Disgusting Behavior

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

The Torah considers human dignity to be of primary importance and it is even a factor when deciding halachic matters.[1] In fact, it was in order to maintain a high standard of both individual and national dignity that the Torah commands us not to engage in any activity that could be viewed as disgusting.[2] The prohibition against doing anything disgusting is known as “Bal Teshaktzu”.[3]  
The principles of Ba’al Teshaktzu are continually subject to re-evaluation and application based on both personal preferences and social norms.[4] Indeed, we see throughout halachic literature that there have been authorities who would prohibit something under the clause of Ba’al Teshaktzu while other authorities would permit the same things – each based on their own understanding of what is “disgusting”.[5] Some examples of Ba’al Teshaktzu:
One is forbidden to eat any food that most people find disgusting even if one happens to enjoy it.[6] Foods which most people do enjoy though a significant minority of the population will consider disgusting may be eaten.[7] One should be sure never to chew with one’s mouth open. Similarly, it is forbidden to remove chewed up food from one’s mouth or to eat previously chewed food.[8] One is obligated to wash one’s hands before touching any food.[9] Don’t ever share drinking glasses with anyone.[10] Some authorities suggest that eating and cooking utensils that have absorbed disgusting substances be kashered prior to being used again.[11] One should not use vulgar and inappropriate language, ever.[12]  
Touching anything revolting is also forbidden and should only be done with the assistance of an interposition such as gloves and the like.[13] One should also not pick one’s nose, spit in public, nor engage in any activity which onlookers may find offensive.[14] Need one be reminded that embarrassing others is also a severe prohibition?[15] One who gains honor by degrading another has no share in the world to come.[16] It is imperative that we impart such values to our children as well.[17]  
While swallowing a live fish is essentially permissible[18] most rabbis have forbidden doing so, deeming it a disgusting practice subject to Ba’al Teshaktzu.[19] So too, although eating certain bugs[20] and even drinking urine is essentially permissible,[21]these things should not be done under the principles of Ba’al Teshaktzu.[22]  
A common application of Ba’al Teshaktzu applies to those who resist the urge to relive themselves.[23] The point in which one is required to immediately relive oneself is when the urge is so great that one cannot stop thinking about it.[24] If, however, it is due to considerations of human dignity that one is unable to go the bathroom then it is permitted to continue to abstain.[25] So too, it is permissible to abstain from relieving oneself where medical considerations are a factor.[26] There are documented cases of illnesses that were brought on by withholding oneself from bodily eliminations.[27]

[1] See for example, Berachot 94b, Eruvin 41b, Megilla 3b, Shabbat 81b, 94b
[2] Vayikra 2:25,11:43-45
[3] Beit Yosef Y.D. 116
[4] Indeed, Ba’al Teshaktzu is one of the few unique prohibitions in the Torah referred to in the Talmud as a “Lav Shebiklallot”. This intricate Talmudic concept teaches that punishments are not administered for Torah prohibitions that are subject to multiple applications and opinions. See Pesachim 24a;41b, Temura 7b
[5] Cf. Rambam Issurei Biah 21:9 vs. O.C. 240:4 and Y.D. 59:2 vs. Aruch Hashulchan Y.D. 59:8
[6] O.C. Y.D. 116:6, Kaf Hachaim 116:66, Rambam Ma’achalot Assurot 17:29
[7] Kaf Hachaim 116:78
[8] Kaf Hachaim 116:76
[9] O.C. Y.D. 116:6, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 33:9, Rambam Ma’achalot Assurot 17:30
[10] Kaf Hachaim 116:94
[11] Kaf Hachaim 116:74,75
[12] Orchot Chaim of the Rosh 61
[13] Kaf Hachaim 116:70
[14] Chagiga 5a
[15] Bava Metzia 58b, Orchot Chaim of the Rosh 86
[16] Midrash Rabba 1:5
[17] Sefer Chassidim 641
[18] Shach Y.D. 62:2, The prohibition of “Eiver Min Hachai”, eating any part of an animal while it is still alive, applies only to animals and birds which require shechita, ritual slaughter, prior to partaking of them.
[19] Aruch Hashulchan Y.D. 13:2
[20] Chullin 66a, Rambam Shechita 1:3,
[21] Y.D. 81:1
[22] Tosfot;Chullin 66a, Rema Y.D. 13:1, Shach Y.D. 81:3
[23] Makkot 16b, Rambam Ma’achalot Assurot 17:31, O.C. 3:17, Kaf Hachaim 116:83
[24] Piskei Teshuvot 3:9
[25] Mishna Berura 3:31
[26] Shraga Hameir 1:74, 2:12
[27] Shabbat 33a, Rambam Ma’achalot Assurot 17:31

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


  1. What wonderful timing!

    What do you say about the graffiti on Yad Vashem ?

  2. …yup.Disgusting.

  3. I think you mean relieve, not relive.

  4. Ba’al Teshaktzu?

    like “בעל תשקצו”?

  5. What a conglomeration of the sublime (embarrassing others) to the ridiculous (picking your nose). Most are more appropriate for Emily Post than for halachic discussions. i wonder if you self censored yourself; i.e., did you find any things rabbis prohibited on this basis that is commonly done today?

  6. Joesph-

    Im surprised at you. Rabbis Karo, Epstein, Sofer, and others sure thought that they were worthy of halachic discussion……


  7. Shalom Rosenfeld

    Bal (don’t) not Ba’al (owner).

    Mishna in Shabbos talks about giving little kids live grasshoppers as toys — and only to do so with kosher grasshoppers, as your tike might get curious and pop the little guy down the hatch!

    But ay, isn’t eating a live creepy-crawly a violation of bal teshaktzu? Answer: if we were worried about all the gross things that toddlers do … well, let’s just say we aren’t!

  8. I hope this isn’t too risqué, but Torah hi v’lilmod ani tzarich: traditional sources forbid sexual behavior of the oral kind on the grounds of bal t’shaktzu. Aside from any other issues involved, would that still be the case in 21st century America?

  9. Makor-

    I would rather not get into a discussion on this topic here, but suffice it to say that I subscribe (and teach) the view that all pleasurable contact is permissible in marriage. Period.

  10. Any sources for that?

  11. Shalom Rosenfeld

    Makor, Anon 1:01 —

    Rabbi Y.H. Henkin has an excellent essay (in rabbinic Hebrew, which I suspect he has consciously chosen not to translate) in Bnei Banim. Look it up in HebrewBooks.org (one of the later volumes, siman 16). Agreed we should leave it at that.

  12. >Ba’al Teshaktzu”

    shouldn’t that be *bal* tishaktzu?

  13. Shalom-
    “Agreed we should leave it at that”
    It should have been left way before that.

  14. R’ Ari- Arent there sexual practices which are expressly forbidden even within marriage? It is forbidden for a man to even look at “oto makom” of his wife. It is forbidden to have relations in daylight or by candlelight. The reason is not necessarily bal teshaksu but these practices (among others) are forbidden nonetheless. I think you should modify your blanket hetter of sexual practices in marriage.

  15. R’ David-

    …that topic is closed in this thread.

  16. Chaim-

    Please dont post further comments on that topic.

    I can be contacted off line if need be.

  17. I agree with David that we should close this thread, and I think that includes what appears to be a blanket heter by R’ Enkin, especially if it doesn’t even have a source.

  18. ….I have sources, plus the Bnei Banim that was mentioned above, but the thread really is closed.

    “…ain dorshin”

    Ari Enkin

  19. While this is not an attempt to continue this discussion, I would just like to apologize if my question made anyone feel uncomfortable. In my defense, a) I was currently learning the subject, b) bal t’shaktzu is mentioned 5 times in Shulchan Aruch; this is one of them, c) this site has occasionally covered material of this nature before, d) I didn’t imagine we were still leery of addressing these subjects in an impersonal manner in 21st century America on a relatively liberal website for adults. But I am truly sorry.

  20. These subjects should be treated openly like any other. It is disgusting that you ban a discussion of sex, the most beautiful of all human relations.

  21. Is that Dr. Ruth in the previous comment?

  22. Chabad has a minhag of spitting during Aleinu at the words “שהם משתחווים להבל ולריק”. I frankly find spitting in any place, let alone a mikdash m’at, quite disgusting. Are you aware of any shutim that deal with how this interrelates to the topic of Bal Teshaktzu?

    (before I get bombarded by Lubavitcher commentors, I have no doubt that Chabad’s minhag has “על מה לסמוך”)


  23. Avi-

    Here is an excerpt from my sefer “Ramat Hashulchan”.

    …Some people have the custom to spit at the words “shehem mishtachavim l’hevel varik umitpallelim el el lo yoshia” when reciting Aleinu. It is explained that spitting after reciting this passage demonstrates one’s abhorrence for idolatry. Furthermore, since speech automatically stimulates saliva, spitting at this point shows that one does not want to benefit from idolatry in any way, not even from the saliva produced at its mention!

    One who chooses to spit during Aleinu should do so into a tissue or onto the ground and then immediately rub it away with one’s foot so that it is not noticeable. Most authorities, however, question the authenticity and legitimacy of this custom entirely, calling it “the custom of imbeciles”. It is also noted that some people were spitting at the wrong passages. Spitting during Aleinu was also seen by some rabbinic leaders as an unnecessary provocation of the Christians. So too, spitting in a synagogue is disrespectful and possibly even forbidden according to halacha. It is said that the kabbalists, including the Arizal, were very particular never to spit at all.

    Nevertheless, there are a number of authorities who justify the practice and a number of Chassidic communities conduct themselves accordingly. Those who regularly spit regularly when reciting Aleinu should not do so when reciting it as part of the silent Mussaf on Rosh Hashana.


    Taamei Haminhagim 500.
    Mekor Chaim 132:2, cited in Chikrei Minhagim Vol I. p.93.
    Kitzur Shla p.132.
    Mekor Chaim 2:97.
    Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Mekor Chaim 8:15.
    Taz, YD 179:5.
    OC 97:2
    Sefer Haminhagim, Chabad

  24. “One is forbidden to eat any food that most people find disgusting even if one happens to enjoy it.”

    How about ptcha/holodets? I estimate about 99% of Americans would find it disgusting. On the other hand, in a particular community it may be totally normal. So does that mean I can’t bring it to work for lunch, but I can eat it with relatives at home?

  25. Indeed, you should not eat any food around people who find that particular food disgusting.

  26. …around people who find that particular food disgusting.

    Why that limitation?

  27. “you should not eat any food around people who find that particular food disgusting”
    Would you apply this to someone who finds meat disgusting?

  28. Emma-

    Depending on the circumstances — yes.

  29. R’ Enkin:

    I’m a little confused by your answer to Emma. In your post you quote sources who hold that, “Foods which most people do enjoy though a significant minority of the population will consider disgusting may be eaten”.

    Why then, would there be a restriction from eating meat in front of one individual who finds it disgusting?

    I guess the question really is, how broadly do we define the group who were are evaluating to determine whether the individuals who are repulsed comprise the minority or majority? Is it based on the immediate environment, e.g. the room in which the person is eating, or is it defined more globally, e.g. by the customs and norms of the town or country?

    The nafka mina would be if one is permitted to eat meat at a vegan convention in the US.

  30. The problem is that we have a concept of batal daato (he’s a strange bird that whose opinion doesn’t count) which stands in contradiction to the concept of istinis (finicky). The Taz seems to say that if all istinises feel the same way about something, it’s an exception to batla daato, out least for sitting in the sukkah!

  31. MiMedinat HaYam

    “pop the little guy down the hatch!”

    so chabad kids are allowed to play with grasshoppers (chabad forbids playing with non kosher animals, bears, pigs, dogs, cats, etc. even in coloring books. even in animal cookies.)

    2. what about my friend who is disgusted by a piece of actual fish (but he has no pblm with gefilte or even flounder (fillet of fish)). i try not to eat sardines (which i love) or other fish, but sometimes circumstances dont allow.

    3. spitting used to be acceptable in public, but not today. though SA discusses specifics about time / place of prayer.

  32. Jacob-

    It wasnt clear to me that Emma was speaking strictly of a 1 on 1 scenario.

    In any event, these things are always subject to “the 5th chelek of Shulchan Aruch” regardless of what the letter of the law might say.

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