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Sunday, July 22, 2012

Is it permissible to shower during the Nine Days?


Is it permissible to shower during the Nine Days?
Rabbi Ari Kahn

There are various traditions regarding the customs of the nine-day mourning period between the first and the ninth of Av. All Jewish communities commemorated the days leading up to the fast of the Ninth of Av, a national day of  mourning for the destruction of both the First and Second Temples and the resultant loss of Jewish sovereignty and eventual exile. However, different traditions regarding this period of national mourning exist among geographically distant Jewish communities. One particular tradition common among Ashkenazic communities, as seen in  the Rama's comments on the Shulchan Aruch[1], regards the custom to refrain from bathing, even in cold water, from Rosh Chodesh until after the Fast of Tisha B’Av. The law seems straightforward, and many Ashkenazim have  traditionally refrained from showering during these nine days, based on the Rama's ruling in the Shulchan Aruch.This custom notwithstanding, deeper  analysis of the topic will  result in the opposite conclusion.

שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות תשעה באב ושאר תעניות סימן תקנא
 ונוהגין שלא לרחוץ, (צד) אפילו בצונן, מראש חודש ואילך. (ת"ה סי' ק"ו /ק"נ/) (צה) ואפי' בערב שבת של חזון אסור [לז] לרחוץ כ"א ראשו ופניו ידיו ורגליו בצונן (מהרי"ל ותשובת מהרי"ל סי' ט"ו וב"י); <טז> ויש מקילים * (צו) בחפיפת מא הראש בחמין (צז) למי שרגיל בכך כל שבת.
It is customary not to bathe, even in cold [water], from Rosh Hodesh onward. And even on Erev Shabbat Hazon[2] bathing is prohibited other than the head, face, hands and feet in cold water. Others are lenient regarding washing the hair in warm water for those who are accustomed to do so in preparation for every Shabbat.

While the Rama concludes that on Friday, Erev Shabbat Hazon, the custom of refraining from bathing would prevail, yet one may wash "the face, hands and feet” in cold water; even further,  the Rama concludes, those who are accustomed to washing their hair in hot water every week in preparation for Shabbat may do so on Erev Shabbat Hazon as well.

From this last phrase it is apparent that washing ones hair in hot water was not a widespread custom in the time of the Rama. This is understandable; without indoor plumbing and electricity, a hot bath was indeed considered a luxury and was not part of standard daily (or even weekly) personal hygiene. In the era in which the Rama's comments on the Shulchan Aruch were composed, "bathing" involved a visit to  a proper “bathhouse”, the  closest modern equivalent of which may well be a spa. Such a visit was considered a pleasurable and out –of- the- ordinary experience,[3] and hence inappropriate during the nine days in which we observe customs of mourning for the Temple.

So much for bathing; a visit to the spa is inappropriate. What, then, is the status of “face, hands and feet”, a type of hygiene that is permissible during these nine days? The distinction between “bathing” and washing one's “face, hands and feet” is found both in the Talmud and in the Shulchan Aruch and in the context of the Laws of Aveilut (personal mourning for the loss of a relative):

תלמוד בבלי מסכת תענית דף יג עמוד ב
והלכתא: אבל אסור לרחוץ כל גופו בין בחמין ובין בצונן כל שבעה. אבל פניו ידיו ורגליו, בחמין - אסור, בצונן - מותר. אבל לסוך - אפילו כל שהוא אסור. ואם לעבר את הזוהמא - מותר.
This is the law: A mourner is forbidden to bathe his whole body either in hot or in cold water all the seven days. [Regarding] his face, hands and feet, he may not [wash] in hot water but in cold water he may; anointing is not permitted at all; if, however, it is to remove the dirt, it is permissible.

The Shulchan Aruch clarifies this ruling:

שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות אבילות סימן שפא סעיף א
רחיצה כיצד, אסור לרחוץ כל גופו, אפילו בצונן; אבל פניו ידיו ורגליו, (א) בחמין, אסור; בצונן, מותר. א] ואם היה מלוכלך מטיט וצואה, רוחץ כדרכו ואינו חושש.
“Bathing” means washing one’s entire body – this is prohibited even in cold water, but ones “face, hands and feet” he may not [wash] in hot water but in cold water it is allowed. If he was dirty…then he may wash in a normal fashion.

Here we should clarify two important points; first, the laws regarding the communal mourning of the nine days are extrapolated from the laws of personal mourning – but are generally not more stringent than those regarding personal mourning. Hence, just as in shiva one who is “dirty” can wash, so too during the nine days of Av. The prohibition of bathing regards “pleasurable bathing”[4];  when the washing in question is not for pleasure but for personal health or hygiene, it is permitted. This would include swimming for exercise, as well as washing for health or medical considerations.[5] Likewise, the "removal of dirt" would include common perspiration which accumulates on the body, especially during the hot and humid days of summer.

The second point that requires clarification regards the use of terms in these sources: what exactly is meant by washing one’s “face, hands and feet” in contradistinction to “bathing”? The Mehaber[6] described bathing as immersing one’s entire body in water – what we would call a “bath”. On the other hand washing one’s “face, hands and feet” is what we would call a “shower”[7]. Therefore, according to the Mehaber, during Shiva it is permissible for a mourner to take a tepid, but not a hot shower – unless one is actually dirty, in which case even a hot bath would be allowed, and most certainly a hot shower. When we factor in the consideration that for the most part showers are viewed today as part of normal daily hygiene, and not as an extraordinary, pleasurable activity, there is all the more reason to be lenient.

We may then conclude that when we factor in health and hygienic considerations as well as discomfort from the heat, taking a cool (or tepid) shower during the nine days should be allowed without question; if one is actually dirty, a hot shower is permissible.

There is, however, another approach to this custom that was taught by Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik in the name of his father Rav Moshe Soloveitchik.[8] In his comments on the Laws of Aveilut (personal mourning) cited above, the Rama refers to a custom of Ashkenazim not to bathe for the entire 30 day period after the death of a relative.

שולחן ערוך יורה דעה הלכות אבילות סימן שפא סעיף א
הגה: ב] וכל זה מדינא אינו אסור רק שבעה, אבל אח"כ מותר ברחיצה, א <א> אלא שנהגו האידנא (ב) לאסור (כל) רחיצה כל ל' יום (מהר"מ הלכות שמחות ובהגמי"י פ"ז מהל' יום טוב ופ"י דהל' אבל); ואפילו לחוף הראש אסור (לקמן סי' ש"צ ובא"ז); ואין לשנות המנהג, כי מנהג קדום הוא ונתייסד על פי ותיקין (א"ז בשם רשב"א).
By law, this is prohibited only for the seven days of shiva, but thereafter bathing is permitted. But in present times our custom is to prohibit bathing for the entire 30-day period [known as shloshim]

Rav Moshe Soloveitchik argued that the source of the Ashkenazi custom of refraining from bathing for the entire nine-day period emanates from this (presently unknown) custom regarding personal mourning. This is part of a larger framework for the customs of communal mourning observed from 17 Tammuz through the Ninth of Av: According to Rav Moshe Soloveitchik,the customs instituted during this three-week period bring the community as a whole toward an experience of mourning that culminates on the Ninth of Av, with each of the three stages of mourning closing concentric circles of experience: The laws of the three weeks are not arbitrary, rather they are patterned after the laws of mourning  in the  12 months of individual mourning. The nine days from Rosh Hodesh Av through the 8th of Av are patterned after the 30 day period of individual mourning,[9] and Tisha B'Av's laws are patterned after the seven-day shiva period. This being the case, the source of the custom not to bathe during the nine days can be sourced to the now-defunct custom, cited by the Rama as the Ashkenazi practice current in his time, of refraining from bathing for the entire shloshim period. Once this custom fell out of practice, Rav Moshe argued, the custom of not bathing during the nine days should also fall into disuse, especially in light of our understanding that the laws of communal mourning are generally not more stringent than the laws of personal mourning from which they are extrapolated. Hence, not only is bathing permissible during this period as a leniency or in case of need - - there is no prohibition against bathing whatsoever, even in hot water – and certainly there would be no prohibition in showering.

In conclusion:
·      Those who wish to shower on a daily basis during the nine days from Rosh Hodesh Av through the 8th of Av may do so, especially given the warm weather.
·      If one wishes to take note of the destruction of the Temple, one can use cooler water than usual – though this should be viewed as a stringency.
·      Swimming for exercise is permissible.
·      According to Rabbi Soloveitchik, even taking a bath would be allowed.





[1] Rabbi Moshe Isserlis, generally considered the halachic authority for Ashkenazic custom.
[2] The Shabbat immediately preceding Tisha b'Av, on which the haftarah of Hazon is read.
[3] Further support of this understanding may be found in the formulation of this same ruling in the Magen Avraham, 551:16.
מגן אברהם על שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות תשעה באב סימן תקנא סעיף טז
מ (פמ"ג) (מחה"ש) שלא לרחוץ - נ"ל שיולדת מותר' לרחוץ כמ"ש בי"ד סי' שפ"א ס"ג ובברכות דף ט"ז ע"ב כתבו התו' דאפי' בט"ב מותרת לרחוץ ע"ש, ואין להקל בזה דאין אנו רגילין כ"כ ברחיצה:
[4] Also see comments of the Rama and Vilna Gaon in Biurei Hagra 551:16, where bathing for pleasure is prohibited, while bathing for a mitzvah is allowed.
שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות תשעה באב ושאר תעניות סימן תקנא
הואיל ואינה עושה לתענוג רק לצורך מצוה.
ביאור הגר"א אורח חיים סימן תקנא סעיף טז
ולצורך כו' ונראה כו'. דבכה"ג לא קבלו עלייהו ואף במקום שאסור מדינא אמרו ובחמישי מותר מפני כבוד השבת ועוד דבכל רחיצה שאינה של תענוג רק למצוה מותר אף בתשעה באב כמ"ש כל חייבי טבילות כו' וע"ל סימן תקנ"ד:
[5] See Mishna Brura 651:88, 93 Shaarei Teshuva 651:16
משנה ברורה על שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות תשעה באב סימן תקנא סעיף טז
(פח) שלא לרחוץ - עיין לקמיה דאפילו בצונן יש ליזהר. ולרפואה מותר [צד] אפילו בחמין ואפילו בשבוע שחל בו ט"ב [א"ר]:
(צג) הואיל וכו' לתענוג - וכן קטנים שיש להם חטטין בראשן [צו] נוהגין לרחצן בראשן:
שערי תשובה על שולחן ערוך אורח חיים הלכות תשעה באב סימן תקנא סעיף טז
וע' בשכנה"ג בשם מהר"י ברונא כת"י הר"א חלש והרופא צוה לו לרחוץ בכל יום והתרתי לו לרחוץ בשבוע שחל ט"ב בתוכה ולמעוברת שהגיע לפרק בחודש ט' התרתי ג"כ לרחוץ בחמין דכל לרפואה שרי ע"ש והביאו בא"ר:

[6] Rav Yosef Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch, generally considered the authoritative halachic source for Sepharadim.
[7] Heard in the name of Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, communicated to me by Rav Yitzchak Berkovitz, I have been told that Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach concurred, however his opinion as recorded by Rabbi Freid in Maadanei Shlomo pages 52-53, would seem to disagree, unless Rabbi Freid used the Hebrew word for bath instead of the word for shower. Answers to halachic questions are often dependent on the precision with which the question is posed. I do not question Rabbi Fried; it is also possible that the individual who reported to me the ruling of Rabbi Auerbach was imprecise either in his questioning, understanding or reporting. Also see Halichot Shlomo 422.423, where only “bathing” – רחיצה - and not showering, is discussed; however, see note 62 where it is reported that when Rabbi Auerbach was lenient he advised not to wash the entire body at once.
[8] Shiurei Harav, Inyanei Tisha B’Av, Rabbi Elyakim Koenigsberg, ed.; p. 21.
[9] See the Biur HaGra on Orah Haim 551:16.
ביאור הגר"א אורח חיים סימן תקנא סעיף טז
יש נוהגים כו'. כמו באבל וכמו שאסרו מלספר ולכבס וכל זה מצד הקבלה אבל מדינא אף בעט"ב מותר כמ"ש בסוף תענית כל שהוא משום כו':
ולצורך כו' ונראה כו'. דבכה"ג לא קבלו עלייהו ואף במקום שאסור מדינא אמרו ובחמישי מותר מפני כבוד השבת ועוד דבכל רחיצה שאינה של תענוג רק למצוה מותר אף בת"ב כמ"ש כל חייבי טבילות כו' וע"ל סימן תקנ"ד:
ונוהגין שלא כו'. כמ"ש בפ"א דתענית כל שהוא משום אבל כגון ט"ב ואבל אסור בין בחמין בין בצונן והנך ימים נמי נהגו משום אבל כמ"ש בפ"ד דיבמות שאני אבילות כו':
ואפילו כו' כ"א כו'. כמו באבל כמ"ש בתענית שם והלכתא אבל אסור כו' אבל פניו ידיו ורגליו כו':

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