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The Shabbat Primer


Baby And Toddler Care On Shabbat

When one is first learning to keep Shabbat and has a baby to care for at the same time, one has to adapt to two major life changes simultaneously. This is certainly not easy. We hope, however, that with a little knowledge, you will overcome most of the difficulties of a two-fold change and focus instead on the opportunities.

Obviously, no book can substitute for human guidance. The best way by far to learn about infant and child care on Shabbat is to spend the day with observant families that have young children, watch carefully how things are done, and ask questions. Use your resources to locate and get in touch with such families near you. In the meantime, we will touch upon the general halachic and practical issues of baby care on Shabbat and suggest some well-tried solutions.

Daily Routine Changes

One of the differences you will find is that since driving is forbidden and since you have new priorities for Shabbat, more time will be spent in or near the home. It therefore becomes desirable to rearrange the child's schedule as much as possible so that it won't interfere with everyone else's.

Very young babies are hard to schedule. You can try to feed them before the family eats so that during the meal the baby will be content and, hopefully, after the meal, sleepy. Then it might be possible for you to get some rest, too.

It's awkward to keep everyone waiting for kiddush while Mommy's nursing, but if it occasionally happens, there's no reason for panic. If the family and guests would like to wait until you're done, fine. Otherwise, you can go ahead with kiddush and then serve some cake or cookies to hold everyone until you're ready to join them for the meal. Alternatively, your family and guests can wash, do hamotzie, and eat one course while waiting for you, or, if you like, they can simply go ahead with the entire meal, not waiting for any particular course when you can join them. It all depends on the ages of your children, your husband's willingness to take over, and your own preference.

It's very trying to attempt to serve dinner to family and guests while a small child is starving and demanding his meal. In order to avoid such crankiness at the table and to give your little ones the attention they need, give children up to age four or five their Shabbat dinner early. Later on they can have some challah, soup, or dessert with the family.

Even before children reach their first year it is desirable to plan their schedules so that they are awake for at least the beginning of the Shabbat meals. It's important for them to see the kiddush, drink a bit of wine, and absorb the Shabbat experience.

When the child's bed time falls during the meal, it's perfectly all right to excuse yourself for a short time to tuck him in. (The adults will appreciate the ensuing quiet.) When Shabbat comes in late, you can dress little kids in clean pajamas before or after candlelighting. Then, when they conk out, you can just carry them straight to bed. Nechoma adds, "When we have guests with small children for Shabbat dinner or lunch, we usually take an intermission at some point during the meal. While the parents put the little ones to bed, everyone else converses and sings. The rest of the meal resumes about half an hour later, calmly and quietly."

General Health Care Principles

While always striving to preserve the integrity of Shabbat, halacha is nevertheless extremely flexible when it comes to the health of small children. Thus, certain medications and procedures normally forbidden to others on Shabbat are allowed, under special conditions, in the case of baby care. For example, although one should normally avoid taking non-essential medications on Shabbat, one is permitted to give a baby vitamins, calcium tablets, cod liver oil, and the like if the doctor prescribes them for daily consumption.[11] Liquid oil may be applied to areas affected by diaper rash and head scales, if it is applied by hand and not by using cotton. (No creams of any kind may be used, however, on Shabbat.)[12] Although adults are subject to certain time restrictions, little children are not. Unlike adults, for example, young children may be fed before kiddush on Shabbat, if necessary.[13] If a little child requires milk after a meat meal, he need wait only one hour, not the six hours usually required of an adult.[14]

One is allowed to take normally forbidden measures on Shabbat as well in order to protect a child's safety. For example, muktzeh items which might cause a baby or toddler injury, such as broken glass, pencils, nails or pins, which are in places where the child might crawl may be removed.[15] Similarly, a baby may be weighed on Shabbat, even though this is normally prohibited, if its weight must be monitored daily.[16]

It is always preferable, if one can foresee the need, to prepare before candlelighting all the foods, diapers, ointments, medications, bandages, that will be used during Shabbat. If, however, the child unexpectedly becomes unwell, one can still help him in a Shabbatdik way.

Breast Feeding

There are differences of opinion among the various authorities over some of the issues concerning breast feeding on Shabbat. If any of these problems arise for you, it's best to consult a qualified rabbi.

For example, if a baby who requires or is accustomed to mother's milk cannot nurse, some authorities say that the mother may expel her milk into a container for the baby.[17] Others maintain that a rabbi should be consulted for each particular case.[18]

There seems to be general agreement that a mother may empty her breasts to prevent engorgement and pain, but that she should empty them some place where the milk will go to waste - never into a vessel.[19] Some authorities add that the milk may be expelled only by hand and not by a breast pump, unless something is placed beforehand into the pump or vessel to make the milk unfit to drink.[20] A nursing mother may wash her nipples before nursing, but only by hand with tap water. Cotton balls or swabs are not permitted.[21] If her breasts are infected, a nursing mother may, however, prepare cotton or cloth with medicated cream before Shabbat to be used on Shabbat.[22] She may also take medicine and shots on Shabbat to prevent infection.[23]

A nursing mother is required to fast on Yom Kippur, but if she risks losing her milk supply, she may drink 40-45 grams of water at intervals of at least nine minutes. However, she should avoid attending synagogue services in this case.[24] On other fast days she may break the fast if necessary to keep her milk supply for a dependent child.

Food Preparation

Preparing for a small child's Shabbat meals requires some forethought, but it is not especially difficult. Since one may not sterilize bottles on Shabbat by boiling - unless it is a matter of possible danger to life (see chapter on "Illness on Shabbat") - all bottles must be readied before candlelighting.[25] If you will need hot water for baby cereals, powdered foods, and the like, you must have plenty of boiled water set aside on the hotplate or blech. You should also be sure to have all the jars of baby food that you will need and have all cartons opened in advance. If you want to give the child freshly-squeezed juice to drink, the squeezing must be done before Shabbat begins.

If, however, you have forgotten to make one of these preparations or have run out of hot water or baby food, there is usually a halachic solution available. You may ask a non-Jew to bring you hot water or baby food from the house of a Jew, or, if this is not possible, to prepare the hot water or baby food in your home. You may also, as a last resort, ask a non-Jew to buy baby food for you if necessary and repay him or her after Shabbat. You may not help him in any way, though.[26] If you live within an eruv (see earlier in this chapter), then you may carry the necessary food from another Jew's home.

In the actual preparation of the various foods, the main principle is to do it in a different manner, in recognition of Shabbat. For example, if you are mixing a liquid with fine solids (milk powder, baby cereals, or mashed vegetables), you do it in the opposite order from the way you usually do it during the week. If you normally add the liquid to the solids, you reverse the order on Shabbat. If you normally add the solids to the liquid, you reverse that order on Shabbat. Similarly, you stir the food in a different manner in recognition of Shabbat, in straight movements backwards and forwards or in criss-cross movements, taking the spoon out after each stroke. Stirring should be done gently.[27]

Food for a young child may be warmed in several ways, but the use of an electric bottle-warming device is prohibited on Shabbat.[28] Food may be placed near warm stove burners or a hotplate for several hours to warm it.[29] Alternatively, the pot with food may be placed on a pot with boiled water which has been set on a hotplate or blech before Shabbat. A bottle of milk may be heated by placing it in a dish or deep bowl and pouring hot water which was left on a hotplate or blech from before Shabbat over it. Of course, this works much better if you've taken the bottle out of the refrigerator some hours before and let it warm to room temperature. Even better, let it remain close to the hotplate for several hours before pouring boiling water over it. In any case, the water should not completely cover the bottle.[30] There are many other specifications and methods of warming various foods. The reader should consult Rabbi Wagschal's Care of Children on the Sabbath and Yom Tov for authoritative and clear guidance.

Ordinarily, one may not mash fresh fruits (some authorities say fresh or cooked fruits) and vegetables on Shabbat, but one may do so for young babies if necessary for their health. Fresh fruits and vegetables may be finely chopped, however, for older children. Eggs, meat, fish, and cheese may be cut very fine or scraped with a knife. Any chopping or mashing must be done immediately before the meal.[31] As was mentioned earlier, one may not squeeze juice from fresh fruits (by hand or by any device) into a container for drinking, but one may squeeze juice by hand onto a solid food, such as a salad, to improve its taste.[32]

Holidays And Shabbat Food Preparation

When holidays coincide with Shabbat, Shabbat generally takes precedence. Therefore, the more stringent halachot of Shabbat food preparation also take precedence.

The one exception is Yom Kippur, "the Shabbat of Shabbats." When Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat, it is the only time a fast day is neither advanced nor postponed. How the Yom Kippur fast affects the nursing mother was discussed earlier. The only other relevant point is that one may feed a child who is below the age when fasting is required (twelve for girls, thirteen for boys) and may wash one's hands before doing so.[33]

When a holiday falls on Friday, one may prepare food for the upcoming Shabbat for both adults and children by means of an eruv tavshilin.

Bathing And Washing

It is, generally speaking, not permitted to bathe a child completely on Shabbat. However, a non-Jewish nurse may bathe a baby during its first few weeks, or you yourself may bathe the baby if it is very uncomfortably hot in summer or if the doctor believes it necessary to bathe the child. When doing so, the baby should be bathed using only your hands and liquid soap. Sponges, damp cloths, cotton, brushes, and solid soaps are not permitted.[34] It is always permissible to wash each limb separately with water warmed before Shabbat or to sit a baby in a tub with water warmed before Shabbat, as long as the water covers no more than the legs.[35] Since squeezing water out is not allowed, the baby's hair should not be washed.[36]

As for after the bath care, one may use baby powder, liquid lotion, or oil, but no baby cream or ointment (except in the case of soreness), and no absorptive materials, like cotton. If there is soreness or diaper rash, ointment should be applied to a bit of cotton before Shabbat and then just dabbed on the spot during Shabbat without rubbing.[37] Combing, braiding, and unbraiding hair are all prohibited, but one may smooth a baby's hair with a soft brush on Shabbat and use a very small amount of liquid hair oil.[38]

Teeth should not be brushed on Shabbat, but one may rinse the mouth with a mouthwash. In the case of very young children this is probably unnecessary in any case.

One may remove bits of food and food stains from a child's mouth and face. The accepted procedure is to rinse the stains by hand first and then use a paper towel.[39]

Cleaning Up After A Baby

It's wise to prepare in advance for the almost inevitable spills and messes a baby is likely to make on Shabbat. Have dry rags available which may get wet or dirty when wiping up stains and spills. You might consider, too, covering (at least) the baby's area of the tablecloth with plastic. You should also be careful not to pick up a baby on Shabbat without wearing a protective covering, such as a plastic apron which covers the entire front of your dress to the knees, and cloth diapers for your shoulder and sleeve. The reasons will soon become obvious.

If the baby spills water, you may only blot it up with a clean, dry rag. You may not scrub, wring, or squeeze out the water.[40] If the child spills any other liquid or urinates on the floor, you may blot it with a cloth. Again, the cloth must not be squeezed. The same holds true with spills on the tablecloth.[41]

If the baby spills on or stains your dress, you may not use water or spittle to clean it. You may only rub the dress lightly with a dry cloth.[42] Dried dirt may not be scratched off, nor a clothes brush used.[43]

In conclusion, "Be prepared!"


Much of the upcoming information has been obviated by the widespread daily use of disposable diapers. Even if you do not use disposables the rest of the week, you might consider using them on Shabbat.

Disposable diaper tapes may not be opened for the first time on Shabbat. There is a halachic opinion that tapes can be opened and closed before Shabbat to prepare them for being opened and used on Shabbat. According to this opinion, after they have been opened once, the second opening and closing are permitted. Those who do not permit this advise using safety pins. Check with your rabbi.[44]

Whether you use disposables or cloth diapers, the following halachic points apply. Soaking them in water is not permitted, but feces may be removed without the use of water.[45] Cloth diapers can then be kept in a special closed container or plastic bag and deodorized with Lysol to keep all insects away until the end of Shabbat, when they may be washed.[46] Disposables can be thrown into the garbage at once. Plastic pants, rubber sheets, clothes made of pure synthetics, or anything made from leather may be soaked or wiped clean with a dry cloth on Shabbat, but squeezing out water is not allowed.[47] These items may be hung to dry for use again on Shabbat, but should not be hung near a furnace or other fire for the purpose.[48]

Cloth diapers washed before Shabbat may not be hung up to dry on Shabbat unless needed again that day. Diapers and baby clothes may be removed from the line on Shabbat if already dry and needed for that day.[49] If not actually needed again, they should be left hanging until after Shabbat ends.


Where there is an eruv, one may walk with a baby in a carriage or stroller, but hoods, fly nets, etc. may not be added to or removed from the carriage on Shabbat. If they were affixed before Shabbat, they may be opened or closed.[50] Where there is no eruv, one is not permitted to carry a baby or walk it in a stroller.[51] As to whether a Jew may have a non-Jew walk the baby in a carriage, one should consult a rabbi in each particular case.[52]

A child who can walk if led by the hand may be taken for a stroll, on the condition that you neither lift nor pull him along.[53] It is sensible not to take him too far from home. If he is too tired to continue, you may give him a rest by holding him in your arms while standing still.

If the child becomes ill, it is preferable to ask a non-Jew to carry him home or to a doctor. If that is not possible, you may carry him yourself, but try to do so in an unusual way.[54] If there is danger to his life, any measure should be taken, including hailing a taxi, which will get him medical aid as quickly as possible.


One may engage a baby-sitter to stay with the child if he or she is hired before Shabbat and paid on a weekday.[55] If the baby-sitter is a non-Jew, he or she may perform actions forbidden Jews which are important for a young child's well-being in accordance with its status. These actions should be limited, however, only to whatever is really necessary; for example, a night light may be lit for a frightened child, but a TV should not be switched on for him.[56]

Toys And Games

The halacha is most liberal regarding the toys and games of very young children; it grows progressively stricter with the increasing age and level of responsibility of the child. In this chapter we will discuss toys and games relevant to children up to about three years.

Below three years children have little conception of what Shabbat is and can exercise no responsibility in keeping it. Halacha reflects this fact. Thus, most authorities allow babies to play with their rattles and other noise-producing toys on Shabbat, though adults may not shake or even touch them.[57] Similarly, small children may play with soap bubbles on Shabbat, whereas adults may not make them at all.

As they grow older, children play with an ever larger variety of toys, and a good many of them are permitted on Shabbat as well. For example, balls (but not inflated ones) may be played with indoors and, if there is an eruv, also outdoors.[58] Wind-up toys, if they do not make musical sounds and do not run on batteries, are permitted. Blocks are allowed, if they do not attach permanently together. Permitted, too, are beads and strings, as long as no knot is made in them; out-door games not involving carrying; running and jumping games; swings (unless attached to a tree); and tricycles - if the custom is to ride them in your community, if there is an eruv, and if the bell is removed. Trikes may be ridden indoors, in any case. Playing in a sandbox is controversial. Wagschal states flatly that playing with sand is forbidden on Shabbat. Matzner-Beckerman, on the other hand, says that playing with sand in a sandbox (not on the beach) is permitted, as long as children are not allowed to mix it with water, which constitutes kneading, one of the 39 forbidden categories of melacha. Consult your rabbi on this issue.

The following toys and games relevant to babies and toddlers are not permitted on Shabbat: clay, play-dough, wax, pencils, crayons, paints, and - according to many authorities - Legos and puzzles. Once again, if you have a question about these two or any other toy or game not mentioned in this book, consult your rabbi.

Education For Mitzvot Observance

Complete Shabbat care requires attention both to the child's physical and spiritual needs. In childhood the foundation is laid for a lifetime of mitzvot observance. Much of it does not yet involve formal instruction, but the small child is for the most part absorbing impressions from the environment around him. What he is absorbing, however, is probably the deepest, most fundamental part of his education, "that which remains when everything you've learned is forgotten." The baby and toddler haven't yet "learned" in the cognitive sense we usually think of, but they are very busy becoming aware Jews nevertheless. A friend tells of coming out into her livingroom early one morning and seeing her grown son davening. Rocking beside him to the same rhythm was his little son, age two, a dish towel draped over his head and shoulders.

What the child is absorbing from Shabbat is of tremendous importance even though it still takes the form of undigested impressions. The repeated experiences of candles glowing, tranquil faces and movements, sounds and sights of new people in the home, chanting, delicious smells and tastes, laughter, singing, books with beautiful coverings and golden letters, games with Mommy and Daddy, and then more candlelight, chanting, and lovely smells - all this shapes a child's Shabbat world for a lifetime.

When he begins the age of speech and comprehension of sequences, the child can move beyond undigested impressions. He can now be taught to do mitzvot, both what they mean and how to do them. Of course, we don't sit him down and lecture him, "A mitzva is an action commanded by Hashem that you must do every time you are in such-and-such a time or circumstances." He makes the connection subconsciously. When he is taught, for example, that every time he is handed this particular food he must say these particular words, he intuits that the food, the words of the blessing and the connection between the two must all be important because they are always the same and so carefully done.

The first mitzvot a child is taught are usually both very fundamental and appropriate for his age. Thus, from about age two he is taught the Shema, other short prayers, and the berachot over food. It's at this time that training in Shabbat mitzvot also begins. As soon as a child can understand simple commands, his parents start gradually and gently to restrain him from playing with forbidden toys and from carrying outside when there is no eruv. A little girl of three is often taught to light her own Shabbat candle. Children of both sexes may begin helping to welcome guests by passing around snacks. There are plenty of opportunities, when the time is ripe, to begin the child's education in mitzvot observance.


  1. (Back to text) Shoshana Matzner-Bekerman, The Jewish Child: Halakhic Perspectives (N.Y.: Ktav, 1984), p. 87; Y.Y. Neuwirth, Shemirat Shabbat KeHilkhato, chap. 24:3.
  2. (Back to text) Ibid.
  3. (Back to text) Matzner-Bekerman, p. 98; Shlomo Ganzfried, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, chap. 165:4.
  4. (Back to text) Matzner-Bekerman, p. 98.
  5. (Back to text) Rabbi S. Wagschal, Care of Children on the Sabbath and Yom Tov (Jerusalem and New York: Feldheim, 1958), sixth edition, p. 30.
  6. (Back to text) Ibid., p. 16.
  7. (Back to text) Matzner-Bekerman, p. 81, based on Neuwirth, chap. 23:15.
  8. (Back to text) Wagschal, p. 15.
  9. (Back to text) Matzner-Bekerman, pp. 80-81; Wagschal, p. 14.
  10. (Back to text) Wagschal, pp. 14-15.
  11. (Back to text) Matzner-Bekerman, p. 81.
  12. (Back to text) Ibid.
  13. (Back to text) Ibid.
  14. (Back to text) Ibid.
  15. (Back to text) Ibid., p. 99; Neuwirth chap. 12:4, 13.
  16. (Back to text) Wagschal, p. 1.
  17. (Back to text) Ibid., p. 2.
  18. (Back to text) Matzner-Bekerman, p. 99; Neuwirth chap. 1:44,50.
  19. (Back to text) Matzner-Bekerman, p. 99.
  20. (Back to text) Ibid.; Neuwirth chap. 1: 44, 50.
  21. (Back to text) Matzner-Bekerman, p. 98: Mishneh Brurah, 45.
  22. (Back to text) Matzner-Bekerman, p. 99; Wagschal, p. 9.
  23. (Back to text) Matzner-Bekerman, p. 89; Neuwirth chap. 32:40.
  24. (Back to text) Wagschal, p. 15.
  25. (Back to text) Matzner-Bekerman, p. 87; Neuwirth chap. 32:40.
  26. (Back to text) Wagschal, p. 15.
  27. (Back to text) Ibid., p. 16; Matzner-Bekerman, p. 87.
  28. (Back to text) Wagschal, p. 16.
  29. (Back to text) Matzner-Bekerman, p. 87; Wagschal, p. 20; Neuwirth chap. 13:15.
  30. (Back to text) Wagschal, p. 70.
  31. (Back to text) Ibid.
  32. (Back to text) Ibid.
  33. (Back to text) Ibid.
  34. (Back to text) Matzner-Bekerman, p. 88; Neuwirth chap. 14:5.
  35. (Back to text) Matzner-Bekerman, p. 88.
  36. (Back to text) Ibid.
  37. (Back to text) Ibid., Wagschal, p. 19; Neuwirth chap. 14:6,10.
  38. (Back to text) Matzner-Bekerman, p. 88; Wagschal, p. 99.
  39. (Back to text) Ibid.
  40. (Back to text) Matzner-Bekerman, p. 88; Wagschal, p. 23.
  41. (Back to text) Ibid.
  42. (Back to text) Wagschal, p. 23.
  43. (Back to text) Ibid., p. 22.
  44. (Back to text) Ibid.
  45. (Back to text) Matzner-Bekerman, p. 89.
  46. (Back to text) Ibid.
  47. (Back to text) Matzner-Bekerman, pp. 83-84; Neuwirth chap. 15, Wagschal, p. 21.
  48. (Back to text) All examples given here are from Matzner-Bekerman, p. 84, and Wagschal, p. 21.


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