Showering on Yom Tov

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Halakhic Positions of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik

by R. Aharon Ziegler

To understand Rav Soloveitchik’s position on this question, one must understand some background information concerning this matter.

The Torah permits certain work on Yom Tov, such as cooking and carrying in a public domain for the sake of Ochel Nefesh [food preparation] (Shemot 12:16). Regarding this, there is a machloket between Beit Hillel and Beit Shamai as to how far this Torah leniency goes. According to Beit Hillel the leniency is expanded to include work that is not directly associated with food preparation, “Mitoch Shehutrah LeTzorech Hutrah Nami Shelo LeTzorech” (Beitzah 12a) [“just as the Torah permits carrying or using fire for the sake of food preparation it permits carrying of use of fire for any Yom Tov need. Beit Shamai rejects this expansion, but the Halacha follows the opinion of Beit Hillel, (Orach Chaim 518:1)

However, even Beit Hillel agree, that the Torah permits melacha on Yom Tov only for activities that are “Shaveh Lechol Nefesh”, something that is enjoyed by most people and not something that’s exotic and used by only a small minority of individuals. An example of such “exotic” behavior presented by the Gemara (Ketuvot 7a) is making incense, which is prohibited on Yom Tov (O”C 511:4)

Another issue is the Gezeirah of HaBalanim. [The bathhouse decree]. Rambam Hilchot Shabbat (22:2) explains: “Why did the Rabbis forbid entering a bathhouse on Shabbat? Because of the bathhouse attendants who would heat water on Shabbat and claim it was heated before Shabbat [if the water was heated on Shabbat one can not benefit from the heated water as one cannot benefit from work done on his behalf on Shabbat].

Heating water on Yom Tov for the sake of washing one’s hands, face and feet, Beit Hillel permit (Beitzah 21b) because of “Mitoch”. However, even Beit Hillel agrees that one may not heat water for one’s entire body on Yom Tov. The question is why? Tosafot (21b) explains that bathing one’s entire body is not Shaveh LeChol Nefesh as it is fit only for finicky people. Rambam (Hil, Yom Tov 1:16) believes that is included in the Gezeirah of HaBalanim. According to Tosafot the reason is subjective while according to Rambam it is non-subjective and absolute.

The Shulchan Aruch, both the Mechaber [d: 1575] and Rama [d: 1573] adopt the Rambam’s approach (OC 511:1-2). Accordingly, since their days, the prohibition of bathing on Yom Tov applied.

The Noda Bi’yehudah (O.C.:24) [1793] and the Chacham Tzvi (Teshuvah 11), both permitted women to immerse themselves in a Mikveh of water that was lukewarm. They believed that the Gezeirah of HaBalanim was issued only in regard to hot water. In the nineteenth century, the Teshuvot Divrei Chaim (O.C. 2:26) notes the common practice of women immersing for Mikveh on Yom Tov even in fully heated Mikva’ot. The Heter was approved by Rav Akiva Eiger [d:1837] as cited in Bi’ur Halacha 326:1, reasoning that since women find it difficult to immersed even in lukewarm water, it is considered as great discomfort and the edict was not intended to apply in such circumstances.

Rav Soloveitchik [d:1993], believed that today, since most people shower every day, that bathing or showering has become a need that is Shaveh LeChol Nefesh. If one feels a great discomfort that would interfere with the Mitzvah of rejoicing on Yom Tov, or for therapeutic reasons, one is permitted to shower in lukewarm water, even if the water is heated on Yom Tov. However, in such circumstances, one must take care to avoid squeezing water from one’s hair or towel. One must also avoid using bar soap and removing hair, skin or loose nails. But again, this Heter is only for one who feels a great discomfort and cannot enjoy a Simchat Yom Tov without showering.

About Aharon Ziegler

Rabbi Aharon Ziegler is the Rabbi Emeritus of Congregation Agudath Achim of Boro Park and the Dean and Rosh Kollel of Kollel Agudath Achim. He is the author of six volumes of Halakhic Positions of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik.

One comment

  1. Regarding the preference of lukewarm water over hot, it’s my understanding that in olden days lukewarm water was prepared by removing (or not maintaining) the heat source before the water became “hot”. In our day, however, most residences have a dedicated water heater or boiler which heats and maintains the water at a very high (scalding?) temperature and lukewarm water is prepared by mixing this hot water with cold (unheated) water at the faucet. I don’t know what process mikvaote use to maintain their water temperature.

    According to the Noda Bi’yehuda, the Chacham Tzvi and Teshuvot Divrei Chaim, would this difference in process lead to a more stringent ruling with respect to modern shower/mikvah facilities?

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