Recently, President Trump was spotted with two bandages on the back of his hand while he was telling everyone that he was medication-free. This prompted the media to begin major speculation as to what drugs he was taking. The site of his bandages was where most people get an IVs placed. The president could have saved himself all this speculation if he had just removed the bandages.
But what if it was Shabbos and the president was an observant Jew? Would he have been permitted to remove the bandages on Shabbos?
Before we delve into the depths of the halachah, let us remember that to us, as Torah-observant Jews, Shabbos observance is the very flag of our people. Just like on 9/11 everyone went out and purchased a flag to show their dedication to the ideals of freedom that this country holds so dear, Shabbos observance is the flag of the Jewish nation.
With the observance of Shabbos, we declare our belief to the world that G-d Al-mighty created the world. It is a moral world with right and wrong, for Tov, Goodness, is one of G-d’s Names. G-d rewards good and punishes evil. With our Shabbos observance, we declare to the world that there is a special hell awaiting those terrorists who murdered so many people on 9/11, awaiting those ISIS terrorists who kidnapped and slaughtered the innocent, and the radical Muslims who beheaded a French teacher this month. We also declare to the world that there is a special reward for those who follow G-d’s mitzvos.
Just as G-d employed creative acts to create the world, we refrain from creative acts on the seventh day, Shabbos. What specific creative acts do we refrain from doing? The 39 acts through which we, under instruction from G-d and from Moshe Rabbeinu, created the Mishkan, the Tabernacle, the holy resting place of the Shechinah in this world.
The specific issue under discussion is the 12th of the 39 prohibited malachos on Shabbos—gozez, roughly translated as sheering. As applied to the Mishkan, it involves the sheering of wool from sheep to construct the paroches, the covering of the Mishkan.
The word actually implies detaching, and its subcategories (called tolados) apply to animals, humans, and birds. (The Minchas Chinuch even applies it to fish; see mitzvah 32: Gozez 1.)
Gozez refers to removing some growth or appendage that is not an integral part of the body, such as hair, nails, etc. To violate the Torah prohibition, it must be done in a regular manner. If it is done differently, it is considered a rabbinic violation of the melachah — just like all of the other 38 creative acts. Removing one hair is different, as that is not the normal manner of removing hair for haircuts. So that would be a rabbinic violation.
There are two places where people put on bandages — a spot with hairs on it and a spot without hairs. The president’s bandages were on a spot where, generally speaking, there is hair.
As a general rule, it would be a rabbinic violation to remove the bandage since it is not the normal manner of removing hair. If the bandage is causing tza’ar, pain, or a difficult annoyance, it would be permitted to remove it, according to Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt’l, cited in Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchasah (chapter 35, se’if 29:73).
His reasons are threefold. Let’s briefly review each of these ideas.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt’l, rules that removing the bandage is k’l’achar yad (a back-handed method, which is forbidden mi’d’rabbanan, and the sages did not necessarily place their prohibition when there is tza’ar; it is just that this may not be tza’ar, perhaps).
The 39 melachos were generally done in a normal manner. When something is done with a shinui, in a different and less-efficient manner, it does not necessarily fit into the concept of maleches machsheves asra Torah, the Torah forbade thinking and efficient acts (see Beitzah 13b).
When a melachah is done destructively, such as here, in that he gets no benefit from the hairs or the fact that the hairs are pulled out, it is not considered necessarily fitting into the concept of maleches machsheves asra Torah, the Torah forbade thinking and efficient acts. This is the operative factor according to the Gemara in Chagigah 10b (see Rashi 31b “l’olam” and Tosfos, Sanhedrin 85b “l’olam”). It is still considered mekalkel even if there is a side benefit to it that is not related to the underlying melachah (see Mishnah Berurah 314:7).
Psik Reisha D’lo Nicha Lei
This is defined as a secondary result of a primary action that the person would not be pleased about. Here, the removal of the bandage plucks the hairs. Neither the president nor you would be happy about removing the hairs on the back of the wrist. The concept of a psik reisha d’lo nicha lei, or PRDNL (a cute way to remember this for those who did not grow up with the term is Park, Reverse, Drive, Neutral, and Low), is actually a debate between the Aruch and the Ba’alei Tosfos (cited in Tosfos Kesuvos 6a “Hai”).
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt’l, combined all three of these factors to form a leniency when a person is in pain. Alternatively, placing oil under the bandage allows it to slip off without taking off hairs. A third alternative is to ask a gentile to remove the bandage.
Rabbi Hoffman can be reached at email@example.com