8/20/202332 min read

Creams and Lotions on Shabbat


As a society we have grown used to daily use of a variety of creams and lotions for hygienic, medical, protective, cosmetic and preventative care. What does Jewish law have to say about utilizing the following on Shabbat?

1. Creams and lotions

2. Shoe polish

3. Hair cream

4. Creams, lotions, or oil to heal

5. Suntan creams and lotions

6. Hard (bar) soap

7. Deodorants, perfumes and air fresheners

8. Brushing teeth

9. Using a toothpick

10. Cosmetics

1. Rubbing with Cream and Lotion on Shabbat

Halakhic issue involved:

a) Memareiah, spreading.

b) Refuah, healing.

a) Memareiah, Spreading

Memahek1 was the act of scraping animal skins that were to be used for the roof of the mishkan (sanctuary). The purpose of this action was to smooth the skins and therefore this category includes any activity that removes roughness from the surface of a material by means of grinding, rubbing, polishing, or otherwise. Memareiah, the act of smoothing a thick gel or cream in order to smooth a surface would fall into this category.

The Talmud2 states,

‘One who spreads [cream on] a bandage, is liable because of smoothing.’

In those days, the texture of a bandage was very rough and its pock-marked surface was filled with a thick cream to make it smooth.3

Similarly, in Shabbat 146a it states,

‘One, who spreads wax around a hole in a vessel, in order to seal it, is obligated to bring a hatat offering.’ Rav and Shemuel argued whether it is permitted to spread thick oil over the hole in a vessel on Shabbat. Rav held that spreading thick oil is prohibited by rabbinical decree (gezerah) because, if it were allowed, a person might come to spread wax and thereby transgress a Torah law. Shemuel allows spreading thick oil. He is of the opinion that this rabbinical law is unnecessary. The Rif (Rabbenu Yitzhak Alfasi) as well as the Rosh (Rabbenu Asher) are of the opinion that the halakhah is like Rav - that it is not permitted to spread thick4 oil on Shabbat. This view is shared by Rambam,5 Tur6 and Shulhan Arukh7, because…

a. Both the above cases involve spreading with intent to permanently smooth something.

b. In both cases, the act of smoothing is achieved by placing a layer of a new substance over the old one, where the new substance is not absorbed by the old one but is used to fill out and smooth its rough surface.

Shulhan Arukh,8 states:

‘A person should not rub his phlegm into the soil with his feet on Shabbat, because by doing so the soil is being leveled.9 However, one is allowed to walk over it in a normal way, with no intent to smooth the ground and no intent of spreading it. Even though it does spread, since it was done unintentionally it is allowed, because it is disgusting [to leave the phlegm visible].’

Magen Avraham10 notes that, from the language of the Shulhan Arukh above, it seems that a person would be allowed to rub phlegm with his foot on a tiled surface on Shabbat. He asks: why isn’t this prohibited because of the act of smoothing? He answers that smoothing is only prohibited when the intent is to smooth something by leaving a thin layer over something else.11 However, if a person intends that the material being smoothed absorbs the cream or gel applied, there is no issue of smoothing.12

We see that any time where the intent is that the cream or lotion involved in smoothing is absorbed, it is not considered smoothing and is allowed.

Even though these words of the Magen Avraham are quoted by the Mishnah Berurah13, they seem to be contradicted by the words of the Tiferet Yisrael which the Mishnah Berurah himself quotes later on.14

2. Shoe Polish

Tiferet Yisrael states that a person, whose shoes were polished on Shabbat by a gentile, is prohibited to wear the shoes until the amount of time it took to polish them has passed after Shabbat. The Mishnah Berurah15 points out that the prohibition is because of memareiah.16 According to this view, even though the intention is for the polish to be totally absorbed by the shoes, it is nevertheless prohibited.

Rav Ovadia Yosef,17 in answering this seeming contradiction in the Mishnah Berurah, explains that there is a difference between the scenarios of the Magen Avraham, where one is rubbing phlegm, in which there is no interest in its existence at all, to the case of the Tiferet Yisrael where the cream is totally absorbed but the residue of its sheen and luster is desired. Nevertheless, he writes, since the cream is absorbed and all that is left is its appearance, it is only prohibited by rabbinical decree. This answer is also stated by the Shemirat Shabbat Kehilkhatah.18

Polishing shoes on Shabbat also transgresses the Torah prohibition of Tsovei’a, dyeing on Shabbat. When Benei Yisrael constructed the Mishkan, they dyed animal skins and yarn to be used as roofing and curtains in the Mishkan. Tsovei’a is thus one of the 39 prohibited forms of work and prohibits coloring any materials. This includes all types of shoe polishing, even with clear polish. The Torah prohibition of Tsovei’a applies specifically to applying a permanent dye but, the Sages later enacted a prohibition against applying even temporary dye (Rambam, Hilchot Shabbat 9:13. When a person polishes shoes, the hope is that the polish remains on the shoe permanently. Therefore, polishing shoes on Shabbat also transgresses the Torah prohibition of Tsovei’a. (Menuhat Ahava, Helek 3, page 6)

3. Hair Cream

Shemirat Shabbat Kehilkhatah19 writes that one may be lenient and apply hair oil on Shabbat, but only in small quantities. He prohibits the use of a large amount of hair oil so that one should not come to squeeze it out of the hair. He prohibits use of hair cream. His view is shared by responsa Be’er Moshe.20

Ma’amar Mordekhai21 writes that in his day the minhag was to rub the hair on Shabbat with a mixture of liquid fats and perfume and states: “I worry that people who do this are guilty of desecrating Shabbat, as it appears to be a Torah prohibition of smoothing (the cream).”

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef22 also prohibits the application of hair cream on Shabbat. He writes: “since the person intends for the cream to melt on the hair, and not remain as a thick substance, there is no Torah prohibition; nevertheless, it is rabbinically proscribed.”

4. Applying Creams, Lotions, or Oil to Heal Dry or Cracked Skin

Rabbi Haim Na’eh23 states that it is prohibited to rub dry or cracked skin on Shabbat with oil or any other kind of lotion, in order to moisturize it (because of the rabbinical prohibition of healing minor ailments on Shabbat. This is a gezerah - rabbinical decree - made so that a person will not come to make medication by crushing the ingredients shehikat samamanim).24 However, a person may pour oil over the general area even though the oil will indirectly spread by itself to the required place. Similarly, a person may place oil on an area which they feel may become dry in the future, as this is not for healing but for pleasure and prevention.

Hazon Ish25 writes that when placing a thick or creamy ointment on a minor wound on Shabbat, a person should not spread the ointment, but just dab it on. This is also the opinion of Rabbi Bension Abba Shaul26 that one is not allowed to spread cream or ointment on a child or a person with a minor ailment on Shabbat. However, a person may dab the cream on the sore area without spreading it.

Shemirat Shabbat Kehilkhatah27 and Minhat Yitzhak28 permit rubbing in the ointment until it is totally absorbed.

Rav Ovadia Yosef,29 states that we are not allowed to be lenient on healing minor ailments on Shabbat. However, rubbing cream so that it is totally absorbed into the skin is allowed for a holeh she’ein bo sakanah, (a sick person who is not in danger).30

Responsa Be’er Moshe,31 wrote that it is allowed to rub a child’s diaper rash or other skin conditions with oil or cream on Shabbat, because a child is considered a sick person who is not in any danger, for whom it is allowed to break rabbinical law in order to heal even minor ailments.

There is a discussion regarding the age until which a child is considered to be a sick person who is not in danger,32 to whom medication is permitted:

a. Rabbi Haim Na’eh33 and Rabbi Eliezer Yehudah Waldenberg34 say until the age of six.

b. Shemirat Shabbat Kehilkhatah35 and Minhat Yitzhak36 are of the opinion that it is until age nine.

c. Rabbi Bension Abba Shaul37 states that a child is considered to be in the category of a sick person who is not in danger right up to age 13 and it is allowed to break rabbinical laws of Shabbat even in cases of minor ailments for children up to that age.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef wrote38 that the correct view is the median opinion, that is, until the age of nine a child is considered a sick person who is not in danger to whom medication is permitted.

Thus, if the intention of the person is to rub the cream for healing purposes, it is allowed if the person being rubbed is in the category of a sick person who is not in danger. There are three categories of sick people on Shabbat:

a. The lowest level is someone with a minor ache or pain, but who is still able to function normally. This is categorized as Mihush Be’alma. For this kind of person, no Shabbat laws, not even rabbinical laws may be broken.39

b. The second category is Holeh She’ein Bo Sakanah (one who, though not in a life-threatening situation nevertheless is unable to operate normally and because of their condition, is forced to lie down). For this category of person, rabbinical laws may be broken beshinui - not in their normal manner and only if this is not possible is it permitted to do them normally.40

c. A third category is a Holeh Sheyesh Bo Sakanah, (a sick person whose life is in danger) for which all rabbinical and Torah laws may be broken to alleviate their health problems.41


Cream may not be used by a completely healthy person even if totally rubbed and absorbed into the skin. However, in situations of need, such as for a Holeh She’ein Bo Sakanah and a Holeh Sheyesh Bo Sakanah, it is permitted to rub on creams so as to be totally absorbed by the skin as this act is only prohibited by rabbinical edict.

Healthy people may spread oil for protection or prevention or dab on creams that are intended to leave a thin layer on the surface of the skin for protection, but they may not be spread on.

5. Using Suntan Creams and Lotions

Suntan protection sprays or non - viscous lotions are not considered medication, as they only protect the skin and do not heal it and thus may be applied on Shabbat. Similarly liquid insect repellent may be applied on Shabbat.42 However, thick suntan lotions and creams may not be applied on Shabbat.43

Applying or taking medication for ordinary sunburn while able to conduct one’s normal affairs (Mihush Be’alma), even if in a spray or liquid form, is prohibited. However, if the sunburn is severe enough to require bed rest, medication is permitted.

Helkat Yaakov and Minhat Yitzhak prohibit people from tanning themselves on Shabbat.44

Rav Ovadia Yosef45 allows a person to sit in the sun to obtain a tan on Shabbat since the person is not doing any action. He considers it similar to using chromatic lenses that automatically become darker in the sun without any human involvement, which is also allowed. This also seems to be the opinion of Rav S. Z. Auerbach in Shemirat Shabbat Kehilkhatah.

6. Using Hard (Bar) Soap

Halakhic issues involved:

a) Molid (creating a new form) Nolad (changing form)

b) Sehita (squeezing fruit)

c) Nolad (creating bubbles and foam)

d) Memareiah or memahek (spreading or smoothing)

e) Causing hair loss.

a) Molid and Nolad (Creating a New Form/Changing Form)

The Talmud in Shabbat, 51a states:

One is not allowed to mash or grind snow or hail (ice) on Shabbat (to turn it into liquid), but one is allowed to put it into a cup of liquid (where it will melt by itself) and does not have to worry (about breaking any Shabbat laws).

Rashi46 explains that a person is not allowed to break the pieces of snow or ice into smaller pieces or melt it down because by doing so it appears that one is creating something new, molid - on Shabbat, it is as if the person created this new water. However, a person is allowed to put ice or snow into his or her cup of wine or liquid in order to cool it down in the summer months, and “even though the ice melts by itself, we don’t have to worry (since he is not actively melting it).”

The opinion of Sefer Haterumah is that anything that changes form on Shabbat from a solid to a liquid is prohibited to be used, even when it occurs on its own. Rema47 following this view states that it is prohibited to wash with hard soap on Shabbat because of nolad - its form changes in one’s hands.

Rashba, Rabbi Shlomo Ben Aderet, a chief Rabbi of Spain in the middle ages, poses two questions on Sefer Hateruma’s position that causing snow or ice to melt is nolad:

a. Why does the Talmud allow a person to put ice in his drink on Shabbat? He or she will be causing the ice to melt, and will transgress this Rabbinic law of nolad?

b. According to Torah law, on Shabbat a person is allowed to squeeze fruits that are not normally grown for their juice, like berries or pomegranates. The Rabbis, however, prohibited this because they were concerned lest a person squeeze a fruit48 that was commonly used to make juice i.e. grapes and olives, that are prohibited to be squeezed by Torah law. If, however, the fruit exudes juice with no human intervention,49 it is allowed. According to Sefer Haterumah’s explanation, why is the juice that comes out by itself allowed when it should be prohibited because of nolad?

b) Sehitah, Squeezing

Based on the above questions, Rashba explains that the prohibition of melting snow and ice is not because of nolad, but a totally different rabbinical edict (gezerah), which the rabbis made to prevent a person from squeezing fruits that are grown for their juices, such as olives and grapes. However, if a person places the ice in his drink, since it melts by itself without any human intervention, the rabbis allowed it.

Maggid Mishneh, a commentary on Rambam’s Mishneh Torah (Hil. Shabbat, 21:13) quotes Rashba and states that it seems that Rambam agrees with this position that the prohibition of squeezing ice and snow is not because of nolad, as Sefer Haterumah states, but is a Rabbinical law based on the prohibition of squeezing fruits that are grown for their juice. His proof is that Rambam includes the law of not squeezing ice and snow, among laws dealing with the prohibitions involved in squeezing fruits. The Maggid Mishneh concludes that it is allowed to place congealed fat in the sun or in a warm place for it to melt, because there is no prohibition of nolad in this case. Rashba’s opinion is also followed by Ran and Meiri.

Rabbi Yosef Karo50 agrees with Maggid Mishneh and states:

‘A person is allowed to place a solid food which contains congealed fats (inpanada) near the fire on a place that is hand hot, even though the fat will melt.’

Later on51 he writes:

‘Snow and ice may not be crushed into small pieces in order to melt them to become liquid. However, one may put them into a cup of wine or water and let them melt on their own. If snow and ice were left in the sun or near a fire and they melted on their own, it is permitted to use the water.’

The Shulhan Arukh clearly does not agree with the opinion of Sefer Haterumah.

Rema in his gloss on Shulhan Arukh52 quotes the opinion of Sefer Haterumah, that there is a problem of nolad. Rema states that the Ashkenazi custom was to be strict and not to place foods containing congealed fats by the fire. However, he continues that in cases of need, a person may rely on the lenient opinion of the Shulhan Arukh.

Magen Avraham, in his commentary on the above opinion of Rema,53 quotes Shiltei Giborim, that there are halakhic opinions that allow the use of hard soap on Shabbat. They are of the opinion that it is only prohibited to melt ice and snow because people who do so may come to squeeze olives and grapes, whereas with soap this is not the case, as soap is not squeezed for its liquid.

Rabbi Yitzhak Lampronti54 based himself on the opinions of Rambam and Shulhan Arukh to allow the use of hard soap on Shabbat.55 Many other great Sephardic authorities, however, adopted the stricture of Rema, prohibiting the use of hard soap on Shabbat. Among them are: Rabbi Shlomo Laniado, Chief Rabbi of Syria; Ben Ish Hai,56 Chief Rabbi of Iraq and others. Nevertheless, there are many authorities who allowed the use of hard soap on Shabbat, among them, Rabbi Eliahu Hamui, a more recent Chief Rabbi of Syria in his responsa Peh Eliahu, p. 169(b). Rabbi Yitzhak Abulafiah, Chief Rabbi of Damascus, and Rabbi Yihyeh Salah, Chief Rabbi of Sana’a, Yemen.

c) Nolad - Creating Bubbles and Foam

Rabbi Abraham Halevy, former head of the Bet Din of Egypt,57 ruled that one is allowed to wash with hard soap on Shabbat, even though this causes foam58 and bubbles to appear. Causing foam and bubbles to appear is not considered within the category of creating something new, nolad, as the bubbles do not last and just appear for a while and are then washed away.

d) Memareiah or Memahek - Spreading or Smoothing

Ma’aseh Roke’ah,59 states that, among the prohibitions involved in using soap on Shabbat, is the act of smoothing the bar of soap, which is a sub-category of one of the 39 forms of prohibited work on Shabbat (memahek). In addition there is also a problem of smearing the soap on one’s hand (memareiah). He states that even though a person doesn’t intend for it to happen, it is definitely going to happen, and if the person wants the soap to be smooth, it becomes pesik resha deniha leh and therefore would fall within this prohibition.60

However, from the opinion of the Rema and other authorities quoted earlier, it appears that they felt that there is no prohibition of smoothing in the case of soap, as they only prohibited it because of the rabbinical law of nolad and never mentioned any other issues.

They must be of the opinion that smoothing applies from the Torah only when a person needs to smooth a substance.61 An example the Talmud gives is spreading wax to seal a hole in a container. But here, in the case of soap, a person does not want to layer his hands with soap. He just wants his hands to be clean, even though he is actually smearing on the soap. He has no intention of smoothing.62 According to Rambam, if on Shabbat a person takes a burning hot metal and places it in cold water, he is not guilty of tempering steel (mekhabeh - putting out a fire), unless he intended to harden the metal, in which case he is guilty. Raavad questions this ruling, since even if one does not have the intention of doing a Melakhah it nevertheless is a Pesik Resha that it will happen, and should be prohibited. The Maggid Mishneh explains the words of the Rambam that since there is no intent here at all, as he does not want to make this steel into a vessel, it does not enter the category of Pesik Resha. We see from this that there are three different kinds of intent with regard to transgressing the 39 kinds of work on Shabbat:

a. Intent to create or destroy or transport something using one of the 39 kinds of work. (Melekhet Mahshevet Asra Torah.)

b. Subconscious intent: the person knows that the action will occur and he has a use for the work being done. In cases of Pesik Resha, it would be prohibited.

c. The lowest kind of intent, where the person does not even have subconscious intent to have any use from this labor.

Rabbi Hayyim Na’eh63 states that since there is no benefit in smoothing the soap, it is allowed to use the soap on Shabbat.64

Another reason given as to why there is no problem of memahek is that of the Tehila LeDavid65 who states that there is no prohibition of smoothing something that is already smooth (ein memahek ahar memahek). The soap was already smooth.

e) Causing Hair Loss

Causing hair loss is a Torah prohibition.66 Mishnah Berurah67 provides another reason to prohibit hard soap. According to Rashi68 and Ran, soap causes hair loss.

More than sixty years ago, the responsa of Rambam were printed from manuscripts discovered in the Cairo Genizah in which69 he explicitly states that washing with hard soap is allowed in cases where it does not cause any hair loss. In prior times, soap was made of a harder, coarser, more caustic material that would chafe the skin and lead to hair removal. Modern soap, though not coarse or caustic, may still remove hair by sticking to it and causing it to be pulled out. However, as the likelihood of this happening is low, it is not a problem. Nevertheless, even according to these lenient opinions, a person should not use hard soap to shampoo their hair.



Sepharadim, who follow the opinions of Rambam and Shulhan Arukh, may use hard soap on Shabbat as long as it does not cause any hair loss. However, one who is strict is praiseworthy.


Ashkenazim who follow the opinions of Rema should be strict and only use liquid soap, unless, as Rema states, they are in a situation where they need to use hard soap, as in the case of a doctor who needs to use a certain type of antibacterial soap before examining a patient, and the only soap available is a hard soap. Mishnah Berurah70 concludes that the minhag is to be strict and not use hard soap on Shabbat.

7. Using Deodorants, Perfumes and Air Fresheners

Halakhic issues involved:

a) Imbuing material with fragrance.

b) Does the prohibition of causing a fragrance apply only to material or also to one’s skin?

c) Memareiah, applying stick or thick gel deodorants.

a) Imbuing Material With Fragrance

The Talmud71 states that Rabbah and Rav Yosef agree that pouring perfume on one’s garments on Yom Tov is prohibited because it creates a new smell in the garments (molid reyah).

Rema72 rules, accordingly that it is prohibited to pour perfume on garments. However, Rif, Ramban and Rosh leave this law, out from their codes. Rabbi Hayyim Ben Attar, in his work, Rishon Le’sion, a commentary on the Talmud, explains that they are of the opinion that the halakhah is not like Rabbah and Rabbi Yosef, as Rav Ashi and Rava, who came later argue with their position. The halakhah usually follows the later authorities quoted by the Talmud, as they had the advantage of examining all the previous opinions before coming to their own conclusions (halakhah kebatrai).

Rabbi Yosef Karo in Shulhan Arukh does not mention this law, but in his Bet Yosef, he states that one should be strict and follow this opinion. This is also the opinion of the Baal Halakhot Gedolot and Rashba. Even Rabbi Hayyim Ben Attar, mentioned above, states that the minhag was to be strict both on Shabbat and Yom Tov, and not to imbue any kind of material with perfume.

b) Does the Prohibition of Causing a Fragrance Apply Only to Clothing or also to One’s Skin?

Taz writes73 that making rose water on Yom Tov, for the purpose of washing the hands of the Kohanim (members of the priestly class) who bless the people, is prohibited since a new smell is created in the water. Furthermore, he adds, even if the the rose water was prepared before Yom Tov it is still prohibited for people to rub their hands with it, because they are creating a new fragrance on their hands. The Magen Avraham, when mentioning this, only makes mention of making rose water on Yom Tov and leaves out the issue of creating fragrance on the hands.

However, Hakham Tzvi74 proves that this act is permitted in both cases - water and hands. He quotes a source from the Mishnah,75 that princes can anoint themselves with rose oil on Shabbat, according to their normal way of doing things on a weekday. This law is quoted by the Shulhan Arukh.76

The Talmud77 also states that people are allowed to wash their faces, hands, and legs on Shabbat with fragrances such as jasmine, and do not have to concern themselves that the act of washing may cause hair to fall out, as it is unintended and thus not pesik resha. This law is quoted by Rambam in Hil. Shabbat, chapter 22:13. It appears from this that our great authorities were not concerned about causing one’s skin to smell of fragrance on Shabbat.

The logic of why deodorant should be allowed to be applied to skin and not clothing is stated by Ginat Veradim, 3:16. Since fragrance applied to skin is quickly washed away by perspiration, it is temporary. However, perfume applied to one’s handkerchief, clothing, or other material, is more permanent and therefore prohibited.

Ben Ish Hai78 states that the halakhah is like the Taz, that a person is prohibited to apply perfume to the skin. Therefore, he rules that women are prohibited to wash their faces and hair with rose water in order to give them a pleasant smell on Shabbat. However, in situations where one has no intention to create a new smell it is permitted, i.e. putting rose water on the eyes as a medication, putting rose water in ones hand in order to smell it, adding good smelling spices into food for flavor, or where the purpose is just to remove a foul smell and not for the purpose of the good smell.

Rav Ovadia Yosef79 writes that although the custom is to be strict, since Rambam, Rif and Rosh exclude this opinion from their codes, it is enough to be strict on applying perfume to clothing, which is explicit in the Talmud but not on one’s skin. One can even be lenient to apply a perfumed spray to hair. This opinion is advocated by Rabbi Yosef Molho of Salonika in his Shulhan Gavohah, 511:11, Rabbi Abraham Antebi of Syria and other great Rabbis, including the Hafetz Hayyim, in his Mishnah Berurah.80

c) Memareiah, Applying Stick or Thick Gel Deodorants

See the beginning of this article for a full discussion of the subject of memareiah. Stick deodorants and anti-perspirants have become popular. However, they are prohibited to be used on Shabbat because they involve the prohibited action of memareiah, smoothing on a thick substance. However, low viscosity liquid deodorants, such as sprays, may be applied directly to the skin.


Both Sepharadim and Ashkenazim may apply deodorants and perfumes to skin on Shabbat. However, one may not apply them to clothing or other material. Air fresheners may be sprayed into the air, but not directly onto any surface.

Stick, cream, and thick gel deoderants should not be applied because of the prohibition of memareiah.

8. Brushing Teeth on Shabbat

Halakhic issues involved:

a) Nolad, creating foam.

b) Memareiah or memahek, spreading or smoothing the toothpaste on the toothbrush or on teeth.

c) Refuah, healing.

d) Sehita - Washing the toothbrush.

e) Breaking the bristles of the brush.

f) Havalah - Causing bleeding.

g) Uvdin dehol - Doing things on Shabbat as one normally does on a weekday.

a) Nolad/Molid Creating Foam

Rav Moshe Feinstein in Iggerot Moshe and Rav Yitzhak Yaakov Weiss in Minchat Yitzhak81 prohibit brushing teeth with toothpaste since the toothpaste becomes foamy and more fluid. This may be a problem of molid. This approach is based on Rashi (Shabbat 51b),82 who says it is prohibited to squeeze or crush ice on Shabbat because of molid. Shulchan Arukh, however, holds like Rambam that squeezing ice is prohibited because it is similar to squeezing fruit, which falls under the category of sechita.83

Rav Ovadia Yosef in Yabia Omer 4:29 follows the Shulchan Arukh that Sephardim don’t have to worry about molid. However, Ashkenazim should hold like the Rema and therefore brushing teeth with regular toothpaste would be prohibited for them.

b) Memareiah or Memahek, Spreading or Smoothing Toothpaste onto the Toothbrush or Teeth.

See the beginning of this article for a full discussion of the subject of memareiah. It would seem that the use of toothpaste on Shabbat should be prohibited by rabbinical decree because of the prohibition of memareiah. However, Rav Ovadia Yosef states84 that there is no prohibition of spreading, unless one wants the spread substance to last, such as wax on the hole of a vessel, in order to seal it.85 But those who spread toothpaste don’t want the toothpaste to last on the teeth. All they want is to clean the teeth. The proof is that they rinse out the toothpaste. There is therefore not even a rabbinical prohibition of memareiah.86 Rabbi Y.D. Soloveitchik in Nefesh Harav 168, agrees with this opinion.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein87 and Tzitz Eliezer88 only allowed brushing teeth with liquid toothpaste since applying regular toothpaste is considered by them to be memachek.

Sepharadim may use regular toothpaste. Ashkenazim should use liquid toothpaste.

c) Refuah - Healing

Although Rambam (Hilkhot Shabbat 21:24) does not discuss toothpaste, he does discuss a similar case:

‘One is prohibited to rub one’s teeth with spices for medicinal purposes,89 but if the intention is for the spices to alleviate the odor of the mouth, then it is permitted.’

This halakhah is also quoted by Tur and Shulhan Arukh.90 According to this, toothpaste should be prohibited, since as well as freshening breath, fluoride acts as medication for one’s teeth.

If a person has a cavity in his or her teeth, or a toothache, the toothpaste will not heal it. Toothpaste is not a medicinal cure. It only helps to strengthen and stop deterioration caused by the gathering of plaque and food particles, on, around, and between the teeth. It is merely a preventative and is thus allowed. Therefore, the gezerah prohibiting the use of medication on Shabbat does not apply to toothpaste.91

d) Washing the Toothbrush

The Talmud Shabbat 128b states that sehita (squeezing) does not apply to hair since hair does not absorb. Rambam92 codifies this as law; however, Maggid Mishneh states that a rabbinical prohibition still applies. Due to this Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Y. Y. Weiss93 prohibit wetting a toothbrush both before and after use, whether with water or liquid toothpaste.

Rav Ovadia Yosef,94 states that it is prohibited to wash the toothbrush after use. It is included in the prohibition of kobes95 - washing clothes (a subcategory of melaben - washing the wool for the curtains for the mishkan). Prior to using the toothbrush, however, there is no problem, as the toothbrush is already clean. After usage, however, it is dirty and one should be concerned that washing the brush will lead to squeezing the bristles (sehita) which is a rabbinical prohibition. We do not worry about this prohibition at the time of the actual brushing of the teeth, as a person does not care if the bristles will be squeezed, since this is a rabbinical law, it is in the category of pesik reshei delo ikhpat lei biderabbanam. However, after usage it is prohibited to wash the brush.

Rabbi Bension Abba Shaul96 and Rav Moshe Feinstein97 write that a person should not wash their brush after use if it is not going to be used again that Shabbat, because of the prohibition of preparing on Shabbat for a weekday. Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef does not consider this to be an act of preparation.98 He is of the opinion that there is no problem of preparing, as long as:

a. it is not obvious to an observer that a person is preparing for the weekday;

b. there is no trouble involved;

c. a person normally does this action without even thinking.

This is especially the case if the toothbrush is kept in a place that is visible to others and there is an element of kavod haberiyot - honor due to people. (It is not nice to keep an unwashed toothbrush on display.) However, washing the toothbrush is still prohibited because the person may squeeze the bristles. Seridei Esh and Rav S. Z. Auerbach99 are of the opinion that bristles are stiffer than hair and do not appear to absorb liquid, unlike hair, and therefore sehita is not a problem.

e) Breaking Bristles of the Brush

Rema100 writes that it is prohibited to use on Shabbat a clothes brush which is made with bristles of straw in case one causes some bristles to break. Does this ruling apply to using toothbrushes on Shabbat? Taz,101 questions the opinion of Rema:

‘So what if a person breaks the bristles? Breaking something on Shabbat is not a form of prohibited work?’

According to Ma’amar Mordekhai, even though breaking something is not a prohibited form of work from the Torah, it is still prohibited by the Rabbis. Even if one has no intention that it should happen, it is definitely going to occur, (pesik resha). However, in case of need, it would be allowed.102 The proof for this is from a Mishnah in Shabbat 146a which states:

‘One may break a barrel in order to eat dried figs from it.’

Rashi, in his commentary on this Mishnah, explains that the reason it is permitted to break the barrel on Shabbat is because it is an act of damaging. The Rashba103 questions this explanation since, even though there is no Torah prohibition, it is still prohibited from the Rabbis. He continues and answers that, even though damaging something on Shabbat is prohibited, when it is being done for Shabbat purposes it is fully permitted.

Since it is not definite that the bristles of a straw brush will break, many rabbinical authorities argue with Rema’s opinion and have allowed the use of a straw bristle clothes brush on Shabbat. Modern toothbrushes are of much better quality and are made with strong synthetic bristles that do not break, so even Rema would probably allow them. Furthermore a person has no intention to break the bristles of his or her toothbrush. Thus this issue is not a concern.

f) Causing Bleeding.

According to Torah law, causing bleeding is only prohibited if one needs the blood, as in donating blood.104 This Torah prohibition would therefore not be applicable in the case of brushing teeth. However Rav Y.Y. Weiss states that a rabbinical prohibition of causing bleeding does apply, especially with hard bristle toothbrushes.105

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef106 states that even if toothbrushes sometimes cause people’s gums to bleed, when they are brushing them, since this was not their intention. This is included in the category of davar she’eno mitkaven. Even if using a hard brush sometimes causes bleeding, if it does not happen all the time, it is not considered pesik resha - something that is definitely going to happen. Even if a person’s gums bleed in the majority of cases, it is still not considered definite and is not pesik resha. Therefore, a person whose gums bleed infrequently is allowed to brush his or her teeth on Shabbat. However, people who brush their teeth infrequently are not allowed to be lenient, since their gums are tender and are definitely going to bleed. 107

g) Uvdin dehol - Doing things on Shabbat as one Normally Does on a Weekday

There is no clear definition of what uvdin dehol is. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach defines it as if you do something during the week that would be prohibited to be done on Shabbat, and then on Shabbat do the same actions with the same objects, just a little differently.108 Rav Moshe defines it as something that is an easily recognizable weekday activity, even if it requires no melakhah to be performed.109 Mishnah Berurah (321:36) says chopping wood into big pieces would be uvdin dehol. He also says in (303:87) that you can’t use a comb even to lightly comb your hair to one side, but instead should get a special brush for Shabbat with soft bristles, so that it’s not uvdin dehol.

Minchat Yitzhak 3:50 and Rav Ovadia state that uvdin dehol would be a problem with brushing teeth, unless a special toothbrush is used. Rav Schachter said that intuitively he feels there’s no problem of uvdin dehol with brushing teeth.110

Some halakhic decisors require that the Shabbat toothbrush also look different from the weekday one, e.g., a different color or style.111 This idea is based on Shulhan Arukh112 and Mishnah Berurah.


For Sepharadim

Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef113 in Yalkut Yosef, states:

‘If persons will be uncomfortable on Shabbat because they did not brush their teeth, they are allowed to use a toothbrush and toothpaste. Even those who are of the opinion that washing with hard soap is prohibited, regular toothpaste is allowed. However, it is preferable to use liquid toothpaste, if available.

It is allowed to use a toothbrush, as long as there are no clear indications that the person’s gums will definitely bleed. It is good to be strict and set aside a special toothbrush for Shabbat, so as to be safe from any problem regarding uvdin dehol, doing something as a person does on a weekday. A person should be careful not to rinse their toothbrush after using it.’114

For Ashkenazim

The consensus of contemporary Ashkenazi halakhic authorities is that it is prohibited to use toothpaste on Shabbat.115 Their main concern is that putting toothpaste on the teeth or the brush could result in a transgression of the prohibited Shabbat labor of memareiah - smoothing.

Brushing without toothpaste or using liquid toothpaste is permitted,116 provided that the following conditions are met:

a. Use of a toothbrush that is designated for Shabbat use only.117 Some halakhic decisors require that the Shabbat toothbrush also look different from the weekday one, e.g. a different color or style.118

b. Use of a soft brush so as not to irritate the gums and cause bleeding. People with extremely sensitive gums who bleed whenever they brush their teeth may not use a toothbrush at all.

c. To avoid the prohibition of sehitah, squeezing, a dry toothbrush should be used. It is, however, permitted to rinse the mouth with cold water first and then use the toothbrush.119

d. The toothbrush may not be rinsed after use, unless it is going to be used again on that same Shabbat.120

9. Using a Toothpick on Shabbat

Halakhic issues involved:

a) Honor of the person, kavod haberiyot.

b) Muktzeh.

c) Causing Bleeding.

a) The Honor of a Human Being- Kavod Haberiyot.

The Talmud, Beitza 33a, and Shabbat 81b discusses the issue of the importance of honor and respect due to a human being. Rabbi Eliezer states that a person is allowed to take a piece of wood that is laying in front of him to pick his teeth on Shabbat, even though the piece of wood is not a vessel and was never prepared for this purpose before Shabbat, and is thus considered to be muktzeh.

b) Muktzeh

The Rabbis argue with Rabbi Eliezer and prohibit a person from taking an unprepared piece of wood, as it is muktzeh, even though there is an issue of kavod haberiyot - honor due to a human being, if a person does not pick his teeth, it may cause him public humiliation by being seen with food particles embedded between his teeth. Nevertheless, since that person could have prepared his toothpick from before, the Rabbis did not allow him to utilize something that is not set aside for this purpose before Shabbat. This law is quoted by Shulhan Arukh.121

Magen Avraham, in Note 4, concludes that in a case where a person could not prepare his toothpick prior to Shabbat, as in an instance where he was invited to his friend’s house, he would be allowed to utilize even a muktzeh item to pick his teeth, if nothing else was available. However, in places where people are not so fastidious about their appearance, and it would not be considered a disgrace for the person to walk around like that, it is prohibited to utilize a muktzeh item to pick one’s teeth. Tosefet Shabbat Note 7, states that normally, in a case like this, we go after the majority view of society of what is acceptable in that environment.

c) Causing Bleeding

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef122 states that even if a person sometimes causes their gums to bleed, when they are brushing their teeth, since there was no intention to cause gums to bleed, this is included in the category of davar she’ainu mitkaven And even if using a hard brush sometimes causes bleeding, if it does not happen 100% of the time, it is not considered pesik resha something that is definitely going to happen. Even if a person’s gums bleed in the majority if cases, it is still not considered definite and is still not considered pesik resha. However, people who brush their teeth infrequently are not allowed to be lenient since their gums are tender and definitely going to bleed. We can extend this conclusion to toothpicks.


If a person has a box of toothpicks in the house, he or she would be allowed to use them to clean between their teeth after food, unless his or her gums bleed every time toothpicks are used.

10. Use of Cosmetics on Shabbat

Halakhic issues involved:

a) Memareiach, smoothing.

b) Tzoveia, coloring.

c) Shalom Bayit.

There are two Melakhot of Shabbat (prohibited creative forms of work) which may be transgressed when using makeup; one is memareiah, smoothing, and the other is tzoveia, coloring.123

a. Memareiach - Smoothing

See the beginning of this article for a full treatment of this topic.

All legal decisors (poskim), without exception agree to the following: Any lipsticks124 or makeups which contain cream or thick oil are strictly prohibited for Shabbat use. These forms of makeup also may not be applied to touch up or reinforce existing makeup.

However there is some lack of clarity among contemporary authorities regarding powder or powdery substances which have no cream or oil base, such as certain brands of blush and eye shadow. The basis for the confusion is a responsum written by Rabbi M. Feinstein in 1957125 “to sprinkle white powder across the face which does not last at all is not a violation of the prohibition of coloring”. Some interpret his words to mean that any powder which is not cream or oil based may be used since it does not remain on the skin for long.126 It remains highly doubtful if that is what Rabbi Feinstein meant. In a subsequent responsum, written in 1984,127 he clarifies that in his original responsum he was referring to “simple white powder called talc which is made without oil and does not last.”128

In Responsa Maharam Brisk, Vol. 1, Chapter 23, it was asked if women are allowed to powder their faces, and he states that there is no problem even if the talc is colored, since it soon falls off and does not leave any residue of color it is not even rabbinically prohibited coloring. However, he changed his mind later and only allowed regular white talc powder.

b. Tzoveia - Coloring

The Talmud Shabbat 95a quotes Rabbi Shimon Ben Elazar as making the following statement in the name of Rabbi Eliezer: “A woman should not rub her face with a bright dye on Shabbat because she is transgressing the law of coloring.” Rashi the famous commentator explains that this is a red dye. Rambam129 states that “Coloring is one of the main categories of prohibited labor on Shabbat and therefore it is prohibited for a woman to place red dye on her face because it would be coloring.” From the language of Rambam it would appear that this prohibition is a rabbinical one. It is interesting that Rif does not include this law in his Code, perhaps he holds that this is not considered coloring. Meiri comments that since this is only one rabbi’s opinion Rif does not include this law. The Talmud Yerushalmi, at the end of Chapter Hamatznia states that a woman who sticks dough on her face so that when she later removes it her face will be red for makeup purposes is liable because of coloring. Semag proves from this that there is a Torah prohibition involved.

Shulhan Arukh130 codifies the law as follows:

“A woman should not rub her face with a red dye, similarly it is prohibited to apply blue color (around the eyes). It is prohibited to paste dough on her face that leaves a red mark when she removes it.”

All later authorities also codified this law because in the words of Magen Avraham: “Since this is normal usage of women, it is considered coloring and is prohibited.” According to Magen Avraham, and the Eliah Rabbah, this prohibition is Rabbinical. This is also the opinion of the Mishnah Berurah.

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef differentiates between colored powder and a cream or liquid-based dye.

“but placing powder on the face is not considered lasting as sweat erases it in a short time...and since we normally say that there is no prohibition (from the Torah) of coloring on the skin of a person, as is stated by Mishnah Berurah,131 there is not even any rabbinical prohibition on placing powder, which is something that does not last, on skin.”

According to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and other lenient authorities it would appear that there are three criteria of time in the law of coloring:

a. Long term coloring is prohibited from the Torah. This does not apply to coloring on skin as the colors do not last.

b. Short term coloring [which may last a while] is rabbinically prohibited. Cream and liquid based colors fall under this category.

c. Very short term coloring, as in the case of colored powders, which fall off after a short while, is not considered coloring, and is permitted by Torah and rabbinical law.

The Talmud Yerushalmi, in the 7th chapter of Shabbat, discusses the case of a woman who colored her face white in order to whiten her skin. In this case, it seems that the Talmud states that there is no problem of coloring, as it is a white color on a white face. This is comparable to what Noda Biyehudah in Even Ha’ezer 85 states that a person who writes on top of other writing on Shabbat, is pattur, even though the second writing is blacker than the first, there is no Torah prohibition of writing. Similarly, responsa Teshurat Shai, Vol. 1:328, states “a person who applies liquid polish of the same color as his shoe on Shabbat, is pattur, (there is no Torah prohibition) because it is comparable to the case of writing on top of writing.” This seems to be the same logic as expressed by the Talmud Yerushalmi above, since coloring skin is only rabbinical in the first place, white color would be allowed.

There is a big discussion amongst the legal decisors regarding the following related issue: If person’s finger is bleeding, is it better to wipe the blood with a red cloth, or a different-colored cloth? Magen Avraham is of the opinion that it is worse to apply a red cloth, as a person desires to strengthen the red color of the cloth with blood. This is the opinion of Ben Ish Hai132 and Mishnah Berurah.133 However, other authorities state the opposite, that it is better to utilize a red cloth as one is not coloring it, it is already red. Among them is the Yosef Ometz, Chapter 652.

The Shulhan Arukh, Orah Hayyim, at the end of Chapter 320, states that when a person is eating berries or other fruits with strong dyes, they should not touch their cloth napkin with dirty hands because they will color it. Magen Avraham, on this location, note 25 states, even though the person, when he is eating the berries, is coloring his mouth and his hand, there is no problem, as coloring applies only to things which are normally colored, this cannot be equated with the law mentioned above regarding a woman’s cosmetics, as there, it is normal for a woman to color her face.

Rabbi S.Z. Auerbach writes that so long as the purpose is to color [the skin], even if it lasts only a short while, since the powder was intended for makeup and women do color their faces in this manner, we find no source to be lenient.”134

There are other poskim who prohibit using any tinted powder but permit using white powder.135

Liquid blushes and nail varnish are longer lasting than powders and are prohibited because of coloring.

c. Shalom Bayit

Shalom bayit is a major issue in our time. A person should try and look good for their spouse at all times and especially on Shabbat where the couple have more time together. Bet Yosef, Orah Hayyim end of Chapter 303, quotes Kol Bo that the minhag in his time was that women would braid their hair on Shabbat. Kol Bo’s response was that it was impossible to prevent them from doing this in order that they should not be disgusting to their husbands and it is better for them to transgress unintentionally. Rabbi Yosef Karo is very perplexed with this decision in his gloss to Bet Yosef entitled ‘Bedek Habayit.’ However there are considerations in halakhah to not be overly strict when the outcome could be discord. Rabbi Ovadia Yosef acknowledges the validity of this issue in his lenient ruling on powdery makeup.136 However, he does not go so far as to allow regular makeup.


For Ashkenazim

Women should not apply any makeup on Shabbat. However, since not wearing makeup is a personal issue which could, under certain circumstances, affect relationships, etc.,137 it is recommended that those who find themselves in such a situation consult a rabbi for guidance.

For Sepharadim

Rav Ovadia Yosef is strict when it comes to lipsticks and other cream-based forms of makeup including rouges and eye shadows because of the problems of coloring and smoothing. However he is lenient in allowing women to apply makeup that is powder based. His logic is that Bet Yosef following Rambam states that applying makeup is considered coloring only by rabbinic decree.138 Since powder based makeups do not last very long on the skin they are allowed. Furthermore, since not wearing makeup is a personal issue which could, under certain circumstances, affect relationships one may be lenient and apply powder-based makeup on Shabbat.