By Rabbi J. Simcha Cohen
Excerpted from his new book Shabbat: The Right Way (Urim Publications) pages 116–118.
Q: May one shower with hot water on Shabbat and Yom Tov?
Halachic research indicates that bathing is prohibited on Shabbat and Yom Tov regardless of whether a violation of Shabbat or Yom Tov laws took place. The Talmud (Shabbat 40a) states:
At first, people used to wash in [cistern] water that was heated on the eve of Shabbat. Then the bath attendants began to heat the water on Shabbat, maintaining that it was done on the eve of Shabbat. So the [use of] hot water was forbidden, but sweating [a steam bath] was permitted. Yet still they used to bathe in hot water, saying: We are perspiring [taking a steam bath]. So sweating [steam bathing] was forbidden, though the thermal hot springs of Tiberias were permitted. Yet they bathed in water heated by fire, saying: We bathed in the hot springs of Tiberias. So they forbade the hot springs but permitted cold water. But when they saw that this [series of restrictions] could not stand, they permitted the hot springs of Tiberias, while sweating [taking a steam bath] remained as before [prohibited].
Clarifying this rule, the Talmud reports that washing specific parts of one’s body, such as one’s face and hands, were not included in the prohibition. Indeed, the Shulchan Aruch specifically notes that the prohibition is applicable to the bathing of one’s entire body, even if this is done limb by limb. Therefore, immersion in a bath of hot water heated even on Friday afternoon would be prohibited because of the rabbinic decree. The codes add that one may not even pour water over one’s body (Orach Chayyim 326:1). The Aruch ha-Shulchan notes that this latter process was prohibited even though it was not the normal mode of bathing; for once an injunction was set up, he contends, the sages did not make a distinction between the normal modes of bathing and other ones (lo pelug; Orach Chayyim 326:2). It is apparent that this relates to showering, which is, in essence, water poured over the body. Today, showering is as popular a mode of bathing as immersing oneself in a bathtub.
One cannot contend that the original prohibition did not include showering because it was not a conventional mode of bathing at the time. Indeed, the Talmud specifically states that bathing in the hot springs of Tiberias was made permissible, because without such permission the Jews would have had no acceptable means of bathing with hot water on Shabbat (see Rashi). This indicates that hot showers was also prohibited. Accordingly, any form of bathing with hot water, even with hot water heated prior to Shabbat or without any violation of Shabbat (such as an automatic heater) would be prohibited. (My own feeling is that the decree would extend to immersing one’s entire body in a heated swimming pool.)
However, Ha-Rav Akiva Eiger provides a loophole. Read the rest of this entry »