K'RIAT SH'MA IN THE PROPER PLACE
Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom
Kriat Shema 3:2-3
[*Beit haKissei* refers to a lavatory. However, since all of our
Halakhot are the product of a situation where a lavatory was what
we call an "outhouse" - where the fecal matter and urine remain
there, albeit below ground somewhat - there is room to discuss
whether these Halakhot should be treated in the same manner in
reference to our sewage-removal, sanitized lavatories. Although
we will not engage in that discussion here, it is worth noting
the possible distinction. mod]
2. We do not read [K'riat Sh'ma] in a bathhouse or in a *Beit
haKissei* even if there is no fecal matter there, nor [do we
read] in a cemetery or next to a corpse - but if he distanced
himself four Amot (1 Amah = app. 1.5 feet) from the grave or from
the corpse, it is permissible. Anyone who reads in a place where
it is impermissible to read, must go back and read again
[RABD: Avraham said: If he [Rambam] means to say that if you read
next to a corpse that you have to go back and read, he has said
3. Regarding a new Beit haKissei which was prepared but not yet
used; you may read K'riat Sh'ma facing it but not inside.
Regarding a new bathhouse - you may [even] read inside.
If you had two buildings and designated one as a Beit haKissei
and then pointed to the other and said: *v'Zeh* ("and this one"),
the second one is a *Safek* (situation of doubt) as to whether or
not it has been designated for that purpose. Therefore, we do not
read there *l'khat'hila* (before the fact), however, if you read
there, Yatza (you have fulfilled the obligation and need not
reread). If you said *v'Gam Zeh* ("and also this one"), then both
of them are designated and you may not read there.
Regarding the courtyard of a bathhouse - that part where people
are yet dressed - you may read K'riat Sh'ma there.
(this shiur will also serve as an introduction to the various
Halakhot in Chapter 3)
"Because the LORD your God travels along with your camp, to save
you and to hand over your enemies to you, therefore your camp
must be holy (*v'Hayah Machanekha Kadosh*), so that he may not
see anything indecent among you (*v'Lo Yir'eh v'kha Ervat Davar*)
and turn away from you." (Devarim [Deuteronomy] 23:15)
The Sifri, commenting on this verse, states: " 'Because the LORD
your God travels along with your camp', from this they [the
Sages] said: A person should not read K'riat Sh'ma beside a
laundry well, nor should he enter a bathhouse or a tannery (which
smells very badly) while holding Sefarim or Tefillin."
There are several categories of Halakhot which are inferred from
1) Not to be engaged in holy matters while in a place which is
associated with filth or nakedness; - "A person should not think
about words of Torah while in a bathhouse or a Beit haKissei"
2) Not to read K'riat Sh'ma [or say Tefillah] in the proximity of
human waste; - "How far must he distance himself from...feces to
read K'riat Sh'ma? Four Amot" (Berakhot 3:5 - see discussion in
the Gemara 26a).
3) Not to read K'riat Sh'ma [or say Tefillah] in view of certain
types of nakedness of another person, defined as *Erva*. - "An
[uncovered] handbreadth of a woman's skin [which is normally
covered] is considered Erva..." (Berakhot 24a) (see Rashi)
4) Not to read K'riat Sh'ma [or say Tefillah] in view (or type of
proximity) of ones' own nakedness - also termed Erva, but with a
different meaning and set of parameters. - (hence the phrase)
"His heart is 'seeing' Erva" (in the case where he is reading
K'riat Sh'ma and no clothing is separating genatalia from torso).
CREATING "REALITIES" AND THE POWER OF IMAGINATION
The Halakhot adumbrated here and detailed throughout Chapter 3 -
easily categorized into the antithetical relationship between
contact with *Tzo'ah* (fecal matter) and Erva as against
engagement in holy matters - reflect an intersection of reality
and orientation. More directly, they point to the way in which
our perception of things dictates reality.
The relationship which we have with God demands a good deal of
imagination on our part - we stand in front of God, Whom we
cannot see; we declare His rule over all four corners of the
earth, the heavens and below (see Berakhot 13b) - yet it is an
invisible rule, the force of which lies in men's hearts.
There are many Halakhot associated with Tefillah which support
our attempt to mentally place ourselves in front of the King of
kings; e.g. taking three steps backwards, while bowing, when
finished (Yoma 53b); standing - as angels - with our feet "as
one" (Berakhot 10b) (imitating the angelic praise of God) and
facing Eretz Yisrael / Yerushalayim / The Temple Mount etc.
(Tosefta Berakhot 3:16).
[In a timely fashion, this is illustrated by (arguably) the
central phrase in the Haggadah: "In every generation, a person
should view himself (Rambam: show himself) as if he went out of
Egypt." Imagination is a critical piece of the Seder.]
In much the same way, our socially conditioned/inherent (pick
one!) reactions to - and feelings about - excrement on the one
hand and nakednedness on the other posit these two very human
realities on opposite poles of the supporting environment we are
trying to establish around a "holy" experience. In other words,
when we are endeavoring to create an environment of sanctity,
engaging our minds in Torah study, accepting God's rule over us
or putting ourselves in front of His Throne (as it were), being
in the proximity of - or contact with - those things which bring
up opposite feelings interferes with the creation of that
SHAME VS. DISGUST
As can be seen from the sugya (Tosefta Berakhot 2:21 - see also
Shabbat 10a) which details the "levels" of a bathhouse (the
section where noone is ever undressed; the section where some
people are undressed and others are clothed - and the "inner
sanctum" where everyone is naked) as it affects K'riat Sh'ma (and
Tefillin, greeting someone etc.) - the central issue here is
nakedness. Although the "Erva" aspect as it pertains to K'riat
Sh'ma breaks down into two sub-categories - sexually arousing
sights and a person's own nakedness - the bathhouse problem seems
to attach to a broader issue. The awareness of nakedness, aside
from its possibly titillating effect, is also a source of human
shame. We find that notion early on - in the second chapter of
Beresheet [Genesis]; it is also found in rabbinic literature
(see, for instance, the beautiful Agadah about David in the
bathhouse - Menahot 43b). R. Yohanan is recorded is referring to
his clothing as "my honor" (Shabbat 113). In our own times, we
have seen how brutal regimes - most notably the Nazis, may their
memories be erased, brutalized and "dehumanized" their prisoners
by stripping them of their clothing.
All this said, there is nothing inherently negative about
nakedness, other than its evocation of a sense of shame; whether
this shame is a product of an increased awareness of our own
frailties or of our mortality or vulnerability - I'll leave that
for the psychiatrists to debate. That sense - which directly
confronts the feelings we are trying to create and support when
saying K'riat Sh'ma (etc.) - only stands in conflict when it has
a direct association with actual human "shame". There is nothing
upsetting about the existence or awareness of a bathhouse
(indeed, it is critical for hygiene) - hence designating a
building to be a bathhouse creates nothing negative about it
until someone actually bathes there.
Conversely, we generally react to waste - especially feces - with
a sense of disgust. Besides the physically repulsive nature of
waste, it seems to remind us of something ugly and base about
ourselves. Again, I will let the mental health professionals
debate the reasons - but the privacy we all demand when relieving
ourselves is not just a matter of nakedness - we have a general
"awareness aversion" to the whole process. Therefore,
designating a building as an outhouse - where elimination is the
entire raison d'etre of that place - already creates a sense of
disgust. That is why the Gemara debates the issue of "Hazmanah"
here - and why Rambam rules that designating a place as a Beit
haKissei already generates a prohibition of saying K'riat Sh'ma
there. (See Shabbat 10b at the top of the page.)
Interestingly, the debate in the Gemara about Hazmanah (Berakhot
26a - Shabbat 10, Nedarim 7a) was not settled. R'ah (commentary
on Berakhot, end of the third chapter) rules that since "your
camp shall be holy" is a Torahic prohibition ("d'orayta"), we
rule stringently and forbid the designated-but-as-yet-unused Beit
A brief word about the conflict between shame/disgust and the
"holy camp" which we are trying to create while reading K'riat
Sh'ma and so forth.
Our attachment to holiness calls to the highest part of our being
- our intellect, our conscience and our will. Studying Torah is
not merely an intellectual exercise - but, even on that level, it
demands human greatness of which we are all capable. Accepting
God's rule and, even more so, standing before God in prayer, is a
position of the mind and heart overruling the body and its needs
and desires. There is clearly much more to be said on this
subject (and perhaps in later shiurim there will be further
opportunity), but suffice it to say that those feelings which the
Beit haKissei and bathhouse arouse in us stand in opposition to -
and disempower us from - fully achieving the "Image of God"
potential in which we are created.
None of this is to say that there is anything inherently wrong or
bad about our humanness - Judaism takes a dim view of those who
would deny physical reality or not to bless and thank God for
that wonderful creation of the human body; however, part of our
Avodat Hashem (worship of God) demands for us to focus away from
the mundane and raise ourselves - even for a moment - to a
higher sense of who we are.
now, to the questions:
Q1: Why do we not read K'riat Sh'ma in these four
places/situations? Is there one reason or different reasons for
AW (Art Werschulz ):
There are perhaps several principles at work here.
(1) We need to have kavvanah, at least for the first verse of
K'riat Sh'ma. This is pretty difficult in a place associated
with bad smells or nakedness.
(2) K'riat Sh'ma is kabbalat ol shamayim, along with kabbalat
malchut Elokim (e.g., "Baruch shem kavod malchuto l'olam va'ed").
This is inappropriate in a disgusting place.
(3) Flagrantly performing mitzvot in front of the dead is an
example of mocking the poor.
YE (Yitz Etshalom ):
As Art points out, there are several factors at work here.
Generally, we would divide this Halakhah into two even pieces:
the bathhouse and outhouse are unacceptable on account of
"v'Hayah Machanekha Kadosh" - and the cemetery and corpse, due to
*Lo'eg laRash Heref Oseihu* ("He who mocks the poor insults his
Maker" - Mishlei 17:5 - see Berakhot 18a - see further at Q3).
However, Rabbenu Manoach (commentary on our Halakhah) adds that a
cemetery is often a smelly and moldy place (?) - so that the
cemetery may also be placed in a category with the bathhouse and
Q2: Why is a Beit haKissei unacceptable even if there is no
A: See shiur.
Q3: How does a distance of 4 Amot help with regards to a grave
A: Based upon the idea of *Lo'eg laRash* (see above, Q1), the
Gemara at the beginning of the third Chapter of Berakhot (18a)
states that *Meit tofes arba amot liK'riat Sh'ma* - a corpse
"owns" the four surrounding Amot vis-a-vis not reading K'riat
Sh'ma. In other words, we do not "flaunt" our performance of
Mitzvot in close proximity to a corpse - as there is something a
bit cruel about our "celebrating" our ongoing and active
relationship with God, while the corpse has already been
"released" from that relationship (see Shabbat 30a *mai dikhtiv
"BaMetim Hofshi*..."). However, this is not because the corpse
knows what's going on (see the discussion between R. Hiyya and R.
Yonatan at the beginning of the third chapter of Berakhot) -
rather as a mark of our own sensitivity to - and awareness of -
the power of death. 4 Amot is the established "reach" of a
person - as evidenced by *Kinyan Daled Amot* (an acquisition made
by some item being within 4 Amot of a person) - see Bava Metzia'
10a and MT Z'khiya uMattanah 4:9) - so, once outside of that
perimeter, we can "ignore" the presence of the corpse or the
Q4: Why does he have to reread, according to Rambam?
A: Rabbenu Manoach hints to the idea that due to the severe
distractions involved in any of these situations, it may be
judged to be impossible to have proper "Kavvanah" there. A
straighter answer (plus, it's not clear that he even intends
this) is that a part and parcel of K'riat Sh'ma - it's focal
point - is Kabbalat 'Ol Malkhut Shamayim - accepting God as ruler
and king. We could then argue in one of two ways: either these
places are just "out of bounds" for Kabbalat Ol - or (perhaps
more persuasively) there is something inherently contradictory
about accepting God's rule in a place where His law forbids doing
so. How can we stand in a place where God (or the Rabbis - who
He commands us to obey) forbade reading Sh'ma - and read that,
declaring our allegiance to God and His Mitzvot?
Q5: What is RABD's argument?
A: RABD may argue that the prohibition of bathhouse and Beit
haKissei are rooted in the unacceptability of the place, the
proximity to the corpse is not due to something wrong with the
place but because of insensitivity to the deceased - which
doesn't directly stand in conflict with Kabbalat Ol.
Q6: What is the extent of their dispute? (i.e. would RABD argue
that you never need reread in situations like this, or is he only
referring to the "next to a corpse" situation?)
A: It seems clear from his words that he is only disputing the
Q7: Why is "designation" (*Hazmanah*) significant regarding a
Beit haKissei - but not for a bathhouse?
A: See the shiur.
Q8: What is the confusion regarding the designation-language of
*v'Zeh* or *v'Gam Zeh*?
A: This is rooted in the sugya in Nedarim 7a on the issue of
"Yadot" - where an ambiguous statement is made and there is
circumstantial indication about the intent - whether we apply
that indication and make the statement Halakhically effective.
Rambam's language is a Hebrew translation of the "v'hadein" or
"v'hadein nami" in the Gemara. Further explanation of this sugya
is beyond the scope of this shiur.
Rambam, Copyright (c) 1999 Project