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Can I brush my teeth on Shabbat?

by Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

  

Library » Shabbat » Forbidden Activities | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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The problem with brushing teeth on Shabbat is that it is forbidden to smooth out a solid (or semi-solid) object on Shabbat. One of the 39 forbidden acts on Shabbat is "memachek" which means smoothing out a hide by removing all its hair. Brushing teeth involves smoothing out the toothpaste.

The problem with brushing teeth on Shabbat is that it is forbidden to smooth out a solid (or semi-solid) object on Shabbat
[This is also why it is forbidden to apply creams or hair gel on Shabbat.]

Therefore, you may brush your teeth without paste, or you can brush with mouthwash. (There are some companies which cater to Orthodox-Jewish needs that manufacture "liquid toothpaste.")

However, if you have weak gums and they normally bleed during brushing, it would be forbidden to brush your teeth even without toothpaste.


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COMMENTS

Brushing teeth on shabbos

Posted by: Jeff, Houston, TX on Jul 22, 2005

please explain further why it is not allowed to brush your teeth on shabbos..

with honesty, i always thought it was gross not to be able to brush my teeth on shabbos. Ultimately i have two questions. 1. what are the 39 forbidden acts on shabbat (or where can i find them for myself : )) 2. it seems that we are not allowed to brush our teeth on shabbos because of memachec, smoothing out a HIDE by removing ALL its HAIR. its confusing to me because i am not sure whether or not teeth has hair and would be considered hide. in this context wouldnt hide be referring to the skin of an animal? i interpret memachek (and i have little knowledge on the subject other than reading your website) or really the way memachek has been defined here on your website as meaning- removing not some but all of an animals hair from its body, its skin, its hide. i am very confused to find this explanation to be the reason for not using tooth paste on shabbos. thank you very much

Editor's Comment

AskMoses did not suggest not brushing at all (unless bleeding might occur – which one should get treated anyway), only the avoiding of using toothpaste on Shabbat by replacing it with mouthwash or a different liquid – instead of paste or gel. The emphasis here is that the result of "memachek" is the creating of a smooth surface on the hide – not whether hair is being removed. Therefore any type of operation which causes something to become smooth is by extension also prohibited. In the case of brushing teeth, one is "memachek" the paste – not one's teeth - as a result of using toothpaste.

The Halacha

Posted by: Anonymous, New York, NY, United States on Nov 21, 2005

There is a solution, halachah says, just mix the solid toothpaste with water before Shabbat, so its more watery than solid. and you can use mouthwash, so nothings really different except the consistency of the toothpaste (and that you dont do it if you normally bleed)

Why Not?

Posted by: Sean, Boston, MA on Apr 10, 2006

Seriously, im not being facetious...but why not just brush your teeth and call it a day... these rules/laws/religious guidelines are so antiquated. Look, dont smooth out animal hides...fine...but teeth are not animal hides.

I feel like people who even consider asking this question would rather be told what to do with their lives rather than figure out things on their own.

Editor's Comment

See "Why is Judaism so detail-oriented?" (http://www.askmoses.com/article.html?h=412&o=2559).

Squeezing while brushing

Posted by: Anonymous on Jun 22, 2006

I heard that another reason why one wasn't allowed to brush their teeth on shabbat was because while brushing, you squeeze water out the brush, and squeezing is forbidden on shabbat. How does one get around this problem halachically?

Editor's Comment

Yes, there are those Halachic opinions who contend that a brush poses the problem of "sechitah" -- squeezing. Others disagree. Those who follow the opinion forbidding the use of a brush would have to suffice with mouthwash on Shabbat.
Shabbat
(pl: Shabbatot). Hebrew word meaning "rest." It is a Biblical commandment to sanctify and rest on Saturday, the seventh day of the week. This commemorates the fact that after creating the world in six days, G-d rested on the seventh.