Question: May one stick an adhesive bandage onto a wound on Shabbat?
Answer: Regarding using adhesive bandages on Shabbat, there are three issues we must discuss:
The first issue is healing on Shabbat, for as we have already explained in previous Halachot, our Sages have forbidden performing any sort of healing on Shabbat (unless one is truly ill as we have discussed) and a bandage is meant to heal a wound.
The second issue is the prohibition of sewing on Shabbat. Sticking a bandage on a wound is similar to the Torah prohibition of sewing.
The third issue is the prohibition of tearing on Shabbat. Before removing the bandage, one must separate the two pieces of paper stuck to the bandage which cover the sticky part and it would seem that this should constitute the prohibition of tearing.
If Sticking On a Bandage Can Be Considered “Healing”
In terms of healing on Shabbat, there is no prohibition to stick a bandage onto a wound, for this is not considered something which heals the wound and the primary purpose of the bandage is to protect the wound from being aggravated further and from becoming infected. Indeed, Maran Ha’Bet Yosef (Chapter 328) quotes the Yerushalmi which states that it is permissible to place a bandage on a wound (which has already healed), for the dressing is not meant to heal the wound and is only meant to protect it from external threats.
All that is left then is to discuss whether or not the prohibitions of sewing and tearing on Shabbat apply here.
Sewing and Tearing Regarding a Bandage
As we have written, separating the paper covering the sticky part of the bandage seems to constitute the prohibition of tearing and sticking it onto a wound seems to constitute the prohibition of sewing on Shabbat.
Nevertheless, Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that in actuality, none of the above prohibitions apply here. The reason for this is because the papers stuck to the bandage are not meant to remain that way since they are intended to be removed in order to be able to stick on the bandage. Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch and the Poskim forbid separating papers which are stuck together only when they were meant to remain together when they were stuck together; however, if they were stuck together with the intention of later separating them, it is permissible to remove them.
Furthermore, with regards to sticking the bandage onto the wound, this does not constitute the prohibition of sewing, for sewing does not apply to the human body in addition to the fact that the prohibition of sewing does not apply when one is doing so for a temporary purpose. Applying a bandage is only forbidden when one sticks it on with the intention of it remaining always. He proceeds to support this with sources and reasons for this lenient ruling.
Thus, halachically speaking, if one is injured on Shabbat, one may stick a bandage onto the wound. One may likewise remove the papers stuck to the bandage before applying it (Chazon Ovadia-Shabbat, Volume 3, page 403).