Many are wearing masks on the street on Shabbos. Is a mask really a “garment” that you can wear outside? Rabbi Michoel Lerner addresses the issue.
Rabbi Michoel Lerner for Anash.org
At the outset of the pandemic, we addressed the permissibility of wearing a mask on Shabbos, in a locale where there is no eruv. Soon after the publication of the article, a number of questions were brought to my attention. In this article, we will address these issues, and as well propose an additional explanation, why it is permitted to wear masks on Shabbos.
As mentioned previously, there are two categories of items, which one is permitted to wear on Shabbos: malbush/clothing and tachshit/jewelry. Any item which falls under one of these categories is permitted to wear on Shabbos, min haTorah.
However, miderabonon some of these items are ossur to wear. Primarily, these are items that can either easily fall off and one might inadvertently pick them up and carry them; or these are items one might remove by instinct and inadvertently continue walking with the item still in one’s hand.
Therefore, in addressing any specific item, two steps need to be determined: 1) It has the halachic status of a malbush or a tachshit, thus permitting it to be carried min haTorah. 2) It does not easily become loose and is not something one removes often, thereby permitting it miderabonon.
Masks on Shabbos
It would seem that a mask falls into the category of a malbush (step one). Reason being, since the mask protects its wearer from potentially contracting the virus. This is similar to the status of the malbush mentioned in halacha, which serves to protect the wearer’s body from possible damage or pain (sources to this are noted in the previous article).
In regards to this point, it had been brought to my attention that there are a number of different masks being used, and many of them do not aim to protect the wearer from the virus. These masks are worn to protect those around them from contracting the virus. This poses a problem since the definition of a malbush is a garment that protects its wearer. An item is worn solely to protect others seemingly does not fall into the category of a malbush and would be ossur to wear min haTorah. Based on this logic, one should only be permitted to wear those masks which aim to protect its wearer.
However, this should seemingly not be an issue. Since even masks are worn to protect other people, also protect the wearer to a certain degree. And on the other hand, masks which aim to provide maximum protection for the wearer, do not provide 100% protection.
For example, according to the FDA and CDC, surgical masks do not provide the wearer with a reliable level of protection from inhaling smaller airborne particles, however, they do help block large-particle droplets, splashes, sprays, or splatter that may contain germs (viruses and bacteria), from reaching your mouth and nose. On the other hand, the N95 mask filters out 95% of airborne particles, including large and small particles (hence the name N95).
The fact that masks provide various levels of protection, should seemingly be inconsequential to their being qualified as a malbush. As long as they provide some degree of protection, they should qualify as a malbush. This is similar to one wearing on Shabbos a thin jacket, which does not provide full protection from rain or cold.
There is an entirely different approach, to explain why it is permitted to wear a mask on Shabbos. In recent times, a mask has become normal attire. It has become a part of the dress code for people all over. In some places, it is even mandatory. The halacha is, that something which has become the norm to wear, is considered a malbush, even if it does not provide any protection or bodily benefit.
There are a number of such cases, brought in Shulchan Aruch (see also here). One interesting case is of a prisoner whose feet are chained (Simon 301, 19). The halacha is, that he is permitted to walk outside with the chains on since they are considered a malbush for him. The definition of malbush here is not the classic one since the chains do not provide any protection from the weather or any other bodily benefit. Rather the chains are considered a malbush since it is part of a prisoner’s dress code; it is his normal garb.
Wearing Mask on Chin
The above two explanations explain why a mask is permissible to wear min HaTorah. However, we still need to discuss step two, which is the issur miderabonon of wearing certain items, which can easily fall off or are removed often and carried.
Though masks do have straps that prevent them from falling off, it is quite common for people to remove the mask off their mouth and leave it on their chin. This poses a potential shailah of carrying since this is not derech levisha – the proper way of wearing this garment. To clarify, even when an item qualifies as a malbush, it still needs to be worn in its proper manner (derech levisha), otherwise, it is ossur to wear it (Alter Rebbe, SA ibid 35-37). Since wearing the mask on one’s chin is not derech levisha, and people often do place it there, it should be ossur miderabonon to wear it outside even on one’s mouth, out of concern that one would walk with it on one’s chin.
Lemaaseh, although it is indeed ossur to wear a mask over one’s chin, seemingly it is not an issur min haTorah, rather an issur miderabonon. Since this is not the normal manner of transferring an item from place to place (shelo kederech hamotziyim); the normal manner would be to carry it in one’s hand (AR, ibid, sof KA 5). Based on this, it should be muttar to wear a mask on Shabbos, since Chazal prohibited wearing items, which can possibly cause one to transgress an issur min haTorah, however, in this case, one would be inadvertently transgressing an issur miderabonon (see MB, Biur Halacha ibid, sif 14).
In conclusion, it is permitted to wear on Shabbos any mask which is created for protection from the virus, even though the main objective of the mask is to protect others.
בנוגע לההיתר דכבלים – עי’ במג”א סי’ שא, ס”ק כט. שו”ע אדה”ז סט”ו, מהדו”ב שלו לסי’ שא ד”ה ושיטה (“אורחא לייחודי להכי”). גם לפי מש”כ שם ד”ה אבל (ע”פ שי’ הרמב”ם), י”ל שבזמנינו לבישת מסיכה אינה נק’ מקרה כלל. ועייג”כ במשנ”ב שם ס”ק סט (“דדרך הליכתו כן”) ובשעה”צ ס”ק עה. [אבל עי’ בהגהת הרב למהדו”ב שם סק”ה, ועפמש”כ שם מיושב קושיית השעה”צ הנ”ל (עי’ מה שהביא בשו”ת באר משה ח”ו, קונטרס עלעקטריק סי”ד מהמאירי)]. עי’ מש”כ באור זרוע סי’ פד בדבר חותם העבד (“הואיל ועבד יוצא בו כל השבוע”). ועי’ עוד מה שבארתי בכתבה הקודמת בדבר לבישת כפפות פלסטיק:
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If wearing under chin becomes a normal thing to see, especially if, say, walking outside, why would that not, too, become derech levisha?
Its a good point. It needs more study. The posek Rav Osher Weiss indeed paskens that way in his teshuvos Minchas Osher on Corona issues.