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Babywipes on Shabbos

 

When I was a newlywed in the mid 90′s, the great babywipes controversy of the late 80′s and early 90′s was still a live memory. The general assumption in my circles was that babywipes are absolutely prohibited on Shabbos, even though most people used them anyway. My impression is that this general understanding still dominates, even though there are really four views on the subject. Interestingly, three of the four views are reported in the name of R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach.

The reason to forbid babywipes is fairly straightforward. You are not allowed to squeeze liquid out of an object because it constitutes sechitah, which is a subcategory of the forbidden labor dash (threshing) and/or melaben (cleaning). Since babywipes contain liquid of which at least some is inevitably squeezed out during usage, its use should be prohibited. (The following discussion ignores the need to rip babywipes that are connected to each other. Doing so is problematic. I’ve never used such babywipes.)

I. Permissible

I once heard R. Shlomo Perl (speaking in the late 90′s), a longtime teacher of the laws of Shabbos, tell the following story: R. Moshe Bick, in his day an important halakhic authority in Boro Park, permitted use of babywipes on Shabbos. One day, someone confrontational entered R. Moshe Bick’s living room to speak with him and squeezed a babywipe so the liquid would drip onto the table, screaming “Sechitah! Sechitah!” As R. Perl told the story, R. Bick grabbed the man by the collar and dragged him out the door, screaming “Mutar! Mutar!” Aside from the obvious, the need to defend the use on Shabbos of babywipes, both by R. Bick and by R. Perl, is telling. At the time, R. Perl did not offer R. Bick’s lenient rationale. R. Ovadiah Yosef is also quoted as permitting the gentle use of babywipes (link; see Yalkut Yosef, Kitzur Shulchan Arukh 320:38).

II. Forbidden

R. Yitzchak Ya’akov Weiss (Minchas Yitzchak 10:25 – link), in a 1986 responsum, forbids using babywipes. As he points out, you can always just wash the baby with water and dry him off. R. Shmuel Wosner (Shevet Ha-Levi 13:59 – link), in a 1990 responsum, initially permitted use of babywipes provided you use them gently, so that liquid need not necessarily be squeezed out. However, after being told (by the authors of Orechos Shabbos, see below) that it will always be squeezed out, he concludes that we must be strict and forbid the use of babywipes on Shabbos.

III. Very Wet Allowed

R. Dovid Ribiat (The 39 Melachos, p. 352 and the accompanying n. 137) quotes in the name of R. Moshe Feinstein an interesting reason for leniency. R. Feinstein reportedly concluded that since the majority of moisture rests on top of the babywipe, rather than absorbed within it, you are not squeezing liquid when using a babywipe. R. Eliezer Melamed (Peninei Halakhah 14:6 – link) rules similarly. Based on this logic, R. Ribiat insists that you may only use babywipes if they are very wet. Since, in my experience, babywipes in a box partially dry out fairly quickly, according to this view you can only use the first few in the box.

IV. Slightly Wet Allowed

R. Shlomo Aviner (She’eilas Shlomo 3:114), in a 1992 responsum, permits use of babywipes if they are not very wet because then there is less of a concern that liquid will be squeezed out. In my experience, most babywipes (except for the first few in a box) have limited liquid that is not squeezed out.

V. R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach’s View

1) Entirely Permissible

In a reply to R. Aviner’s ruling (also from 1992 and published alongside the above responsum), R. Avigdor Nebenzahl–probably R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach’s foremost disciple–quoted two views on the subject. He claimed that, according to R. Tzvi Pesach Frank, use of a babywipe would be rabbinically prohibited because you desire the liquid that is squeezed out of the paper. However, according to R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, babywipes are entirely permissible on Shabbos because the water is squeezed out directly into the baby’s excrement and immediately attains its status. Sechitah requires the liquid to attain an independent identity after being squeezed out. Shemiras Shabbos Ke-Hilkhasah (ch. 14 n. 94) also quotes R. Auerbach as permitting use of babywipes.

2) Slightly Wet Allowed

R. Nebenzahl subsequently replied again that his initial report in R. Auerbach’s name was not a ruling but only “talking in learning,” a suggested approach. R. Auerbach’s final position is that you may not use very wet babywipes. However, you may if they are slightly wet. He explicitly states that R. Auerbach agreed with R. Aviner’s ruling.

3) Forbidden

R. Shalom Yosef Gelber and R. Yitzchak Mordechai Rubin, in their Orechos Shabbos (vol. 1, birurei halakhah 7:5), report that they asked R. Auerbach about babywipes and he showed them the lenient footnote in Shemiras Shabbos Ke-Hilkhasah. They showed him the explanations of experts on the nature of babywipes and “they heard” that he changed his mind and ruled strictly. They similarly convinced R. Wosner to retract, which he did in writing.

4) Did He Retract?

However, R. Neuwirth, the author of Shemiras Shabbos Ke-Hilkhasah, is reported to have said that R. Auerbach continued permitting babywipes entirely toward the end of his life (link). Therefore, R. Neuwirth retained this ruling in later editions of his book. R. Eliezer Melamed (Harchavos Peninei Halakhah, Shabbos 14:6:4 n. 2) quotes from Or Ha-Shabbos that R. Auerbach’s descendant, R. Ch[aim?] Goldberg, a noted Torah scholar, testified that R. Auerbach permitted the use of babywipes shortly before his passing.

I suggest that, despite the esteem in which we hold the authors of Orechos Shabbos, we cannot accept this posthumous report of a retraction because: 1) it is questionable because they did not hear it directly from R. Auerbach, 2) we have contradictory testimony, and 3) the same reason that the Noda Bi-Yehudah‘s son gave (link)–the testimony, in this case indirect, is insufficient to remove a presumption.

[See also this article by R. Aryeh Lebowitz - link (PDF)]

 

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Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

28 Responses

  1. Jeremy says:

    Re R. Ribiat’s position. You infer that he would only allow the first few wipes. In the Seder he actually says the opposite: only the last ones sitting in the pile of liquid that collects in the bottom of the package. This cld be a metzius issue w.r.t. the type of packaging used, I.e. plastic box vs. crumply package.

  2. Jeremy says:

    *sefer, not Seder

  3. The Dude says:

    Anyone posek has ever had to deal with a doody diaper themselves on Shabbos will be matir. Trust me.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Mistama babies were also cleaned before wipes. Does anyone believe that no squeezing was involved? Or no squeezing on shabbos? Come on.

  5. RIS says:

    Given the contradictory understandings and opinions expressed above, it’s clear that s’chitah needs to be properly defined. Since there is no consensus on these definitions, or their practical implications, I’ll take a stab at it:

    1) S’chitah as a derivative of dash only applies on a Torah level to fruits and vegetables, where the juice is directly desired, e.g., grape juice. If the juice is not used directly (e.g., lemon squeezed on sugar), it’s mutar. I presume that the prohibition was extended rabinically to animals and humans (expressing milk). If I were to guess, I would say it was extended to animals to generally prohibit weekday milking activities as not consistent with Shabbos. This type of s’chitah obviously does not apply to baby wipes on a Torah level, and may be waived for the needs of a baby.

    2) S’chitah as a derivative of m’labein, where squeezing out dirty water from clothing is intended to help clean that particular piece of material. This definition means that using a sponge to clean dishes would only be a rabbinic prohibition. This is directly analogous to baby wipes, wherein we are cleaning the baby, and not the wipe. Since its use in this manner is rabbinic only, we need not worry about whether they are soaking wet or mostly dry, because they are being used on a baby, and it is a major risk to leave the baby without proper cleaning.

    (Similarly, squeezing water out of your hair could only be rabbinic at most, since it does not involve clothing or cloth, and as part of your body (hair on hands, beard, etc), it’s very hard to make the case that there is a Torah prohibition of m’labein for your body. Furthermore, the water that exits hair is dirty, and not directly usable for anything. Therefore squeezing water out of hair is only prohibited by custom, IMO.)

    3) If you are really concerned about this, just put soapy water in a spray bottle, and leave near the blech to keep it warm. Then you can spray the baby and use dry tissues. It works just fine.

    I understand that many rabbinic sources appear to disagree with one point or another of this. However, these definitions are the only ones that make sense to me, and seem to resolve all the issues in a consistent manner.

  6. For a fascinating psak on the use of babywipes by Dayan Saadia Amor shlit’a (Rosh Beit Din of the Sefardim in London), see https://dl.dropbox.com/u/93295959/Babywipes%20%28Dayan%20Amor%29.pdf

  7. Tal Benschar says:

    2) S’chitah as a derivative of m’labein, where squeezing out dirty water from clothing is intended to help clean that particular piece of material. This definition means that using a sponge to clean dishes would only be a rabbinic prohibition. This is directly analogous to baby wipes, wherein we are cleaning the baby, and not the wipe. Since its use in this manner is rabbinic only, we need not worry about whether they are soaking wet or mostly dry, because they are being used on a baby, and it is a major risk to leave the baby without proper cleaning.

    In addition, wipes are disposable, and when used to wipe a baby are immediately dirtied and turned useless. It has been a while, but I seem to recall that some permit such “sechitah” because you are in the process ruining the item that you would ostensibly be trying to “launder” — which is what melabein is.

    (Same difference between using a paper towel and a permanent towel to wipe a spill on a table, for example.)

  8. ” in my experience, babywipes in a box partially dry out fairly quickly, according to this view you can only use the first few in the box.”

    i’ve never had this problem, except for when we leave the pack open for a very long time. you should try a different brand. (we use kirkland from costco.)

  9. joel rich says:

    They showed him the explanations of experts on the nature of babywipes
    ===================================
    I’d love to know the credentials and whether they also testified about the nature of honey, lice etc.

    Given the lack of consistency of the mitziut of brands of baby wipes and their packaging, and the lack of a clear definition of schita, I’d suggest the poskim involved might try and remember how they took care of this issue in their homes in the pre-wipes era.
    KT

  10. shachar haamim says:

    did anyone ever discuss adult moist toilet wipes which are now popular? what about if not using those will cause anal or hemoroidal bleeding and one has to wipe their bottom on shabbat?

    very important questions.

  11. Shragie says:

    I cant believe he omitted R Moshe’s psak on wet paper towels. R Moshe clearly defends the practice by saying there are 2 potential problems; Cleaning the beged and squeezing the liquid for its use. Both dont apply.

  12. Alan says:

    Gil, doesn’t someone (I don’t remember who) make the point that since the material of the baby wipe is synthetic, the liquid was never really absorbed & therefore there is no concern of Sechitah anyhow?

  13. Hirhurim says:

    Shragie: There is a debate whether R. Moshe Feinstein’s ruling is relevant to the issue of babywipes. Meor HaShabbos vol. 2 p. 522 gives three reasons why it isn’t.

    Alan: But that might still be assur miderabbanan, like squeezing hair.

  14. Srugi says:

    Hair isn’t synthetic

  15. When I had my first child I asked Rav Reuvein Feinstein, shlit”a about baby wipes and he said as long as they weren’t too wet they are fine, in contradistinction to what you quote as the opinion of Rav Moshe, zt”l. As, to the best of my knowledge, Rav Reuvein never rules against his father, I question the conclusions made in Rav Moshe’s name.

    As a matter of fact, most of the baby wipes in my experience (5 children, bi”h) are damp and don’t emit liquid unless you squeeze them hard.

    I am also flummoxed that, as Tal pointed out, no mention in this article is made regarding the disposable nature of wipes. My family has always used wet paper towels on Shabbos for this reason (though I’m aware some argue).

  16. Joe says:

    There is also a tshuva of the Tzitz Eliezer that discusses using a wet cloth to clean a wound on shabbos and is mattir for many of the reasons decribed here. I don’t have the cite handy but I saw looked it up once based on a citation from R. YGB.

  17. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    there is a new product on the market (shabbat wipes, or something) i believe from the same ppl that bring you shabbat lamp. cant find it on their website (gasp!) but i assume it was too much of a “kula” for them, so they dropped it.

    essentially, they argued (properly) that SA only prohibits squuezing a fabric / textile, not paper, (and they claim commercial wipes have fabric in them) so they made a paper only wipe.

    similar to alan’s argument above.

  18. Daniel Shain says:

    In order to avoid this problem, when my children were little, we make a liquid soap solution and filled a sray bottle with it. We would spray the dirty area of the baby and wipe/clean it with a dried out diaper wipe. This avoids the problem of squeezing anything out of the wipe. I think someone has sold a shabbos baby wash like this.

  19. Daniel Shain says:

    I see that RIS above also mentions this approach.

  20. Moshe Shoshan says:

    I still dont get it. as has been mentioned before, these things just are not that wet. given, as has been noted, the derabbanan nature of the issur, this seems to be a huge chumra

  21. Moshe Shoshan says:

    I also challenge the notion that spay bottle and reglar tissue works just as well inthe case of caked on stuff. this seems to me to be classic kavod a brios. kal v’chomer whenother options are not available.

  22. Hirhurim says:

    Moshe: They absolutely ARE that wet. Take the first one out of the box. It is impossible to wipe it on anything without liquid dripping.

  23. Anonymous says:

    R. Gil/ Moshe:

    It terms of metzuis, I have found there is a difference between the wipes that come in a box (like Huggies wipes), which are wet, and those which come in a bag (e.g. Costco) which are not that wet.

  24. emma says:

    “these things are just not that wet”
    “the absoluteley are that wet.”

    well, it depends which “they” you are talking about, making the abstract nature of this conversation strange. i was using wipes for a year or more before one time i bough a different brand that was wet enough to squeeze liquid out of and finally understood why this is even a shaila. my normal brand (which comes in a plastic package, not box) is really just not that wet, ever – first or last wipe, it would be hard to squeeze any drops out, and certainly to do so in the normal course of wiping a tush.

  25. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    the ones in a bag are refills for the ones in a box. and they tend to dry out pretty quickly (in storage, transportation, etc.), compared to the ones in a box.

  26. Rafael Araujo says:

    I agree with Gil that they are THAT wet. I buy this ready to use Shabbos spray and it works like magic. No “kavod habrios” issues involved.

  27. shachar haamim says:

    there may be differences between Israeli and American products here

  28. Fotheringay-Phipps says:

    Weird thing is that some earlier (e.g. 19th century) poskim speak about a very similar issue, i.e. adults using wetted paper to wipe themselves (which is recommended by many poskim). This is universally permitted on Shabbos, and it’s not completely clear how babywipes differ.

    What rationale I’ve seen is that the adults have less liquid on them, but that should permit similar for babies.

 
 

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