Monday, July 24, 2006

Disposable Diapers on Shabbos

To my knowledge, there are three or fours trends in disposable diapers that are relevant to their use on Shabbos.

1. I do not know whether disposable diapers ever required the use of safety pins. Regardless, the majority of posekim rule that there is no problem in using safety pins on Shabbos if one does it normally (i.e. piercing once in and then a second time out) and intends to leave the safety pin in for less than 24 hours.

2. The initial use of adhesive on disposable diapers was as follows: The diapers would have adhesive tabs that would allow one to close the diapers through the use of the tab. The adhesive tabs were covered with plastic in the factory and the user would remove the plastic and stick the tab to the other side of the diaper.

The potential problem, then, is the sticking and unsticking. Is that allowed on Shabbos? Generally speaking, most poskim allow sticking and unsticking of that nature if it is of a temporary (i.e. less than 24 hour) nature, based on the Magen Avraham's position (340:18) that sticking and unsticking of glue is only prohibited if it is/was intended to last (le-hiskayem). Thus, the sticking of the tab to the diaper is permissible since it is only intended to last for a few hours. However, the unsticking -- the removing of the plastic from the adhesive tabs -- is potentially more problematic. The plastic was put on in the factory and certainly remained there for days if not weeks. Therefore, removing the plastic might be prohibited.

Many posekim prohibited this (e.g. Tzitz Eliezer 16:6), while some permitted this since the factory workers/machine did not necessarily want the plastic to remain on for a long time; it just happens to be that way. The manufacturers would be perfectly happy to have the diapers sold and the plastic removed immediately. Therefore, according to this second view, the plastic is considered to be stuck on temporarily (Yechaveh Da'as 6:24).

What many people used to do is to remove the plastic from the adhesives before Shabbos and replace them, so that they will be on for less than 24 hours, i.e. temporarily, and permissible to remove on Shabbos.

3. This type of diaper was replaced with re-stickable adhesives that are made to be stuck, unstuck and restuck again. This is significant because sticking and unsticking the adhesive becomes the normal way of using the adhesive, much like opening and closing a door is not considered building and destroying. According to most posekim, using these diapers is much less problematic and require no pre-Shabbos preparation (e.g. Shevet Ha-Levi 5:31, 40). Other posekim, however, still require unsticking the adhesive once after its long stick from the factory.

Also, the Minchas Yitzchak (8:31) was very much against the use on Shabbos of any kind of adhesive in disposable diapers.

4. Nowadays, some manufacturers have entirely replaced the adhesive with velcro. This has no problem at all.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention a very unusual footnote by R. Yosef Kafach in his edition of Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Shabbos 10:11. In an unnumbered footnote, R. Kafach uncharacteristically argues that the phrase the Rambam (and Shulchan Arukh) uses for glue, "kolan shel soferim", implies glue that starts out liquid and then dries and connects two items. Thus, he concludes, the adhesive on diapers does not fall under this definition and is entirely permissible.

(As always, ask your rabbi about these things.)

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