Sunday, October 03, 2004

But can you sing?

In response to the comments over at this post and this post, I have asked Rabbi Chaim Pollock, dean of the Michlalah Jerusalem College for Women, to explain to Chayyei Sarah readers whether and how one may take a shower on Shabbat or Yom Tov (festivals) according to halacha (Jewish law). Rav Pollock was kind enough to respond and grant permission for me to post his answers here. I have paraphrased and summarized his answer, but I showed him the paraphrase/summary and he said it was OK. If you want to see his complete email, which discusses certain philosophical aspects of showering that I didn't bother to include in the summary, let me know and I'll forward it to you.

Also bear in mind that I'm only including the "practical" answers. Those readers who would like to know how these laws were arrived at can feel free to write to me or post a comment -- I just want it to go on the record that these practices don't come out of thin air! They may be weird, but there is method to the madness!

[also, in case you missed it, I'm calling for a New York rendezvous of J-bloggers and frequent commenters on Chayyei Sarah. If you live in New York and are reading this, and want to come, see the post immediately below. Also see that post if you are a personal friend and want to get together while I'm in the Big Apple.]

Anyhow, here it is. I suggest that if you want to take hot showers whenever you like that you either commit to asking your own rabbi about it, or not read any further.

According to Rav Pollock, one may shower on Shabbat and Yom Tov as long as all of the following conditions are in place:

1. One is in a state of "mitzta'er," discomfort. Rav Pollock defined "discomfort" thus:

Mitz'ta'er is merely discomfort. It is less than choleh she'ein bo sakana [ed note: a "sick person who is not in danger"]. It is most reasonable to say that one who is used to bathing daily, experiences a most hot day, the lack of bathing is mitz'ta'er. It is certainly fair to say that when there are multiple days of Yom Tov and you can't wait 'until after Shabbos' to bathe, then the mitz'ta'er is certainly significant.

Since there are many halachic difficulties with showering on Shabbat or Yom Tov (see below), the custom is not to do it unless one is in this state of "discomfort."

2. On Shabbos, one may not use hot water to bathe.

3. On Yom Tov, one may use hot water under the following conditions:

a. The water has not been heated only for the purpose of bathing. [Ed note: speak with your own rabbi about the heating methods used in your own house/apartment]

b. One is using just enough hot water so that the water isn't uncomfortably cold. It should not be appreciably hot.

4. The soap is watery liquid. (Ed note: ie not bar soap, not creamy or thick. Watery.)

5. One may not rub the soap onto areas of the body that have hair. To wash one's hair, one may pour the liquid soap over the hair and then let the water wash over it.

6. One may not sqeeze dry one's hair or rub dry any areas of the body that have hair. One may rub dry hair-free areas as long as the towel is not soaking wet. One may also loosely place a towel around one's head so that water does not drip to the floor. Rav Pollock suggests drying off slowly by getting into an absorbant bathrobe.

7. One may not comb one's hair on Shabbat or Yom Tov, regardless of whether it is wet or dry (with certain possible ways around this, which are too detailed to go into here. Ask your rabbi about it). One may, however, run one's fingers through one's hair. Rav Pollock wrote:

people who will find themselves in a conflict with hair that has been washed and cannot be combed, would be well-advised to avoid such a conflict.
Alrighty then! If your Local Orthodox Rabbi has a different opinion about all this, please feel free to post the details in the comments section. However, you must include
a) your rabbi's name and synagogue/school/institution
b) clear details about what is permissible and what is not, in plain English
c) a statement that you have gotten permission from the rabbi being cited to post his answers on this site.

Please do not include references to all the Talmudic and post-Talmudic sources, as it is more information than most readers want. You may, however, post your email address if you wish so that readers who want the textual sources can contact you.

When I started this blog I never dreamed it would be like this!

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