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Lice on Shabbat


Rabbi David Sperling

Iyyar 29, 5774
May one remove lice or nits on Shabbat manually provided that they do not pull out any hairs in the process? If so, what can be done with them once they are removed? Is it ok to wash them away on Shabbat? Thank you.
Shalom, Thank you for your question (-even though it immediately made me want to scratch my hair!). Delousing in fact it is mentioned in the Talmud as a classic example of an activity which could bring a person to turn up the Shabbat candles if preformed to closely to them. There is also a discussion about killing lice on Shabbat, and whether lice are considered as other animals that are forbidden to be killed or not. The bottom line is that one may delouse on Shabbat, however there are several factors that need to be kept in mind. Firstly, it is forbidden to use a comb, as this will almost certainly pull out hair, which is forbidden on Shabbat. However, you may search for the lice or nits with your fingers and remove them. If in the process a stray hair was to fall out, this would not be forbidden, as it was unintentional and almost not inevitable. The lice when found may be thrown into the bin. There is much discussion as to whether they may be intentionally killed on Shabbat (by squashing them) – those who are lenient have great rabbinic opinions one whom to rely – so it would be better if this could be avoided by just throwing the lice in the bin. If this is not going to be effective, then there is room to allow throwing them down the drain. Blessings.
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