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Simanim 84-85 "Shalom" in a Bathhouse

  • Rav Asher Meir
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion

SHIUR #48: Simanim 84 - 85

Pages 230-232


by Rav Asher Meir





This issue arises in two simanim - 84 and 85.


"When one enters a bathhouse:


In the [anteroom] area where everyone stands fully clothed, one may recite verses of the Tanakh, pray [the Amida] and it goes without saying that one can greet "Shalom."  One may lay tefillin and it goes without saying that one need not remove them.


In the [dressing] area, where some are dressed and some are undressed, one may greet "Shalom," but not recite verses nor pray; one need not remove one's tefillin but should not put them on there.


In the [bathing] area where everyone is undressed, there is no greeting "Shalom," and it goes without saying that there is no saying of verses or prayer; tefillin need to be taken off and it goes without saying that they may not be put on there" (Beraita, Shabbat 10a).  ["It goes without saying" usually means that it does not go without saying, otherwise the beraita wouldn't say.  Here is a possible explanation of the hidden presumption: One might think that even though tefillin are permissible in the anteroom, one needs to remove them since one is ON THE WAY to the bath; likewise, in the inner room conceivably someone might put on tefillin there since he is ON THE WAY out.]


In the gemara, a number of important points are added:


"Rav Yosi bar Chanina said, the "bathhouse" referred to includes even a bathhouse where no one is present; "toilet" refers even to one with no filth inside.  When Rav Ada [said that one may pray in a bathhouse] he [must have] meant in a new one [which was never used].


... This beraita supports what Rav Hamnuna said in the name of Ula: "It is forbidden to greet one's fellow "Shalom" in a bathhouse, as it is written, "[And Gideon built there an altar to HaShem,] and called it 'HaShem Shalom'  (Shoftim 6:24).  But according to this one should not even be able to say 'faith' in the bathhouse, as it is written 'the faithful God'! (Devarim 7:9) ... There the word 'faithful' is descriptive, but here it is a name"  (Shabbat 10a).


            The fear and awe of God is really the foundation of any religion, and most certainly it is the foundation of our religion.  "And now, Israel, what does HaShem your God ask of you, only to fear HaShem your God, to go in all His ways and to love Him, and to serve HaShem you God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Devarim 10:12).  Our devotion to God does not end with fear and awe, but that is where it begins.


            One of the ways we instill God's awe in ourselves is by being careful in the use of His names.  Just as we show our respect of kings and queens by calling them "Your Majesty," judges by calling them "your honor," army officers by calling them "Sir" (I don't know how female officers are addressed in English - perhaps the archaic "Sirrah" would be appropriate?), we refrain from using God's name in a way which could suggest disrespect.


            There are seven names whose sanctity is inherent in their very inscription - these are "the seven names which may not be erased."  They are: 1. The Tetragrammaton (yud-kei-vav-kei; this includes also the two-letter name yud-kei, and some add "ehiyei" as it refers to God in Shemot 3:14); 2. Ado-nai; 3. E-l; 4. E-loha; 5. E-lohim; 6. Shad-ai; 7. Tzva-ot. (SA YD 276:9)


            The full Tetragrammaton is not only unerasable, it is ineffable - outside of the Beit HaMikdash we may not enunciate this name under any circumstances (MB 5:2).  Again, this intensifies our awe of God.  (Just as awe of parents dictates that we may not enunciate their first names under any circumstances, according to the SA: YD 240:2.)


            Names 2, 3, 5 and 7 are sometimes also used as ordinary words (meaning respectively: my lords; power or ability; judges; and armies) in which case there is no prohibition to erase them.  Obviously, they could also be mentioned in a bathhouse.  If one is talking about WWII in the shower, one may refer to the "allied armies" (in Hebrew).




            It is therefore remarkable that the name "Shalom," which is NOT one of the unerasable names, can not be mentioned in the bathhouse even when one only means to greet one's friend with peace (in the Sixties "Peace!" was a popular greeting in English, too).  According to the Beit Yosef, the prohibition is relevant even to a person's name!


            Even the inference of the gemara is quite remarkable.  As cited above, the gemara considers "Shalom" problematic but not "Emuna," since "faithfulness" describes but does not designate God.  Actually, according to the plain sense of the verse as rendered by the Targum Yonatan and the commentators, the word "shalom" is also descriptive - it means "HaShem who gave him peace."  Tosafot explains that the verse uses "Shalom" as the name of God, and the Targum comes to explain that Shalom is an appellation of God BECAUSE He creates Shalom.


            It seems that according to the Beit Yosef, the descriptive and denominative [i.e., name-calling] aspects of "Shalom" are really inseparable.  God's status as creator of Shalom is not incidental - it is fundamental to His divinity.  Therefore, the distinction we made above between the holy and secular meanings of the other names is artificial and inapplicable when referring to Shalom - even the "secular" meaning is inseparable from holiness.


            All this is according to the broad understanding of the Beit Yosef.  But according to those who rule that one MAY call a person named "Shalom" by his name in the bathhouse, it seems that Shalom used as a greeting is problematic because it may actually be meant to refer to God's name.  Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe OC IV:40, pp. 3) distinguishes between saying "there is peace [shalom] between so-and-so and so-and-so," which definitely refers only to lack of enmity, and saying "Peace be with you" which could easily be understood to mean, may God be with you.  But calling a person "Shalom" obviously does NOT refer to God.


            How does the MB rule?  See 84:6.




            The name of God must be treated with respect in foreign languages as well.  While it may be erased (MB 85:10, ruling according to Shakh YD 179:11 - but see the Maharshal there for an important qualification), it can not be mentioned in the bathhouse etc.  The Beit Yosef learns this from the principle "Words of sanctity may not be mentioned [in the bathhouse] even in a profane [non-Hebrew] language" (Shabbat 40b).


            Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe YD I:172) elaborated this rule and explained that in foreign languages, just as in Hebrew, there is a difference between a name of God and a mere reference to Him.  According to Rav Feinstein, only G-O-D is the "name" of God in English.  [This, apparently, is opposed to the view of the above-quoted Shakh who said that there is no sanctity to the name "Gott" - M.F.]  "Lord" is only a reference to Him (and indeed lord is a commonplace word in reference to a human being).  This distinction has relevance for geniza (respectful disposal of holy words), for saying blessings in a foreign language, for the prohibition of taking God's name in vain, and of course for saying God's name in the bathhouse.




            The Rosh Yeshiva of the Virtual Beit Midrash, Rav Ezra Bick, has ruled that a word that appears on a computer screen is not considered "written," so there is no prohibition to "erase" it.  For that reason, when the name of God appears in a VBM shiur, it appears in its regular written form.  (Actually, when I submit the shiurim, I type "G, underscore, d" to avoid making a habit which may carry over into regular writing.  The VBM editors then edit the text into the more natural spelling.)




"Rav Yitzchak Bar Avdimi said, once I followed Rebbe [R. Yehuda HaNasi] into the bathhouse [on Shabbat], and I started to place a jar of oil in the bath [to warm it up] for him, but he said to me, take a 'kli sheni' [a vessel filled with warm water, but not the vessel that it was heated in] and put it in there. ... How could [Rebbe] have done that?  Did not Raba Bar Bar Chana say in the name of R. Yochanan, one may silently ponder [words of Torah] anywhere EXCEPT a bathhouse and a toilet?  And don't reply that he spoke in a secular [non-Hebrew] language, for Abaye said 'Secular matters may be mentioned even in the holy tongue, holy matters may not be said even in a secular tongue.'  An exception is made to prevent others from transgressing.  [If Rebbe had not spoken up, Rav Yitzchak Bar Avdimi would have performed forbidden cooking on Shabbat.]  Here is the proof, Rav Yehuda said in the name of Shemuel: Once a student followed R. Meir to the bathhouse and wanted to rinse the floor, and [R. Meir] said to him, 'No rinsing.'  [He then sought to] anoint [the floor with oil], he said to him, 'No anointing.'  We see that we make an exception to prevent others from transgressing, and so we do here [in the case of Rebbe]." (Shabbat 40b)


            It is surprising that the gemara has difficulty with Rebbe's behavior.  Rebbe did not say that it was forbidden to put the oil in the bath, he merely requested that the student act differently.  Perhaps he did not want the oil to be burning hot!  R. Meir's directions were more explicit: he said "Ein madichin" - "one does not rinse!"  Apparently, ANY explicit direction is considered a "hora'a" and is forbidden.  On the contrary, we learn from here that even to prevent a transgression, one should not word the directions in the form of an explicit halakhic principle.


            What kind of reminder is permissible even if no transgression is being prevented?  See MB 84:7.


            In a previous shiur we explained at length the basis for the prohibition of pondering Torah thoughts in a dirty place.  The main idea was that the impression could be given that these thoughts could somehow be positively associated (God forbid) with defilement.  This is opposed to the idea that such a place is inherently unfit for Torah thoughts.


            According to the first explanation, preventing a transgression is permissible because no improper symbolism is implied - there is obviously no choice but to speak in that place.  According to the second explanation, the reason for this leniency is because we are not actually pondering a halakha, merely the operative mandate of the halakha.


            Two pieces of evidence for the first approach are in the MB: one in 85:8, the other in 85:13.  In both cases the leniency applies to actual pondering of words of Torah; in each case there is no net prevention of transgression if the very thinking of Torah thoughts in an unclean place were considered a transgression in itself.


            The ruling in 85:13 is little-known and extremely important.




            Bathhouses today are likely to be cleaner than those in the times of the gemara.  This has no relevance for the rulings regarding the outer and middle rooms, since those rulings have nothing to do with squalor, only immodesty.  As for the bathing room itself: if the water is hot, it should probably be considered like a hot-water mikveh; if the water is not hot, it can probably be considered like a regular mikveh.  (Both of these are discussed in MB 84:4.)  A locker room should logically be considered like the middle room, since people get dressed and undressed there; some locker rooms are pretty squalid and thus should be considered like the innermost room.