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Limitations on Okhel Nefesh: Davar Ha-shaveh Le-khol Nefesh- Showering and Smoking on Yom Tov

  • Rav David Brofsky

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by Rav David Brofsky


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Shiur #24: Limitations on Okhel Nefesh:

Davar Ha-Shaveh Le-Khol Nefesh-

Showering and Smoking on Yom Tov




Last week, we discussed the scope of the Torah’s permission to prepare food on Yom Tov. We noted that according to Beit Hillel (Beitza 12a), not only may one cook and carry food on Yom Tov, but one may also “carry a child, a lulav, or a sefer Torah into the street on Yom Tov.”


We saw that the gemara explains that according to Beit Hillel, “Since (mi-tokh) you can carry for eating, you can also carry for non food related purposes.” The Rishonim debate the parameters of this principle, known as “mi-tokh.” While Rashi (Beitza 12a, s.v. ela) understood that carrying on Yom Tov is completely permitted mi-de’orayta, even when done for no specific reason, Tosafot (12a, s.v. hakhi garas; see also Ketuvot 7a, s.v. mitokh) disagree and only permit carrying for a specific, legitimate Yom Tov need. We concluded by discussing practical ramifications of this question. 


The gemara (Ketuvot 7a) comments in discussing the permissibility of certain acts on Yom Tov:


Are you then of the opinion that it is permitted to burn spices [on Yom Tov], because burning is permitted in a case of need and should therefore be permitted even if there is no need?


R. Pappa responded: Regarding this, the verse states: "For what is ye'achel le-khol nefesh [literally: edible by all people], that alone may be done for you" -- only something which is of benefit to all [shaveh le-khol nefesh] may be done. 


The gemara concludes that the principle of mi-tokh, which permits labors generally done for food purposes (hotza’a, hav’ara, shechita, bishul, and afiya), only applies when one performs these melakhot for a purpose which is shaveh le-khol nefesh, of benefit to all. Apparently, burning spices was not viewed as a universally enjoyed activity. 


             Although some Rishonim omit this limitation, the majority of Rishonim cite it, and even apply it to other cases (see Tosafot, Beitza 21b and Ba’al Ha-Ma’or, Shabbat 12a). 


            This week, we will discuss some practical applications of this limitation.


Bathing on Yom Tov


The Rishonim discuss the principle of davar ha-sheveh le-khol nefesh regarding the permissibility of heating up water for bathing purposes on Yom Tov.  Before we address bathing on Yom Tov, we must first discuss whether one may bathe on Shabbat.


Bathing on Shabbat poses a number of problems. First, heating up water on Shabbat is clearly prohibited, violating the melakha of bishul.  Similarly, the use of hot water in most homes is also prohibited, as one will most likely either directly turn on a heating element, thereby violating the melakha of hav’ara, and/or heat up the cold water, either directly or when it enters the boiler to replace the hot water taken from the tap, violating the melakha of bishul.


May one bathe in hot water that was heated up before Shabbat? The gemara (Shabbat 39b–40a) explains that although one may wash his face, hands, and feet in water that was heated before Shabbat, one may not wash one’s entire body. The gemara relates:


At first, people used to wash in pit water heated on the eve of Shabbat; then bath attendants began to heat the water on Shabbat, maintaining that it was done on the eve of Shabbat. So [the use of] hot water was forbidden.


This gezeira is known as the gezeirat merchatza’ot, or the gezeirat balaniyot. 


Regarding bathing in cold water on Shabbat, the Maharil (139) records that it is customary not to bathe in rivers on Shabbat.  He attributes this custom to the fear that one may squeeze water from his hair, carry, or swim. Many Acharonim (see Magen Avraham 326:8; Mishna Berura 326:21) cite this practice.  Some Acharonim (see Minchat Yitzchak 6:32; Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilkhata 14:11) assume that it is customary to refrain from showering in cold water as well. R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, Orach Chaim 4:74) argues that the custom not to bathe in rivers does not apply to showers. He acknowledges that most people do not shower even in cold water on Shabbat, but questions whether that is simply because they are not used to showering in cold water or because they are under the mistaken impression that there is an actual custom not to shower on Shabbat. The Acharonim (see Bi’ur Halakha 326:1; Minchat Yitzchak and Shemirat Shabbat Ke-hilkhata ibid.) agree, however, that one who is experiencing great discomfort may certainly bathe in cold water on Shabbat, as long as he is careful not to violate other Shabbat prohibitions (sechita, memareach, etc.). 


            Regarding bathing on Yom Tov, the mishna (Beitza 21b) records that Beit Hillel permits heating water on Yom Tov in order to wash one’s face, hands, and feet.  Why does the mishna imply that one may not heat water in order to bath one’s entire body on Shabbat based upon the principle of “mi-tokh”? We will present two approaches:


1- Tosafot (s.v. lo) explain that one may not heat water in order to wash one’s entire body, as “[heating water] for one’s entire body is prohibited, as we [only permit heating water for] a davar ha-shaveh le-khol nefesh, and this (i.e. heating water in order to bathe one’s entire body) is only for a finicky individual, but [washing] one’s hands and feet is considered to be sheveh le-khol nefesh.” In other words, the principle of davar ha-shaveh le-khol nefesh limits our ability to apply mi-tokh to heating water, and therefore one may only heat water for the purpose of washing one’s limbs. 


            Although Tosafot would seemingly permit bathing in water that was heated before Yom Tov, the Rosh (Shabbat 3:7) rules that one may not even bathe in water heated up before Yom Tov. The Ran (Beitza 11a, s.v. ve-ose) explains that since it is Biblically prohibited to heat water on Shabbat in order to bathe one’s entire body, the gezeirat mechatza’ot, the decree prohibiting bathing in hot water lest the attendants heat it up, would apply even to water heated up before Yom Tov, as it is not considered shaveh le-khol nefesh to bathe in hot water on Yom Tov.


2- The Rif (Beitza 11a) and Rambam (Hilkhot Yom Tov 1:16) disagree. They explain that although heating water on Yom Tov for bathing should theoretically be permitted, the gezeirat merchatza’ot was extended to prohibit using water that was heated on Yom Tov for full body bathing.  One may, however, bathe in water which was heated up before Yom Tov.  As the Ran explained, since there is no Biblical prohibition of heating water on Yom Tov, the gezeira was only applied to Yom Tov itself.  (See also Ramban, Shabbat 40a, s.v. ha-ditnan). 


In the Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 511:1-2), R. Yosef Karo rules in accordance with the Rif/Rambam and permits washing one’s entire body with water heated before Yom Tov. The Rema implies that he adopts the position of Tosafot, who prohibit heating water on Yom Tov because bathing is not considered shaveh le-khol nefesh, and the Rosh, who prohibits using water which was heated before Yom Tov. 


Nowadays, when we are accustomed to bathing with greater frequency, may we be more lenient regarding bathing on Yom Tov? Perhaps it is now considered shaveh le-khol nefesh.


According to R. Yosef Karo, it seems that the prohibition of bathing in hot water on Yom Tov is related to the gezeirat merchatza’ot, and there is therefore no compelling reason to be lenient. One may, however, bathe in water which was heated before Yom Tov. Furthermore, some (Chazon Ovadia, Yom Tov 1:12; see, however, Mishna Berura 511:12) view water heated in a dud shemesh (using solar panels, a common means of heating water in Israel), which is not directly heated on Yom Tov in a prohibited fashion, as water heated before Yom Tov. In that case, the Rambam and R. Karo would permit bathing in water heated on Yom Tov by the solar panels. 


According to the Rema, the prohibition of heating water on Yom Tov is more severe, on the one hand, but it might allow for greater leniency nowadays, when it is standard for people to bathe daily in hot water.


Is the definition of shaveh le-khol nefesh subjection? Some Acharonim certainly imply that shaveh le-khol nefesh is not an objective, unchanging standard, but rather may be subject to time and place. For example, the Bi’ur Halakha (511, s.v. yadav) questions whether one may heat water to wash one’s feet nowadays, as washing one’s feet daily is no longer a common practice.  Similarly, the Rema (Orach Chaim 511:2) and the Magen Avraham (511:5) debate whether bathing a child is considered shaveh le-khol nefesh, which would allow one to heat water in order to wash a child. It would seem that this very debate highlights that shaveh le-khol nefesh must be subjective. 


R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (see Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilkhata 19, note 3 and 14 note 21) suggests that nowadays, warm showers may be considered a davar ha-shaveh le-khol nefesh. R. Auerbach (14 note 25) questions if one would be permitted to water in order to bathe in a case in which one is sufficiently filthy that everyone would bathe in hot water. (We find a find a similar rationale cited by R. Efraim Greenblatt, in the name of R. Chaim David Ha-Levi, in his Responsa, Rivevot Efrayim.)


Furthermore, R. Neuwirth (author of the Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilkhata, 14 note 21) mentions that nowadays, when one turns on the hot water for a shower, he often does not heat the water to be used for the shower, but rather uses water that was already heated. Cold water then enters the boiler and may be heated, and this water may be used for another permitted purpose, such as washing one’s limbs or washing the dishes. Some heating systems, however, heat the water immediately, and this rationale would not apply. 


In the text of the Shemirat Shabbat Ke-Hilkhata (14:7), R. Neuwirth does not accept these leniencies. 


Some Acharonim (Noda Be-Yehuda, Mahadura Tinyana, Orach Chaim 24; see also Chayyei Adam 70:1) imply, regarding heating a mikva before Shabbat, that one may bathe in mayim poshrim, lukewarm water, on Shabbat and Yom Tov (see Mishna Berura 326:7). Others disagree or limit this leniency to this case. In addition, the Sha’ar Ha-Tziyun (511:25) cites the Beit Meir, who considers heating water “le-hafig tzinatan” (in order to remove the chill) is certainly considered shaveh le-khol nefesh.


One who follows the Rema may certainly bathe when experiencing discomfort. Furthermore, one who wishes to bathe on a two or three day Yom Tov in hot water has upon whom to rely, and he may certainly bathe in water heated slightly in order to remove the chill. I imagine that we can expect more literature to be published on this topic in the near future. 


[Note: One who bathes on Yom Tov must certainly avoid other Yom Tov prohibitions, such as wringing out one’s hair and using bar soap.]


Smoking on Yom Tov


            Before we begin our discussion of smoking on Yom Tov, let us first state clearly that as time passes and the dangers of smoking become increasing clear, it seems quite difficult to justify smoking at all. Although one may trace the attitudes of different Rabbinic authorities throughout the past forty years, the recent consensus of Posekim seems to prohibit smoking completely. For further discussion of this topic, see (for example) R. Moshe Feinstein, Iggerot Moshe, Yoreh De’ah 2:49 and later in Choshen Misphat 2:76; R. Ovadia Yosef, Yechavve Da’at 5:39 and Halikhot Olam 1:265-266; R. Eliezer Waldenberg, Tztiz Eliezer 15:39; R. Moshe Stern, Be’er Moshe 6:160:9; and R.  Efraim Greenblatt, Rivevot Efrayim 8:586.  In addition, the Rabbinic Council of America published a responsa in 2006 (see, with the approval of R. Dovid Cohen, R. Michael Rosensweig, R. Hershel Schachter, R. Gedalia Schwartz, and R. Mordechai Willig, prohibiting smoking. 


            That being said, we will still dedicate the next few paragraphs to discussing the permissibility of smoking on Yom Tov, as it was discussed by numerous Torah sages over the past four hundred years.


            One of the earliest authorities to address smoking on Yom Tov was R. Chaim Benveniste (1603–1673) in his Kenesset Gedola (Orach Chaim 608), who prohibits smoking due to the melakha of mekhaba (extinguishing).  R. Avraham Gombiner (1633–1683) adds that smoking should be similar to burning spices (mugmar), mentioned above, which was prohibited because it was not shaveh le-khol nefesh. 


This discussion continued into the next century. R. Netanel Weil (1687–1769), in his commentary to the Rosh, the Korban Netanel (Beitza 2:10), insists that smoking is shaveh le-khol nefesh. R. Yaakov Yehoshua Falk (1680-1756), in his commentary to the Talmud, the Penei Yehoshua (Shabbat 39b), argues further that smoking is healthy and good for the digestion!


This debate continued further. R. Abraham Dantzig (1748–1820), in his Chayyei Adam (95:13), prohibits smoking on Yom Tov, while R. Chaim Mordechai Margoliyot (d. 1818), in his Sha’are Teshuva (511:5), cites others who rule leniently. Interesting, he records that R. Tzvi Hirsch Ashkenazi (1656–1718), known as the Chakham Tzvi, smoked on Yom Tov in his youth, and then refrained in his older years.  Due to the great discomfort he felt from not smoking, he was counseled to resume smoking, as not smoking detracted from his simchat Yom Tov. 


            This debate reflects the dynamic definition of davar ha-shave le-khol nefesh. Those who smoke on Yom Tov nowadays assume that smoking is considered to be an activity categorized as shaveh le-khol nefesh.  However, as more and more countries legislate against smoking in airplanes and other public places, it becomes increasingly difficult to consider smoking a universally enjoyed activity. 


R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe OC 5:34), in a teshuva published posthumously, grapples with this question, and concludes:


Since there are many who do not smoke, as they assume it to be dangerous… therefore smoking cigarettes today is certainly not shaveh le-khol nefesh, although it is difficult to rule against the practice of the world… Therefore, although a ba’al nefesh should certainly be stringent, is difficult, halakhically, to prohibit it. 


Others, such as R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, and R. Moshe Shternbach (see The Laws of Yom Tov, p. 108, n. 3) prohibit smoking on Yom Tov, as it is not considered to be a davar ha-shaveh le-khol nefesh.  This was apparently the view of the Chazon Ish as well (Orchot Rabbeinu vol. 2, p. 105).


            As mentioned above, it is difficult to justify smoking at all nowadays, and possibly more difficult to describe it as shaveh le-khol nefesh.