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. 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. Nevertheless some continue this custom and still address these angels prior to using the washroom. 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, 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.  It goes without saying that praying, or even meditating on Torah related topics in a bathroom is forbidden. We are advised to ponder business related issues when in the washroom. 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. Eating or drinking of any kind is strictly forbidden in a washroom as well. In fact, some authorities recommend disposing of any food that had been accidentally taken into a bathroom.
When using the washroom, it is considered especially dignified to only remove one’s clothing as needed, although one should not compromise one’s comfort. Care must be taken to ensure that the washroom remains clean and that one avoids soiling the area in any way. One is required to clean up any soiling one may have caused while using the washroom. Be sure to always go to the washroom promptly when needed – we are never to hold it in.
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. 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. It is not considered modest to go to the washroom in a group. It goes without saying that one is to close the door when in the washroom. In an emergency however there are grounds to forgo some of the above, as for example should one need to call for toilet paper. Washrooms should be constructed with dividers between urinals in order to allow for greater privacy and modesty.
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.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.
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. 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. 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. It is considered superior and more meticulous to use baby wipes or other water based means to clean oneself.