Removing a Tag from New Clothing on Shabbat
You purchased a new outfit for Shabbat or Yom Tov, and are excited to wear it for the first time! Shabbat morning, or the second night of chag, you take out your new dress, only to realize the tag is still attached. What can you do? While technically the dress can be worn with a tag, this is not the most comfortable option. Can the tag be removed on Shabbat?
This question includes two facets – (a) the act of preparing the garment so it is fit for use, and (b) tearing the tag.
Regarding the preparation of the garment – primary sources discuss the concepts of ‘completing the work’ (גמר מלאכה) or ‘the final hammer blow’ that finishes the job (מכה בפטיש). These may be expressed in completing the sewing, or in washing the garment for the first time. One source discusses removing stray threads left after the sewing process is complete (Shabbat 75b); removing these threads, assuming they are viewed as a nuisance, is indeed considered the completion of the garment.
The second source (Shabbat 48a) discusses a final threading or knotting of the garment meant to be opened by the wearer. In this case, while the garment is seemingly ready, an additional binding measure is taken by the tailors or launderers. The reason for this measure is unclear; perhaps it indicates that the garment is new and clean, and that the buyer will be the first to wear it. When the garment is fastened with no more than a loose tie, the Gemara allows it to be opened on Shabbat; however, if the garment is stitched together – this is considered permanent even if meant to be opened. In this case, according to the simple understanding of the Gemara cutting the stitch is significant, and symbolizes completing the work of creating the garment, so that it is ready to wear. However, others viewed this as a temporary stitch which could be opened on Shabbat, similar to undoing a simple tie (Shulhan Arukh, Orah Haim 317:3, and Rema ibid.).
Presumably a tag left on a garment is more reminiscent of the second case. The garment is already prepared – but this addition shows that it is new. However, while the tag indicates that the garment is new, removing it does not make the garment into a garment; clothes are ready to wear even before the tag is removed – it is only removed for comfortability and aesthetic. In this sense, since the tag is not part of the garment, it does not affect the ability to wear the garment, but is just an unnecessary addition. This seems less reminiscent of the category ‘the final hammer blow’ than the case described in the Gemara.
What about tearing the thread that attaches the tag to the garment? Tearing is an av melakhah (אב מלאכה) – a ‘parent category’ (the basic defining category of a melakhah) of work that is prohibited on Shabbat. However, as opposed to other categories of work, the mishna defines tearing based on its purpose: “tearing for the purpose of sewing.” Tearing in itself is not a ‘parent category’ unless its purpose is for sewing (although it may be prohibited by rabbinic ordinance). The Rabbis added that any actions for the purpose of destruction instead of mending – such as tearing for a destructive purpose – are not prohibited at all. Now we might ask whether tearing the tag is destructive or constructive. The purpose of removing the label is constructive (to wear the garment comfortably); however, the tag itself is ruined and clearly the broken thread will not be used again – and therefore tearing the label is permissible (Shulhan Arukh, Orah Haim 317:3; Biur Halakhah s.v. דינו).
Of course, it’s always preferable to be prepared in advance, and remove tags from garments before Shabbat or chag.