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Bathing on Shabbat and Yom Tov

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Sep 24, 2007
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In today's society, many people bathe on a daily basis. For those accustomed to bathing daily, skipping a day can sometimes cause discomfort. Therefore, before Yom Tov, and especially before a Yom Tov that is juxtaposed with Shabbat, rabbis will often be asked if there is any possibility of bathing on Yom Tov. This week's issue will explore some of the issues involved in bathing on Shabbat and Yom Tov. Please consult with your local posek regarding the practical Halacha.


Heating Water on Yom Tov


One of the primary issues that must be addressed is whether it is permitted to heat water on Yom Tov for the purpose of bathing. The Mishna, Beitzah 21b, cites a dispute between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel regarding whether it is permissible to heat water for the purpose of washing one's feet. The normative opinion is that of Beit Hillel that it is permissible. Tosafot, ad loc., s.v. Lo, note that Beit Hillel only permit heating water to wash one's feet. One may not heat water to wash one's entire body. Tosafot explain that there is a rule that one may only perform a melacha on Yom Tov that is beneficial to everyone (shaveh l'chol nefesh, see Ketuvot 7a). Since bathing one's entire body is only beneficial to people who are very sensitive, one may not heat water to bathe one's entire body on Yom Tov. Mishna Berurah 511:10, codifies the comments of Tosafot.


R. Shlomo Z. Auerbach (cited in Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata ch. 19, note 3) suggests that perhaps nowadays bathing is considered something beneficial to everyone. Therefore, Tosafot may agree that there is no prohibition to heat water on Yom Tov for the purpose of bathing one's entire body. R. Chaim David HaLevi (cited in Rivevot Efraim 6:265) contends that in order for something to be considered beneficial to everyone, it must be an activity that everyone participates in on a daily basis. However, since a significant number of people do not bathe on a daily basis, one cannot consider bathing beneficial to everyone.


R. Yehoshua Neuwirth, Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata (ch. 14, note 21), suggests another reason why nowadays Tosafot would not object to heating water for the purpose of bathing one's body. Tosafot's prohibition against heating water applies to heating water directly. However, nowadays, the water is already heated in the hot water heater, and is simply allowed to flow by turning the hot-water knob. The only concern regarding the use of a water heater is that cold water fills the heater to replace the hot water that comes out of the faucet, and that cold water is subsequently heated. R. Neuwirth contends that since this newly heated water can be used to wash one's hands and feet, there is no prohibition against using the hot water tap on Yom Tov. [There are two limitations to this leniency. First, the leniency would not apply to a water heater that operates without a tank and heats the water on demand. Second, this leniency would not apply at the end of the day when there is no possibility that the water will be used for washing one's hands or feet (see Shemirat Shabbat KeHilchata ch. 2, note 22). It should be noted that electric water heaters that activate when the hot water is used present their own set of problems beyond the scope of this presentation.]


R. Meir Pozner, Beit Meir, Yoreh De'ah 197:3, and R. Yechezkel Landau, Noda B'Yehuda, Orach Chaim 2:25, permit heating water to a lukewarm temperature on Yom Tov in order to allow a woman to immerse in a mikveh. They consider heating the water to a lukewarm temperature something that everyone benefits from. However, it is questionable whether one can apply this leniency to bathing. R. Pozner is lenient because he distinguishes between bathing, where the purpose of heating the water is for enjoyment, and immersion, where the purpose of warming the water is to avoid
requiring women to immerse in cold water. Therefore, the question is not whether bathing in warm water is beneficial to everyone but rather whether warm water is beneficial to those who immerse. R. Landau's leniency is based on similar logic.


The Prohibition against the Bathhouses


The Gemara, Shabbat 40a, states that originally it was permissible to bathe on Shabbat in water that was heated prior to Shabbat. However, there were bathhouse managers (balanim) who were heating the water on Shabbat and claiming that they did so before Shabbat. In response, the rabbis prohibited bathing in hot water on Shabbat, even if it was heated before Shabbat. Rambam, Hilchot Yom Tov 1:16, rules that this prohibition applies in a limited manner on Yom Tov. While it is prohibited to bathe in water that was heated on Yom Tov, it is permissible to bathe in water that was heated prior to Yom Tov. Rabbeinu Asher, Shabbat 3:7, disagrees and maintains that one may not bathe in hot water on Yom Tov, even if it was heated before Yom Tov. Ran, Beitzah 11a, s.v. V'Oseh, explains that those who prohibit bathing in water that was heated before Yom Tov are of the opinion that heating the water on Yom Tov itself is a biblical prohibition because it is not beneficial to everyone and therefore, the rabbis extended the prohibition to bathing in water that was heated before Yom Tov. Those who permit bathing in water that was heated prior to Yom Tov are of the opinion that there is no biblical prohibition to heat the water on Yom Tov itself and therefore, there is no reason to prohibit water that was heated before Yom Tov.


Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 511:2, rules in accordance with the opinion of Rambam. Rama, ad loc., rules in accordance with the opinion of Rabbeinu Asher. To apply this discussion practically, the water in the hot water heater is generally heated before Yom Tov. According, to Shulchan Aruch, it is permissible to bathe in that water (if one has already solved the problem of heating the replacement water that comes into the tank). According to Rama, it is prohibited. Nevertheless, there are certain leniencies that could be applied to Rama's opinion.


First, R. Akiva Eger, in his glosses to Shulchan Aruch 307:5, notes the opinion of Rabbeinu Yitzchak Alfasi, Beitzah 21b, that the prohibition against bathing in water that was heated before Shabbat is not a classic rabbinic injunction. [Perhaps the intention of R. Alfasi is that a classic rabbinic injunction prohibits an activity that may lead to a more severe prohibition. This injunction is more of a public policy designed to minimize desecration of Shabbat by the bathhouse managers.] Therefore, R. Eger rules
that one who is experiencing discomfort (mitzta'er) may bathe in water that was heated before Shabbat. R. Eger's ruling is codified by Mishna Berurah, Bi'ur Halacha 326:1.


Second, R. Yechezkel Landau, Noda B'Yehuda, Orach Chaim 2:24, and R. Avraham Danzig, Chayei Adam 70:1, both imply that there is no prohibition against bathing in lukewarm water that was heated before Shabbat. This ruling is codified by Mishna Berurah 326:7.


Bathing in Cold Water


If one desires to bathe in cold water on Shabbat or Yom Tov, there should, ostensibly, be no prohibition. Nevertheless, Maharil, in his responsa (no. 139), notes that there is a minhag (tradition) to refrain from bathing in cold water on Shabbat based on three concerns. First, there is a concern that one may squeeze water from his hair. Second, there is a concern that if one bathes in a river, he may carry a towel to the river or carry the water away from the river. Third, there is a concern that the individual may swim in the water. [Swimming is prohibited on Shabbat and Yom Tov out of concern that one may build a raft. See Beitzah 36b.] The minhag recorded by Maharil is recorded by Magen Avraham 326:8, and subsequently by Mishna Berurah 326:21.


There are certain situations when this minhag is not applied. Maharil himself notes that this minhag is not applied to a woman whose leil tevilah (night of immersion) occurs on Shabbat or Yom Tov. R. Yehoshua Neuwirth, Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchata 14:11, adds that this minhag does apply to someone who is experiencing discomfort.

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Learning on the Marcos and Adina Katz YUTorah site is sponsored today by Ruth Peyser Kestenbaum and Miriam & Alan Goldberg to mark the ninth yahrtzeit of their father, Irwin Peyser, Harav Yisroel Chaim ben R' Dovid V' Fraidah Raizel Peyser and by the Polinsky, Miller, and Weiss families in memory of their dear father, grandfather, and great-grandfather, Avraham ben Menachem Moshe a'h