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Keriyat Shema- Problematic Situations and Places (2)

  • Rav David Brofsky




            Last time, we learned that soldiers, in the military camp, must maintain high standards of hygiene and modesty, as it says:


"…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)


We focused on the halakhot derived from "Your camp shall be holy," including reciting Shema and praying in the presence of tzo'a and mei raglayim.


            This week, we will continue our discussion of "Your camp shall be holy," and discuss the laws of bathrooms and bathhouses as they relate to prayer and devarim she-bikedusha.




            The Gemara (Shabbat 10a), citing the Tosefta, describes the three rooms of a bathhouse and their various halakhot.


Regarding the outer room, where people stand dressed, the Tosefta teaches:


"… Both reading [Shema] and prayer [Shemoneh Esrei] are permissible, and certainly the greeting of 'shalom'; one may wear tefillin and certainly does not need not remove them [if already wearing them]…"


Regarding the middle room, where people stand dressed and undressed, it states:


"The greeting of 'shalom' is permissible there, although reading [Shema] and praying are prohibited; tefillin need not be removed, but should not be donned…"


The Acharonim differ as to whether these halakhot apply even when no one is undressed at present.  The Mishna Berura (84:3) cites the Bach and Perisha, who argue that the room's very designation for those who are undressed lends it its status, and therefore one may not say berakhot and put on tefillin.  On the other hand, the Beit Yosef and Eliyah Rabba insist that if no one is currently undressed in the room, then one may say prayers and wear tefillin. 


            As for the inner room, in which people stand undressed, the Gemara states:


"… A greeting of 'shalom' is not permissible there and certainly reading [Shema] and praying [are prohibited]; tefillin must be removed, and certainly must not be donned!"


Regarding this inner room the Gemara (Shabbat 150a) teaches:


"… One may think about Torah anywhere EXCEPT for in a bathroom and bathhouse… as it says 'And your camp shall be holy'…"


            The Acharonim differ as to the status of the room with the mikveh.  The Taz (84:2) claims that its status is that of the middle room, and therefore on may make the berakha on tevila ONLY because there is no other choice (bediavad).  The Magen Avraham (45:2) disagrees, and argues that while the rabbis were stringent in a bathhouse, as the room itself is unseemly, they did not prohibit praying in a mikveh, in which they are currently no undressed people.  The practical difference between these two opinions is whether one may recite other berakhot, aside from "al ha-tevila," in a mikveh.


            In our contemporary homes, a room with just a sink would be comparable to the outer room, in which all is permitted. 


            A changing room at a pool, gym or mikveh, would be similar to the middle room.  Similarly, some houses, especially in Israel, have a room with a bath and sink, but NO toilet.  Seemingly one may wash for tefilla, or a meal, in this room, although whether one may say the berakha is subject to the above debate regarding berakhot in the middle room when all are dressed.  Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yechaveh Da'at 3:1) rules that one may wash for tefilla or a meal in a cheder ambatya, but should recite the berakha outside. 


            If the room has a toilet, it has the status of a beit ha-kisei (see below).


Beit Ha-Kisei - the Bathroom:


            We have already discussed the laws of tzo'a and mei raglayim, and therefore we will restrict our discussion to bathrooms which are clean from human waste. 


            May one recite berakhot in a CLEAN bathroom? To what extent may we compare our bathrooms to the bathrooms of the Gemara?


            The classic bathroom described by the rabbis is a beit kisei kavua (permanent bathroom).  This bathroom was designated for this particular use, and the waste material is not removed.  The Gemara (Berakhot 23a and 26a) rules that one may not pray, wear tefillin, or even think about Torah (see above) in this bathroom.  In fact, one may not even pray "opposite" this bathroom!


            The Arukh Ha-Shulchan (83:10) even rules that one may not pray opposite portable "potties" used for children (or the elderly), and they should either be covered, or removed if one wishes to say Shema, or berakhot, in the same room.  The Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilkhata (24 ft. 113) cites Rav Shelomo Zalman Auerbach and the Chazon Ish who ruled leniently regarding seats WITHOUT a basin. 


            In the times of the Talmud, a beit ha-kisei was generally found in an open area or field.  The authorities differ as to whether one may pray opposite a beit ha-kisei enclosed by mechitzot. 


            The Beit Yosef (83) argues that we view a beit ha-kisei enclosed by mechitzot as a separate domain, and therefore one may recite Shema opposite it.  He argues that even if the mechitzot are LESS than ten tefachim, one may pray opposite it.  The Peri Megadim, cited by the Bi'ur Halakha (83) questions whether four mechitzot are required, or perhaps three may suffice! Some accept the Beit Yosef's premise, yet insist that the mechitza be at least ten tefachim high (Bach, Peri Chadash).  The Shulchan Arukh (83:1) codifies this ruling. 


            Many Acharonim (Taz 83:1 and Magen Avraham, 83:1, for example) disagree and argue that if the mechitzot were designated specifically for the beit ha-kisei, they acquire its status, similar to a graf shel re'i (chamber pot), and one may not pray within four amot of it.


            The Taz, however, adds, that if the wall serve another function, and do not exclusively serve the bathroom, then one may pray opposite them.  As our bathrooms are enclosed by house walls, seemingly all would agree that the laws of a beit ha-kisei do not apply (Igrot Moshe Even Ha-ezer 1:114).  Furthermore, Rav Moshe Feinstein even argues that one may pray opposite an OPEN bathroom door!


            But what about the bathroom itself? In our modern bathrooms, the waste does not remain in the bathroom, and is quickly flushed away.  Do our bathrooms have the status of beit ha-kisei?


            The Gemara (Berakhot 26a) describes another type of bathroom, called a "beit kisei de-Parsai" (a Persian bathroom).  In these bathrooms, as described by Rashi, there is a pit at least four amot from the hole, into which the waste immediately falls, on an angle.  One may recite Shema in close proximity of this bathroom, as long as there is no odor, as the waste itself does not remain in the hole.  The Shulchan Arukh (83:4) rules in accordance with this Gemara. 


            Rav Moshe Feinstein (see above teshuva) writes that one may speculate as to whether our bathrooms are equivalent to the Persian bathrooms.  However, he still prohibits washing for a meal in our bathrooms.


            Rav Ovadya Yosef (see above) argues that our bathrooms are different, and more stringent than the Persian bathroom.  In our bathroom, the waste remains until removes, unlike the beit kisei Parsai, in which the waste IMMEDIATELY leave the area.  He concludes that preferably one should not wash for a meal, or tefilla, in a bathroom, unless there is nowhere else to wash (sha'at ha-dochak).  He cites the Chelkat Ya'akov (1:205), as well as the Yaskil Avdi (OC 6:13), as agreeing with his position. 


            Others disagree, arguing that our bathrooms are NOT identical to the Gemara's beit ha-kisei.  The Zekan Aharon (1:1), for example, argues that our bathrooms are similar to the Persian bathrooms, and adds people uses bathrooms which also have sinks and mirrors for other purposes, and therefore the room itself is not designated EXCLUSIVELY as a beit ha-kisei.  The Eretz Tzvi (110) suggests that since our toilets are washed (flushed) quickly and regularly, they do not acquire the status of a graf shel re'i.  The Chazon Ish (Hilkhot Keriyat Shema 17:4) also questions whether our bathrooms should be equated to the Gemara's beit ha-kisei, or to a Persian bathroom, and does not reach a conclusion.  The Minchat Yitzchak (1:60) agrees that our bathrooms are similar to the Persian bathrooms described by the Gemara, and therefore the stringencies of a beit ha-kisei should not apply.


            Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin (Eidut Le-Yisrael 1) rules that our bathrooms have the status of the middle room of a bathhouse, in which one may not recite Shema or pray, but may wash one's hands for tefilla and bread. 


Other Applications of "And Your Camp Shall be Holy":

Bringing Tefillin and Sefarim into a Bathroom:


            The Sifre (258:15) teaches:


"'For the LORD your God walks in the midst of your camp' - one should not… enter a bathhouse or tannery with sefarim and tefillin in his hands…"


The laws of tefillin as they relate to relieving one's self, are somewhat complex and beyond the scope of our discussion.  They touch upon principles of "kedushat tefillin," the halakhic status of bathrooms, and the similarities and differences between the restriction upon relieving one's self, and engaging in sexual relations, in the presence of tefillin.


            One is not permitted to engage in sexual relations in a room with tefillin.  Regarding tefillin, while optimally one should remove the tefillin from the room, or even erect a mechitza ten tefachim high (which are the ONLY solutions for a sefer Torah), the Gemara (Berakhot 23a) says that one may place the tefillin in a keli inside of another keli ("keli be-toch keli").  The Gemara adds that the keli (at least one of them) cannot be designated specifically for tefillin, for if it is, even a hundred such vessels are considered as one.  The Mishna Berura (40:7) notes that two "coverings" are also sufficient.


            The Mishna Berura (40:5) cites the Derekh Ha-Chayyim, who rules that two coverings are also necessary if one intends to relieve one's self in the same room as tefillin.  The Bi'ur Halakha questions this equation.  He argues that clearly the tefillin need to be covered, but why would one covering be insufficient! Generally speaking, however, common custom is to require two coverings upon entering a bathroom. 


            Therefore, if one is in a public bathroom, and cannot leave his tefillin outside (for fear of damage or thieves), they should be kept in a second pocket (the tefillin bag counting as the first) or bag (Mishna Berura 43:24).  Similarly, if a sick person in a hospital room needs to relieve himself, his tefillin bag should be covered, or placed in a drawer.


            The Acharonim differ as to whether one may bring tefillin into a bathroom if one enters for OTHER purposes. 


            On the one hand, the Gemara (Berakhot 23b) teaches that one may not enter a bathroom with tefillin on one's head, lest one come to defecate.  The Rosh (Berakhot 3:26) writes that the mere entrance into a bathroom does not require the removal of tefillin, but rather the intention to defecate.  He notes that Rav Hai Gaon concurs with this view. 


            The Magen Avraham (43:9), on the other hand, writes that clearly one is not permitted to enter a bathroom while wearing tefillin, EVEN for other purposes. 


            The Rema (43:5) records that some say one should remove his tefillin four amot away from a bathroom before entering, EVEN if entering for another purpose.  He concludes that it is proper to be stringent, as does the Mishna Berura 43:1.




            May one bring written sefarim into the bathroom?


            The Shulchan Arukh (240:6) rules that just as one should not have relations in the presence of tefillin or chumashim written in scroll form, so too should one be careful in the presence of printed sefarim, and they should also be contained in a keli be-toch keli.  The Mishna Berura (40:4) adds, "All sefarim, whether in writing or in print have holiness…"


            Regarding books written in English (or another foreign language), the Chavot Yair (109) argues, "Holy books, whether they are written in Hebrew or another language, … should be treated with respect, although it is worth investigating whether keli be-toch keli would be necessary."


            If so, just as one should not have relations in the presence of sefarim, so too one should not bring them into a bathroom, as described above regarding tefillin (Mishna Berura 43:25).  Pages containing divrei Torah attain the same status, although lists of sources (marei mekomot) do not (Igrot Moshe YD 2:75).


            There are, however, circumstances in which on finds it necessary to enter a bathroom with a siddur or sefer.  Many carry pocket siddurim wherever they go, or carry sefarim in public places, and are unable to leave them outside before entering a bathroom.  What should one do in this situation?


            Interestingly, the Gemara (Shabbat 61a) raises a similar question.  The Gemara asks whether one may bring an amulet, which contains letters and phrases from the Torah, into a bathroom.  The Gemara relates that clearly it may not be thrown away, and requires geniza, although it may be brought into a bathroom, as it is covered by leather.  Tefillin, the Gemara argues, which are also covered by leather, may not be brought into a bathroom, as the letter shin, part of God's name, appears on the outside.  The Shulchan Aruch (YD 182:6) concurs that amulets may be brought into a bathroom ONLY if they are covered with leather.


            The Magen Avraham (43:14), as well as the Peri Megadim, learn from this Gemara that kitvei kodesh may be brought into a bathroom as long as they are covered with a "mitpachat" (scarf), i.e. once, like the amulets. 


            The Radbaz (3:513) adds that since printed books are NOT written in ketav ashurit (the print used for a sefer Torah), but rather in other shaped letters, they lack kedusha, and therefore may certainly be brought into a bathroom, if they are covered minimally.  Regarding this point the Mishna Berura (40:4) disagrees, and rules that all sefarim, regardless of their print, are holy. 


            Similarly, the Tzitz Eliezer (11:5) discusses whether one may enter a bathroom in order to relieve one's self with written chiddushei Torah in his pocket.  He argues that there is compelling evidence that at most one covering in necessary, certainly when the writing do not have the shem Hashem.  Furthermore, he notes the Radbaz's claim that printed divrei Torah may not acquire any kedusha at all.  He rules, therefore, that it is permissible to enter a bathroom with Torah notes in one's pockets, regardless of whether they are wrapped in an additional envelope or cover.


            The Sha'are Teshuva (43:11), however, cites the Eliya Rabba, and argues that sefarim must be enclosed in two coverings. 


            The Mishna Berura (43:25) cites both opinions.  The custom seems to be in accordance with the stricter opinion, when possible.


            However, regarding the definition of keli be-toch keli - the Acharonim raise a number of questions.


            Firstly, the Bi'ur Halakha (40:1) questions whether BOTH coverings must surround the tefillin or sefer, while the Magen Avraham (40:2) implies that it would suffice if the outer covering did not wrap all the way around.


            Secondly, the Mishna Berura (40:1) cites the Magen Avraham (40:2) who rules that one of the two covers may be transparent, but not both.  Seemingly, this might apply only to books in the presence of sexual relations, while books in a bathroom may be more lenient, as one may even recite a berakha in the presence of tzo'a enclosed in glass!


            Thirdly, does a book's binding count as a cover? The Mishna Berura (40:4) rules in accordance with the Peri Megadim (Eshel Avraham 40:2), Maharam Shik (OC 94) and Da'at Torah (240), who assert that the binding is considered part of the book, and therefore two additional coverings are required.   The Kaf Ha-Chayyim (40:14) questions this, and writes that one may be lenient with printed books and count the binding as one covering. 


            There are two other opinions, however, which are worth noting.  On the one hand, the Arukh Ha-Shulchan (YD 282:10) disagrees with the Magen Avraham, and argues that sefarim should be treated like a sefer Torah, which may NEVER be brought into a bathroom.  On the other hand, Rabbi Yair Chaim Bachrach (1638 – 1702), in his famous responsa, Chavvot Yair (184), questions whether books printed by printing presses, by non-Jews, are "holy." He was asked how a couple, who live in a one room apartment filled with sefarim, can fulfill their marital obligations.  With great hesitance he suggests that since non-Jews published the sefarim, they may lack the kedusha which establishes the prohibition of relations in their presence.  As mentioned above, common practice is to treat printed sefarim with the sanctity described by the Taz (see above), and specified by the Shulchan Arukh YD 282.


            Finally, not only may sefarim not be brought into a bathroom, but also any object containing biblical verses should not enter a beit ha-kisei.  Amulets, as mentioned above, may not be brought into a bathroom unless they are covered by leather (Shulchan Arukh YD 282:6).  Similarly, the Shulchan Arukh (YD 283:4) prohibits embroidering biblical verses on a tallit.  The Shach and Taz both explain, based on the Teshuvot Ha-Rambam (Pe'er Ha-Dor 7), that we fear that he may bring the tallit, with the pesukim, into a bathroom.


            Therefore, one should not enter a bathroom with a sweatshirt, or necklace, upon which appear biblical verses (see Tzitz Eliezer 16:30).


            To summarize, we should note that the Taz (271:8) writes, "Those who are lax regarding the sanctity of printed sefarim will one day be held accountable…"


Reading Material in the Bathroom:


Until now, we discussed the permissibility of bring reading material, whose content is holy, into a bathroom.  The poskim question, however, whether even secular reading material, written or printed in Hebrew, may be brought into a bathroom.


            The Rambam, in the teshuva cited above, writes, "Since the Torah was given in ketav ashuri, and the luchot were written in it, it is inappropriate to use it for writings which are not kitvei kodesh, and therefore the Sefaradi community changed their writing and use different letters in order to permit using [Hebrew] for secular purposes…" The Rema (YD 284:2) even cites this Rambam, and discourages using ketav ashurit for secular purposes. 


            Based on these authorities, Rabbi Chayyim David Ha-Levi (Asei Lecha Rav 3:45 and 5:26-6) prohibits bringing Hebrew newspapers into the bathroom. 


            Most Acharonim rule leniently and permit bringing these newspapers, and other books written in Hebrew, into the bathroom. 


            The Arukh Ha-Shulchan (YD 283:14), for example, disagrees with the Rambam's position, and argues that just as one may discuss secular matters in Hebrew, one may also write them in even in ketav ashurit.


            Others argue that most of our printed Hebrew, in "block letters," is not considered ketav ashurit.  Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe YD 2:76), for example, permits bringing newspapers and dictionaries into bathrooms, arguing that since one cannot learn any halakhot from this print, it is not considered to be ketav ashurit.  Furthermore, while he questions the source for stringency regarding ketav ashurit, he does recommend acting stringently if the materials are written in ketav ashurit.


            Rav Feinstein concludes that despite his lenient ruling, it is still "inappropriate" to read these newspapers.  While his words are cryptic and his intention is unclear, it stands in contrast to Rabbi Yaakov Emden (1697 – 1776), in his She'eilat Ya'avetz, not only permits bringing Hebrew books into the bathroom, he confesses to bringing Hebrew translations of philosophy books into the bathroom!


Next week, we will continue the study of the Keriyat Shema.