Using Ointment on Shabbos

 Courtesy of Ohr Olam Mishnah Berurah

Question: Is using ointment on Shabbos a violation of the Labor of Smoothing?

Discussion: In Chapter 328 we will learn that are several medical conditions, such as an infection or an open wound, which are severe enough to allow the use of ointment on Shabbos. There is, however, a proper method for applying ointment so that one does not inadvertently violate other Shabbos Labors.

Several poskim are of the opinion that spreading ointment on the skin is a violation of Smoothing.100 While other poskim are not too concerned about this issue,101 most contemporary poskim follow the more stringent view and advise to avoid spreading ointment on the skin on Shabbos.

The recommended method when using ointment on Shabbos, therefore, is to squeeze the ointment from the tube directly onto the affected area.102 [When the ointment is in a jar, the ointment may be removed with one’s finger and dabbed on the affected area.] A bandage may then be placed over the ointment, even though this may result in spreading the ointment.103

If, for some reason, the above option cannot be used, some poskim permit to spread ointment on the skin provided that all of the ointment is absorbed into the skin and nothing remains on the surface. According to this opinion, Smoothing applies only when some substance remains on the surface and is then smoothed down and leveled; it does not apply when all of the ointment is absorbed and nothing remains externally.104

100. Da’as Torah 328:26; Chazon Ish 52:16.

101. Mateh Levi and other poskim quoted in Tzitz Eliezer 7:30-2 and Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 33, note 64.

102. Chazon Ish 52:16. One should avoid squeezing the ointment directly onto the bandage.

103. Rav S.Z. Auerbach quoted in Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 33:14.

104. Da’as Torah 328:26; Tzitz Eliezer 7:30-2; Rav S.Z. Auerbach (Shemiras Shabbos K’hilchasah 33, note 64). [See also Igros Moshe, O.C. 2:79 and Minchas Yitzchak 7:20]. Rav Y.S. Elyashiv, however, dissents and does not permit Smoothing even when no substance remains on the surface; Ashrei ha-Ish, Shabbos, pg. 375. See also Orchos Shabbos 17, note 28.