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


In the next three issues, we shall discuss a most
sensitive topic, the use of cosmetics on Shabbat and Yom
Tov. This topic is particularly sensitive as many women feel
that it is a necessity to wear makeup on these days since they
appear in public where everyone is dressed formally. On the
other hand, there are a myriad of Halachic challenges
associated with applying makeup on these occasions. In this
article we shall outline some of the major issues involved in
the use of makeup on Shabbat and Yom Tov as well as
potential solutions approved by some Poskim.
Gemara, Rishonim and Classic Acharonim
The Mishna (Shabbat 94b) records a dispute among
the Tanna’im whether it is biblically or rabbinically prohibited
to color the area around one’s eyes blue on Shabbat and
Yom Tov. The Chachamim (rabbinic consensus of the
Mishnaic era) believe that it is rabbinically prohibited and Rabi
Eliezer believes that it is biblically prohibited. The Gemara
(Shabbat 95a) explains that Rabi Eliezer defines this act as
“Tzovei’ah” (coloring), one of the thirty nine categories of
forbidden creative activities on Shabbat.
The Rishonim appear to disagree regarding which
opinion is accepted as normative. The Beit Yosef (Orach
Chaim 303 s.v. V’lo Lichol) writes that the Rambam rules in
accordance with the Chachamim. The Minchat Chinuch
(32:15) explains that this may be inferred from Hilchot
Shabbat 22:23, where the Rambam writes that “it is forbidden
for a woman to put “Serek” (paint) on her face [on Shabbat
and Yom Tov] because it is like painting”. The Rambam’s
use of the word “like”, writes the Minchat Chinuch, implies that
he believes that this is only a rabbinic prohibition. Otherwise,
the Rambam would have written “it is painting”. Moreover,
observes the Minchat Chinuch, the other acts that the
Rambam lists in chapter twenty two are rabbinically prohibited
acts. Thus, the context of this Halacha in the Rambam also

indicates that the Rambam categorizes applying “Serek” on Shabbat
and Yom Tov as a rabbinic prohibition.
The Beit Yosef, though, notes that the S’mag (negative
prohibitions, number 65) seems to rule in accordance with the
opinion of Rabi Eliezer. The Nishmat Adam notes that another
Rishon, the Sefer Yerei’im, agrees with the opinion of the S’mag.
Nevertheless, the Beit Yosef rules in accordance with the opinion of
the Chachamim. This is hardly surprising as the majority opinion is
usually accepted as normative.
Among the major commentaries to the
Shulchan Aruch, the Magen Avraham (303:19)
addresses this question and notes that applying Serek is a
rabbinic prohibition. Surprisingly, though, the Chayei
Adam (Hilchot Shabbat 24:2) cites both the opinion of the
Rambam and the S’mag without deciding which opinion is
accepted as normative. However, the Mishna Brura
(303:79) and the Aruch Hashulchan (O.C. 303:30)
unequivocally rule that it constitutes a rabbinic
prohibition, in accordance with the ruling of the
Chachamim, Rambam, Beit Yosef, and Magen
The Category of “Davar Sh’eino Mitkayeim”
The Chachamim, Rambam, Beit Yosef, and
Magen Avraham do not explain why this constitutes only
a rabbinic prohibition. The Chayei Adam explains that the
Rambam believes that applying “Serek” is only a
rabbinic prohibition because it is “Eino Mitkayeim”
(temporary). In order to appreciate this explanation we
must briefly explore the concept of “Eino Mitkayeim”.
The Mishna (Shabbat 102b) states a broad rule (in
the context of presenting the rules concerning Boneh,
building on Shabbat)- “This is the rule, one who
performs a creative act (M’lacha) and it has a
permanent effect (Mitkayeim), has violated a biblical
prohibition”. A M’lacha that has only a temporary effect, by
contrast, is only rabbinically prohibited. A M’lacha that is
Eino Mitkayeim K’lal (fleeting) is permissible in certain
limited situations.
Although the rule is clear its application is not, as it
is difficult to precisely define the concept and category of
Davar HaMitkayeim. The Tiferet Yisrael (Kalkelet
HaShabbat, Boneh) cites the Pri Megadim who rules that
a Melacha that lasts eight or nine days is defined as
Mitkayeim. The Sha’ar HaTziyun (303:68) infers from the
Rambam (Hilchot Shabbat 9:13) that a Melacha is
defined as Mitkayeim if it lasts through Shabbat.
However, he writes that Rashi (Shabbat 102b s.v.
B’Shabbat) seems to believe that Mitkayeim means that it
lasts forever. In the context of the M’lacha of Kosheir
(making a knot), the Rama (O.C. 317:1) cites two
opinions regarding when a knot is considered to be
“lasting” (Shel Kayama). One opinion is that it must last one
day and one opinion says it must last seven days in
order to be defined as “permanent”.
To complicate matters further, it is clear that
certain acts are considered Mitkayeim even if their
effects are fleeting. For example, Rav Hershel
Schachter once noted (in a personal conversation) that
striking a match constitutes a biblical violation on
Shabbat even though it lasts only momentarily. It is
regarded as Mitkayeim since one has accomplished his goal
(M’lechet Machshevet; see the Rashba, Shabbat 115b s.v.
Ha, who asserts that this is the reason why a Davar
She’eino Mitkayeim is not biblically forbidden).
In addition, the Rambam (Hilchot Shabbat
12:2) writes that it is biblically prohibited to heat metal on
Shabbat until it glows, even though the metal will cool
down relatively quickly after it is heated. Rav Dovid Ribbiat (The 

Thirty Nine Melochos 1:134 in the Hebrew section) explains
that the concept of Mitkayeim varies from M’lacha to M’lacha
as well as from act to act. A match normally is lit only
momentarily and metal is usually heated to a glow only for a
brief period and thus these acts are regarded as Mitkayeim.
For further discussion of this question, see Rav Mordechai
Eliyahu’s essay in Techumin (11:107-112) regarding doctor’s
writing on Shabbat and Yom Tov with ink that lasts only until
the end of Shabbat.
Accordingly, we can appreciate the Minchat Chinuch
criticism of the Chayei Adam’s assertion that a woman putting
“Serek” on her face is considered Eino Mitkayeim. The
Minchat Chinuch argues that since she has accomplished her
goal, then her act should be considered Mitkayeim. Moreover,
the K’tzot HaShulchan (number 146, Badei HaShulchan 20)
notes that the Rambam in Hilchot Shabbat 22:23 does not
state that the Serek on a woman’s face is Eino Mitkayeim,
unlike Hilchot Shabbat 9:13, where he writes that Serek
placed on iron is classified as Eino Mitkayeim. Thus we find
Acharonim offering alternative explanations for the Rambam’s
Alternative Explanations for the Rambam
The Mishna Brura (303:79) explains that applying
Serek on a woman’s face is only a rabbinic prohibition,
because the biblical level prohibition of Tzoveiah does not
apply to coloring human skin. This is a somewhat bold
assertion, as it is not clear when a M’lacha does not apply (at
least on a biblical level) when the human body is involved.
There is no general rule that M’lachot do not apply to
the human body. For example, we find that the M’lacha of
Boneh applies to the human body (see Shabbat 95a and
K’tubot 6b) and that Koteiv (writing) applies to writing on the
human body (see Rambam Hilchot Shabbat 11:16). Rav
Ribbiat (The Thirty Nine Melochos p. 820) records a dispute
among twentieth century Poskim as to whether the M’lacha of
Tofeir (sewing) applies to human skin (this has profound
implications regarding the question of sewing stitches on
Shabbat). Thus, it is not self-evident that the M’lacha of
Tzovei’ah does not apply to the human body. Moreover, the
Mishna Brura does not cite a source for his assertion.
Rav Avraham Chaim No’eh (number 146, Badei
HaShulchan number 20; Rav No’eh is a major mid twentieth
century Posek who resided in Jerusalem) combines the
Chayei Adam and Mishna Brura’s explanations for the
Rambam. He explains that since women normally apply
makeup with the intention to remove it in a few hours after
application (such as before they go to sleep), applying
makeup is considered Tzovei’ah Al M’nat Limchok (coloring
with the intention to erase). Thus, a woman’s face is not a
surface that is normally painted in a manner that is regarded
as Mitkayeim. This is why the biblical level prohibition of
Tzovei’ah does not apply to human skin and is considered
Eino Mitkayeim.
According to this logic, though, striking a match
also should not constitute a biblical prohibition since one
intends to extinguish the match almost immediately after
lighting it. Thus, Rav No’eh’s argument seems to lead to an
absurd conclusion (this is referred to by logicians as a
reductio ad absurdum; this type of reasoning is very
common in the Gemara and its commentaries). However,
one could counter that one person’s “reductio ad absurdum”
is another’s “In Hachi Nami” (a Talmudic phrase meaning
“yes, this is indeed correct”).
Accordingly, the consensus opinion is that applying
Serek constitutes only a rabbinic prohibition. However, the
basis for this approach remains somewhat unclear. In
addition, significant Rishonim and Acharonim consider or rule

in accordance with the view that applying Serek constitutes a biblical
Twentieth Century Poskim – the Strict View
A straightforward application of the sources we have
outlined seems to yield no room for leniency regarding the
application of cosmetics on Shabbat. It seems that the only debate
is whether applying makeup on Shabbat and Yom Tov constitutes a
biblical or rabbinic prohibition. Accordingly, it is hardly surprising
that many contemporary Poskim oppose applying any colored
makeup on Shabbat and Yom Tov. These authorities include Rav
Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (see Sh’mirat Shabbat K’hilchata 14:59
footnote 158, where he expresses relatively mild opposition and
Tikkunim U’mili’um ibid, where his tone is considerably stricter), Rav
Shmuel Wosner (Teshuvot Shevet HaLevi 6:33), Rav Gedalia
Felder (Yesodei Yeshurun 4:72-73) and Rav Shimon Schwab
(reported by Rav Dovid Heber of the Star-K; Rav Heber relates that
Rav Schwab was vehement in his opposition). It is important to note
that these authorities forbid even the use of what is called “Shabbos
makeup”, special cosmetics that are produced for Shabbat and Yom
Tov use that is approved by some Rabbanim).
Not surprisingly, the authors of Halachic works geared to a
popular audience advocate (with slight variations) the strict
approach to this issue. These works include Rav Yehoshua
Neuwirth’s Sh’mirat Shabbat K’hilchata (14:58-59), Dayan
Yechezkel Posen’s Kitzur Hilchot Shabbat (21:4), Rav Dovid
Ribbiat’s The Thirty Nine Melochos (3:743) and Rav Doniel
Neustadt’s The Monthly Halachah Discussion (p. 276). Rav J.
David Bleich clearly (Contemporary Halachic Problems 4:113-119)
indicates his preference for the strict approach to this issue.
Next week, we shall, IY”H and B”N, continue with our
discussion and present the lenient approach to his issue.

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

Late Lighting of Chanukah Lights by Rabbi Chaim Jachter