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



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 Approach

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 Chadash). 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 principle. 

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 fleeting.   

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

Rav 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