Are Book Darts Kosher?

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by R. Gil Student

Book darts are bookmarkers that hold your spot in a book. They can be used to mark the page or even the specific line on a page for your future reference. Are you allowed to use them on Shabbos? In order to research this subject, I purchased the elegant “18forty: I Read This Over Shabbos” branded book darts to see how they work and whether they are acceptable for Shabbos reading. Before receiving the package, I had broken down this question into two parts. Below I will explain how I revised this analysis after using the book darts.

I. The Pampers Question

The first brand of disposable diapers was Pampers, which was released in 1961. Like cloth diapers, the disposable diapers were connected through safety pins. In 1971, Pampers replaced the pins with adhesive tape. In those days, the tape only sealed once. This meant that parents had only one chance to seal the diapers properly. It also meant that disposable diapers became a halachic problem on Shabbos. Unlike safety pins that can be inserted and removed multiple times, the adhesive tape could be used only once. Effectively, it was a permanent bond that had to be ripped in a permanent destruction of the bond.

Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Shabbos 10:11) forbids gluing together paper using “scribe’s glue” (kolan shel soferim) because that constitutes sewing, even without a needle and thread. Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 340:14) rules likewise. This means that it is forbidden to tape things together because of the Shabbos labor of sewing (tofer), and it is forbidden to rip off the tape because of the opposite labor of tearing (korei’a). For this reason, most halakhic authorities forbade using the second wave of disposable diapers on Shabbos unless you ignore the adhesive tape and use safety pins.

In 1982, Huggies (another brand of disposable diapers) developed re-fastenable adhesives. This allowed parents to open and close the diapers multiple times. It meant that sticking the tape was only temporary, which bears halakhic significance. Rav Avraham Gombiner (17th cen., Poland; Magen Avraham 340:18) allows sticking and unsticking of glue if it is only temporary. Therefore, in theory the adhesive should be permitted on Shabbos. However, the first unsticking of the tape is potentially problematic. The tape was covered with plastic in the factory and remained there for days if not weeks. That is a fairly permanent adhesion that you are undoing when you unstick the adhesive the first time. The first time you use a disposable diaper, you unstick the adhesive from the factory setting, which might constitute a biblical violation of the Shabbos labor of tearing.

Rav Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eliezer 16:6:5) considers this factory sticking problematic and forbids unsticking it on Shabbos. Rather, he requires a parent to prepare disposable diapers before Shabbos by unsticking and then resticking them temporarily. Shemiras Shabbos Ke-Hilkhasah (15:81) rules similarly. Rav Shmuel Wosner (Shevet Ha-Levi 5:31:2) takes a middle view – he is not concerned with the initial unsticking but believes you should be somewhat strict and only refasten it using the end of the adhesive portion and unstick it in an unusual way. Indeed, when my older children were little, part of my Shabbos preparations was taking a pile of unused diapers and unsticking and resticking the adhesive so we could use them on Shabbos. Some other authorities are more lenient. Rav Ovadiah Yosef (Yechaveh Da’as 6:24) does not require preparing disposable diapers before Shabbos. Rav Yosef Kafach, in an unnumbered footnote to his edition of Mishneh Torah (Hilkhos Shabbos 10:11), argues that diaper adhesives do not fall under Rambam’s term “scribe’s glue” (kolan shel soferim) and therefore he completely permits closing and opening adhesive diapers.

All of this changed in the late 1990’s, when a velcro-like system became widely used in disposable diapers. Nearly all authorities agree that this does not fall under the Shabbos labor of sewing. When we started buying velcro diapers, I stopped preparing diapers for Shabbos.

II. Bookmarks and Post-It Notes

To some degree, his same discussion applies to Post-It Notes and similar brands, when the notes are connected only by adhesives. Pulling off a note is similar to unsticking a diaper for the first time, which is problematic according to many authorities. Sticking and unsticking a note after the first time is different from a diaper in the sense that Post-It Notes are usually used once for a few days and then thrown out whereas diapers are always used for only a few hours. Therefore, diapers are temporary while notes usually are not. For this reason, some authorities prohibit the use of Post-It Notes on Shabbos (heard in the name of Rav Zvi Sobolofsky). However, Rav Yisrael David Harfenes (Nishmas Shabbos 7:206) allows using a Post-It Note as a bookmark if you prepare it by pulling it off and sticking it back on before Shabbos. Then he allows using it again on Shabbos to mark your place in the book without concern for the Shabbos labor of sewing because these are temporary placeholders that you move often.

Initially, I thought that book darts are like Shtark Marks, which are a form of Post-It Notes that were specifically designed for use as bookmarks. If so, I would only use them if I unstick them for the first time before Shabbos and use them as only temporary markers on Shabbos. However, after receiving them, I saw that they are not adhesives at all. Rather, as one website describes the product, book darts are  “precision-cut, paper-thin metal line markers that attach easily to any page without damaging it.” They are clips, like bobby pins but flat, smooth and shaped like an arrow.

However, perhaps there is another problem of preparing for after Shabbos. It is forbidden on Shabbos to prepare for after Shabbos. Is it permissible to place a bookmark or a book dart in a book to remember your place? Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 340:5) permits making a mark in a paper with your fingernail. Mishnah Berurah (ad loc., 25) says that this only applied to paper from long ago that was hard and the mark did not last. However, it is forbidden to make a mark in paper with a fingernail today because the mark is more permanent. Setting aside the issue of the type of paper, the discussion seems to imply that there is no problem of preparation for after Shabbos. For this reason, some authorities permit folding the corner of a page (dog ear) in order to remember the page. Rav Yisrael David Harfenes (Nishmas Shabbos 4:393) suggests that this is not considered preparation for after Shabbos because it involves no effort. He questions, however, whether you are allowed to get up and get a piece of paper, tissue or bookmark to put inside the book to mark the page because of the effort you exert.

Rav Avraham David Horowitz (Kinyan Torah Ba-Halakhah 2:116:2) says that if you insert a piece of paper or something similar to mark a place in a book of Torah teachings on Shabbos, then this is permissible because it is for a mitzvah. He adds that this was the practice of Torah leaders throughout the generations. Rav Mordechai Eliyahu (Responsa Ma’amar Mordekhai 4:108) quotes a tradition about Rav Yosef Chaim of Baghdad that when he had a creative interpretation on Shabbos, he inserted a fruit pit into a book to mark the place and then after Shabbos would write down his thoughts. Rav Eliyahu deduces from this story that it is permissible to insert a bookmark. Additionally, Rav Eliyahu deduces that Rav Yosef Chaim did not feel comfortable folding the corner of the page, presumably because it leaves a permanent mark. Rav Ephraim Greenblatt (Rivevos Ephraim 1:238:11) quotes Rav Yehoshua Neuwirth, Rav Binyamin Zilber and Rav Yisrael Porat as allowing bending the corner of a page on Shabbos in theory but not allowing it on a Torah book even during the week because it is disrespectful. They were not concerned with the issue of preparation but only with the respect for a Torah text.

It seems that most authorities would allow the use of book darts and bookmarks on Shabbos because it does not constitute preparation for after Shabbos. Additionally, when I use bookmarks on Shabbos, I often refer back to the book on Shabbos. In other words, placing the bookmark or book dart is for Shabbos itself and not (just) preparation for after Shabbos. This would allow even more room for leniency.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student currently is serving his third term on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and also serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazineand the Board of OU Press. He has published four English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

2 comments

  1. The distinction between “permanent” and “temporary” seems elusive and arbitrary. Moreover, any plastic diaper ever produced was always disposable (temporary), so how could the tape fastener be called “permanent”, if it was subordinate to something itself temporary?

    The sugya seems to relate (not entirely, but in a significant way) to the old issue of opening food containers. Those who open plastic containers on shabbos, even if it will be used more than once, should not have a problem with diaper tape or post its.

  2. Even the Velcro tabs require an initial ungluing of the non-Velcro portion which holds the tab to the diaper. It should be pointed out that many are lenient because, even though lema’aseh the tab is glued there for days to weeks, the issue is really what the intent was when first glued. This is like melachos kosheir and matir, where the permissibility of untying the knot depends on the intent during the tying (short- vs long-term), not on how long the knot was actually present. As far the diaper factory is concerned, the diaper is made to be used (by ungluing the tab) immediately after manufacture.

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