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 Avraham.

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 ruling. 

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 prohibition.

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

Torah Perspectives on Cloning- Part 2 by Rabbi Chaim Jachter