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Weekly Shabbos Halacha Series
Halachos Series on Hilchos Shabbos

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Published by
Pirchei Shoshanim

A Project of
The Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Written by

Rabbi Dovid
Ostroff, shlita


These Halachos were shown by Rabbi Ostroff to
HaGaon HaRav Moshe Sternbuch, shlita



Questions for the Week of PInchas


           May I pluck a hair that is bothering me, from my head on Shabbos?

            Cutting hair on Shabbos falls under the umbrella of the melacha of shearing. The Shulchan Aruch [1] teaches us that it is prohibited to cut or pluck hair, whether one uses an instrument, such as scissors, or ones fingers.

There is a difference though as to the severity of the action: one is only chayav (biblically prohibited) when cutting hair with an instrument and rabbinically prohibited when pulling out hair with ones fingers, in view of the fact that it is not the normal manner for removing hair. [2]

Another crucial issue is the number of hairs that need to be cut. For one to violate an issur doraisso (biblical prohibition) and be liable for the biblical punishment, one would need to cut at least two [3] hairs. Although cutting a single hair is also an issur doraisso [4] one is not subject to the punishment prescribed by the Torah.

Consequently, pulling out even a single hair is an issur drabanan (pulled out as opposed to cut) and it may not be done on Shabbos.

Is the cutting of two hairs always a melacha doraisso?

            We find a machlokes between the Tosefos and the Rivash in this matter. [5] We must not forget that the source of this melacha is shearing sheep, and hence Tosefos says that in the Mishkan the sheep were sheared for their wool. Therefore, cutting hair for a purpose other than for the purpose of acquiring the hair itself, renders the cutting a melacha sheeina tsricha lgufa meaning that it is done for a motive other than that of the Mishkan. According to the halacha it would then only be an issur drabanan.

The Rivash, on the other hand, learns that this melacha was also practiced in the Mishkan for the purpose of cleaning the skins of hair. The hair was not used or wanted and nevertheless it is a melacha. Consequently, cutting hair for appearance sake will be a regular melacha doraisso.

            Does it make a difference whether it is a white hair from black and that I am a male?

            It does indeed make a difference. If we said that the basis of the melacha is two hairs, when removing a single white hair from amongst black or vice versa, one accomplishes a complete goal and is chayav on account of that single hair. [6] The Biur Halacha says that some are of the opinion that one is chayav for pulling out such a hair, as it is normal to do so.

Being male compounds the problem because it is prohibited for a male to pluck a black hair from white or vice versa during the week as well, since it is an act of beautification, typical of women. This is the implementation of the issur of , which includes beautifying oneself as women do. [7] There are extenuating circumstances where this is permitted, and one must ask ones rav when this is.

            What about picking at fingernails on Shabbos?

            Cutting a fingernail is also part of . Cutting fingernails with an instrument is an issur doraisso [8] and picking them is an issur drabanan. A person who habitually picks or bites fingernails during the week is in danger of violating the Shabbos, because he will most likely continue with his (bad) habit on Shabbos as well.

            Is there a problem to remove feather remnants from a chicken in my plate?

            Removing feathers from a dead chicken is an issur doraisso. [9] Yet we find a machlokes haposkim as to whether it applies to a cooked chicken as well.

The Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchasa [10] cites poskim who hold that it is ossur, but also cites lenient opinions. Rav Moshe Feinstein [11] is of the opinion that it is totally permitted.

            May one clean dirty fingernails on Shabbos?

            Dirt often appears under fingernails, leaving an ugly appearance. Obviously there is no prohibition against cleaning such dirt on Shabbos; one should be careful not to scrape away part of the inside of the fingernail, which would be a problem of . [12]

As we know, ones hands and fingernails must be clean when washing for bread and when necessary one could use a wooden toothpick that will scrape away the dirt but will not scrape the nail.

            A fingernail has partially separated from the nail, may it be removed?

            We have learnt that removing a fingernail involves the melacha of shearing. [13] The halacha regarding a semidetached fingernail varies.

If a minor part of the fingernail is detached, it is the same as a fully attached fingernail and may not be removed. If a major part of the fingernail has detached, midoraisso it is viewed as if it has totally detached, but midrabanan it may only be removed by hand or teeth if causing distress. The leniency is due to the fact that Chazal did not institute this gzeira (decree) in occurrences of distress. [14]

May a woman remove nail varnish on Shabbos?

            Removing nail varnish is not similar to removing dirt from ones skin etc. The problem in this case is that removing nail varnish paves the way for a fresh painting which is a problem of erasing in order to repaint, which can be an issur doraisso. Normally a woman only removes varnish that has started to peel or is damaged. Doing so on Shabbos is not seen as mekalkel (destroying or spoiling) which is only a drabanan, [15] because in this case the nails are being cleaned in order to be repainted.

            How is a woman supposed to wash her hands for bread on Shabbos when the nail varnish is peeling?

            This is a major problem because it is a state which is known as being makpidah, which means being particular. Anything that a person does not want on ones hands constitutes a a barrier between the persons hands and the water and in this case it invalidates the . [16]

It is similar to any case of dirt on ones hands that must be removed before washing for bread. Although one may remove normal dirt from ones hands on Shabbos in order to do , removing varnish is far more problematic, as explained. One should therefore make sure that the fingernails are either well varnished or clean before Shabbos.

[1] Siman 340:1.

[2] MB siman 340:2.

[3] Mechaber ibid.

[4] MB siman 340:3. It complies with the rule of .

[5] See the Biur Halacha " .

[6] Mechaber ibid. The Biur Halacha discusses this issue according to the opinions who learn that the melacha is only when one needs the cut hair, as it seems that it should not be prohibited to any further extent when it is a white from black.

[7] Mechaber ibid and MB 340:7.

[8] According to the Rivash mentioned above.

[9] MB simon 340:5, towards the end.

[10] Chapter 3 comment on page 48 and footnote 83.

[11] Iggros Moshe Orach Chaim Vol. IV page 141

[12] Biur Halacha simon 161:1 " . SSK 14:56.

[13] In the previous shiur we saw that Tosefos holds that cutting fingernails is only a doraisso when one needs the fingernails and the Rivash holds that beautifying oneself is also a doraisso.

[14] Simon 328:31 and MB 95-96.

[15] See the " .

[16] Simon 161:1.


Orchos Chaim LaRosh

estrange haughtiness and anger. One usually gets angry when things do not unfold according to ones plans, which stems from haughtiness, because who said things must be according to what you want.

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Note:  The purpose of this series is intended solely for the clarification of the topics discussed and not to render halachic decisions. It is intended to heighten everyone's awareness of important practical questions which do arise on this topic.  One must consult with a proper halachic authority in order to receive p'sak.