Sunday, July 18, 2010

On Bathing and Clean Undergarments

Those of us in NYC right now are none too happy with the weather we have been having. Way too hot and way too muggy for this time period of summer. Outdoor activities, whether for work or play, are energy depleting to say the least. You walk outside and the air is heavy, hot and humid. Clothing sticks to the body as if it were saturated with glue. As one enterprising drugstore put it on an in-store placard next to deodorants that were on sale, "This is the Summer of Sweat! Be prepared!" There's no real problem of using up the hot water in the tank for multiple showers for everyone each day as it is cool/cold water everyone seems to be looking for.

A short while ago, on a posting elsewhere, someone quoted directly from a Rav a couple of statements that have me flabbergasted. The statements were about showering and laundry during the three weeks/nine days. One was, "if you are accustomed to regular bathing during hot weather," and the other was "if you are accustomed to changing your underwear every day."

You know that old acronym TMI? Yup, those statements really gave me too much information. Given the weather we are dealing with right now (and, to be truthful, summer in NYC is never mild and balmy), just to whom are those statements applicable? On second thought, I don't want to know. But I might mention that over the centuries practical day-to-day halacha has been adjusted to take into consideration what is available/necessary during more modern time periods. Rabbanim giving out psak today on things like showering and laundry and clothes wearing habits and habits of personal hygiene/grooming just might want to take into consideration that regular bathing and changing of undergarments is a given in the US today, and pasken accordingly. You want me to forgo certain pleasurable activities during this time period? Okay. You want me to curtail certain activities of an entertainment type? Okay. You want me to go 25+ hours without food or drink? Okay. But in this I believe I can speak for all women of my acquaintance and probably all women, and I'd bet for most men as well--do not tell me that the answer to not doing laundry during this time period is to re-wear already worn undergarments! And yes, ditto for the showers.

Yes, I'm aware that even making the statements I just made puts me outside the pale for a whole lot of people in some of the groups of Klal. So be it.


frum single female said...

i couldnt agree with you more.

Lion of Zion (On Hiatus) said...

i don't know how things are in OOT places like SI, but where i live ppl take the restrictions on showering and certainly on laundering very seriously. in fact, the rav in my shul was absent on shabbat and someone was upset because he was wanted to ask him if he can do laundry already on the morning after tisha beav or if he needs to wait until after chatzot.

sheesh, you give us posts like this and then wonder why people are wary about moving OOT.

Anonymous said...

There are shuls and rabbanim who will tell you if you ask that the issur on laundry is not on all laundry but only on things that won't be used again during the nine days. Our rav says that doing underwear type of loads is permissible and for those with babies and very young kids doing laundry is permissible since they go through so much laundry and need more clothing.

And then there is my friend's rabbi who basically tells anyone who asks him that if you won't rewear clothing and it's going to be a problem buy more clothing before the three weeks so you won't run out.

I'm with you--can we see some paskening that considers how we actually live today?

Miri said...

2 of my kids and me are all very allergic to all the summer pollens. That means showers and washing up and changing clothes lots more then once a day if we step out of the house. You'd think this would be a medical reason for showers and laundry doing, right? Un unh. One rabbi we asked years back said the answer was to stay indoors. When I told him that I work and can't stay indoors and I have to take the kids to their babysitter he suggested that maybe I should take my vacation then. You guessed it, we found a rabbi who has more common sense and an idea of what is possible and what isn't while still following halacha.

Anonymous said...

I'm single and work for a major firm in the midtown area. We are supposed to come in professionally put together every day, and yes they notice if you aren't. I might, just might get away with not washing my hair for one day, but for two or more? Can't do it. Maybe the married women could get away with it because they could put on a shetel.

Let's not even talk about the smell of stale deodorant and other smells. Washing lightly in a sink is not a substitute for a shower. And in this heat? I need to keep my joband clean clothes and a washed body are part of keeping that job.

The last thing I ever want to have to do is discuss with my manager why I'm coming in like a shlump because my religion doesn't let me take a shower or wash my hair or have enough clean clothes to go to the office in. So not a conversation I'm going to be having.

Anonymous said...

Miri - How many vacation days a year does your Rabbi think the average working person gets? Does he understand that most people start with one or two weeks and after fifteen or twenty years if you are lucky, you might top out at 4 weeks. Besides, in many jobs you can't just use your vacation time whenever you want to. It all depends what the employer's needs are and who else wants vacation that week.

A Fan said...

Anon 7:14: Not to mention that whatever vacation you do get is just barely enough to cover all the yontifs- if you're lucky!

It's funny, because I recently remembered a conversation that took place when my brother was a little baby. The baby nurse, who had worked with Orthodox families before, asked us about "the holiday in the summer where you don't shower for a week". We had never heard of such a thing, and it took us a few minutes to realize that she was talking about the Nine Days. So we said, "you mean, where we take only lukewarm showers for a week", because that's what we do. She said, "no, no showers at all. They wouldn't even let me bathe the newborn." We had no words- we were speechless at the thought that people took it to that extreme! And to not even make an exception for a baby...

JS said...


I'm pretty sure you're referring to my comments which make me one happy camper. The point of my comments was EXACTLY what you wrote about in your post. I just don't understand why I am receiving halachic guidelines that are clearly intended for, say, 18th century Europe when I'm living in 21st century America.

I was reading the guidelines which were sent to me by email from the community I used to live in and I was just flabbergasted the more I read them. Does anyone not shower daily, especially in the summer? Do people typically rewear already worn undergarments? I would even go so far as to ask if one considers a hot or warm shower to be a "luxury."

In fact, it is very obvious if you look through the laws that the intent was to withdraw from luxuries. Back when laundry was done by hand and freshly laundered clothes were perhaps not worn regularly, maybe it was a luxury to wear laundered clothing every day. When you didn't have indoor plumbing (and certainly not a hot water tank) showering regularly required going to a well for water - this was likely a luxury for many people. When you didn't have refrigeration or a local butcher shop offering cheap meat, killing an animal meant eating it right away and had to be weighed against the other benefits the animal could provide (eggs, milk) - having meat was likely a luxury. When you didn't have recorded music or an iPod or the ability to download music for 99 cents, listening to music meant going to an opera or a live orchestral performance - again, a luxury.

I understand the need for tradition (and, in fact, the entire 3 weeks is recent tradition at that), but shouldn't tradition and halacha adapt to the times?

I've written before about Yom Kippur and how we are supposed to "afflict our souls" which involves non-leather (soled) shoes. Back then when the rabbis indicated this requirement, if you didn't have a leather sole you were in for serious discomfort. Nowadays we have man-made materials that are far superior to leather. It's a joke, practically, that we consider footwear far superior (and cheaper) to anything our forebears had "afflicting our souls" - and yet he we are, in the same breath, talking about whether it's a person's custom to wear fresh undergarments (and how a person should put on the undergarments on shabbat and then remove them so he can wear them during the week so they won't be considered freshly laundered).

It would be great if we had the leadership necessary to make a sensible review of tradition. I know, I know, keep dreaming.

Tuvi said...

You're right JS that it is luxuries that we aren't supposed to be having, and in no way today in this country is taking a shower every day and and changing your underwear a luxury. Take a poll anywhere in the country and clean underwear is going to be a necessity. Willing to bet that showering is also looked at as business as usual.

Our gedolim in the past knew to adjust certain halachas to what was going in in their time periods. Why can't rabbanim today also do this? The two things mentioned in the post just don't fall in a grey area--they are a basic part of the way we live today.

Ari said...

Couldn't agree more, Tuvi & JS. The weekend dunk at the bathhouse was a social and luxurious event . . . and that's why it was frowned upon. Wine, meat, music -- all luxuries, too. But unlike abstaining from wine, meat and music, which is a perfectly reasonable request, foregoing personal hygeine is tantamount to inflicting discomfort on anyone within a 10-foot radius. And that's just rude.

Anonymous said...

I'm not giving up my showers since I stink without one, but maybe we should remember that even though common, a daily shower and with hot water no less and clean clothes are still luxuries that many people in this world even in this day and age do not have. The same for meat and fresh food. Maybe the message is to appreciate these everyday luxuries and take pleasure in and be grateful for the little things.

Rae said...

Last Anon, I understand that the entire world is not equal when it comes to what is considered a luxury and what a necessity. But if we are being practical instead of philosophical, here in the US having a shower available when you want it and having fresh underwear to put on every day are considered necessities, not luxuries. Yes, even here we have people so poor that they don't have these things, although the vast majority do. But those who don't have them want them not because they want the same luxuries the rest of us seem to have but because they recognize them as necessities and they are missing these necessities.

There has always been something of a have/have not divide among Jews. The Jews of Western Europe were better off, as a general rule, then the Jews of Eastern Europe--obviously with some exceptions. It was fairly common for rabbanim in some parts of Europe to pasken about certain matters in one way while their counterparts in other parts of Europe paskened another. It wasn't really hashkafic differences that lead to the different psaks but a recognition that the circumstances were different in different areas.

Circumstances in the US for the Jews living here is why there needs to be a revisiting on the underwear/shower question. Go into any first grade classroom and ask the kids if they have to change their underwear every day. After they finish yelling Yuck! they will tell you that of course they do. If a first grader knows this why don't some of today's rabbanim know it?

Anonymous said...

Rae: I wasn't intending to say that showers and clean undergarments aren't important and necessities in the modern western world and that rabbis should consider that, I just meant to say that we should be thankful for these little things and not take them for granted. For example, when I sit and enjoy my air conditioning after getting out of a nice shower, I think of our troops in Afghanistan who also grew up accustomed to those things but have volunteered to give them up (oh yeah, and risk their lives) as they swelter in the asian heat in full uniforms, body armor, helmuts and sit in tanks baking in the sun.

Miami Al said...


Correct, and that is one of the major undercurrents of the problems facing American Jewry.

When establishing Orthodoxy, as an institution, in the 20th Century in America, the Rabbanim were recruited from Europe. So you had Westernized, assimilated, and marginally practicing (at best) Jews hiring non-English speaking Eastern European Rabbis, as a result, they preached a religion that people didn't follow, and a Jewish education network was setup where one presumed that the religious instructor didn't speak English fluently.

Fast forward 80 years, and you now have two camps in Orthodoxy. A modern Orthodoxy, living, working, and interacting in contemporary America, and a Chareidi world self isolated in modern ghettos in poor communities. while plenty of Chareidim have careers in the modern world, their Rabbinate do not. We can debate the usefulness of a YU "Judaic Studies" undergraduate degree for a MO Rabbi before their post graduate studies, but the right-wing leadership doesn't understand the world that the left-wing lives in.

If Chagim are all during the work week, that's 13 days. I have two weeks of vacation + 2 personal days, so 12 days off, before even taking a single hour off for a Bris or other activity.

There was a time when everyone was roughly hourly, and you took off you didn't get paid, and you may (or may not) get a job again when you come back.

Modern Orthodox Jewry aren't day laborers looking to work and get paid for the day.

Even suggesting "if you customarily wear clean undergarments" is a line that undermines the entire statement. Focus on 21st Century American luxuries, NOT 18th Century Eastern European luxuries.

Talia said...

Rae and Anon, you aren't really arguing because it sounds like you are saying the same thing, especially with Anon's second comment.

But I'd like to argue a minute with you Anon. When you are thankful for something that has been given to you do you show that thanks by putting whatever it is up on a shelf somewhere or not using it for its intended purpose? I'd think that all people would answer that the way to give thanks is to use what you are given. We live in a time and place where we have been given daily showers and clean underwear. We give thanks by using these things.

Re the soldiers,not quite the same thing as the shower/underwear idea. Yes I am thankful to them for volunteering and serving in places that are not comfortable. But it could be argued that by serving these soldiers are giving thanks to our country for allowing its people freedom of choice and a whole lot of other freedoms and for them, they have freely chosen among the gifts given to them and have chosen service to country over air conditioning, to use your example. They value that gift more and are willing to do without one to have the other. But they have a choice--they aren't forced to serve. That same choice is not given to us re the showers and underwear. It could be that some people, if they had the choice, might choose not to take all those showers and wear all that clean clothing but we don't have that as a choice.

Miami Al said...


Relative just completed his tour of duty... about 8 months in Iraq, 2 months in Kuwait (his unit was reassigned), and now on the base in the US while still active.

Lots of sacrifices, but lack of clean undergarments or showers wasn't one of them. Our troops aren't in trenches like WW I, they are living in fortified areas and deploying out. Even those living amongst the people aren't in trenches, they are still houses with clean clothing and showers.

Lack of hygiene causes diseases. More people died from disease during the Civil War than from battle wounds, a ratio that has "improved" as we understood hygiene.

Anonymous said...

Talia: There are lots of ways to show thanks. One of the ways to be thankful is not to complain so much when we don't get something. Example - I was at the grocery store and was complaining because they didn't have the bib lettuce and arugula for the salad I wanted to make. Then I remembered how when I grew up for most of the year, lettuce meant some wilted iceberg. When did I get so spoiled that I expected twenty types of lettuce to choose from.
Another way to show appreciation for all that clean, fresh water and food available to us is to to donate to Haiti relief organizations and our local food banks. Or, for the troops in Afghanistan, to write letters, send care packages, volunteer to be a big brother/ big sister for the children of parents serving in the military, etc. The point of appreciation is to turn that into action, whether in the way you interact with others or through tzedakah and chesed.