Are You Allowed to Shower on Yom Tov?

Is a warm shower on Yom Tov something within reach?

One of the most famous differences between Shabbos and Yom Tov is that we are allowed to cook on Yom Tov. Based on that halacha, it is established practice for us to use running hot water in our homes. Are we allowed to shower or take a bath, too? Is showering with warm water any different than opening the faucet to wash our hands?

The answer touches on two issues in halacha: the permissibility of heating the water, and the allowance to bathe in warm water on Yom Tov. Both of these issues, heating water and using it to bathe, are the subject of a fascinating dispute among the Rishonim, primarily the Baalei HaTosafos and the Rif.

The possible problems according to the Baalei HaTosafos

According to the Baalei HaTosafos, there are two related problems:

  1. People used to shower infrequently. In those days, heating bathwater was a violation of Yom Tov, because the cooking was for an unusual reason. Nowadays, showering is common. Does that mean that heating water now became allowed?
  2. When heating water used to be a melacha, Chazal made a gezeirah not to take a warm bath, so that people did not heat the water on Yom Tov. If you are allowed to heat water nowadays, does that ancient gezeirah disappear? The reason for the gezeirah might not apply, but it still was a formal gezeirah made by Chazal.

The possible problem according to the Rif

The Rif had a different way of examining the gezeirah made against bathing. The gezeirah was not made to protect Yom Tov, but to protect Shabbos. Since cooking on Shabbos is a serious aveirah, Chazal prohibited bathing, both on Shabbos and on Yom Tov, just to make sure people did not heat up water on Shabbos. It would seems that that gezeirah is still applicable. Chazal did not want us showering on Yom Tov in order to make sure that we did not accidentally heat water for a shower on Shabbos. It sounds like it should still be forbidden to take a warm shower nowadays on Yom Tov.

Here is a further, in depth discussion of this fascinating topic.

The Mishna’s limitation

The Mishna (Beitza 21b) says that you are permitted to heat up water to wash your face, hands, and feet on Yom Tov. Something is notably lacking. The narrow language of the Mishna implies that you are not allowed to heat water to bathe completely. What is it about fully showering that makes the Mishna forbid it?

There are two schools of thought as to why the Mishna limits the washing. Some Rishonim understand that the problem lies in heating the water on Yom Tov. Others see the issue as washing one’s full body. The Baalei HaTosafos see a problem with the heating of the water for a full bath on Yom Tov. On the other hand, the Rif sees the issue as the washing, not the heating.

The approach of the Baalei HaTosafos – One is not allowed to heat up the water altogether

Our contemporary use of running hot water in our homes on Yom Tov has its basis in the Torah’s allowance to cook food. The Torah tells us in Parashs Emor, ach asher yeochel l’chol nefesh hu l’vado ye’aseh lachem. Melachos that are used for ochel nefesh – food preparation, are permitted on Yom Tov. When we heat water to wash our hands, and not directly for cooking food, we are using an extension of that principle. Chazal expanded the heter of cooking food to include other Yom Tov objectives too, such as heating water for washing. Any melacha done for food preparation may also be done for other Yom Tov related purposes. This extension is known as the rule of mitoch (short for mitoch she’hutra l’tzorcha, hutrah shelo l’tzorcha).

Based on the Mishna’s austere allowance to heat water only to wash parts of the body, the Baalei HaTosafos introduce an important aspect of mitoch; the melacha needs to be commonplace. They explain that a melacha is only allowed if it is a regular, usual activity; one that is done by many people. If only a minority of people behave that way, the melacha may not be done on Yom Tov.

Before indoor plumbing was developed and there was no easy access to hot water, people bathed and showered sporadically. (It is rumored that some monarchs, such as Louis XIV, took almost no baths during their entire lifetime.) Since people heated water to wash their entire body infrequently, that cooking was not a type that was allowed on Yom Tov. It was not covered by the rule of mitoch. In contrast, it was common for people to heat water to wash just some parts of the body. Cooking water for that purpose was a usual practice, so it was allowed on Yom Tov.

It appears that this prohibition should no longer be relevant given contemporary plumbing. The Baalei HaTosafos maintain that the Mishna’s distinction between heating up water for one’s whole body or for part of it was not preordained. It followed naturally from the social milieu. When it was common to wash parts of one’s body, that was allowed, but heating for the full body was not. Now that it is common for most people to heat water to wash their whole body, that is normal use on Yom Tov. With the advent of running hot water and the frequency with which we wash ourselves, heating water to wash the full body is now something common. Therefore, it falls under the leniency of mitoch, and you should be allowed to turn on a faucet to obtain warm water for a shower or bath.

The approach of the Rif – One is not allowed to bathe fully

The Rif and the Rambam have a different understanding of why the Mishna only allows washing parts of the body. It comes from a rabbinic prohibition to fully wash on Shabbos and Yom Tov. The Gemara (Shabbos 40a) records that unscrupulous bathhouse owners used to provide water heated on Shabbos for people to bathe. They dishonestly told people that the water was hot from before Shabbos. Unfortunately, the water was inappropriately heated on Shabbos itself. In order to curb the disturbing behavior of the bathhouse owners, Chazal prohibited washing one’s whole body with hot water on Shabbos or Yom Tov. That way, there was no incentive for the bathhouse attendants to desecrate Shabbos.

The Rif explains that that is the reason the Mishna limits heating up water to washing parts of the body. The problem is not the heating of the water, but using it to wash. That is restricted by the rabbinic prohibition against fully washing in warm water on Shabbos and Yom Tov, made to stop the conduct of the bathhouse attendants on Shabbos.

The Rif does not agree to the Baalei HaTosafos that there is a problem with heating up water for bathing. The rabbinic prohibition addresses washing with the hot water that one would heat. It is interesting that once Chazal did disallow bathing, heating water also became prohibited, because it would now be a purposeless melacha on Yom Tov. But, the gezeirah was made to prevent the bathing itself. Parenthetically, once you cannot use hot water to bathe on Yom Tov, you are not allowed to heat it either. The rabbinic prohibition of heating up water to wash one’s body is not the reason for the gezeirah, but the result of it.

The Baalei HaTosafos and the gezeirah against bathhouses

The gezeirah against washing on Shabbos and Yom Tov is recorded in the Gemara, so both the Rif and the Baalei HaTosafos agree that it exists. The dispute between the Rif and the Baalei HaTosafos is how to understand the Mishna. What is the reason behind the Mishna’s limitation on not heating water to wash one’s full body? The Rif sees washing with the water as the main prohibition. The Baalei HaTosafos see the problem as starting earlier; even heating the water is a problem. However, the Baaeli HaTosafos do agree that if one had hot water (such as if had heated it up to wash just some of his body), he is still not allowed to wash his whole body because of the gezeirah prompted by bathhouses.

Their difference in understanding the rule of the Mishna has ramifications for how far the gezeirah reaches on Yom Tov.

The Baalei HaTosafos hold that Chazal made a uniform gezeirah that applies to Shabbos and Yom Tov, equally. Chazal prohibited fully washing with any hot water on both of them in order to ensure that no melacha was done on either of them.They made that gezeirah to stop the bathhouses from violating Shabbos or Yom Tov by heating water. Chazal even prohibited using water that was still hot from Erev Shabbos and Erev Yom Tov. Since they needed to prevent the bathhouse attendants from heating water and claiming that it was heated beforehand, they prohibited bathing regardless of when the water was actually heated.

The Rosh (Shabbos 3,7) elucidates that Chazal’s motivation to protect Shabbos and Yom Tov follows from the approach that heating water on either Shabbos or Yom Tov can be a melacha. According to the Baalei HaTosafos, heating water for the full body was not commonly done, and was considered a melacha on Yom Tov, just like on Shabbos. Therefore, Chazal even prohibited water heated before Yom Tov, just like they did for Shabbos. This removed any motivation for the bathhouse attendants to be dishonest and claim the water was still hot from before Yom Tov.

The Rama (511) says that the prevalent custom is to be concerned with the opinion of the Baalei HaTosafos and the Rosh, that bathing on Yom Tov is a problem, even with water heated before Yom Tov, similar to Shabbos. The ruling of the Rama, following the Baalei HaTosafos, is predicated on their opinion that heating the water on Yom Tov is a melacha, therefore Chazal forbade using bathhouses and bathing. Accordingly, one should not be allowed to bathe on Yom Tov because of the gezeirah against bathhouses and bathing.

The Rif’s limitation of the gezeirah against bathhouses
The Rif is lenient and makes a sharp distinction between Shabbos and Yom Tov. In his view, the main reason that Chazal prohibited bathhouses and bathing was to prevent melacha on Shabbos, not Yom Tov. They only prohibited bathing on Yom Tov to strengthen the rule not to bathe on Shabbos. Therefore, there is a major distinction between Shabbos and Yom Tov. On Shabbos, even water that is hot from before is not allowed. Chazal had to prohibit bathing with water heated before Shabbos to remove any illicit behavior by the bathhouse owners. In contrast, on Yom Tov they still permitted using water heated before Yom Tov.

The Rif’s rationale follows his belief that there is no problem with heating water to bathe on Yom Tov. He sees that as still allowed under the rule of mitoch. The only reason to interfere with people bathing on Yom Tov and prohibit hot water use was to protect Shabbos. They were not concerned about Yom Tov itself. It was enough to make a partial gezeirah against bathing in water heated on Yom Tov. They did not need to include water heated before Yom Tov in their prohibition.

The Rambam follows the lenient approach of the Rif. The Mechaber (Shulchan Aruch 326 and 511) rules like the Rif and the Rambam. Following that, one that follows the rulings of Shulchan Aruch (without the inclusions of the Rama) should be allowed to shower in water that was heated before Yom Tov.

In summary, the Rif and the Baalei HaTosafos disagree as to why Chazal made a gezeirah against warm water on Yom Tov. According to the Baalei HaTosafos, they were concerned about melacha on Shabbos and on Yom Tov, so they made a gezeirah on both equally. In the view of the Rif, the gezeirah on Yom Tov was to protect Shabbos. Therefore, Chazal did not make the gezeirah on Yom Tov as full as it was on Shabbos. They only prohibited water heated on Yom Tov, but not before Yom Tov.

Is showering nowadays permissible according to the Baalei HaTosafos – the lenient approach

According to the Baalei HaTosafos, there are two concerns regarding taking a hot shower on Yom Tov. The first problem is that it is a melacha to heat up hot water because it is uncommon. As mentioned, one can see that as being unanimously permitted nowadays falls under the rule of mitoch. Since bathing in warm water is so common, one should be allowed to turn on the faucet for a shower or bath in regular hot water.

The second issue is the gezeirah against bathing in hot water on Yom Tov. Chazal prohibited bathing in order to protect Yom Tov from violation by bathhouse owners. The question is if that prohibition is still extant. The melacha that Chazal originally had wanted to prevent, heating water to wash one’s full body, is permissible nowadays. One is allowed to heat the water. Is the gezeirah that Chazal set up still in its place?

Some contemporary authorities assert that since heating water is now common, and no longer a violation of Yom Tov, the gezeirah of Chazal, prompted by bathhouses, is also no longer applicable. The whole point of the gezeirah was to safeguard the sanctity of Yom Tov and prevent people from heating water illegitimately. Now that heating water is legitimate and permissible, Chazal’s gezeirah does not apply. They did not intend to continue the gezeirah to discourage heating water if the heating itself became permitted.

This approach is strongly advocated by the Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa (Chapter 14, footnote 21). It is also asserted by Rav Giora Brenner, Rosh Beis Medrash of Givat Asaf in Bet El, in his authoritative article on this topic (available here).

 

Showering nowadays according to the Baalei HaTosafos – a more rigid approach

The authorities mentioned above assert that the Baalei HaTosafos agree that the gezeirah no longer applies. They reason that a gezeirah made to prevent doing something that is no longer a melacha is repealed de facto. On the other hand, one might see that assumption, that a gezeirah disappears when the rationale is not relevant, as innovative and revolutionary.

Even if one were to assume that some gezeiros simply disappear when the reason for the gezeirah is not relevant, it is possible that here there is more reason to be strict and maintain that the gezeirah is still around. A careful reading of the Rosh implies that he would see the gezeirah still applicable because the rationale exists, too. The Rosh writes “al kol Shabbos v’Yom Tov gazru k’echad – on all, Shabbos and Yom Tov, they made the gezeirah together.” He seems to be stating that one gezierah was made together for Shabbos and Yom To. Even if there is no longer a need to safeguard Yom Tov per se, one gezeirah was made together to cover both Shabbos and Yom Tov. Since the Shabbos gezeirah still applies, as it is still prohibited to heat water on Shabbos, the Yom Tov gezeirah still exists with it.

This is especially important because the Rosh is the direct source for the Rama’s ruling not to bathe in water heated on Yom Tov or before Yom Tov. Since the Halacha originates with the Rosh, his understanding of the gezeirah would appear to be of paramount importance. If the Rama, quoting the Rosh, maintains that the gezeirah still applies now, one should not be allowed to bathe. The gezeirah against bathhouses is still in force.

Even the Rif and Rambam might agree that there is no longer a gezeirah

The Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa adds an even bigger leap. He takes his position, that the gezeirah no longer applies, a step further. He asserts that even the Rif and Rambam, who see the gezeirah against using bathhouses on Yom Tov as primarily to preserve Shabbos, would agree that it no longer applies. He reasons that Chazal would not have made the gezeirah on Yom Tov solely for the benefit of Shabbos. It must have been that it had at least had some relevance to Yom Tov, too. When they created the gezeirah, there was still a possibility of violating Yom Tov by heating up water. Since heating up water is now a normal activity on Yom Tov, Chazal would no longer prohibit using a bathhouse on Yom Tov where no aveirah can ever come out of it altogether. (Despite his strong assertions for the permissibility of showering normally on Yom Tov, and his advocacy for it, the Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa stops short of saying that it is permissible to shower on Yom Tov. Yet, the Sefer Shulchan Shlomo (Yom Tov Vol. 1, pp. 197 – 198 and footnote 3) reports that Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, the primary authority behind the Shemiras Shabbos Kehilchasa, did tell his students that showering normally on Yom Tov is permissible based on the same reasoning.)

Despite the fact that the Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchasa mentions his jump matter-of-factly in a footone (ibid.), one might see his ruling as unconventional. The Rif and Rambam seem to see the gezeirah made on Yom Tov as totally to preserve Shabbos, and for no Yom Tov reason in of itself. Since the Rif holds that heating water is permitted on Yom Tov, there would be no reason to make the gezeirah for Yom Tov itself. Although the Baalei HaTosafos hold that heating water was not allowed on Yom Tov, the Rif never saw that as prohibited altogether. The fact that it is now permitted is irrelevant. Another proof that the Rif saw the gezeirah as only made for Shabbos is that the gezeirah on Yom has different parameters than Shabbos. Since the gezeirah was made for Shabbos, Chazal included Erev Shabbos. In distinction, the gezeirah was not made to protect Yom Tov, so Chazal were not stringent with making the gezeirah on Erev Yom Tov.

Since one is still not allowed to heat water or bathe on Shabbos, the same rabbinic prohibition still applies. The reason for the gezeirah never disappeared, and the gezeirah itself still applies. (Although the Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchasa quotes the Ramban’s assertion that Chazal would not make a gezeirah in matters of cooking on Yom Tov to safeguard Shabbos, the Rif does not seem to hold that way. One cannot prove the opinion of the Rif from a question of the Ramban, especially when the RIf’s entire approach seems to be against it.)

Another unique way to allow showering according to the Shulchan Aruch

There might be another way to permit hot water use according to the Rif, Rambam, and Shulchan Aruch. Even if one maintains that the gezeirah still applies, the Rif and Rambam still allowed one to use water heated before Yom Tov. It is possible that contemporary water systems all have the halachic status of water heated before Yom Tov, no matter when the actual heating took place. This is based on a ruling of Rabi Akiva Eiger in the Shulchan Aruch.

The Shulchan Aruch (326, 3) and Magen Avraham (326, 4) cite an interesting way to create hot water on Shabbos. Before Shabbos comes, one is allowed to set up a cold water drain pipe to flow into hot water and use the resultant warm water mixture on Shabbos. Since the cold water flows and mixes automatically, it is not considered cooking on Shabbos. Rabi Akiva Eiger (326, 2) clarifies that the warm water can even be used to wash oneself. Water that was passively heated on Shabbos, like water that flowed by itself from the cold water pipe into the hot water, was not included in the gezeirah on and Shabbos or Yom Tov, and may be used for full washing.

Based on this ruling, Rav Brenner (ibid) suggests that contemporary hot water systems also have the status of water heated before Yom Tov, since the water is heated passively. Sometimes, the water was actually heated before Yom Tov, with new cold water mixing into it in the water boiler. Even water that is heated on Yom Tov is heated indirectly. The person showering takes hot water from the tank. As a result, there is a domino effect. Cold water enters and either mixes with the hot water or is heated, but not as a direct result of the showerer’s actions. This indirect behavior is considered passive according to halacha.

 

The assumptions that would allow one to shower on Yom Tov

In summary, several assumption would allow one to comfortably shower in warm water on Yom Tov:

  • Showering nowadays is common, so the Baalei HaTosafos would permit heating the water under the rule of mitoch. This is the easiest presumption to uphold.
  • The Baalei HaTosaofs would say that the gezeirah against warm water was automatically repealed. It was only made to prevent heating water on Yom Tov, and heating water on Yom Tov is now permissible. This is the assumption of the Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchasa and others. It might need more proof. It assumes that some gezeiros can disappear de facto once the reason is not relevant. It also might go against the Rosh who seems to say that Chazal made one gezeirah on Shabbos and Yom Tov together. If it still exists for Shabbos, it should exist for Yom Tov.
  • The Rif and Rambam would also not see any reason to keep the gezeirah, so it fell away by itself. Even though it was made to protect Shabbos, it was also partly made to prevent Yom Tov, and the Yom Tov reason does not apply. This is the assumption of the Shemiras Shabbos K’Hilchasa, but seems speculative and might fly in the face of the Rif’s own approach that seems to see the gezeirah as wholly and solely for the benefit of Shabbos. This is evidenced by the Rif explaining that the Mishna prohibited washing because of a gezeirah, and not because washing itself was a problem. It is further proven from the fact that the gezeirah is weaker on Yom Tov and does not include Erev Yom Tov, as it was only to protect Shabbos.
  • Alternatively, the Rif and Rambam are lenient regarding water heated before Yom Tov. Rabi Akiva Eiger sees contemporary water that is heated passively in a boiler like it was heated before Yom Tov. This can work for those that follow the opinion of the Mechaber, after the Rif and Rambam. It will not work for Ashkenazim who follow the Rama and the Baalei HaTosafos.

One is allowed to shower in case of discomfort

If one takes the more stringent approach and does not see room to say that the gezeirah against using warm water fell away, is there still room to permit showering regularly on Yom Tov?

There is another important leniency advanced by Rabi Akiva Eiger (Shulchan Aruch 326, 1. This source was pointed out to me many years ago by my friend, Rav Josh Flug, and appears in his important summary on this topic, which can be found here). Rabi Akiva Eiger rules that when Chazal created the gezeirah as a preventative measure against melacha, they did not restrict washing for someone who is very uncomfortable. The injunction against using warm water and bathhouses does not apply in a case of mitzta’er, where one is experiencing discomfort. (Rabi Akiva Eiger does not elaborate how much discomfort one needs to have in order to be allowed to bathe. Yet, he does say that it does not need to reach a level of being unwell. It appears that if one feels very uncomfortable on Yom Tov, he may shower.)

The Mishna Berurah (beginning of 326) quotes Rabi Akiva Eiger’s ruling and does not dispute it. Therefore, if one feels a lot of discomfort on Yom Tov, he can turn on the water and shower normally. The only one of the above leniencies that he would be relying on is that heating water is no longer a melacha because it is now commonplace.

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