Monday, February 25, 2008

Question & Answer With Dixie Yid - In All Places

(Picture courtesy of

A Simple Jew asks:

Upon hearing his question, I immediately thought about this story regarding the Shapira brothers sitting in a prison cell next unable to daven since they were sitting next to pail full of human waste.

"Why can't Hashem go into our bathroom?", my three year-old asked me as I tucked him into bed.

He was obviously thinking about why I stopped him from saying brochos and singing other tefillos while sitting in the bathtub earlier that night. At that time, I explained to him that we don't say brochos or say Hashem's name in the bathroom because there is a toilet in this room and it is not a clean place. Obviously he misconstrued my explanation to mean that Hashem was prevented from entering a bathroom.

While Halacha instructs us not to even think about Hashem or His Torah in a bathroom, if "Hashem is truly everywhere" as Uncle Moishy sings, is He still present but heavily concealed in a bathroom, brothel, or a place of idolatry?

Dixie Yid answers:

I brought your question to my Rebbe and, as a starting point, he immediately pointed me to a teshuva (responsa) in Lev Avraham #23, by R. Avraham Weinfeld. He adressed the question of whether the six constant mitzvos are really constant or not. (The six constant mitzvos are 1) To believe in Hashem. 2) To not believe in anything else other than Hashem 3) To believe in Hashem's Oneness 4) To fear Hashem 5) To love Hashem and 6) Not to pursue the passions of your heart and stray after your eyes) Do we have to think about these six things all of the time literally? Or is it that any time we think of them, that it is a mitzvah. And are they really constant? Isn't it asur, prohibited, to think about Torah in the bathroom? If we are not allowed to think about Hashem's existance, or love or fear of Hashem in the bathroom, then in what sense are they really "constant," "temidios?"

He said that for many reasons, he holds that it is not merely permissible to think about Hashem (or any one of the 6 constant mitzvos) in the bathroom or some other unclean place, but that "we have no right to exempt ourselves from them, even in a place where it is forbidden to think words of Torah!"

First, he proved that the six constant mitzvos are not constant obligations. A person is only capable of thinking one thought at a time. If one had to think about these six things all of the time, then it would be impossible to think about more than one of them at a time, much less about any other mitzva, like limud haTorah, which requires great concentration. Rather, he says, these six constant mitzvos apply at every single second, and there is not even one moment in which they do not apply. Anytime a person thinks about them, he does a mitzvah, but he does not have an active obligation to think about all six at every moment, which would be impossible.

He told the story brought by Rav Isaac of Acco (1250-1340), the author of the "Divrei Chaim" in the sefer "Otzar Chaim." He told over that his Rav was sitting in a Din Torah, a Rabbinic court case, with two other Rabbonim, which the sides had chosen. While they were intently analyzing the Torah's law, with a Choshen Mishpat open on the table, one of the two other Rabbonim at the table, all of a sudden, became very excited and called out, "Master of the world! The One, Only and Unified!" And the Divrei Chaim's Rebbe rebuked the Rav. When one is toiling in Torah, he must spend all of his attention on the deep analysis in the Shulchan Aruch and Ketzos Hachosehen. Rav Weinfeld gathered from this story that one must certainly not be obligated to actively think about Hashem's existance at every moment.

However, as Rav Chaim Volozhiner wrote in Nefesh Hachaim (Shaar 4 perek 7), that before one begins learning, he should focus his mind by thinking for a short period of time about his creator. And that every in the middle of learning, a small interuption is permitted so that a person can prevent all Yiras Hashem from being forgotten, due to his concentration in learning Torah. I posted an article recently by Rabbi Boruch Leff on this topic, as it relates to implementing the teachings of the sefer Bilvavi Mishkan Evneh, while learning.

Not only that, he says that according to many opinions, even the isur, prohibition, of learning Torah in the bathroom is rabbinic, not biblical. He brings down the machlokes, dispute, in the Yerushalmi (Brachos 3:4): "מהו להרהר בבית הכסא חזקיה אמר מותר ר' יסא אמר אסור א"ר זעירא כל סבר קשי דהוה לי תמן סבירתיה א"ר אלעזר בר שמעון כל ההוא סברא קשיא דטבול יום תמן סבירתיה." "May one think [words of Torah] in a bathroom? Chizkia says it is permissible. Rav Asa says it is forbidden. Rav Zeira says that any svara (logical explanation) that I can't understand, there [in the bathroom] I understand it. And so too, Rebbe Elazar b'Reb Shimon said that any svara regarding T'vul Yom that he couldn't understand, there [in the bathroom] he understood it." Rav Weinfeld clarifies that it goes without saying that these Amoraim kept the prohibition of not learning Torah in the bathroom on purpose, regardless of whether the prohibition is rabbinic or biblical, but that these chiddushim (novella) in Torah came to them accidently. Since they were so immersed in Torah, it was literally impossible to stop "thinking in learning" for them, and so they were exempt for that reason.

Nonetheless, we can see from this teshuva, that not only is Hashem equally present even in unclean places, but one can and should think about His existance, unity and love even in those places. Although we don't think about Torah or say divrei Torah in the bathroom because it is forbidden as a show of respect and kavod, thinking about Hashem's existance and presence is not only permitted, it is a mitzvah, in fulfillment of one of the six constant mitzvos.

Note: There are diverging opinions on this issue and individuals should consult their own competent rabinic authority before relying on this psak.


At February 25, 2008 at 4:53:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

They asked Hillel the Elder "Where are you going?" Replie he: "I am going to perform a sacred deed." Asked they: "And what is this sacred deed of Hillel?" Said he: "I am going to the House of the Chair". Asked they: "But is that a sacred deed to do?" Said he "Yes indeed, for by so doing one prevents the body from detoriating".
Another time... about going to the bathhouse... "For by doing so one cleanses the body. Know that the statues of Caesar that are erected in the arena's are but facsimiles of the Image of God, yet the Romans wash them daily. If that which is but a facsimile of the divine image is deserving of such honors, so much more so is the body, which was actually created in the Image of God."

At February 25, 2008 at 10:54:00 AM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

According to R. Yehuda Brochos 21A (, there is a distinction between halachos and "derech eretz". The latter can be learned b'tumah. While halachically one can draw various disntinctions, we do see that there is a difference between "derech eretz", whatever that may be, and other areas of Torah.

At February 25, 2008 at 12:29:00 PM EST, Blogger Long Beach Chasid said...

Can it be a coincidence that anytime i struggle with something in yiddishkite you either write a blog about it or have a guest post linked? My Neshama is grateful.

Just to clarify, I can think about G-d's oneness greatness and my love for him as long as I dont think of his sacred torah?

What about singing jewish songs in the shower? :p

At February 25, 2008 at 12:35:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Long Beach Chassid: Thanks for the feedback :) By the way, there is no such thing as a "coincidence".

At February 25, 2008 at 2:26:00 PM EST, Blogger DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


Thanks for bringing down those ma'asim. It just shows what we always learn in Chassidus, that everything in the world should be done in a way of avodas Hashem.


I would hope that you can clarify your point more. What is "derech eretz" in this context that is permissible to study in the bathroom, whereas Torah is obviously forbidden? Does that mean something like "secular studies"?

Long Beach Chossid,

Thanks for your kind comment. I guess it's hashgacha that you see what you need to see, when you need to see it! Baruch Hashem!

As I understand it, yes. It is forbidden to think of Torah or sing Jewish songs like psukim in the bathroom. But you may, according to Rav Weinfeld, think of Hashem's existance.


Thanks again for thinking enough of ignorant 'ol me to write something on your blog that I was able to learn from a sefer!

-Dixie Yid

At February 25, 2008 at 2:51:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a big machlokes about this issue and one should definitely ask a posek!
Just a little of the mekoros:
The earliest source that I know of who permits is Rav Shlomo Kluger. There are a few others as well.
However, it seems clear that the vast majority of poskim Rishonim and Achronim prohibit this.
The Tzitz Eliezer (XIII, 1) and other poskim learn this from the fact that many poskim discuss what one can think about in the bathroom and thinking about Hashem doesn't come up.
The Mishna Brurah for example states that one can definitely contemplate one's smallness and the like in the bathroom(see Siman 85, #5)
The Sefer Chasidim says that one should think about various cheshbonos and on Shabbos when this is forbidden one should think about beautiful pictures and buildings.
This Sefer Chassidim is quoted in the Magen Avraham (the first half the Machsis Hashekel there quotes the rest) and Shulchan Aruch Harav 85 #1 as well as the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch.
Why don't all the poskim discussing this say this wonderful idea of thinking of Hashem?
There are other proofs but the comments here is not the is not the forum.
The Noam Elimelech in Ki Tisa D"h Mishoch, "One should also be modest in the Beis hakisay and should only think of permitted things there. D'haynu: that he is filled with embarrassment and shame..."
It is important to note in conclusion that one may think about character improvement in the bathroom (see Nefesh Hachaim, Shaar 4 chapter 27. The Alter of Kelm also permitted this. See also Halichos Shlomo, chapter 20 #23.)

At February 25, 2008 at 3:03:00 PM EST, Blogger DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

R' Golshevsky,

Thank you for the very specific mekoros on this. IY"H, I'll ask my rebbe about these opinions. Thank you very much!

-Dixie Yid

At February 25, 2008 at 9:45:00 PM EST, Blogger Neil Harris said...

Nice post.

At February 26, 2008 at 4:25:00 AM EST, Blogger Devorah Chayah said...

I learned that we don't say brachot or learn Torah in the bathroom because it is a place where klippot are expelled and therefore attracts these forces in kind. Any source of kedusha allows them to feed and be strengthened.

At February 26, 2008 at 1:59:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I seem to remember that this was one of the issues about which the original Misnagdim attacked the Chassidim, who stressed the concept of Hashem's ominipresence ("ein ode milvado" / memale kol almin).

Yet there is a well-known tradition that the Baal Shem Tov once came back from the bathroom and announced, "I just fulfilled the entire Torah -- by performing the mitzvah of not thinking about what we are not allowed to contemplate in the bathroom!"

Sometimes not-doing or not-thinking is just as great as doing or thinking!

At February 26, 2008 at 2:08:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I see everyone addressed the bathroom question but ASJ also asked about a brothel and a place of idolatry as well.

At February 27, 2008 at 4:41:00 AM EST, Blogger yitz said...

@long beach chasid
i've often accused ASJ of secretly being in touch with what's going on in other people's lives..

i always think about this issue a lot as well, since my mind wanders a lot..

At February 27, 2008 at 1:33:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No time to answer properly right now but the answer to the other two points is in the Ba'al Shem Tov Al Hatorah, parshas Yisro, #10 (second commandment.)

At February 28, 2008 at 5:19:00 AM EST, Blogger Akiva said...

Devash - this is exactly the point raised by Kav HaYashar (11).

All of the answers so far have focused very much on the halacha and practical aspects. Yet I think this issue trends more into the areas of tumah and ritual purity. There are different aspects of G-d's presence in this world, and some of those aspects are less present in areas of tumah. And we don't bring the kedushah down into the tumah (at least, we're not supposed to!)

At February 28, 2008 at 7:38:00 AM EST, Blogger DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...

Akiva, I recently learned at the end of the first perek of Tanya in Rav Shteinzaltz's Peirush that there is Divine light not only in Klipas Noga, but also in the Shalosh Klipos Hatemeios. The difference is, he said, that the Nitzotz Kedusha can be extracted and separated from Klipas Noga, but it, practically speaking, can never be extracted from the Klipas Noga, at least by us. Perhaps that could be applied here as well, to say that while Hashem is "in" places of Tuma equally, it is something that we will never be able to access in Olam Hazeh.

At March 17, 2008 at 7:22:00 AM EDT, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When Moshe encountered Pharoh relieving himself at the bank of the Nile he mentioned Hashem's command to let his people go - thus speaking words of kedusha in the presence of urine. Dixie Yid, how do you explain this??

At March 17, 2008 at 7:53:00 AM EDT, Blogger DixieYid (يهودي جنوبي) said...


First of all, my name isn't "Dixie Yid." It's "Yeps on the Steps."

Second, several of the approaches used by the meforshim to explain situations where it seems like the Avos did things which are asur, could be applied here as well. According to the Ramban, the Avos (this was pre-matan Torah) only were mekabel to keep all of the mitzvos in E"Y, but this was in Mitzrayim.)

Also, this was a case of Pikuach Nefesh, saving the Jewish people. So the pirincipal of pikuach nefesh docheh es hakol would apply.

Also, telling someone a halacha pesuka, that Hashem says he must let the Jews out of mitzrayim, may not be asur to think about in a bathroom anyway. You have to know how to behave in a bathroom halachicly after all and you can't know what to do if you don't first think about what you must do. That's different from "thinking in learning."

Also, it may not have a din of beis hakisei anyway since it was a river, where any feces are immeidetly washed down-river.

Be well!

-Dixie Yid

At January 28, 2014 at 8:34:00 AM EST, Blogger Chocolate Yid said...

What IS klipahs noga?? My name is noga!!


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