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Insights From The Institute Winter09.htm

Insights from the Institute
Shailos from the Institute of Halacha
Rabbi Mordechai Frankel, Director of the Institute of Halacha

Q:       I am the mother of a young baby. The Size 1 Pampers diapers have a yellow stripe which turns blue to indicate that the baby should be changed. Can this diaper be used on Shabbos?

A:      It is forbidden to feed non-kosher food to a child, even if that child has not yet reached the age of chinuch, as one is prohibited to directly cause a child to perpetrate an issur.1 Similarly, it would seem that, regarding the above question, one is causing the child to transgress the melacha of tzoveah, dyeing, on Shabbos.  However, this case should not be compared to that of feeding treif to a child.  The prohibition of performing melacha on Shabbos is violated only when it is a meleches machsheves; the person who carries out the melacha must be aware of his actions.2 This is in contrast to the issur of eating non-kosher food, where the prohibition has been violated even if the person was unaware that the food he ate was not kosher. Since the baby has no knowledge of the diaper’s color change, using such a diaper would not be comparable to feeding him non-kosher food.3

Even though the baby has no knowledge of his actions, the adult who is changing the baby is certainly aware of what he is doing.  He knows that by using the diaper in question, he is causing the yellow stripe to eventually turn blue.  One could argue that this is analogous to putting grain in a mill on Shabbos.  It is forbidden to put grain in a running watermill on Shabbos, since he is placing the grain in a location where it will eventually be crushed, thereby transgressing the issur of tochen.4 Similarly, in the case of the diaper he is causing the melacha of tzoveah to occur.  However, there is a significant distinction between our case of the diaper and that of the mill.  In the latter instance, the water which will cause the grain to be crushed already exists, and it is just a matter of time until the melacha takes place.  In the former instance, however, the agent which will cause the color change in the diaper does not yet exist.

A more accurate comparison to our case would be the following:  On Yom Tov, a person is permitted to place a lit candle in an open area where no wind is currently blowing, even though he knows that eventually a strong gust of wind will extinguish the flame.5 Regarding this halachah, the Rema differentiates between Yom Tov and Shabbos.  He states that if one will not incur a loss by leaving a fire burning on Shabbos, he should not perform any action which will cause the flame to be extinguished.6 Therefore, it could be argued that on Shabbos one should not place the diaper in a position where tzviah will take place.

However, the Rema was stringent specifically in a situation where a person’s intent in performing a particular action is to extinguish the flame.  Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l suggests that the Rema would be lenient if the person’s intention was not to extinguish the flame.7 For this reason, we need to differentiate between someone who buys a diaper specifically for the features it offers – a color change indicating when a baby would need to be changed – and someone who simply buys whatever diaper is available, regardless of its particular features.  The stringency of the Rema would not apply if neither he nor the baby have any need for the color change, and he is buying the diaper simply because it is available.

Rav Heinemann shlit”a suggests that there is further reason to be lenient in the case of the diaper with a color-changing stripe.  Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l states that, on Shabbos, one is allowed to wear photo-gray glasses which darken when exposed to sulight, even though walking outside will cause the lens to change color.8 Similarly, Rav Moshe Feinstein told Rav Heinemann that a person is allowed to sit in the sun on Shabbos, even though by doing so he is causing his skin to tan and change color.9 Since the person is merely engaging in an everyday activity and the color change is incidental, he would not be considered to be performing an act of tzviah.10 Similarly, any color change which results from diapering a baby would not be classified as tvziah, as this is not the derech of the melacha.  If so, it could be argued that even a person who desires the color change feature would be permitted to use the diaper on Shabbos.        

Nevertheless, Rav Heinemann paskens that someone should preferably not use such a diaper on Shabbos if it was bought particularly because of its color changing feature.   He may, however, use such a diaper if this particular feature is insignificant to him.11

Halachic queries regarding all topics may be presented to The Institute of Halacha at the Star-K by calling 410-484-4110 ext. 238 or emailing

1.שו"ע או"ח סי' שמג סעי' א

2.ב"ק דף כו ע"ב

3.עי' בשו"ת אחיעזר ח"ג סי' פא אות כג  

4.עי' ביה"ל סי' רנב סעי' ה ד"ה להשמעת

5.רמ"א סי' תקיד סעי' ג

6.שו"ע סי' שיח סעי' ד ומ"ב שם ס"ק כו

7.רמ"א סי' שלד סעי' כב, ועי' מש"כ בשעה"צ סי' תקיד ס"ק לא

8.עי' שו"ת מנחת שלמה ח"א סי' י אות ו ד"ה גם

9.שמעתי ממו"ר ר' היינעמאן שליט"א  

10.עי' בשלחן שלמה הל' שבת סי' שכ אות כט, ובהערה כט שם כתב "שהאדם לא עושה שום פעולה במשקפיים רק הולך לתומו", ואף שיש מקום לחלק בין הנידון שם ונידון דידן מ"מ ממכתבו של הגרש"ז אויערבאך זצ"ל בספר מאור השבת ח"ד עמ' תח נראה להקל, ועי' בספר נשמת שבת ח"ז סי' קלו מש"כ בזה

11.שמעתי ממו"ר ר' היינעמאן שליט"א


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