By Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
The Mishna famously teaches that “Mishenichnas Av Mema’atin BeSimcha“, ‘When the month of Av arrives (Rosh Chodesh Av), we must lessen our joy’. Since many catastrophes and national tragedies befell our people during this time period, including the destruction of both of the Batei HaMikdash on Tisha B’Av, halacha dictates various restrictions on us in order to mourn our great losses, and properly commemorate by feeling the devastation. One of these restrictions is not to bathe during the “Nine Days”, the nine day mourning period from Rosh Chodesh Av until Tisha B’Av.
Nevertheless, and quite interestingly, the most common question a Rabbi is likely to receive this time of year is if it is permissible to take a shower during the Nine Days.
Although, at first glance from a preliminary reading of Rabbinic literature on topic, showering seems to be black on white prohibited, yet, from the works of many contemporary authorities it seems a better question would be if there is a hetter not to take at least some sort of shower during the Nine Days!
First of all, it must be noted that with the vast majority of world Jewry living in the Northern hemisphere, the Nine Days (not so conveniently) falls out during the hottest part of year, during the blazing summer. When someone is asking his rabbi for a halachic dispensation to take a shower, he is not merely asking a theoretical question. It is usually someone sweating heavily, caked in perspiration and often afflicted from odoriferous emanations. This is especially germane this summer, with the mercury nearing 100°F (37°C) already in June! [I can’t wait for August!]
Hygiene or Pleasure ?
If we were to ask our suffering friend why he wanted to take a shower, he would most likely reply “to get rid of the sweat and stickiness and feel like a human being again”. The Aruch Hashulchan ruled, (already in the 1890s) that one whose body is dirty can bathe during the Nine Days (even using hot water) in order to get clean, since he is not bathing for pleasure. In other words, the restrictions of the Nine Days are meant to lessen our enjoyment, not to force us to give up basic hygiene.
But, before the righteously indignant among us question how the Aruch Hashulchan made such a distinction, it should be stressed that the halachos of the Nine Days parallel those of a mourner, and even a person mourning for the loss of his parents is permitted to be ‘ma’avir es hazuhama’, ‘remove the sweat’ during shiva, since it is not done for pleasure.
Another proof several contemporary authorities cite is from Hilchos Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year, and the only Biblically mandated fast day that comes with its own set of restrictions including washing, the Shulchan Aruch emphatically declares that only pleasure washing is technically forbidden. Although the Mishna Berura stresses that on Yom Kippur one should not rely on this unless in dire need, nevertheless, if hygienic washing to remove sweat on Yom Kippur is permitted, then it certainly is permitted during the Nine Days.
Another important factor is that the Chayei Adam and Mishna Berura explicitly permit certain types of washing during the Nine Days (head, arms and legs) if one is accustomed to bathe every week. Nowadays, with everyone (hopefully) showering more than once a week, this dispensation should include everyone, especially when considered necessary. If one is unsure if or when this is relevant to himself, he should ask his spouse, friends, or the guy davening next him in shul!
An interesting point raised by the Sha’arim Metzuyanim B’Halacha is that when Chazal enacted the original prohibitions of the Nine Day, the only way to bathe was to go for an enjoyable lengthy dip in a steamy bathhouse. But nowadays, with the advent of quick and easy showers, which are meant for a hygienic wash and not for pleasure bathing, it is possible that they would not be included in the prohibition. Remember, not too long ago showers were not too prevalent.
Across The Board
This ‘Shower Exclusion’ during the Nine Days for hygienic purposes is ruled decisively by many contemporary authorities including Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld, Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky, the Klausenberger Rebbe, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner, Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul, Rav Ovadia Yosef, and the Sha’arim Metzuyanim B’Halacha.
However, there are several stipulations many of these poskim cite, meant to ensure that the shower will be strictly for cleanliness, minimizing enjoyment and mitigating turning it into ‘pleasure bathing’:
1. There has to be a real need: i.e. to remove excessive sweat, perspiration, grime, or dirt. (In other words, ‘to actually get clean!’).
2. One should take a quick shower in water as cold as one can tolerate (preferably cold and not even lukewarm).
3. It is preferable to wash one limb at a time and not the whole body at once. (This is where an extendable shower head comes in handy). If only one area is dirty, one should only wash that area of the body.
4. One shouldn’t use soap or shampoo unless necessary, meaning if a quick rinse in water will do the job, there’s no reason to go for overkill. Obviously, if one needs soap to get clean he may use it.
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, while wryly noting that actual mourners do not usually ask for special halachic allowances related to the halachos of mourning, as opposed to many during the Nine Days, nevertheless, cautions the overzealous among us not to forget about the spirit of the law. It is important for us all to remember that these restrictions were instituted by our Rabbis as a public show of mourning during the most devastating time period on the timeline of the Jewish year. Our goal should be to utilize these restrictions as a catalyst for inspiration towards Teshuva. It is worthwhile to do so, as well. As the Kaf Hachaim relates, everyone who observes the halachos of the first ten days of Av, thereby demonstrating their personal mourning over the destruction of Yerushalayim, will merit witnessing ten incredible miracles reserved for the days of Moshiach.
This article originally appeared on the Ohr Somayach website: www.ohr.edu.
For any questions, comments or for the full Mareh Mekomos / sources, please email the author: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rabbi Yehuda Spitz serves as the Shoel U’ Meishiv and Rosh Chabura of the Ohr Lagolah Halacha Kollel at Yeshivas Ohr Somayach in Yerushalayim. He also currently writes a contemporary halacha column for the Ohr Somayach website titled “Insights Into Halacha“. http://ohr.edu/this_week/insights_into_halacha/.
See Mishna in Tractate Ta’anis 26b and accompanying Gemara.
Although bathing is noticeably absent from the Gemara’s restrictions of the Nine Days, nevertheless, this opinion of the Ravyah (Avi Ezri vol. 3, 882) is codified as halacha by the Tur, Shulchan Aruch, and Rema (O.C. 551, 16). [This is not like the opinion of the Ran in Ta’anis (9b s.v. Gemara) who maintains that the Gemara omitted bathing during the Nine Days purposely. Additionally, the Rambam (Hilchos Ta’aniyos Ch. 5, 6) and Ramban (cited in Kaf Hachaim O.C. 551, 186) rule that the prohibition exclusively refers to pleasure bathing in hot water in an actual bathhouse.] Many Sefardim are only noheg these restrictions from the week of Tisha B’Av. See previous articles “When Do The Three Weeks Start” and “Meat For Breakfast“. Many of these restrictions are generally still in effect until midday of the next day, the tenth of Av (O.C. 558).
Y”D 381, 1 & 2. See Mishna Berura in Biur Halacha (554, 15 s.v. sicha & Sha’ar Hatzion 38) who says this explicitly, and technically even on Tisha B’Av itself it is permitted. The Gr”a (Biur HaGr”a O.C. 614, 1; Y”D 381, 3) cites proofs to this from the Yerushalmi in Ta’anis (Ch. 1, 6). The Mishna Berura adds that it’s so obvious that this is permitted during the Nine Days (including Tisha B’Av !), that there was no need for the Shulchan Aruch to even make mention of it! Although the Shulchan Aruch only explicitly mentions the phrase “l’ha’avir es hazuhama” regarding the prohibition of ‘sicha‘, anointing, nevertheless, it is obvious that it applies as well to washing, which is a lesser form of ‘ta’anug‘ than anointing. See Levush (O.C. 614, 1), Shulchan Aruch HaRav (O.C. 614, 1), and Yeshuos Yaakov (O.C. 613, 1).
The Mishna Berura (613, Sha’ar HaTzion 4), nevertheless explicitly permits ‘bathing to remove dirt’ on Yom Kippur, as even the machmirim (including the Bach, Taz, and Pri Chadash – beg O.C. 613, 1, and Matteh Efraim 613, 2) would agree that that is permitted on Yom Kippur. See also Shu”t Divrei Yatziv (O.C. vol. 2, end 237, 4, s.v. u’lfee), who maintains that it is possible that there is no real dispute here, as all would agree that for a simple light sweat, any bathing would be assur as it still would be considered for pleasure, while for heavy sweat and grime all would agree that bathing would be strictly for hygiene and thus, permitted.
A similar sevara was stated by Rav Moshe Feinstein (cited in Rabbi Shimon D. Eider’s A Summary of Halachos of The Three Weeks pg. 13, 7) and Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin (in his approbation to sefer Nechamas Yosef). See also Shu”t Rivevos Efraim (vol. 3, 350 & vol. 4, 139).
Although the first real showers, with plumbed-in water, were invented by the ancient Greeks, as after exerting themselves in the stadium, ancient Greek athletes would freshen up in the kind of shower depicted on an Athenian vase of the fourth century B.C.E., nevertheless, they were not common or widespread until fairly recently, as showers were not deemed necessary until the monumental breakthrough by French chemist Louis Pasteur ignited the eventual discovery of germs. With the presence of germs and bacteria confirmed, new steps were taken in hygiene to prevent these germs from proliferating, sickening, and spoiling. See recent article: “The Halachic Discourse of Louis Pasteur“.
Including Shu”t Salmas Chaim (New Edition, vol. 1, O.C. 313), Shu”t Igros Moshe (E.H. vol. 4, 84, 4), Halichos Shlomo (Moadim vol. 2, Ch. 14, Dvar Halacha 24), Emes L’Yaakov (on Shulchan Aruch pg. 225, O.C. 551, footnote 514), Shu”t Divrei Yatziv (O.C. vol. 2, 237, 4), Ashrei HaIsh (vol. 3, pg. 469, 36), Shu”t Shevet HaLevi (vol. 7, 77, 2, 2 & vol. 8, 127), Shu”t Ohr L’Tzion (vol. 3, Ch. 27, 5), Shu”t Yabea Omer (vol. 5, O.C. 41), Shu”t Yechaveh Daas (vol. 1, 38), Sha’arim Metzuyanim B’Halacha (vol. 3, Ch. 122, 12 & 13), Shu”t Rivevos Efraim (vol. 3, 350 & vol. 4, 139), Shu”t Vayevarech David (vol. 1, 74), Shu”t Shulchan HaLevi (vol. 1, Ch. 16, 1, pg. 150), and Yalkut Yosef (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch O.C. 551, Dinei Shavua Shechal Bo Tisha B’Av, 13). See also Rabbi Shimon D. Eider’s A Summary of Halachos of The Three Weeks (pg. 12, 4), who cites Rav Moshe Feinstein as ruling that one may even immerse himself for a short time in a swimming pool to accomplish cleaning oneself from perspiration and grime during the Nine Days. Rav Ovadia Yosef recently reiterated his stance publicly on Israeli radio, that one should shower for hygienic reasons during the Nine Days. However, it must be noted that the Chazon Ish was quoted (Orchos Rabbeinu vol. 2, pg. 133, 15) as being very stringent with showering, even for hygienic reasons, and even though other Rabbanim were mattir. [Interestingly, Shu”t Rivevos Efraim (ibid.) cites differing views as to the Chazon Ish’s psak, with one opinion maintaining that the Chazon Ish ruled leniently for Bnei Torah to take a cold shower during the Nine Days, since they could not properly concentrate on their learning due to their heavy sweating.]