The Shulchan Aruch (OC 260:1) directs us to bathe each Friday in preparation for Shabbat. This year, those of us living outside of Eretz Yisrael will welcome Shabbat after a full 48 hours of yom tov. Most of us (if not all) would be inclined, if so permitted, to shower in honor of Shabbat. What exactly are
the halachot involved?
There are two challenges to bathing on holidays:
1. When we turn on our hot water faucets, cold water enters a hot water tank and is heated. While heating water on yom tov is permitted, that permission only covers cooking and the like—universal needs for all. Bathing, however, in the times of Chazal (and even until the later 20th century), was not considered to be a universal need (shava l’chol nefesh); therefore, Chazal prohibited heating water to bathe the entire body [as opposed to washing the face, hands and feet, which was considered a universal need and permitted on the holiday].
2. We are not permitted to wash our entire body (which before home bathing facilities, was typically done in public bathhouses) with hot water on yom tov [even in water that was heated prior to yom tov], because it might be assumed that this is permitted on Shabbat as well.
In our modern world, it is safe to say that daily showering is considered a universal need. Does that change the halacha?
As outlined above, it is permitted to heat water on yom tov for a universal need (shava l’chol nefesh). Therefore, the first challenge to bathing no longer applies. What about the second ordinance? Would that prevent us from taking a hot shower?
Contemporary poskim continue to debate about allowing the use of hot water to wash the entire body, and therefore only permit washing part of the body on yom tov. The OU’s Rav Hershel Schachter has ruled that showering would be permitted, but only with room temperature water—not
There are additional factors to keep in mind if planning to shower on yom tov. According to both opinions cited above, a person would only be permitted to turn on the hot water tap if it is part of a conventional hot water tank system; hot water from a tankless, instant hot water system may not be used. Moreover, a bar of soap may not be used, because its use would transgress the melacha of mimacheik(smoothing); watered down liquid soap should be used instead. Hair should not be shampooed on yom tov either as that involves squeezing water out of the hair, which is another forbidden melacha (sechitah). By the same token, when using a towel to dry off, water should not be squeezed out of the hair; it should be allowed to drip dry instead. Also, care should be taken not to squeeze the water out of the towel.