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Soft Contact Lenses are a polymer lenses that are worn on the surface of the eye as alternative to prescription glasses and less commonly as a bandage (protect the surface of the eye, the "cornea")

They are hermetically sealed by manufactures in "blister packs." The blisters are usually a harder plastic carrier with a small bowl that is filled with liquid buffering agents and with heat a foil top with polymer inner film bonds to the harder plastic casing to form a small completely sealed unit with the contact lens suspended in the solution.

Replacement frequency varies. Contact lenses may be: 1-day, 1-2 week, 1 month replacement lenses. In order to access the contact lens a patient has to peel open a blister pack, remove the Soft Contact Lens and insert onto the surface of the eye.

The peeling process entails holding the edge of the foil while securing the hard plastic carrier. Pulling and/or using fingers/knuckles as a fulcrum to peel / at the same time tearing away the polymer inner (bonded to the metal foil) film away from the hard plastic carrier exposing the contact lens.

Is this permissible on Shabbos? If this is used as a form of bandage is it permissible. What is the reasoning behind the decision?

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  • I think generally if something soft is glued to something hard then this may be taken apart on Shabbos for eating purposes and similar (kriah derech kilkul le'tzorech achilah, e.g. matzav.com/ripping-and-tearing-for-food-on-shabbos). So for example for this reason it is permissible to peel the aluminium cover off a yoghurt container on Shabbos. (Whereas if both items were hard or both soft this may be considered fused and not glued and would pose a different question.)
    – pcoz
    Jun 15 '21 at 6:43
  • @pcoz food is a different case where Hazal waived certain forbidden actions of tearing/ koreya. I don't know if you are suggesting this applies to non-food but it is not the case
    – mbloch
    Jun 15 '21 at 8:58
  • @mbloch I was under the impression this heter also applies to opening a box of tissues, for example, e.g. hidabroot.org/article/57635, לדעת מרן הגרש"ז אויערבך זצ"ל מותר לפתוח חבילה זו כשם שהתירו לפתוח חבילות במבה או ביסלי, היות והעטיפה בטלה לתכולתה, ונחשב כעוסק בתכולה ולא בקריעת העטיפה. וטוב יותר שיפתח דרך קלקול, ולכתחילה יפתח קודם השבת (שש"כ פ"ט הערה י"ב).
    – pcoz
    Jun 15 '21 at 22:48
  • @pcoz first they write clearly this is not lechathila. Second the case might be of tissues used for the meal. R Bunim also allows tissues, paper napkins or towels used for a meal. This is not the case of the question here
    – mbloch
    Jun 16 '21 at 3:34
  • @pcoz Isn't that talking about a bag of tissues? meaning the tissues are in a soft plastic encasing as is common in Israel, not a cardboard box casing, as is common in the USA.
    – Double AA
    Jun 16 '21 at 14:07
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This site doesn't provide practical answers to real questions. As such the below is written to illustrate the reasoning a rabbi might use to come to a decision. Small changes in the question can impact the answer significantly so be sure to ask a rabbi if this is relevant in practice.

This is actually a quite complicated question which I researched for a long time because of 3 separate issues

  1. Is one allowed to open a package on Shabbat when it is not food or medicine?
  2. In what case is one allowed to tear a cover with writing on it if one risks tearing the writing (as I understand that contact lenses packages often have writing on the back, see e.g., here or here)?
  3. Is wearing contact lenses a Shabbat need or mere convenience? (and this might depend whether the person wouldn't see without contact lenses or has an alternative like regular glasses)

In general, it is forbidden on Shabbat to tear apart glued items (koreya), demolishing a utensil (soteir) and tearing apart writing (mocheik) - see e.g., here.

Here is what I think the halacha would be

  • there is no question that, in case of medical need (here as a bandage to the eye), one can open a glued package, break a utensil and (if there is no other way) tear apart the writing on the package, see e.g., here and below
  • for non-medical needs, it appears to depend on whether wearing contacts is a "Shabbat need" for that particular person. In discussions with contact lens wearers, I learned some absolutely require them (either because they don't have or like regular glasses) in which case it would be permitted while for others in it a total convenience. Some rabbis I spoke with recommended opening the package with a shinui, a departure from the normal practice, e.g., with the teeth, especially if there is writing on the package

See below for details and reasoning


One of the 39 forbidden actions on Shabbat is tearing (koraya). It is in general permitted to tear open packages of food (while being careful not to tear lettering on the package, and in some cases not to create a vessel) but forbidden to do so for non-food items.

In the case of glued items, R Dovid Ribiat, the author of an encyclopedia on the 39 forbidden actions (The 39 melochos, vol. 3, p. 830) writes

[...] all poskim [halachic decisors] agree that pulling apart any two objects that are glued together (regardless of what material they are made of) at their point of attachment is the melocho [forbidden action] of koraya [tearing]

However, beyond the exception for food, there are also exceptions for medical needs. As such it is permitted to open band aids on Shabbat even when their protective paper is glued (R Ribiat p. 848, see bottom of here), one may tear the wrapping around a pill (Shmirat Shabat Kehilchata 33:4) and around a dressing (Shmirat Shabat Kehilchata 35:20). In all cases this is provided one doesn't tear the lettering if there is one.

R Simcha Bunim Cohen writes similarly in Sanctity of Shabbos (vol. 1, p. 83-86) that

if a package is glued shut, one may not tear it open - even in a manner that destroys the wrapping except in cases of food or medicine [...] The dispensation applies only for obtaining items of true necessity such as food or medicine. It is forbidden to tear destructively in order to obtain an item that is a mere convenience

The best summary of the entire issue with many detailed sources comes from R Akiva Niehaus (here)

Harav S.Z. Auerbach zt”l holds that one may open non-food packages on Shabbos in a destructive manner provided that it is a tzorech Shabbos, but the Mishna Brurah (according to one explanation) holds that one may not open a non-food package on Shabbos. Since the Mishna Brurah’s position is questionable, one may rely on the lenient opinion of Harav S.Z. Auerbach zt”l. However, the classification of “tzorech Shabbos” is quite vague and every case requires clarification if it is truly a tzorech Shabbos

Two rabbis I discussed it with allowed opening such a package if they are considered a Shabbat need and of course if they are a form of bandage for the cornea.

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    I believe some authorities permit detaching things which were only meant to be attached during packaging/shipping but we're destined to be detached. Just saying...
    – robev
    Jun 15 '21 at 10:40
  • @robev yes and I looked at this (it is often used to allow disposable diapers with adhesive tabs) but the case is different: there it is not a permanent bond. In addition, with lenses, the packaging is crucial to keeping the lenses in good condition
    – mbloch
    Jun 15 '21 at 11:31
  • What do you mean permanent bond? Which one is permanent and which one isn't?
    – robev
    Jun 16 '21 at 4:41
  • @robev I meant that on diapers the sticker is not permanent, it is meant to be opened and closed. On the contact lenses, it is not meant to be opened and closed
    – mbloch
    Jun 16 '21 at 5:21

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