section) permitting
fastening the adhesive tab in the process of diapering a child
on Shabbat, even though causing two objects to adhere to
each other is forbidden (under the rubric of Tofeir, see
Shulchan Aruch O.C. 340:14).
One can explain Rav Moshe’s leniency in a
similar manner (I believe that I heard this from Rav
Hershel Schachter). Serek is rabbinically prohibited
because Chazal classify it as Eino Mitkayeim.
However, non-oil based cosmetic powder is not even
rabbinically forbidden because it is Eino Mitkayeim Klal.
However, we should note that applying on
Shabbat the cosmetics that are specially formulated to be
long lasting might constitute a biblical prohibition.
These cosmetics are often created to be applied by
women before Shabbat in order to last throughout
Shabbat and are sometimes referred to as “Shabbos
makeup.” Rav Heber points out that this is a serious
misnomer and should more properly be labeled as
“Erev Shabbos makeup”. A woman should be
especially careful not to apply such makeup on Shabbat as it
might violate a biblical prohibition, as it seems to
constitute an act that is Mitkayeim according to the
Rambam’s definition (as presented last week).
Practical Application

Moshe (in the later responsum, see also the publication of
Rav Moshe’s Mesivta Tifereth Jerusalem, L’Torah Vihoraah 7:28) clarifies that after extensive testing he has
discovered that many of the commercially available cosmetic
powders are analogous to Serek since they last for a
significant amount of time and are forbidden due to concern of
Tzovei’a. However, he notes that some powders do not last
very long and would be permissible. Rav Moshe writes
“without experience regarding this matter, one cannot issue a
decision about this matter.”
Rav Dovid Heber of the Star-K reports that, Baruch
Hashem, there are Talmidei Chachamim who currently serve
as Rabbanim and Poskim who participated in Rav Moshe’s
thorough investigation and testing of powders. Thus, he
writes (in an essay that is available at that
one who relies on Rav Moshe’s leniency must only use
powder that has been tested by a Rav who has specific and
proper training to determine that a powder is “temporary”
enough to conform with Rav Moshe’s standards.
Undoubtedly, Rav Moshe’s standards are difficult to
qualify and the process of making such a determination is
more of an “art” than a science. Indeed, Rav Bleich and Rav
Neustadt argue that it is nearly impossible to properly
implement Rav Moshe’s lenient ruling in practice because of
this lack of objective standards. On the other hand, there are
other areas of Halacha that are nearly impossible to qualify
and we rely on the judgment of Rabbanim who are properly
trained and experienced in this matter (for example, judging
colors in the context of Hilchot Niddah; see Shulchan Aruch
Yoreh De’ah 188 and Badei Hashulchan 188:6).
Next week, IY”h and Bli Neder, we shall conclude our
discussion of the use of cosmetics on Shabbat and Yom Tov
with a review of some of the practical challenges involved in
applying makeup on Shabbat and Yom Tov even according to
the lenient approach.

Applying Cosmetics on Shabbat and Yom Tov – Part Three by Rabbi Chaim Jachter

Applying Cosmetics on Shabbat and Yom Tov – Part One by Rabbi Chaim Jachter