י׳ בטבת ה׳תשע״ג (December 23, 2012)

Shabbat 81a-b: Shabbat Outhouse Issues

During Talmudic times there were very few places where bathrooms were actually indoors, and toilet paper was unheard of. In most places, people relieved themselves in empty lots, e.g., the municipal garbage dump. At night, it was possible to find a closer place for that purpose. However, during the day, because of numerous passersby, one was forced to find a spot that was a considerable distance beyond the city limits.

As a substitute for toilet paper, smooth stones were used. On Shabbat, these stones had to be prepared in advance. The Gemara on today’s daf discusses how people would arrange to carry these stones to the open area where one was to relieve himself on Shabbat.

The Gemara teaches:

With regard to the size of stones, Rabbi Yannai said: If he has a fixed place for a bathroom, he may take a handful of stones; if he does not need them on Shabbat, he can use them on another occasion. If he does not have a fixed place he may bring in an average size stone, which is the size of a small mortar used for crushing spices. Rav Sheshet said: If the stone has an indication on it that it has already been used in the bathroom, one is permitted to move it for that purpose on Shabbat, regardless of its size.

Due to human dignity, the Rabbis permitted people to carry stones to a bathroom on Shabbat to use for wiping. One may also carry them up to the roof. If an individual has a fixed spot that he uses as a bathroom, he may take a handful of stones there. If he does not have a fixed spot, he may take stones the size of a small mortar there. decided not to set a fixed measure for the size of the stones.

The Sages generally did not insist on the fulfillment of their decrees at the expense of human dignity. The only Torah prohibition that is superseded to preserve human dignity is the prohibition against deviating from the decrees and ordinances of the Sages: “You shall not turn aside” (Devarim 17:11).

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