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Keriyat Shema - Problematic Situations and Places (1)

  • Rav David Brofsky




            The Torah, while describing the laws of the wartime, presents special instructions regarding the military camp.  God is present in the camp, and therefore, standards of hygiene and modesty must be raised.


"You shall have a place also outside of the camp, where you shall go forth abroad.  And you shall have a paddle among thy weapons; and it shall be, when you sit down abroad, you shall dig therewith, and shall turn back and cover that which comes from you.

For the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp, to deliver you, and to give up your enemies before you; therefore YOUR CAMP SHALL BE HOLY; that He should see NO NAKEDNESS in you, and turn away from you… (Devarim 23:13—15)"


Jewish soldiers are to take care of their bodily needs OUTSIDE of the camp, and to COVER their excrement.  In addition, as God travels in their camp, they are warned to maintain their modest behavior, lest He withdraw His presence. 


            The rabbis understand that these standard apply NOT ONLY to the military camp, but also to one's own spiritual environs.  Therefore, the Gemara learns from "that He should see NO NAKEDNESS in you" that one should not recite Keriyat Shema (or other devarim she-bikdusha) while naked, or in from of nakedness (see Berakhot 25b).  Furthermore, the Gemara learns from "YOUR CAMP SHALL BE HOLY" that one should not recite Keriyat Shema in the presence of excrement (Berakhot 25a), in a bathhouse or bathroom (Shabbat 150a) or near an unpleasant odor (Sifrei).


            This week, we will study the ramifications of "your camp shall be holy," especially those pertaining to Keriyat Shema.


One Who Encounters Tzo'a (Fecal Material) - Proximity:


            The rabbis (Berakhot 25a) teach that one should not recite Keriyat Shema in the presence of tzo'a.  The Gemara, as well as the Rishonim and Acharonim, discusses the definition of, proximity to and means of covering this waste material. 


            The Gemara (Berakhot 25a) discusses a case in which one encounters tzo'a and wishes to recite Shema.  Rav Chisda and Rav Huna differ as to whether one must distance one's self four amot (approximately six feet) from the tzo'a itself, or from the point at which the odor ends.  The Rambam (Hilkhot Keriyat Shema 3:12) rules in accordance with Rav Huna, obligating one to move four amot from the waste matter, or until the odor ceases.  Most Rishonim (Rosh 3:46, Rif and Rabbeinu Yona 16b, Rashba, and Raavad) rule like Rav Chisda, who insists that the four amot be measured from the point at which there is no longer any odor.


            Rava (26a) adds that the shiur of four amot refers to tzo'a which is BEHIND a person, i.e. which is not visible, however tzo'a which is in FRONT of a person, one may not recite Shema, or pray, until the tzo'a is out of eyes' range.  The Rambam (Hilkhot Keriyat Shema 3:8) writes that tzo'a found on one's sides is similar to waste found behind, and four amot is sufficient. 


            The Shulchan Arukh (79:1) rules in accordance which the majority of Rishonim, and writes that while one must distance one's self four amot from the odor emitted by tzo'a found behind or to the side of a person; one must put tzo'a found in front of a person out of eyes' range in order to read Shema.  Furthermore, we require the standard distance of "eyes' range" even at night, and even for a blind person.


            The Gemara (25a) continues, teaching that if the tzo'a is on a place elevated or lowered ten tefachim, one may say Shema in its proximity.  The Acharonim debate whether ten tefachim high suffices (see Taz 3), or maybe the elevated place must be four tefachim wide (see Magen Avraham 5, Bach), like a reshut ha-yachid.  The Mishna Berura (11) and Arukh Ha-shulchan (7) agree with the latter.


            However, the Rishonim differ as to the interpretation of this halakha.  The Rosh (3:46) explains that as long as a different domain encloses the tzo'a, even if one can still see it, it is still permissible to recite Shema in its presence.  He explains that the prohibition of "lo yireh bekha" refers to issues if modesty ("ervat davar") and not to tzo'a, which is prohibited by "and your camp shall be holy."  Therefore, he argues, if the tzo'a is covered by glass (Berakhot 25b, Shulchan Arukh 66:1) one may recite Shema in its presence. 


            The Rashba (25a) disagrees.  He argues that the prohibition of "lo yireh bekha" applies equally to tzo'a.  However, since the verse also makes the prohibition dependent upon whether it is covered ("And shall turn back and COVER that which comes from you"), COVERING the tzo'a is sufficient. 


            If so, he argues, even if a separate domain encloses the tzo'a, as long as it is uncovered and visible, one may not recite Shema.


            The Rishonim also differ as to whether the separation of domain also works if the odor is still discernable.  The Rambam (Hilkhot Keriyat Shema 3:9) writes that it the odor is still noticeable, the separation of domain is ineffective.  The French rabbis (cited by Rabbeinu Yona 16b), however, disagree, and rule that the separation works for odor as well. 


            The Shulchan Arukh (69:2) cites both opinions, regarding the sight and smell of tzo'a above or below ten tefachim.  The Mishna Berura (16) cites the Acharonim who rule stringently regarding the tzo'a's odor.  Regarding the sight of tzo'a contained by a different domain, the Bi'ur Halacha notes that while the Beit Yosef rules like the Rosh, the Peri Megadim, Eliya Rabba and Chayyei Adam explain that that there is a doubt as to how we rule (sefeika de-dina), and therefore we adopt the more stringent (i.e. the Rashba's) view. 


Definition of Tzo'a:


            The above halakhot refer primarily to human excrement.  The Gemara (Sukka 42b) adds that tzo'a of children is prohibited once he or she can eat a kezayit of solid grain food. 


What about animal tzo'a?


            The Shulchan Arukh (79:4-7) enumerates, based on the Gemara (Berakhot 25a), those animals whose excrement is known to be similar to human tzo'a.  He includes the tzo'a of a donkey, leopard, cat and red chicken (an "English hen" according to the Mishna Berura).  The rule is that while all foul smelling excrement should be treated like human tzo'a, i.e. that one must distance one's self four amot from the odor, one may recite Shema, or other berakhot, within close proximity of other waste.  If so, one should be careful not to make berakhot or daven near a cat's litter box, if the fecal contents have not all been covered!


            Incidentally, the Magen Avraham (13) disagrees, and does not require four amot from animals not enumerated by the Gemara.  The Mishna Berura (24) writes that bedi'avad, if one prayed within four amot of such waste, one need not repeat the Tefilla.


            The Mechaber (82:1) rules in accordance with the Rambam (Hilkhot Keriyat Shema 3:7), based on the Gemara (Berakhot 25a), that tzo'a which is so dry that it falls apart when thrown, is viewed as "afar" and is no longer prohibited.  The Rema cites the Tur (82) who requires that it be even dryer, disintegrating even when rolled. 


Covering Tzo'a:


            The prohibition of reciting Shema and other devarim she-bikdusha is more lenient than that of erva, in that the Torah merely requires that one "cover that which comes from you..." Therefore, one may recite Shema in the presence of covered tzo'a, even if enclosed in glass and visible, as long as there is no odor (Berakhot 25a and Shulchan Arukh 76:1).


            Furthermore, the Gemara (Berakhot 25a) cites a difference of opinion regarding tzo'a, on one's body, yet covered.  While Rav Chisda prohibits reciting Shema in this situation, as it says, "ALL of my limbs should praise You" (Tehillim 35), Rav Huna permits, as the tzo'a is covered.  Despite Rabbeinu Chananel's preference of Rav Chisda's view, the majority of Rishonim (Rif, Rambam and Rosh) rule in accordance with Rav Huna. 


            The Rosh (Berakhot 3:45) cites an opinion which insists that Rav Huna's leniency referred to tzo'a which would be hidden even WITHOUT a garment, like in between one's fingers.  However, tzo'a on one's body, which is covered by a garment, is still prohibited, and one may not recited Keriyat Shema in its presence. 


            The Shulchan Arukh (76:4) cites all three opinions, and writes, "It is correct to follow the stricter view." The Mishna Berura writes that in a sha'at hadochak, one may cover tzo'a found on one's body and pray.  Furthermore, all agree that tzo'a found on one's clothing may simply be covered, as long as it emits no odor.  Obviously (see Mishna Berura 76:14) one should be careful to keep one's clothing clean at all times, especially during Tefilla.


            One may make a berakha in the presence of a child wearing a dirty diaper, or a garbage pail containing dirty diapers, as long as the waste is not visible, and one cannot smell the odor.


Mei Raglayim:


            Just as devarim she-bikdusha may not be recited in the presence of tzo'a, as it says, "And your camp shall be holy," so too in the presence of mei raglayim (urine).


            The Gemara (Berakhot 25a) teaches that mi-de'oraita, the prohibition is only in front of the stream of mei raglayim.  "You shall go forth abroad…," according to the Gemara, refers to mei raglayim, while "You shall turn back and cover that which comes from you…" refers to tzo'a.


            Mi-derabbanan, only an area wet enough that one who touches the area can dampen another material ("tofei'ach al menat le-hatpi'ach") is prohibited.  The Arukh Ha-Shulchan argues that this prohibition is not specific to urine, and applies equally to other repulsive liquids, such as vomit and phlegm.  


            The Shulchan Arukh (77:1-2) rules that one may "nullify" mei raglayim by pouring a revi'it of water into or over it.  The ratio, according to the Shulchan Arukh (although others disagree), should be a revi'it for each time.  As long a there is no noxious odor, one may then recite devarim she-bikdusha.  An amount smaller than a revi'it, or a small amount absorbed by ones clothing, may be nullified by even less water (see Mishna Berura 77:7). 


            The Gemara (Berakhot 25b) extends of prohibitions of tzo'a and mei raglayim to a "graf shel re'I" and an "avit shel mei raglayim."  The vessels, which are used to collect human waste, are treated as tzo'a, EVEN if they are presently clean, and must either be covered, or moved out of sight.


            The Shulchan Arukh (87:1) rules that only those bedpans made from pottery or wood are prohibited.  Those, however, made from metal, glass, or glazed potteries are permitted as long as they are thoroughly rinsed. 


Urinary Incontinence, Colostomies, Ileostomies, and Catheters:


            The Gemara (Berakhot 22b) teaches:


"Our Rabbis taught: If one was standing saying Tefilla and water drips over his knees, he should stop until the water stops and then resume his Tefilla…"


Firstly, one is clearly not permitted to continue praying while urinating.  We encountered this Gemara in a previous shiur regarding interruptions during Tefilla.  Apparently, one must stop his prayers, even if he risks pausing for enough time that may invalidate his prayer. 


            Secondly, the Rishonim also note that the Gemara permits one to continue praying despite being soiled, or splashed, by mei ragalyim! They question the impact of the dampened clothing, and ground, upon his Tefilla. 


            As for his clothing, the Rishonim debate whether the Gemara is offering a heter for those in the middle of Tefilla, or is referring to a case in which one would even be permitted to begin praying.


            Tosafot (s.v. mamtin) cites two interpretations.  On the one hand, Tosafot and Rabbeinu Yona (14a) conclude that even if one's clothing is wet, one may continue, as praying in the presence of mei raglayim is only prohibited mi-derabbanan, and since this person has already started his prayers, the rabbis did not require that he change and repeat Tefilla.  In other words, in general, one would not be permitted to pray under such conditions, but the rabbis made an exception for one in the middle of Tefilla.


            Conversely, Rabbi Yosef explains that the Gemara must be referring to case in which one's clothes were NOT tofei'ach al menat le-hatpi'ach, as we saw above.  Furthermore, the Hagahot Maimoniyot (Hilkhot Tefilla 4:10) insists that he cover the drops of urine with a clean garment. 


            As for the wet ground under him, if the urine is not quickly absorbed into the ground, the Rishonim debate whether one should retreat four amot from the mei raglayim while in the middle of Tefilla. 


            The Rashba (Berakhot 22b) insists that while if one is in the middle of Shema, or other berakhot, one should retreat four amot, this is unnecessary in the middle of Tefilla.  The Hagahot Maimoniyot (cited above) disagrees, requiring one to retreat four amot EVEN during one's Tefilla.  The Gemara only allowed one to continue praying if the mei raglayim remains covered, on the person's body.


            The Shulchan Arukh (78) writes, REGARDING KERIYAT SHEMA:


"If one was reading [Shema] and water drips over his knees, he should stop until the water stops and then resume reading EVEN if it fell on his clothes, and they are wet enough to dampen, since they are covered by his clothing.  If the mei raglayim falls to the earth he should retreat four amot…"


            The Mishna Berura (3) notes that while he is lenient if a dry outer garment covers the damp inner clothing, if his outer garment is ALSO wet, he should change or cover himself with other cloths.  If one is in the middle of Tefilla, however, he should continue praying.  In other words, he rules in accordance with Tosafot, that the Gemara offers a special leniency for one already engaged in Tefilla.  However, he adds (see M"B 4 and Bi'ur Halakha) that during Tefilla, one should preferably retreat four amot. 


            What can we deduce about one who suffers from urinary incontinence? Seemingly, it would be prohibited to say devarim she-bikdusha while one is actually urinating.  However, afterwards, if dry clothing covers one's underwear, absorbent pads or diapers, EVEN if they themselves are wet, one would be permitted to pray.


            Interestingly, the Rema (Teshuvot 98) addresses this question, and rules that one who suffers from urinary incontinence should:


"Be careful that the outer clothing is clean, and place a cloth or sponge around one's organ, and then it is as if the mei raglayim are contained in a pocket, as he is an ones and has no other choice…"


Furthermore, based on the above discussion, people with colostomies, ileostomies, or catheters and urine bags, may continue to recite devarim she-bikdusha, as long as the external opening is clean and covered, and there are no noxious odors (see Igrot Moshe OC 1:27, Tzitz Eli'ezer 8:1, Minchat Yitzchak 6:11-12 etc.).


            The Acharonim, however, discuss whether the tubes should be covered.  Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe OC 1:27) writes that a catheter made from rubber should be covered, as it may have the status of an avit.  He is inclined to rule leniently regarding plastic tubes, but recommends being stringent.  Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg (Tzitz Eli'ezer 8:1) concurs with this ruling.  


            Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, in a teshuva published in the Sefer Tefilla Ke-Hilkhata (pg. 441), argues that since the urine passes quickly through the tube, it should be no worse than the "Persian bathrooms," which we will discuss next week.  In these bathrooms, the waste material quickly flows away from the toilet, and one is permitted to recite Keriyat Shema in its presence.  Therefore, he argues, since the mei raglayim does not stay in the tube, it does not acquire the status of avit, and therefore does not need to be covered. 


            Similarly, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (cited in Nishmat Avraham 1:76:9) argues that since these tubes are disposed of after their use, they do not assume the status of an avit.  His student, Rav Yehoshua Neuwirth, concurs. 


Other Odors and Their Halakhot:


            Above, we discussed what the Gemara calls a "rei'ach she-yesh lo ikkar"- an odor wherein the source is tangible.  One is biblically prohibited from reciting Shema, or other devarim she-bikdusha, in the presence of tzo'a and mei raglayim. 


            The Mishna (Berakhot 22b), regarding one who immersed in a mikveh, and must recite Shema while in the water lest he miss zeman Keriyat Shema, teaches:


"He should not, however, cover himself with foul water (mayim ha-ra'im) or with water in which something [flax] has been steeped until he pours fresh water unto it.  How far should he remove himself from it and from excrement (tzo'a)? Four amot…"


            The Mishna explicitly equates other odors with tzo'a.  Therefore, one should not recite Shema, or other berakhot, near sewage or other malodorous materials. 


            The Bi'ur Halakha (introduction to siman 79:10) argues that it is biblically prohibited to say Shema, or other berakhot, in the presence of any other waste substance, garbage or a rotting animal corpse, is biblically prohibited, as one's "camp" is no longer "holy" (Mishna Berura 79:29).  As their status is the same as human tzo'a, and one should distance one's self four amot from behind and the sides, or until it is out of one's sight, in front.


            The Gemara (Berakhot 25a) also discusses a "rei'ach she-ein li ikkar," an odor with no tangible source, such as passed gas (Rashi).  The Shulchan Arukh (79:9) writes that one may not recite Shema or other berakhot (M"B 39) until the odor dissipates, or until one moves to area in which the odor is no longer present.  This prohibition is mi-derabbanan.


            Similarly, one may not learn Torah in the presence of such an odor.  The Gemara (Berakhot 25a) distinguishes between one's own gas, which ones must wait until the odor dissipates, and the odor of someone else, in which case one may continue learning. 


            The Rosh (Teshuvot 4:1) writes that if one is certain that he is unable to pray without passing gas, it is best ("mutav") that he not pray, even if the time for Tefilla will pass.  The Shulchan Arukh cites this ruling (80).


            The Acharonim question, and even dispute this ruling.  The Gr"a, for example, summarizes his thoughts on this siman as follows: "It does not seem that this is the halakha."


            Others limit the Shulchan Arukh's ruling.  The Rema (Teshuvot 98), for example, notes that even the Rosh implies that there is no prohibition to pray, but rather, it may be best to wait, as he can always say a Tefillat Tashlumin.  He concludes, however, that one who suffers from a permanent condition in which, according to a literal reading of the Rosh, he will never be permitted to pray, should certainly not let his condition prevent him from reciting Keriyat Shema and Tefilla.  The Peri Chadash agrees with this ruling, and adds that if one does pass gas, one should wait until the odor dissipates, and then continue his Tefilla.


            The Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav (80:3) adds that one who omits Tefilla should also skip Pesukei De-zimra, which were established for the sake of Tefilla.  Furthermore, one should certainly say Keriyat Shema, which is mi-de'oraita, especially since the INABILITY to avoid passing gas is more problematic during Tefilla, when one is "talking to the King."  The Arukh Ha-Shulchan (80:4) concurs with this ruling.


            Regarding wearing tefillin while suffering from this problem, see Shulchan Arukh 38.


            Finally, the Gemara (Berakhot 24b) teaches:


"If one was walking in a dirty alley way, he should not recite Shema … Rav Adda bar Ahava said: 'He has despised the word of the Lord' (Bamidbar 15:31)… if he stops, what is his reward? …Of him the verse says: 'Through this word you shall prolong your days…' (Devarim 32:47)"




            As we described above, it is prohibited to say Shema, or other devarim sh-bikdusha, in the presence of tzo'a, mei raglayim or other malodorous substances.  Therefore, one should not pray in a place in which one suspects there may be such substances (such as a room with a litter box).  If one did, he should repeat Shema or Tefilla. 


            However, if one, after praying, finds tzo'a or the like, and had no reason to suspect its presence, he need not repeat his prayer.  However, if one recited Shema in a place where there was reason to suspect the presence of tzo'a, one should repeat Shema! The Mishna Berura (75:31) rules that if one said Shemoneh Esrei in such a place, and the time to repeat that prayer has passed, one may not say a Tefilat Tashlumin, as he was negligent. 


            Regarding mei raglayim, while one who knowingly prays or recites Shema in the presence of mei raglayim must repeat his tefilla (M"B 76:33), if one discovered mei raglayim only afterwards, there is no need to repeat his tefilla.


            Regarding Birkat Ha-mazon and other berakhot, see Shulchan Arukh 185.


Next week, we will continue our discussion of "And your camp shall be holy…"