Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom
Kriat Shema 3:6-9
[since there are four Halakhot here and a lot of questions, we'll
skip the shiur format and just address the questions directly.
[*K'zayit*, *K'beitza*: measurements of volume - a *K'zayit* -
lit. "like an olive" - is 1/2 or app. 1/3 of a *K'beitzah* - lit.
"like an egg"].
6. It is forbidden to read K'riat Sh'ma while facing human
*tzo'ah* (feces), or *tzo'ah* of dogs or pigs while they have
hides in them or any tzo'ah which has a foul smell like these.
Similarly, [it is forbidden to read] facing human urine. However,
it is permissible [to read] while facing animal urine.
Regarding a minor who is unable to eat a *k'zayit* of grain
within the time it takes an adult to eat three *k'beitzot* of
grain; we do not need to distance ourselves from his tzo'ah or
from his urine.
[RABD: This Rabbi's method is usually to rely on the Yerushalmi,
however, here he did not rely on it, since there it says that it
is forbidden to read facing urine of a donkey which has come from
the way - and the same regarding the tzo'ah of a red chicken...]
7. If there was tzo'ah that was as dry as pottery, it is [still]
forbidden to read facing it. If it was drier than pottery, such
that if it were thrown it would shatter, then it is like dirt and
it is permissible to read facing it.
Urine that was absorbed in the ground - if it could still wet the
hand [that touches it], it is forbidden to read facing it; if
not, it is permissible.
[*Amah* (pl *Amot*) - lit. "forearm" - a measure of length,
between 18-24 inches]
8. How far does a person have to distance himself from tz'oah or
urine and then to read? 4 Amot. When does this apply? When it was
in back of him or at his sides; however, if it was facing him, he
must distance himself until he can no longer see it and then
[*Tefach* (pl *Tefahim*) - lit. "handbreadth" - a measure of
length, between 3-4 inches. There are 6 Tefahim in an Amah]
9. When does this apply? When it was in the same room, on the
same level; however, if there was a place there higher than it by
10 Tefahim or lower than it by 10 Tefahim, he may sit right next
to that place and read, since there is a barrier there - as long
as the foul smell doesn't reach him. Similarly, if he covered the
tzo'ah or urine with a vessel, even if they are in the same room
as he is, it is as if it is buried and it is permissible to read
now, to the questions:
Q1: Is the prohibition of reading K'riat Sh'ma near tzo'ah on
account of the smell or the sight?
A: It seems to be basically a problem of awareness, chiefly
focussed on sight - but dependent on the "smell" factor. In other
words, the problem seems to be saying K'riat Sh'ma with visual
awareness of *tzo'ah* - but *tzo'ah* is defined not only by its
source (human waste) - but also by its smell (disgusting).
For example, the Gemara states that if *tzo'ah* is covered with a
transparent covering, it is permissible to read facing it -
however, the reason provided is that *tzo'ah b'kisui talya milta,
v'ha m'khas'ya* - "the issue is one of 'covering' and it has been
covered" - the Gemara could have just said "the smell is gone"
(which would have been a more straightforward argument). This
seems to indicate that *tzo'ah* is defined, for these purposes,
as feces which has a (strong(?) and) bad smell, is presently
uncovered and is in a place which is visible. (The Yerushalmi
(Berakhot 3:5) entertains a discussion about speaking words of
Torah at night in the vicinity of tzo'ah which would be seen,
from that vantage point, during the daytime - the result of the
discussion is that it is prohibited.
Q2: What is the relevance of having hides in the animal tzo'ah?
A: See Ginzburg's Perushim v'Hiddushim baY'rushalmi, vol. II, p.
287, where he points that the text of the Gemara (and, along with
it, Rambam) should be reversed - instead of *biz'man shenatan
letokhan 'orot* - "when he put hides in them" (Tosefta Berakhot
2:17, BT Berakhot 25a), it should read *uv'sha'ah shehu notein
l'orot* - "when he puts them in hides". Ginzburg explains that
tanners would sometimes put animal feces onto their hides as part
of the process of tanning.
In any case, it seems clear from Rambam that when animal feces
are put together with animal hides, the smell becomes more
pungent - and that, without that mixture, the smell isn't that
Q3: Why the distinction between human and animal urine?
A: As Rabbenu Manoach (Sefer haMenuhah K'riat Sh'ma 3:6) points
out in the name of Rabbenu Meshulam (Sefer Hashlamah) - if the
Gemara permits words of Torah/K'riat Sh'ma in the presence of
animal tzo'ah (unless they are immersed in hides) - how much more
so that animal urine does not smell pungently.
Q4: What is behind the digestive ability of a child and how
that affects the status of his feces?
A: The source for this Halakhah is the Tosefta in Hagigah (1:3),
which lists developmental stages for a child - at what point
different Halakhot apply to him/her. The particular phrase of the
Tosefta which is relevant to us also appears in the Tosefta of
Berakhot (2:17). This Tosefta is quoted in Sukkah (42a-b) and
Arakhin (2b). Rashi in Sukkah (42b s.v. Marhikin) maintains that
it is specifically when grain is introduced into the digestive
tract that the excrement smells. Therefore, if the child can only
eat a small amount of grain, that reduces the smell factor. As
per my proposal above at Q1, that defines this waste as
non-tzo'ah for these purposes.
Q5: How can we defend Rambam against RABD's challenge?
A: Kessef Mishneh points out here, Rambam and RABD have differing
manuscripts in the Yerushalmi in question (Berakhot 3:5). Whereas
RABD reads: "*mei raglayim shel hamor haba min haderekh asoor
likrot k'negdan* - "it is forbidden to read facing urine of a
donkey who has come from the way" - Rambam reads (as do most of
the Rishonim - and this is how it appears in our Yerushalmi) -
*miglalei hamor...* - "from the feces of a donkey..."
Q6: What is the relevance of the distinction between "dry as
pottery" and "drier than pottery"?
A: The Gemara in Berakhot (25a) states, in the name of Rav:
*tzo'ah afilu k'heres asura* - "tzo'ah which is even like pottery
is still forbidden". There are two explanations provided in the
Gemara for this "shiur" -
(a) As long as he throws it and it doesn't shatter;
(b) As long as he rolls it and it doesn't shatter.
Which shiur is stricter? It would seem that the second one is,
since it will take more "hardening" to get to the point where it
would shatter by being rolled. This is how Rashi (s.v. ika
d'amri) understands it. However, Rabbenu Yonah (16b in Rif pages,
s.v. heikhi dami) understands the opposite - that rolling it
would more easily break it - and explains Rambam's ruling as
following the stricter opinion. His argument is that since tz'oah
present a Torahic prohibition - an *issur d'orayta* - (see below
at Q7), we have to follow the stricter view.
The notion behind the association with pottery is that pottery is
the most fragile type of material with which we generally come
into contact; therefore, if the tzo'ah is more fragile than that,
we can consider the component pieces as already shattered and,
like Rambam says here, it is like dirt.
Q7: Again, why the distinction between "wet enough to wet your
hand" and drier than that for urine?
The Torah states: You shall have a designated area outside the
camp to which you shall go. With your utensils you shall have a
trowel; when you relieve yourself outside, you shall dig a hole
with it and then cover up your excrement. Because YHVH your God
travels along with your camp, to save you and to hand over your
enemies to you, therefore your camp must be holy, so that he may
not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you.
(Devarim [Deuteronomy] 23:13-15).
The sugya in Berakhot (25a) examines the first two phrases - on
the one hand, the Torah only obligates us to go to a designated
place outside of the camp to relieve ourselves. On the other
hand, the Torah obligates the use of a trowel to cover up the
human waste. The Gemara answers that the first phrase is
referring to urine and the second to feces. In other words, the
Torah only demands that we go "outside" to urinate, but doesn't
make mention of anything that must be done with the urine
afterwards. On the other hand, the Torah definitely commands us
to cover up tzo'ah.
The upshot is that since the Torah does not obligate us to cover
up urine (once it has hit the ground), it doesn't violate the the
"sanctity of the camp" - and it is permissible to say words of
Torah, read K'riat Sh'ma etc. in the vicinity.
The Rabbis decreed that urine should also be a "distancing
factor" - but, since they enacted the rule, they only did so
where the urine is still wet. How wet? Wet enough to make
something else wet (one possible shiur of "wetness").
Q8: Why is 4 Amot "far enough" away from tzo'ah and urine to
read K'riat Sh'ma?
A: See answer to next question.
Q9: Why the distinction between back/sides and front?
A: 4 Amot is generally considered a person's place. We find this
to be true with regards to carrying and walking on Shabbat (see
Mishnah Eruvin 4:1), for the "property" of a corpse or grave (see
MT K'riat Sh'ma 3:2); and, of course, for the *kinyan arba amot*
- "automatic" acquisition of items which are within someone's 4
Amot- (see Bava Metzia' 10 and MT Gezela va'Avedah 17:8-9).
Therefore, if the tzo'ah is "out of sight" (i.e. not in front of
the person reading), as long as it also "out of the camp" of that
person, it is permissible. However, as pointed out above (Q1),
since awareness is a key factor here, if it in front of the
person reading, it must be far enough away to not be visible.
On a side note, see Rashba's discussion (Berakhot 25a s.v. hayta)
about allowing a blind person to read in front of tzo'ah.
Q10: What is the upshot of this Halakhah - where does he sit,
where is the tzo'ah, and what is 10 Tefahim high? (i.e. - is it a
barrier, or is the tzo'ah above or below him?
A: The Gemara (Berakhot 25a) cites a Baraita: A person should not
read K'riat Sh'ma facing human tzo'ah, dog tzo'ah, pig tzo'ah,
fowl tzo'ah or tzo'ah of the dunheap which smells very bad;
however, if the place was 10 tefahim high or 10 tefahim low, he
can sit on the side of it and read. Rashba (s.v. haya) explains
that since a place of 10 tefahim height or depth is a separate
domain, it is not considered in his camp.
A straight reading of this Baraita renders the tzo'ah in a place
which is 10 tefahim higher or lower than the person reading
Rambam, Copyright (c) 1999 Project