Shabbos 147 Bathing, swimming, and showering on Shabbos

The Mishna teaches that if someone washes on shabbos in a cave filled with water or in the hot-springs of Tiberius , he may not carry the towel home ( even where there is no prohibition of carrying) , in case he comes to squeeze it the water out of it .

Even if he used many towels and they are thus not so wet, it is still forbidden.

On the other hand, if there are many people who did so, they may carry the towel/towels back, even if they all shared one towel and it is soaking wet.

This is because they will likely remind one another not to squeeze out the wet towel.

We recall that there are two מלאכות that can be involved in squeezing liquids out of solids on Shabbos:

  1. When one intends to use the squeezed out liquid, the prohibition of דש, threshing is often involved , though it is only deorayso for grapes, olives, or possibly other things that are mainly squeezed for the liquids absorbed in them.
  2. When the liquid is absorbed into an absorbent item like a fabric, and the liquid is one that indeed has a cleaning affect ( such as water,) the melacha of מלבן ( whitening or laundering ) applies, even if the liquid goes to waste.

As the water squeezed out of the towel goes to waste, and it is not clear that the melacha of threshing would even be applied to a towel, it is mainly the later melacha of מלבן that we appear to be concerned with.

We also recall that Chazal )Shabbos 40a) forbade washing or immersing one’s whole body in hot water, even if it was heated before shabbos, but permitted it in cold water or in naturally heated springs such as the חמי טבריה ( the hot springs of Tiberias. )

We saw that Chazal )Shabbos 109b) considered washing in the sea on Shabbos perfectly acceptable but forbade floating or swimming ( without one’s feet on the ground) in case one would come to build a raft)Shabbos 40b/Beitza 36a.).

We saw that this prohibition applied not only to the sea or rivers, but also to a pool, even in a private domain, if it did not have a barrier or rim around it ( such as a simple pond or hole in the ground- Shabbos 40b)

Our Gemara deduces from the wording of the Mishna that discussed one who has already entered hot water, rather than permitting one to do so, that in the first place, one may not do so ( though see Tosfos based on the earlier sugya that washing in חמי טבריה are permitted even לכתחילה! )

However, it infers similarly that pouring water over one’s entire body is permitted in the first place, in accordance with the view of Rabbi Shimon who only forbade entering a warm body of water, not pouring such water over one’s body.

Two other opinions are then brought, the Tana Kama who holds that even pouring cold water over ones entire body is forbidden, and Rabbi Yehuda who holds that one may pour cold water over one’s whole body, but not hot water.

Based on the above sugyos alone, we would conclude that

  1. Immersing one’s body in hot water, even if heated before shabbos, is forbidden rabbinically. This would include taking a hot bath, even if the water was heated before shabbos.
  2. Washing or Immersing in cold water or in hot springs is permitted, so long as one does not carry the wet towel back on his own inside an eruv or outside an eruv even with others.
  3. Standing in the sea to cool off or wash is permitted so long as one does not lift one’s feet off the ground, float, or swim.
  4. Swimming in a home pool with a rim is permitted by Talmudic law.

All the above would apply only if one is naked or wearing a plastic or non-absorbent bathing-suite (less absorbent types of nylon bathing-suits might fit into this category, but this is for a different post) – otherwise the concerns of actually laundering the garment or coming to squeeze it out afterwards could also apply.

In practise, given all the halachik complications, Ashkenazi poskim from the Magein Avraham (O.C. 326/8) to the Aruch haShulchan (O.C. 326/9), Mishna Berura(O.C. 326/21), and Rav Moshe Feinstein (Even haEzer 2/13) have consistently backed up the longstanding Ashkenazi custom, already quoted in earlier sources such as the Trumos hadeshen (255) not to enter bodies of water at all on shabbos, either for washing or swimming.

Rav Ovadia Yosef and his son, Rav Yitchak, the current Sephardi Chief Rabbi (see Yalkut Yosef Shabbos 2 siman 301/1-7), admit that there is no specific halacha or Sephardi custom that forbids swimming or washing in a private swimming pool on shabbos, but for some reason, are hesitant to allow it in practise.

Having a cold shower is a different story, and seems to be permitted- however, because of the small possibility that this minhag even includes pouring cold water over one’s entire body , Rav Moshe (O.C. 4 74/75) only permitted it in practise if one is suffering discomfort from the heat.

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha

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