Tisha B'av

For the week ending 26 July 2014 / 28 Tammuz 5774

Showering During the Nine Days?!

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

The Mishna in Maseches Ta’anis (26b) famously teaches that “Mishenichnas Av Mema’atin BeSimcha”, ‘When the month of Av arrives (Rosh Chodesh Av), we 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[1], halacha dictates various restrictions on us in order to mourn our great losses, and properly commemorate by feeling the devastation[2]. 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[3]. Although bathing is noticeably absent from the Gemara’s restrictions of the Nine Days, all the same, this opinion of the Ravyah’s (an early Rishon) is codified as halacha by the Tur, Shulchan Aruch, and Rema (Orach Chaim 551, 16)[4].

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 in Yerushalayim already hovering near 100°F (37°C) in June!

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”[5]. The Aruch Hashulchan[6], already in the 1890’s, ruled 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 Aruch Hashulchan is teaching us that 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 the loss of his parents is permitted to be ‘ma’avir es hazuhama’, ‘remove the sweat’, even during shiva, since it is not done for pleasure[7]. The Mishna Berura adds that it’s so obvious that this is permitted during the Nine Days, that there was no need for the Shulchan Aruch to even make mention of it!

Indeed, the Rambam and Ramban rule that the ‘Nine Days’ prohibition refers exclusively to pleasure bathing in hot water in an actual bathhouse. The Yeshuos Yaakov writes similarly, that since the Nine Days constitute a mourning period akin to Sheloshim, and during Sheloshim a mourner may wash himself with cold water, so too during the Nine Days the only washing restriction should be pleasure bathing in hot water[8].

An interesting 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[9]. 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 me’ikar hadin permitted[10], then it certainly is permitted during the Nine Days.

Another important factor is that the Chayei Adam, Ben Ish Chai, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, and Mishna Berura[11] explicitly permit certain types of washing on Erev Shabbos Chazon (head, arms and legs) with hot water if one is accustomed to bathe every week. Several contemporary authorities, including Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l and Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin zt”l, maintain that nowadays, with everyone (hopefully) showering more than once a week, this dispensation should include everyone taking a full hot shower, especially when considered necessary[12]. [13]

An interesting point raised by Rav Shlomo Zalman Braun zt”l, in his Sha’arim Metzuyanim B’Halacha[14] is that when Chazal enacted the original prohibitions of the Nine Days, 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 very prevalent[15].

Contemporary Consensus

This ‘Shower Exclusion’ during the Nine Days for hygienic purposes is ruled decisively by the vast majority of contemporary authorities including Rav Yosef Chaim Zonnenfeld zt”l, Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, Rav Yaakov Kamenetsky zt”l, the Klausenberger Rebbe zt”l, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l, Rav Shmuel HaLevi Wosner shlit”a, Rav Ben Tzion Abba Shaul zt”l, Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu zt”l, and the Sha’arim Metzuyanim B’Halacha zt”l[16]. However, and although there are differing reports of his true opinion, it must be noted that the Chazon Ish zt”l, as well as Rav Binyamin Zilber zt”l, was quoted as being very stringent with showering during the Nine Days, even for hygienic reasons, and even though most other Rabbanim were mattir[17].

Additionally, this ‘Shower Exclusion’ is by no means a blanket hetter. 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 or shampoo to get clean he may use it.

Good Mourning?

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l, while wryly noting that actual mourners do not usually ask for special halachic allowances related to the halachos of mourning as opposed to many who do so during the Nine Days, nonetheless cautions the overzealous among us not to forget about the spirit of the law[18]. It is important for us all to remember that these restrictions were instituted by Chazal to publicly show our 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[19]. It is worthwhile to do so, as well. As the Kaf Hachaim[20] 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[21]. May it be speedily in our days.

This article was written l’iluy nishmas the Rosh Yeshiva Rav Chuna Menachem Mendel ben Yechezkel Shraga and R’ Chaim Boruch Yehuda ben Dovid Tzvi, l’refuah sheleimah for R’ Shlomo Yoel ben Chaya Leah and l’zechus for Yaacov Tzvi ben Rivka and Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam v’chol yotzei chalatzeha for a yeshua teikif umiyad.

For any questions, comments or for the full Mareh Mekomos / sources, please email the author: yspitz@ohr.edu.

Rabbi Yehuda Spitz serves as the Sho’el 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/.


[1]See Mishna in Tractate Ta’anis 26b and accompanying Gemara.

[2]See Gemara Yevamos 43a, Tosafos (ad loc. s.v. milisa, citing the Yerushalmi Ta’anis), and Tur, Shulchan Aruch, Rema and their commentaries Orach Chaim 551.

[3]This is following general Ashkenazic minhag; many Sefardim only start restrictions on beginning of the week that Tisha B’Av falls out on. Although there are several Sefardic authorities who maintain that Sefardim should follow the Ashkenazic minhag and start the restrictions from Rosh Chodesh Av [Including the Knesses HaGedolah (Orach Chaim 551, Haghos on the Tur 5) the Ben Ish Chai (Year 1, Parshas Devarim 4, 5, & 12), and Kaf Hachaim (Orach Chaim 551, 44, 80, & 142)], nevertheless, most Sefardim are only noheg these restrictions from the actual week of Tisha B’Av as per the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 551, 10). See Shu”t Yabea Omer (vol. 6, Orach Chaim 46 and vol. 9, Orach Chaim 50, 1), Shu”t Yechaveh Daas (vol. 1, 41 and vol. 4, 36) and Yalkut Yosef (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 551, 1). Many of these restrictions are generally still in effect until midday(Chatzos) of the next day, the tenth of Av (see Shulchan Aruch and commentaries to Orach Chaim 558).

[4]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 (Orach Chaim 551, 16). The halacha does not follow the opinion of the Ran (Ta’anis 9b s.v. Gemara) who maintains that the Gemara omitted bathing during the Nine Days purposely.

[5]This, in fact, is the lashon used in Ma’adanei Shlomo (on Moadim, Bein HaMetzarim pg. 56).

[6]Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chaim 551, 37).

[7]Tosafos (Brachos 16b s.v. istanis), Tur & Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah 381, 1 & 2). See Mishna Berura in Biur Halacha (554, 15 s.v. sicha & Shaar HaTziyun 38) who says this explicitly, and avers that on Tisha B’Av itself it is technically permitted. The Vilna Gaon (Biur HaGr”a Orach Chaim 614, 1; Yoreh De’ah 381, 3) cites proofs to this from the Yerushalmi 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 also Levush (Orach Chaim 614, 1), Shulchan Aruch HaRav (Orach Chaim 614, 1), and Yeshuos Yaakov (Orach Chaim 613, 1).

[8]Rambam (Hilchos Ta’aniyos Ch. 5, 6; “u’kvar nahagu Yisrael shelo le’echol bassar b’Shabbos zu v’lo yichansu l’merchatz ad sheyaavor haTaanis”), Ramban (cited by the Kaf Hachaim - Orach Chaim 551, 186) and Yeshuos Yaakov (Orach Chaim 551, 3).

[9]Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 613, end 1), Mishna Berura (ad loc. 2; based on the Levush, Magen Avraham, Elya Rabba, and Ma’amar Mordechai - beg. Orach Chaim 614, 1).

[10]The Mishna Berura (613, Shaar HaTziyun 4), nevertheless explicitly permits ‘bathing to remove dirt’ on Yom Kippur, as even the machmirim (including the Bach, Taz, and Pri Chadash - beg. Orach Chaim 613, 1, and Matteh Efraim 613, 2) would agree that that is permitted on Yom Kippur. See also Shu”t Divrei Yatziv (Orach Chaim 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.

[11]Chayei Adam (vol. 2, Klal 133, 19), Ben Ish Chai (Year 1, Parshas Devarim 16), Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (122, 13), and Mishna Berura (551, 97).

[12]Rav Moshe Feinstein’s opinion is cited in Rabbi Shimon D. Eider’s A Summary of Halachos of The Three Weeks (pg. 13, 7) as well as in Mesores Moshe (Bein HaMetzarim 367, 3, pg. 171). Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin’s shitta is printed in his approbation to sefer Nechamas Yosef, and in his recent posthumously published Shu”t Gevuros Eliyahu (vol. 1, Orach Chaim 37, 4). See also Shu”t Rivevos Efraim (vol. 3, 350 & vol. 4, 139) for a similar assessment. However, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l is quoted (Ma’adanei Shlomo on Moadim, Bein HaMetzarim pg. 56; he is also quoted as expressing amazement that there are people who are scrupulous about showering daily and sometimes twice a day!) as not agreeing with this chiddush, and maintaining that on Erev Shabbos Chazon one still should not bathe ‘kol gufo b’chamin’, similar to the Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chaim 551, 37) and Mishna Berura’s ruling ad loc. 95) regarding one who bathes in hot water every Erev Shabbos.

[13]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! Remember, Mitzvos Bein Adam L’Chaveiro constitute half of the Aseres HaDibros!

[14]Sha’arim Metzuyanim B’Halacha (vol. 3, Ch.122, 12 & 13).

[15]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 famed 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 this author’s recent article titled: “The Halachic Discourse of Louis Pasteur”.

[16]Including Shu”t Salmas Chaim (New Edition, vol. 1, Orach Chaim 313), Shu”t Igros Moshe (Even HaEzer vol. 4, 84, 4),Halichos Shlomo (Moadim vol. 2, Ch. 14, Dvar Halacha 24), Ma’adanei Shlomo (on Moadim, Bein HaMetzarim, pg. 55 and 56), Emes L’Yaakov (on Shulchan Aruch pg. 225, Orach Chaim 551, footnote 514), Shu”t Divrei Yatziv (Orach Chaim vol. 2, 237, 4), Ashrei HaIsh (Orach Chaim 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, Orach Chaim 41), Shu”t Yechaveh Daas (vol. 1, 38), Rav Mordechai Eliyahu’s Darchei Halacha Glosses to the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (122, 19), Sha’arim Metzuyanim B’Halacha (vol. 3, Ch. 122, 12 & 13), Shu”t Rivevos Efraim (vol. 3, 350 & vol. 4, 139), Shu”t VaYevarech Dovid (vol. 1, 74), Shu”t Shulchan HaLevi (vol. 1, Ch. 16, 1, pg. 150), and Yalkut Yosef (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 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) [also cited in Mesores Moshe (Bein HaMetzarim 367, pg. 171)], who cites Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l as ruling that one who is ‘metzta’er’ 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 zt”l several years ago reiterated his stance publicly on Israeli radio, that one should shower for hygienic reasons during the Nine Days. Additionally, Rav Yisrael Yaakov Fischer zt”l (Shu”t Even Yisrael vol. 9, Haaros on Mishna Berura, Hilchos Tisha B’Av, pg. 111) proves that regarding the Nine Days restrictions, any time ‘rechitza’ is actually allowed, ‘sicha’ would be as well, and using soap and shampoo in a shower cannot be construed as more than ‘sicha’. See also Shu”t Emek HaTeshuva (vol. 1, 92, 2) who applies similar logic to permit toothbrushing and floor cleaning (sponja) during the Nine Days; since they are meant for hygiene and cleanliness and not pleasure, they are likewise permitted. Interestingly, Rav Mayer Bransdorfer zt”l (Shu”t Knei Bosem vol. 1, 32) addresses the issue that the Mishna Berura (551, 93, quoting the Levush ad loc. 15) implies that this dispensation is only for children who medically need it; he concludes that that Mishan Berura’s allowance only theoretically applies to the general issue of ‘rechitza’ for pleasure during the Nine Days. However, practically, if the ‘rechitza’ is to remove sweat and grime, and certainly if it is for ‘refuah mammash’ [as mentioned by the Kenesses HaGedolah (Haghos on Beis Yosef ad loc. 23), Elya Rabba (ad loc. 35), and Shaarei Teshuva (ad loc. end 37)] it is ‘pashut’ that one should not be stringent, as regarding Tisha B’Av itself, even an adult may be lenient to shower under those conditions (as previously mentioned in footnote 7).

[17]However, it must be noted that the Chazon Ish was quoted (Orchos Rabbeinu vol. 2, pg. 133, 15) as being very stringent with showering during the Nine Days, even for hygienic reasons, and even though most other Rabbanim were mattir. He does allow pouring cold water on one’s back as a way to cool off, though. [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.] Rav Binyamin Zilber (Shu”t Az Nidberu vol. 11, 48, s.v. siman 350) rules stringently as well regarding showering (unless perhaps for a married woman). He adds that this is the Chazon Ish’s true shittah, and not as one of the opinions cited in the Rivevos Efraim quoted him as holding. He concludes ‘u’kdai ketzas lehitzta’er al seraifas Beis Elokeinu’. Interestingly, this exact case, of a Ben Torah in Bnei Brak during the Nine Days, is one Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach expressly permitted (Ma’adanei Shlomo on Moadim, Bein HaMetzarim, pg. 55 and 56), explaining that a place as hot and humid as Bnei Brak is considered ‘ee efsher b’lav hachi’, impossible to go without’ (referring to at least a cold shower).

[18]Halichos Shlomo (ibid., footnote 61).

[19]See Mishna Berura (549, 1), based on the Rambam (Hilchos Ta’aniyos Ch. 5, 1).

[20]Kaf Hachaim (Orach Chaim 551, 1; quoting the Yafeh LaLev vol. 2, 1).

[21]Midrash Rabbah (Shemos, Parshas Bo, Ch.15, 21). See also Gemara at the end of Tractate Makkos (24a- 24b), Gemara Ta’anis (30b), and Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 554, 25).

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