Monday, September 24, 2007

Yom Tov Hygiene – The Hot Shower

Yom Tov Hygiene – The Hot Shower

by Rabbi Ari N. Enkin[1]
Ramat Beit Shemesh

Not only is every Yom Tov in the Diaspora two days long, but it frequently extends into three days as well when preceded or followed by Shabbat. While two days without a shower may be manageable to some, it is distressing for most people to go three days without showering. Many people refrain from showering over the course of both a two and three day Yom Tov in deference to the majority of classical halachic works which are hesitant to allow showering on Yom Tov, especially in the routine manner.[2] In recent years there have been a growing number of halachic authorities who have challenged the historical opposition to showering on Yom Tov by simply reapplying the same logic which had prohibited doing so then to the new realities of today.

Click here to read moreThe prohibitions of work on Yom Tov are identical to those of Shabbat with the exception[3] of certain specific activities associated with food preparation which are permitted.[4] The Talmud[5] further extends this dispensation to include those same labors permitted in the course of food preparation for all other activites which are "shaveh lechol nefesh", activities which are enjoyed by most people if given the opportunity.[6]

The authorities who had forbidden showering on Yom Tov in the past had done so because showering was not a daily necessity. Whereas a mere one hundred years ago showering once a week was considered a luxury, in modern society it would be considered a travesty. Today, showering daily is a social necessity and a widespread personal obsession. How much more so is having to go without showering over a three day period.[7] Under normal circumstances this would be deemed socially unacceptable to say the least.

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In Israel, not showering on Yom Tov, usually a one-day event, does not seem to present much of an inconvenience. As is the case with Shabbat, one is required to bathe before the onset of the holiday and the opportunity to shower again at its conclusion, some 26 hours later. While showering on Shabbat is particularly problematic,[8] this may not be the case on Yom Tov.

The dispute essentially hinges upon whether or not the definition of "shaveh lechol nefesh" can change according to time and place. In fact, it is in none other than the laws of bathing where one can observe the halachic authorities acknowledging that "shaveh lechol nefesh" is indeed subject to change based on personal norms and societal practices.[9] Today, daily showering is certainly deemed necessary in the routine of most people, certainly in developed countries.

In Talmudic times the rabbinical authorities allowed heating water to wash one's face, hands, and feet as this was the predominant daily routine of most people. Bathing one's entire body was not viewed as a daily need and was prohibited accordingly.[10] It would seem however that if bathing the entire body had been something done daily by most people then it too would have been permitted.[11]

There are a growing number of halachic authorities who argue that showering daily is normative and practiced by most people in our time. As such, it can certainly be classified as "shaveh lechol nefesh"[12] and permissible on Yom Tov.[13] How much more so on the second or third day of Yom Tov.[14]

Showering on Yom Tov would be permissible with hot water as well[15] as the heating of water is in itself a permitted act for all shaveh lechol nefesh activities.[16] This is especially true when taking a shower at night of the first day of Yom Tov where the hot water would have been heated before the holiday began.[17] Indeed, although beyond the scope of this paper, it is worth mentioning that hot water supplied by the "dud shemesh" (solar water heater), as is widespread in Israel may even be used on Shabbat according to most authorities.

The melacha of sechita, squeezing, however remains prohibited and therefore one must ensure not to squeeze one's hair after showering, though a light towel drying would be permissible.[18] As is the case concerning Shabbat, only liquid soaps are permitted on Yom Tov.

Those who choose to act stringently and not shower on Yom Tov are entitled to do so, however there is no basis to criticize those who do shower on Yom Tov, especially over the course of a three day stretch.

[1] This article is based on Changes in Sociology or Technology and Jewish Law Responses to Them: The Cases of Showering or Smoking on Yom Tov by Rabbi Michael J. Broyde, given to this writer upon request.
[2] Rama 511:2, Mishnah Berura 511:18, Aruch Hashulchan O.C. 511:4, Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchatah 14:7.
[3] Shemot 12:16
[4] O.C. 495:1
[5] Beitza 12b
[6] Ketubot 7a, Yereim 304
[7] Biur Halacha 511
[8] Magen Avraham 326:8, Mishnah Berura 326:21, Aruch Hashulchan OC 326:9, Shemirat Shabbat
Kehilchatah 14:11
[9] Rema O.C. 511:2 vs. Magen Avraham 511:5, Aruch Hashulchan 511:5,6
[10] Beitza 21b;Tosfot
[11] Ramban, Shabbat 39b
[12] Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchatah 19 note 3
[13] Rivevot Efraim 6:265
[14] Biur Halacha 511
[15] Rivevot Efraim 6:265
[16] Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchatah 2:7
[17] O.C. 511:2
[18] Mishnah Berurah 326:25, Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchatah 14:1

[Let me add that the regular halakhah e-mail by R. Josh Flug that was sent out today is on this topic as well. It is not yet available on the web. -- GS]

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