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Removing makeup from a cloth or napkin on Shabbos?


Rabbi David Sperling

Tishrei 29, 5780
Is it okay to wipe makeup off the face while eating/sleeping/wiping mouth or face/etc either intentionally or accidentally on Shabbos with a cloth or a napkin?
Shalom, Thank you for your question. The issue you raise is one of the laws of dying cloth on Shabat. It is forbidden to dye a garment – and so the question arises as to whether one may wipe themselves with a napkin when it may cause the napkin to become “dyed” with the stain of what was wiped off. This question is addressed in the Shulchan Aruch (Orech Haim, 320,20) where he rules that one should be careful when eating strawberries not to touch a napkin, because of the issue of dying. This is quoted in many works, such as Shmirat Shabat KeHilchatah (14,19) “If one's face or hands have become soiled by food that gives off color, such as cocoa or strawberries, one should try to rinse them before wiping with a napkin or towel, to avoid transferring the color to the cloth”. However, there is much halachic discussion as to why this should be forbidden. Firstly, one certainly has no desire to color the napkin, in fact one would rather the napkin stay clean. As such we are dealing with a non desirable action. Add to the question the fact that this is certainly not the normal way to dye a cloth, and we find we dealing with a non intentional, non standard action (“d'rabanan”). Because of this, from the letter of the law one is in fact permitted to use a napkin to wipe themselves, even if it will leave a stain – however, as we saw in Shmirat Shabat KeHilchatah, “one should try” to avoid such a situation. (See also Yalkut Yosef, Shabat, 320, 5). However, if it is an unavoidable situation, or one really needs to do so, one may in fact go ahead and wipe themselves with the cloth napkin, despite the staining. All this though, is only talking about a cloth napkin. The halacha concerning paper and disposable napkins is more lenient. Because we have the additional factor that the napkin is thrown away, one may use it without any hesitancy to wipe themselves even if it will become stained (Shmirat Shabat ibid). Blessings.
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