By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
When Simchas Torah falls out on a Friday – people can get pretty sweated up.
The notion of showering on Yom Tov remains a somewhat controversial area of halacha. This article will attempt to explain the complex issues involved. We will begin with the general prohibitions and we will continue with the exceptions. It should be noted that this article does not encourage showering on Yom Tov. For those that do it already, however, it should serve as a guide as to how to not violate halachos while doing it.
THE GENERAL PROHIBITION
The Malacha that is under discussion, of course, is bishul — cooking the water in order to shower or bathe.
We know of course that on Yom Tov many malachos are permitted for the sake of ochel nefesh — universal physical need. Ochel Nefesh is not just limited to food — it may apply to other areas too.
The key issue is the word “universal.” Universal means that it is shaveh lechol nefesh — it must universal to everyone in order to be permitted. The Shulchan Aruch in Orech Chaim 511:2 and the Mishna Brurah 511:10 both write that washing or bathing one’s entire body is not considered a universal need. The fifth volume of the Mishna Brurah was written in pre-1918 Europe. Although a good argument could perhaps be made that nowadays virtually everyone showers daily, the Poskim have not ruled that things have actually changed (See Shmiras Shabbos Kehilchasa chapter 19 footnote 3 in the quote of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zatzal). So the halacha remains that one may not shower or bathe one’s entire body on Yom Tov.
FURTHER RABBINIC PROHIBITION AND CUSTOM
According to the Ramah (OC 518:2), the prohibition of bathing or showering the entire body was extended by Chazal to include water that was cooked even from before Yom Tov. There is another issue as well. Rav Moshe Feinstein zatzal informs us (Igros Moshe OC Vol. IV #75) that the minhag in Klal Yisroel is not to shower or bathe even in cold water on Yom Tov. [It should be noted, however, that Rav Naftoli Hertzka Hoenig zt”l, one of the only musmachim of the Arugas HaBosem contemplates in his Seifer Tiferes Naftoli, that perhaps a cold shower is permitted on Yom Tov].
We see, therefore, that there are underlying issues: A] The Torah prohibition of cooking for a non-universal need B] The Rabbinic extension of using water that was heated even from before Yom Tov and C] the custom in Klal Yisroel not to bathe the entire body — even in cold water.
Exception #1 – Mitztaer
The first exception we shall discuss is one known as Mitztaer — someone who is suffering discomfort. If a person is excessively itchy or perspiring heavily, Rav Moshe Feinstein zatzal (ibid) rules that that person may shower in cold water. Indeed, the first Biur Halacha in OC 326 even rules that the person who is suffering may bathe or shower in water that was heated from before Yom Tov. Thus we see that Mitztaer works to remove prohibitions “B” and “C” discussed above. This heter or exception is not sufficient to remove prohibition “A.”
Exception #2 — Face, Hands & Feet
The Mishna Brurah writes (in the Biur Halacha to 511:1) that washing one’s face hands and feet is considered a universal need and therefore water may even be cooked on Yom Tov to meet this need. Therefore, this exception works even for prohibition “A” and certainly for prohibitions “B” and “C” discussed above. So it would be permitted to heat up water — even on Yom Tov for this purpose. One may turn on the hot water for exception #2.
The one condition to this exception is that it cannot be done in a place or manner where it might lead to washing the entire body. So either do not do it in the shower or bathtub or if you do use the shower or bathtub — wear some clothes while you do it so that you won’t come to wash your entire body.
Exception #3- 49% of the Body (Controversial)
Some Poskim write that the “Face, Hands, Feet” exception is not limited to just these three limbs and extremities but actually applies to other minor parts of the body too — as long as the majority of the body is not washed. The Poskim that rule in this manner are the Rashba and the Rosh (cited in the Biur Halacha). The GRaZ (in 518:1) is also lenient. The Mishna Brurah, however, seems to limit this exception to the face, hands, and feet discussed above.
The condition discussed above applies also to this exception: It cannot be done in a place or manner where it might lead to washing the entire body. So either do not do it in the shower or bathtub or if you do use the shower or bathtub — wear some clothes while you do it so that you won’t come to wash your entire body.
Exception #4 — One Limb at a Time
The Shulchan Aruch permits a person to wash one limb at a time even with water that was heated before Yom Tov. One may not use water that was heated on Yom Tov itself for this purpose, however. Only prohibitions “B” and “C” are permitted for this — not prohibition “A.” Again the condition mentioned above still applies: It cannot be done in a place or manner where it might lead to washing the entire body. So either do not do it in the shower or bathtub or if you do use the shower or bathtub — wear some clothes while you do it so that you won’t come to wash your entire body.
Exception #5- Non Yad Soledes Bo Water
Another exception of course is if the hot water you are using is not heated above the temperature of Yad Soledes Bo (113 degrees Fahrenheit according to Rav SHlomo Zalman Auerbach zatzal). There are some companies that specialize in providing boilers with a setting that the water is never actually heated to Yad Soledes Bo.
Of course, since prohibition C still applies all over one should only use exception #5 with the condition mentioned above – that it cannot be done in a place or manner where it might lead to washing the entire body. So either do not do it in the shower or bathtub or if you do use the shower or bathtub — wear some clothes while you do it so that you won’t come to wash your entire body.
Of course when showering one must be careful not to violate the prohibition of Sechita — wring out absorbed water from a washcloth or drying the head with a towel and applying pressure. Soap may also not be used because of the issue of memarayach (See Mishna Brurah 326:30). Liquid soaps and shampoos would be permitted, however.
Based upon the above exceptions the following two methods would not be in violation of halacha per se:
Method A] Combining Exceptions #1 and #2 – If someone was wearing underclothing in the shower, and one is Mitzta-er, then one may wash his hands, feet and face with warm water. Once the warm water is on — then one may add cold water to it so that the water is not freezing cold. Again, this method would only be permitted for someone who is truly Mitzta-er.
Method B] Combining Exceptions #4 and #2 — If someone was wearing underclothing in the shower, then one may wash his hands, feet, and face with warm water. Once the warm water is on — then one may add cold water to it so that the water is not freezing cold. Then one may wash one limb at a time. He or she must then stop. Dry off. Exit. Enter again and wash the next limb. This may be done even if one is not Mitzta-er.
These are the exceptions to the general prohibition of bathing and showering on Yom Tov in a nutshell. There are other exceptions when it comes to bathing or showering a child — especially one who became soiled. It is important, however, never to allow the use of these exceptions to allow us to take Yom Tov lightly. The purpose of these exceptions is to enhance our Yom Tov so that we can become ever closer to HaKadosh Boruch Hu.
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