Showering On Yom Tov

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There is an article from Rabbi Michael J. Broyde on showering on Yom Tov. The usual rules about not making halachic decisions based on what you read on an internet website apply. But I feel that there is a tremendous lack of up-to-date knowledge on the subject. To rectify that you can read Broyde’s article, complete with 89 footnotes, or you could  just continue reading this.

I posit that it is permitted to shower with hot water on Yom Tov (not just on Yom tov sheni shel galuyot) one’s entire body (not just one limb at a time).

Why this is so can be simplified in one catchy line: showering is shaveh lechol nefesh (Benefit to all people.)

To give slightly more detail. The Torah forbids work to be done on Yom Tov (like Shabbos) with one glaring exception. Exodus 12:16: “On the first day you shall have a holy assembly, and another holy assembly on the seventh day; no work at all shall be done on them, except what must be eaten by every person, that alone may be prepared by you.” The Mishnah, in Beitzah 36b says: “There is no difference between [the laws of] holidays and Shabbat except only for ochel nefesh [certain types of food preparation which, though forbidden on Shabbat, are permitted on festivals].” The Talmud, in Ketubot 7a, extends this leniency (using the expansionary power of “mitoch”) to anything personal that is needed for the Yom Tov and, significantly, qualifies as shaveh lechol nefesh. Shaveh lechol nefesh, simply put, means that most people do so, or would like to do so, regularly. The gemara uses the example of slaughtering a deer that one finds as something that is shaveh lechol nefesh, despite the fact that most people don’t have regular access to deer meat. It is enough that they would, if they could.

In the West, showering daily is shaveh lechol nefesh, no doubt. Therefore it is permitted to shower with hot water on Yom Tov.

Indubitably, this has not always been the case. For most of humanity, for most of history, daily bathing was not a reality. (King Louis XIV, the great and famous Sun King, bathed as little as two times in the entire 76 years of his life.) It should be no surprise then, that bathing daily was not considered shaveh lechol nefesh. As early as the Mishnah, tothe times of Tosafos (Tosafos Beitzah 21b s.v. lo yichamem) and Shulchan Aruch (OC 511:2), only the washing of the face, hands and feet was permitted on Yom Tov, but not the full body. That was considered the conventional hygienic thing to do and was thus shaveh lechol nefesh.

But times have changed. Today shaveh lechol nefesh is showering one’s entire body with hot water daily, or close to daily. But is shaveh lechol nefesh not immutable? No. Is it dependent on local conditions? Yes.

Magen Avraham (OC 511:5) states that, in contradistinction to the Rema who permits bathing a baby on Yom Tov, it is forbidden to bathe a baby on Yom Tov. Because, he writes, nowadays we don’t bathe babies every day. The Mishnah Berurah (Biur Halacha 511 s.v. yadav) suggests that times have changed and that nowadays it is not shaveh lechol nefesh to wash one’s feet because we don’t walk around without shoes. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe OC 5:34) speaks about smoking on Yom Tov and its possible change of status in regards to shaveh lechol nefesh. It could thus be said with high degree of confidence that shaveh lechol nefesh is dependent on local conditions and is not immutable.

One last thing, while showering on Yom Tov does qualify as shaveh lechol nefesh, smoking, most probably, does not. In the US only one out of six adults smoke, and a plurality of those that do smoke consider it to be a nasty and dangerous addiction. To me, that does not sound like something that is shaveh lechol nefesh.

Showering On Yom Tov (PDF)

Author: 004

11 comments

  1. Just a footnote to your historical review. My wife and I once went on a tour of Annapolis, MD. The tour guide was dressed in colonial garb and gave us a review of life in colonial America.

    At the time, he said, bathing was considered dangerous, either because it was too hot or too cold, and the bather was likely to get sick. For some reason, the only day they thought was fit for bathing was May 31, which I guess as a late Spring day was in between in terms of weather. So on May 31, everyone bathed. From there developed the American custom to hold weddings in June — everyone had just bathed, and so they smelled less and were up to a fancy wedding.

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    1. Thank you for your interesting and informative comment. You are very much correct in bringing up this concept of not bathing for health reasons. Louis the 14th, king of France, mentioned in the article as only bathing twice in his life did so on the recommendation of his doctors, who said that bathing too frequently was unhealthy. The second important reason for the discontinuance of bathing after the Roman era, is because the Catholic Church came out strongly against bathing and bath houses. An additional Factor is that, after the Roman era, the infrastructure, in where the Romans heated their bath houses with copper pipes underneath the floor, was no longer in extant.

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  2. Many poskim hold that shaveh lchol nafesh is unchanging and therefore showering fully with hot water would still be problematic.

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    1. BANHK : Please cite sources. Any Rishon or Achron will do. (I have at least one that says it is unchanging.)

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  3. According to the “letter of the law” your reasoning permitting one to take a hot shower on yom tov is halachically sound. However, showering on yom tov was not commonplace even a few years ago amongst the observant. It is not “yomtovdik”, and in my mind not in the “spirit of the law”. It is a subtlety. Sensitivity to the holiness of the day should be an important consideration.

    The same is true for the new-fangled Rabbinically approved Shabbat and Yom Tov gadgets to make our life easier. Why are we always trying to find loopholes to suit us. Shabbat and yom tov bring a special glow to the home, and calmness abounds when all preparations are made before the Shabbat or Festivel. We want to have all our creature comforts at all times like any weekday, even if it means bending the law to obtain this goal. The more the day feels like a regular day the more the yom tov is diluted, like adding water to an expensive bourbon.

    Times change, but our mesorah should stay in tact and replicate the customs that we have practiced for decades. Once we start changing with the times, before we know it we won’t even remember from whence we came. A small and maybe a rather trivial example, are our menus during the holidays which illustrates my point. We are told that in order to beautify the Shabbos and Yom Tov we should partake of Basar V’dogim. When we carry on the traditions and recipes of our grandparents and great grandparents we feel a connection to them. Carrying on past traditions is such an important part of our heritage. There is nothing wrong with eating sushi instead of gefilta fish on Friday night but does it “feel” right in your gut ?? (excuse the pun)

    So a word of advice for those happy with this Pasak, write a list of the “permissible ways” to bathe on yom tov, for there are rules, and tape to the bathroom door lest someone forgets and think it is a regular day of the week.

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    1. Thank you for your spot-on comment.
      1. The dichotomy between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law goes back eons. Much has been written on it.
      2. As you suggest, my article was dealing exclusively with the halachic aspect. Let me now write very briefly about the spirit of the law and tradition.
      3. I would concede about the importance of adhering to the tradition, provided that it is relatively harmless to do so, or that what whatever harm that is caused by it would be dwarfed by the harm of moving away from it. (For example, tying Taleisim knots in shul on Simchas Torah is not grounded in the Talmud or anything like that, plus it annoys some people, but it should not be done away with, as it keeps the kids interested in the goings on.) But should there be a tradition that is in error, or built on false pretenses or not based upon “real” Judaism, then, if there is an overwhelming need to move away from the tradition, then the tradition must be relinquished. Showering on Yom Tov (not to mention a “three day” Yom Tov), provides for an overwhelming need. Not to mention, men dancing the Hakofos.
      4. The Shabbos gadgets, on the whole, or a terrible idea, from the stance of Judaism and general living.

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    2. I would just like to point out that adding a little water to expensive whisky is often suggested as it brings out the full flavor which can sometimes be hidden

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  4. dear mr isaac

    can you please explain your writing’s ,

    it seems somewhat interesting but can’t understand

    moishe y

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  5. Interesting point Yakrot about adding water to expensive whisky. I was always under the assumption that spirit conoisseurs prefer their scotch neat. However in the context of the subject at hand I think most would get my gist. Cheers!!

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  6. The biggest flaw with R’ Broyde’s reasoning is that he is assuming that the only reason we can’t shower on YT is because of Tos’s Pshat (Beitzah 21b) that “Mitoch” only applies to something that is “Shaveh Lchol Nefesh”. The problem with this assumption is twofold: 1) Many Rishonim, like Rambam and Ramban for example, argue with Tos’ and say that the reason one can’t bathe their enitre body is because of “Gezeiras Balanim” found in the Gm in Shabbos (the bathhouse attendants would lie about when the water was heated up). If we hold that this is the reason, then we can not uproot it simply because the times have changed (as stated earlier in Beitzah 5a). Even S’A, that he quoted, says its Assur in a bathouse, showing that he holds lime Ramban/Rambam. On top of that the Remah there says that it’s always Assur and that’s how we Pasken
    2) Even within Tos’s opinion there are so many ways to understand what this idea of “Shaveh…” means. It doesn’t just mean what the practice of most people is (see Tos in Shabbos 39b). So I guess the rule about not making Halchic decisions based off the internet still stands true.

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