The Prohibition of dyeing on Shabbos-Av Melacha, Biblical, Rabbinical prohibitions

1. The Av Melacha:[1]

The Av Melacha of dyeing in the Mishkan was with the dyeing of the wool to form the Techeilis strings[2], as well as the dyeing of the skins to form the tapestries and curtains used for the Mishkan’s walls and roof.[3] Some learn the Av Melacha is also learned from the dyeing of the animals while they were alive.[4]

2. The Biblical prohibition:

A. The dye will last:[5]

There is only a Biblical prohibition [involved in dyeing] when dyeing with a permanent dye [and when done with intention to dye[6]]. However, a dye which will not last at all[7], such as one who placed vermillion [a bright red pigment], or rouge[8] on metal and copper and [thus] dyed it, is not liable because one is only coloring it temporarily and is thus not dyeing anything.

B. Hastening the dyeing of a product and adding dye:[9]

It is Biblically forbidden to mix a pot of wool with dye, even if the dye has been fully cooked before Shabbos[10], and the wool has received the dye[11], due to the dyeing prohibition.[12] [From here we can learn that it is forbidden to a) Hasten the dyeing of a product, and b) Thicken the dye of an already dyed product.]

C. Making dye on Shabbos:[13]

It is [Biblically] forbidden to make dye on Shabbos, such as by soaking pigment in water, [due to the dyeing prohibition[14], or alternatively due to the kneading prohibition[15].]

3. The Rabbinical Prohibition-Temporary dye:[16]

Although there is no Biblical prohibition involved in using a dye that will not last at all, nevertheless, doing so is Rabbinically forbidden.



It is Biblically forbidden to dye an item on Shabbos if the dye will last. It is only Rabbinically forbidden to do so if the dye will not last at all.

Q&A & Examples

Invisible ink:

Ii is seemingly Biblically forbidden to use invisible ink as a dye, as it will last for at least some time until it becomes invisible.


Placing shaded plastic on a table or window:

It is permitted to place a shaded plastic cover onto a table or window, even though this will make the table or window look a different color, as this is not considered dyeing at all.


Eating on plate that will get it dyed:

It is permitted to eat food on a plate, even though the plate will get dyed, so long as one has no intent to dye it. If, however, one intends to dye the plate, even temporarily, then it is forbidden to do so. Thus, one may not smear beets on his plate out of casualness simply in order to make the surface of his plate look red.


[1] See Toras Hamelachos Melacha 15:5

[2] Rashi Shabbos 49b and 74b

[3] Rashi 49b

[4] Yerushalmi Shabbos 51a; This means that they would paint the live animals red in order so their skin look red when they are slaughtered and have their skin removed. Alternatively, they made marks on the animals to differentiate between which animal is being used for Karbanos, and which for their skins. [Karban Haeida ibid]

[5] Admur 320:28; M”A 320:25; Rambam 9:13; Machatzis Hashekel 320:24; M”B 320:59

[6] As is understood from Halacha 3 below.

[7] This implies that if the dye will last some time, or some of the ink will penetrate and remain, then it is Biblically forbidden even though it will not last forever, and so is implied from the fact the Poskim rule that dyeing the human body is Rabbinical only because it is skin and not because it will not last forever.  

[8] Reddish makeup for cheeks

[9] 252:2 and 318:30 in parentheses; Michaber 318:18; M”A 318:43; Taz 318:22; M”B 252:5 and 318:116; Regarding why in Admur 318:30 he writes the “dyeing prohibition” in parentheses-see “The reason”

[10] Admur 252:2

[11] Admur 318:30; Michaber ibid

[12] The reason: As the mixing causes the dye to become more absorbed into the wool. [Admur 252:2; 2nd answer in Rosh; M”B 318:116] Alternatively, the reason is because constant mixing is part of the dyeing process, in order to prevent the wool from burning. [Admur 318:30; Ran, brought in M”B 318:116] Alternatively, mixing a hot pot of dye is forbidden due to the cooking prohibition, as dye is never fully cooked. [Rosh in 1st answer, brought in Taz ibid; Shaar Hatziyon 318:138] The practical ramification is regaring whether one may mix a pot of dye that is fully cooked, even if there is no wool inside. [Shaar Hatziyon ibid] Based on all this it is understood why Admur placed his ruling in 318:30 in parentheses, as there are opinions that say the prohibition is due to cooking. As for why Admur mentions two different reasons in 252:2 and 318:30, as well as only in 318:30 he palces the ruling in parentheses, seemingly the explanation is as follows: In 352:2 the case is discussing that the wool has not yet fully absorbed the dye, and hence accoridng to all there is a dyeing prohibition involved. However in 318:30 in which the wool has fully absorbed the dye, Admur states the reason is because it is “the way of the dyers to prevent the item from burning”, however in this matter he was in question and hence placed the ruling of “due to the dyeing prohibition” in parentheses.

[13] Magen Avraham 320:25 brought in Mishneh Berurah 320:59; 252:1; Michaber and Admur 252:1 that doing so is only permitted from before Shabbos.

[14] As rules Rambam 9; Opinion of Rebbe Yossi Bar Rebbe Yehudah in Shabbos 18a, and so rules Michaber in Shulchan Aruch [321:14] that there is no kneading prohibition involved in simply adding water to kneading material.

[15] As rules Raavad based on Rebbe Yehudah Hanassi Shabbos ibid that there is a kneading prohibition involved even in simply adding water to kneading material; brought in M”A ibid and M”B ibid

[16] Admur 320:28; M”A 320:25; Rambam 9:13; Machatzis Hashekel 320:24; M”B 320:59

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