R Ari Enkin / Although one might think otherwise, there is actually much material to be found in halachic literature relating to bathrooms. In fact, in ancient times it was customary to request of one’s guardian angels to wait patiently for us while we would enter the bathroom to take care of business. This custom has fallen into disuse however, as in our day and age people are not as spiritually sensitive as they once were in days gone by. Additionally some are of the opinion that these guardian angels where only assigned to the most pious of individuals, a quality that is often hard to find these days.

Bathroom Etiquette

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

Although one might think otherwise, there is actually much material to be found in halachic literature relating to bathrooms. In fact, in ancient times it was customary to request of one’s guardian angels to wait patiently for us while we would enter the bathroom to take care of business.[1] This custom has fallen into disuse however, as in our day and age people are not as spiritually sensitive as they once were in days gone by. Additionally some are of the opinion that these guardian angels where only assigned to the most pious of individuals, a quality that is often hard to find these days.[2] Nevertheless some continue this custom and still address these angels prior to using the washroom.[3] The rest of us generally pay no attention to angels other than Friday nights when we address them prior to reciting Kiddush in the “Shalom Aleichem” hymn.

As even the cleanest of bathrooms are deemed to be places of impurity, one is not to enter them with any holy objects, including religious garb. This is true only for items of clothing specific to prayer, such as a Tallit,[4] Gartel, or Kittel. One’s Tallit Katan however is permitted to be worn in the bathroom, even while relieving oneself, as it is not a garment directly connected to prayer or the synagogue. [5] It goes without saying that praying, or even meditating on Torah related topics in a bathroom is forbidden.[6] We are advised to ponder business related issues when in the washroom.[7] Reading a newspaper or other secular books while in the bathroom is a legitimate thing to do and was the practice of many great rabbis.[8] Eating or drinking of any kind is strictly forbidden in a washroom as well.[9] In fact, some authorities recommend disposing of any food that had been accidentally taken into a bathroom.[10]

When using the washroom, it is considered especially dignified to only remove one’s clothing as needed,[11] although one should not compromise one’s comfort.[12] Care must be taken to ensure that the washroom remains clean and that one avoids soiling the area in any way.[13] One is required to clean up any soiling one may have caused while using the washroom.[14] Be sure to always go to the washroom promptly when needed – we are never to hold it in.[15]

The washroom is to be used strictly for taking care of one’s bodily needs and not for any social interaction no matter how large or beautiful the bathroom may be. As such, talking is forbidden in a washroom, especially when in the midst of relieving oneself.[16] Indeed, we are taught that the demons that are reportedly to be found in a washroom get quite agitated when people speak while in a washroom.[17] It is not considered modest to go to the washroom in a group.[18] It goes without saying that one is to close the door when in the washroom.[19] In an emergency however there are grounds to forgo some of the above, as for example should one need to call for toilet paper.[20] Washrooms should be constructed with dividers between urinals in order to allow for greater privacy and modesty.[21]

It is interesting to note, that due to the evil sprits that are reputed to be found in washrooms, many authorities require one to wash one’s hands anytime one enters a washroom regardless of one’s purpose of having entered. This requirement to wash one’s hands would include one who merely enters a washroom to retrieve an item stored there and not necessarily to take care of one’s needs.[22]Nevertheless, there are several justifications for the widespread practice not to wash one’s hands after merely entering a washroom for an unrelated matter, such as when grabbing a tissue or the like. Some say that since our washrooms are much more hygienic and cleaner than those of yesteryear, one need not be concerned for demons or Evil Spirits.[23]

One who is relieving oneself outdoors is advised to position themselves in facing southwards in deference to God’s Presence which is mystically referred to as hovering between the east and west.[24] At the same time one should try to ensure that one is not facing Jerusalem either. None of these rules apply for one who is merely urinating. In ancient times people were discouraged from cleaning themselves with their right hand due to its distinct status in the performance of mitzvot.[25] In our day and age however where one uses toilet paper to do so there is no concern or preference as to which hand to use when cleaning oneself.[26] It is considered superior and more meticulous to use baby wipes or other water based means to clean oneself.[27]


[1] O.C. 3:1

[2] Mishna Berura 3:1

[3] Sha’arei Teshuva 3:1

[4] Aruch Hashulchan 21:6

[5] O.C. 21:3

[6] Berachot 26a, Shabbat 150a, Rambam Kriat Shema 3:4

[7] Sefer Chassidim 546

[8] Minhag Yisrael Torah O.C. 85:1

[9] Be’er Heitev 3:2

[10] For a thorough discussion on this including additional sources see Rivevot Ephraim 1:8

[11] O.C. 3:2

[12] Kaf Hachaim 3:13

[13] Mishna Berura 3:21

[14] Chagiga 5a

[15] O.C. 3:17

[16] Rema O.C. 2, Kaf Hachaim 116:113

[17] Kaf Hachaim 3:6

[18] Rema O.C. 2, Kaf Hachaim 3:4

[19] Rema O.C. 2

[20] Yabia Omer 8:1

[21] Igrot Moshe Y.D. 3:47:5

[22] O.C. 4:18, Kaf Hachaim 4:5, Mishna Berura 4:40

[23] Minhag Yisrael Torah 4:10

[24] Mishna Berura 3:10

[25] Magen Avraham 3:8, Taz 3:9

[26] Tzitz Eliezer 7:2

[27] O.C. 76:7, Mishna Berura 76:18, Shulchan Aruch Harav 3:8, Kaf Hachaim 3:75, 76:26

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com

29 comments

  1. How many of these sources were written after indoor plumbing became widespread? The word you translate as “bathroom” in most of these sources means “outhouse.” There was an extensive article on this topic in the RJJ Journal some years back.

    Note, by the way, that you can urinate in tefillin. Things aren’t so black and white as you say.

  2. Yes. Absolutely. Surprisingly, the Chazon Ish is among the most meikil in “hilchos bathrooms”.

    Ari Enkin

  3. “Nachum on August 23, 2011 at 3:06 am
    How many of these sources were written after indoor plumbing became widespread? The word you translate as “bathroom” in most of these sources means “outhouse.””

    Essentially the same question I would have asked asked better than I would have.

  4. “This custom [of asking angels to wait outside] has fallen into disuse however, as in our day and age people are not as spiritually sensitive as they once were in days gone by.”

    Are you seriously saying that people that don’t believe in angels aren’t spiritually sensitive???

  5. Zach-

    No. Thats not what Im saying….but since the issue of angels is so diverse I actually dont want to get into it. (ie. Some say they exist, some say they dont, etc. etc.)

    Ari Enkin

  6. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the prohibition of holding oneself while urinating as per Orach Chayyim 3:14-16.

    Actually, you seemed to have ignored much of Hanhagat Beit HaKisei, O.C. 3 and the rich material found in the commentaries.

  7. This post could be an interesting jumping off point for a discussion that we have been having in other, more controversial, contexts. Almost everyone would agree, I think, that the halachot that R. Enkin discusses were codified under factual circumstances that, as Nachum pointed out, were vastly different than those that exist today. The question that arises then is what effect, if any, do/should these changed circumstances have on these halachot?

  8. I believe that some modern day poskim hold that one can recite berachos in a bathroom due to the fact that human waste and urine can be flushed away. I saw these poskim both in a footnote in my Metsudah Linear Kitzur SA and in my Dirshu edition of the MB.

  9. 1) >>Some say that since our washrooms are much more hygienic and cleaner than those of yesteryear, one need not be concerned for demons or Evil Spirits.[23]

    What does hygiene have to do with demons?

    2) >> [27] O.C. 76:7, Mishna Berura 76:18, Shulchan Aruch Harav 3:8, Kaf Hachaim 3:75, 76:26

    Which of these sources mentions baby wipes?

  10. My interpretation of cleaning with “water” in a pragmatic manner today.

    See Shulchan Aruv Harav 3:8.

    Ari Enkin

  11. While you share with us plenty of knowledge, your present the shitos as conclusive. While the tzitz eliezersays that we need not be makpid on wiping with our left hand, many many many poskim say that we should still be makpid on this halacha. To state his shita so matter of factly is a disservice to the reader.

  12. MiMedinat HaYam

    plz discuss issue of baby wipes on shabat (paper vs cloth. i believe (not sure) cloth is considdred squeezing / sechita, so someone started marketing 100% paper wipes, which he claims is not in SA discussion of sechita.) ).

    only tfillin shel yad in bathroom. not shel rosh. (at least per MB and KSA, from memory, not from practice.)

    also, i think most of these are more determined by family custom instruction when young, not necessarily per the (written) codes, but then again, that would apply to many practices. eg — the kzayit issue and quantity of matzah and marror, etc.

    end off with a (true) joke — my father tells me his cousin was considered rich in europe — they had their own private outhouse, didnt have to share it with the neighbors like everyone else. no comment on earthquake in the outhouse.

  13. What does hygiene have to do with demons?

    What are demons except a pre-modern theory meant to explain phenomena now better explained by the theory of microorganisms?

  14. “…even meditating on Torah related subjects in a bathroom is forbidden.”
    It is told that Rav Avigdor Miller,ZT”L kept a copy of the Koran in his bathroom for reading purposes so that he would not think Torah thoughts when using the bathroom.
    My (silly) question: Can the Koran, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered Torah-related?

  15. Why do so many guys, who I expect would know better, have conversations in shul bathrooms? Isn’t it an obvious hefsek bracha?

  16. I’m not comfortable with reading the Koran in the bathroom. It is full of Abrahamic and Godly references.

    (Yes, I read the Koran. Actually, I read about 70% of it, until one day I really got fed up with always reading about the importance of killing infidels.)

    Ari Enkin

  17. Shlomo-

    I beleive that was the position of Rav Aharon Soloveitchik.

    Ari Enkin

  18. “Why do so many guys, who I expect would know better, have conversations in shul bathrooms?”

    There are men who talk in bathrooms?

  19. L’maaseh — do not wear tefillin in a bathroom or when urinating outdoors.

    Baby Wipes on Shabbos? Ok. Give me a few weeks.

    Ari Enkin

  20. Concerned-

    While you may be right in principle, I do think that this is a matter-of-fact halacha. Sure, others may disagree, but I feel this ruling is conclusive and logical. The rest are chumras in my opinion.

    Ari

  21. well then i think it should be made clear to readers at the beginning of each of your posts that these are your personal pesakim but not neccesarily the consensus of opinion. As well, just wondering who did you do shimush under to train you as a posek.

  22. Concerned-

    I am not a trained a posek. I am a trained researcher of halacha who develops his own opinions and conclusions.

    Ari Enkin

  23. R’AL,
    Just curious, do you think the ubiquitousness of wipes has anything to do with the resultant tendency to kula?
    KT

  24. Joel-

    Yes! but

    a) I dont think the ubiquitousness of wipes is why many are meikeil — I think we should be meikil on its inherent own merits.

    b) I think cleaning oneself with wipes is becoming more and more mainstream. I used to be made fum of way back when whenever it got out that I used baby wipes.

    Ari Enkin

  25. a) I dont think the ubiquitousness of wipes is why many are meikeil — I think we should be meikil on its inherent own merits.

    true-but if you look at the “merits” it would be very easy to say baal nefesh etc.
    KT

  26. Not using the right hand for wiping was IIRC because they had no toilet paper and no running water, so faeces would rmain under the finger nails, which would be unseemly when performing a mitzva with that hand, such as showing the taamei hamiqra to the ba’al qeriah (the hand signals were the original way to transmit those te’amim; the actual written signs were not invented until the Middle Ages).

    Thus, that is nowadays obsolete, as we use toilet paper, and wash our hands with soap and plentiful water.

  27. Arie-

    Thats right. The Tzitz Eliezer says much of that. The main concern, however, was wiping with the same hand that wraps the tefillin straps.

    Ari Enkin

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