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Recent Questions

Showering on Shabbat

I live in a hot climate and sometimes on Shabbat afternoon I feel like taking a nice, long, relaxing warm shower. Is this permitted?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

There are a number of relevant issues to your question. The first is in using hot water. When a person takes a typical shower – with at least some water from the hot tap – hot water is removed from the boiler and replaced with cold water, which is subsequently heated. The cold water which now enters the boiler will be “cooked” on Shabbat, which is one of the forbidden types of labor. (Likewise when the hot and cold water mix when coming out, the hot heats up some of the cold.) (See Talmud Shabbat 73a, Mishna Berurah 318:1, Igrot Moshe O.C. 4:75.)

In addition, the Sages decreed that one not bathe in heated water on Shabbat, even if the water was heated before Shabbat (Talmud Shabbat 39b, Shulchan Aruch O.C. 326:1). (It is permitted to use such water to wash parts of one’s body.)

Regarding cold water, there is a custom not to bathe the entire body in it as well (Mishna Berurah 326:21). However, if one is very uncomfortable due to the heat, he may do so (Shemirat Shabbat K’Hilchata I 14:11, Igrot Moshe O.C. IV 74-5)).

There are several other potential issues with bathing on Shabbat. Another type of labor on Shabbat is smoothing. (It is part of the parchment-making process forbidden on Shabbat, in which rough parchment is smoothed down – see Mishna Shabbat 7:2.) Thus, we may not rub solid soap on our bodies, further smoothing down the soap. Liquid soap is fine to use.

Another relevant type of Shabbat labor is squeezing a liquid out of a solid – even hair (Mishna Berurah 326:25). This applies to parts of the body which have sufficient hair to hold water. Such areas can be wetted but one must be careful not to press against them, squeezing water out of them. This would inevitably occur if a person would apply shampoo to his hair.

Putting all of this together, if you are very hot and uncomfortable, you may take a cold shower. You may also use liquid soap on non-hairy areas of your body. But you should be careful not to squeeze water out of your hair or out of the towel.


Environmentalism

I am looking for Torah sources that speak about nature, respect for life and animals, sustainability, etc.

Do we as Jews have a responsibility to nature and to preserve the other species of life on this planet? I am particularly concerned with trees and deforestation. If so, how do you feel we can best achieve "Green Judaism"?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

Thousands of years ago, before environmentalism became a worldwide human concern, Judaism dealt with these issues in a detailed and sophisticated manner.

In Genesis (1:28), God commands man to "fill the world and capture it." The Torah permits us to use the world as we see fit. However, a few verses later (Genesis 2:15), the Torah tempers this by telling us that God put humans in the Garden (symbolic of the entire world) "to work it and to guard it." Since guarding something means preserving it, God wants us to both use the world for our needs, while being careful to preserve the world and not destroy it.

An example of this delicate balance comes from Deut. 20:19-20. When an army surrounds a city and prepares to use a tree as a battering ram, the Torah says that a fruit-bearing tree may not be used for this purpose. If one uses the fruit-bearing tree, then the fruit will be needlessly destroyed, since the same objective could be accomplished with a tree that does not bear fruit.

On the other hand, a person may cut down a fruit tree for some constructive purpose (Maimonides - Laws of Kings 6:8). This encapsulates the Torah perspective on the environment: While we may use the world for our needs, we may never irresponsibly damage or destroy the environment. (Needless destruction is called Bal Taschit.)

Rabbi Benzion of Bobov was strolling with a disciple, deeply engrossed in scholarly conversation. As they passed a tree, the student mindlessly pulled off a leaf and unconsciously shredded it into pieces.

Rabbi Benzion stopped abruptly. The student, startled, asked what was wrong. In response, the rabbi asked him why he had picked the leaf off of the tree.

The disciple, taken aback, could think of no response.

The rabbi explained that all of nature -- birds, trees, even every blade of grass -- everything that God created in this world, sings its own form of praise to its Creator. If they should be needed for food and sustenance, they are ingested and become part of the song of the higher species. But to pull a leaf off a tree for no purpose at all is to wastefully silence its song, giving it no recourse, as it were, to join any other instrument in the symphony of nature.

Regarding city planning and beautification, a healthy ecological balance dictates that there must remain distance between city and rural areas. Thus, the Torah (Numbers 35:2) does not permit any planting or building within a 1000-cubit radius around any of the Levite cities.

Rashi on this verse, based on the Talmud (Baba Batra 24b), comments that one purpose is to protect the beauty of the city. Thus, the Torah was concerned about zoning and city beautification.

For more, read "The Jewish Encyclopedia of Moral and Ethical Issues," by Rabbi Nachum Amsel, from which this answer was excerpted.


Saturday Night Seder

On certain years, the Passover Seder falls on Saturday night. That got me thinking: What do we do about bread for the Friday night Shabbat meal? On one hand is the custom of not eating matzah on the days before Passover. On the other hand, all of our leavened products have been removed from the house by then! So what do we do?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

When the day before Passover fall on Shabbat, we leave over just enough bread for the meals of Friday night and Saturday daytime (Code of Jewish Law OC 444:1). Since your house will already been cleaned of "chametz," the easiest solution may be to first eat the bread in one designated corner of the house, and then come back to the dining room to finish the meal.

Another solution for Shabbat: Some people eat "matzah ashira," commonly known as "egg matzah." Since we do not use this matzah to fulfill our obligation on Seder night, it does not infringe on the custom of not eating matzah on the day (or days) before Passover. On the other hand, since the egg matzah is not "chametz," it will not mess up your spotless Passover house!


Due to limited resources, the Ask the Rabbi service is intended for Jews of little background with nowhere else to turn. People with questions in Jewish law should consult their local rabbi. Note that this is not a homework service!

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