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Shabbat Parashat Chayei Sarah | 5770

Ask the Rabbi: Removing a detached hair from scalp on Shabbat

Question: What can I do when I take off my head covering on Shabbat and find hairs that are detached from my scalp and are lying on the rest of my hair? May I remove them by hand or in another manner?

Answer: Our response to this question is very uncharacteristic of our approach to halacha. We have been unable to find explicit reference to this issue. While there seem to be ample grounds to forbid it, our thought-out, researched, yet greatly intuitive, answer, despite the lack of a clear source or a clear reason, is that it is apparently permitted. Now, the explanation.

There seem to be two problems with removing the hair. Firstly, the loose hair is unwanted, and it is forbidden to remove an undesired object that is mixed in among the desired because of borer (selecting - see Orach Chayim 319). Secondly, detached hair is not part of the human body and has no clear purpose; therefore, it should be muktzeh and forbidden to handle directly.

Yet, there are strong indications (but not full proof) that neither of these issues will forbid removing the hair. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 303:27) forbids combing one’s hair normally on Shabbat because of the certainty that some hair will be uprooted from the scalp (shearing). The poskim (see Mishna Berura ad loc.: 86-87) say that one may go over the hair gently with a soft brush because it is uncertain if any hair will thereby be uprooted and it is not his intention. Poskim do not forbid the latter out of concern that if there are detached hairs on the hair, they will certainly be removed, which we hypothesized would be borer. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 316:9) also allows picking out lice or other insects from clothing or hair without the matter being considered borer. The Rama (OC 302:1), in discussing the prohibition of laundering, permits removing feathers stuck to clothes, which also would seem to be removing bad from the good and borer. Another indication is that women remove anything superfluous from the hair (including loose hairs) that could be a chatzitza before going to the mikveh, and the major sources do not limit how this should be done on Shabbat, except for the matter of combing the hair, which, as above is a problem of “shearing.”

It is harder to explain why there would not borer. Possibly, some substances or circumstances are too distant from the classic cases of borer, which refer to separating different types of food. Perhaps, removing impurities from hair and fabrics fall under the categories of shearing and laundering, and when those do not apply, borer is not a factor. Similarly, Rav S.Z. Orbach (Minchat Shlomo I, 11) suggests that since it is normal for things to get on hair and fabrics, it is considered cleaning them rather than selecting. There may be other distinctions. The exact parameters of the explanation are important because there are likely test cases that can go either way depending on the explanation. However, our relatively strong halachic intuition, based on similar precedents, is that your case is permitted.

Regarding muktzeh, in some of the sources above (including Shulchan Aruch, OC 319:9), the poskim speak of removing the apparently unusable objects directly by hand. The most likely explanation is along the lines of the Chazon Ish (47:21) that when cleaning an object from unwanted “impurities” (e.g., washing dishes) the unwanted is subsumed under the non-muktzeh and we view the action as cleaning dealing with the useable object. So here you would be considered handling your head of hair rather than grabbing detached hairs. While apparently not everyone agrees with this thesis (see Shvut Yitzchak, Muktzeh, p. 308), this does seem to be a mainstream view (see Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 14:(149) and Orchot Shabbat, II, 19:207 ) and other possible explanations may also cover your case.

In summary, while we can conclusively neither prove nor explain exactly why we believe one may reach into her hair and remove a detached hair, indications for permitting it far exceed those for forbidding it.


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