Tearing Toilet Paper on Shabbos

 Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah

Question: In order to avoid the forbidden Shabbos Labor of Tearing, what should a person do on Shabbos if he has to use the bathroom and the only paper available to clean himself with is toilet paper on a roll?

Discussion: Tearing toilet paper on Shabbos is considered “Constructive Tearing” (as opposed to “Destructive Tearing” which simply ruins and destroys the object in question) and is, therefore, strictly forbidden.25 According to some opinions, Constructive Tearing is forbidden min Hatorah, while others maintain that it is forbidden only miderabanan.26 In view of the severity of this violation, it is incumbent upon every Jew to prepare an adequate supply of tissues27 or pre-cut toilet paper before Shabbos. If, however, the matter was not seen to and it becomes a situation of kavod haberiyos, maintaining human dignity, the Halachah allows for certain leniencies. In our case, the following options would be permissible:

1. Remove the roll of toilet paper from the roller and hold the entire roll in your hands. Unroll a segment of toilet paper, use it for cleaning (while still attached to the roll) and then dump the soiled paper (while still attached to the roll) into the toilet bowl. When the toilet is flushed, the soiled paper will separate on its own from the unused paper on the roll.28 If this is impractical, then

2. Ask a non-Jew (explicitly) to tear toilet paper for you, preferably using a shinui. If that is not feasible, then

3. Consider if there might be some other type of paper goods in the house that could substitute for toilet paper, e.g., paper napkins. Even if the substitute paper goods item has writing on it, it is preferable to erase the writing (which will happen when the napkin, etc. gets soiled and flushed away) than to tear toilet paper from the roll.29 If no substitute is available, then

4. Tear toilet paper from its roll in an abnormal manner, e.g. use your elbow or teeth to rip the paper.30 Try to avoid the perforations31; but if that is impossible, one may rip the toilet paper in an abnormal manner along the perforations.32

25. Mishnah Berurah 312:6; 340:41.

26. There are two debatable points as to why tearing toilet paper, which is a constructive type of Tearing normally forbidden min Hatorah, may be forbidden only miderabanan: 1. Tearing min Hatorah applies only when one tears a single entity into two separate functional and usable segments. When tearing toilet paper from a roll, only one segment becomes functional; the rest of the roll remains as non-functional as it was before the tearing (Beiur Halachah 340:13, s.v. ein). 2. Tearing min Hatorah only applies to materials which were sewn together from different sources and are now being ripped apart; it does not apply to paper or hide which was one solid piece from the beginning. This second point is rejected by many poskim; see Beiur Halachah 340:13, s.v. ein, Chazon Ish 51:13 and Igros Moshe, O.C. 1:122, anaf 8.

27. Sometime tissues also have to be prepared in advance as certain manufactures do not completely separate one tissue from another allowing them, rather, to remain slightly attached. Although separating them is effortless, it is still Tearing and is forbidden on Shabbos; see Binyan Shabbos, Ko’reah, pg. 84.

28. Chut Shani, vol. 1, 18:1.

29. Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 23, note 59.

30. Rav Y.S. Elyashiv (quoted in Orchos Shabbos 11, note 33). Chut Shani vol. 1, 18:1.

31. Since some poskim maintain that in addition to Tearing, one also transgresses the forbidden Labor of Mechatech when tearing on a perforated line; see Orchos Shabbos 11, note 57, quoting Rav Y.S. Elyashiv.

32. Rav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 23, note 62) who maintains that mechatech applies only when the object is being torn or cut to a specific measurement, which is not the case when cutting toilet paper.