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Shabbat Parashat Behar 5774

Ask the Rabbi: Sunbathing on Shabbat

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: Is it permitted to sunbathe on Shabbat? Does it depend on the purpose of the sunbathing: health benefits, tanning, enjoyment?


Answer: We will not relate to issues of tzniut that can arise from sunbathing, which are of course important. Our discussion should also not be construed as a statement on the medical advisability of the practice. We just remind you that a certain amount of exposure to the sun can be beneficial (vitamin D, etc.), whereas over-exposure can be dangerous. Relatively recent poskim have discussed the matter, and the main discussions relate to the halachot of taking medicines on Shabbat and the melacha of tzoveia (coloring).

Regarding one who wants to sunbathe due to a specific medical condition, there are too many variables to address in this forum. If it is for general health benefits, the matter is similar to the discussion about vitamins on Shabbat. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 328:37) says that one may eat/drink medically-oriented foods that are eaten regularly by healthy people. However, the Magen Avraham (328:43) says that this is so only when he is eating the food for its food value, not when he is doing so entirely for its medicinal value. Igrot Moshe (OC III:54) says that this stringency is true only when the person, while not sick, needs strengthening, but not when he is simply trying to keep his body “well stocked” so that he will not deteriorate. Some are more stringent than this (see conditions to permit vitamins in Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 34:20). In any case, since sunbathing is something which people in our times do not usually associate with its health benefits, we posit that the limitations on medicines do not apply to it (see Yalkut Yosef, OC 328:78).

The question of coloring the skin is fascinating. Coloring applies to the human body, as we know from the prohibition of certain cosmetics on these grounds (Shulchan Aruch, OC 303:25). While no one would forbid going outside in a place where he could get a sunburn or a tan, perhaps it is forbidden to purposely get one, especially if he take steps to increase the extent of the coloring. Indeed some poskim do forbid it (Minchat Yitzchak V:32; Az Nidberu II:30). Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata (14:44 and 18:(70)) implies that it is permitted because the person does not color through an action; rather he puts himself in a place where the sun does so. (Rav Neuwirth and his rebbe, Rav Auerbach, use this logic as part of their leniency for wearing photo gray lenses on Shabbat – see ibid.). Others add that the process is drawn out and has no immediate impact (see Torat Hamelachot 15:25). (Some melachot, such as cooking, always involve putting an object in a place where an outside force will have a gradual impact; the question is whether coloring is in this category.) Another claim is that the tanning is a natural, not artificial, color for skin (Nishmat Shabbat 215). It is hard to find conclusive proof from classical sources on these claims. However, for us, a general principle of “halachic philosophy” tips the scale. Since it is unreasonable to assume that the Torah and Chazal forbade walking in the sun on Shabbat, even if a person likes tanning, it is hard to imagine that the Torah/Chazal extended tzoveia to coloring the skin in the sun. Therefore, even purposeful tanning would be permitted.

Therefore, while not being particularly enthusiastic at the prospect of someone spending a good part of his Shabbat sunbathing, we would not forbid it on halachic grounds.

Do realize that according to the consensus of poskim, it is forbidden to smear sunscreen cream over one’s body or part of it, due to the melacha of memachek (see Orchot Shabbat 17:20). One cannot justify using sunscreen due to an acute medical need if the need arises from one’s desire to sunbathe. It is permitted to spray liquid sunscreen (ibid.). This is not considered medicinal because its purpose is not to strengthen the body but to shield one from external injury (see Shulchan Aruch, OC 328:27, which permits covering a healing wound with a bandage).

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