Direction of using bathroom

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Which direction should one face while using the bathroom? [1]

A. In an open area:[2]

By an open area which does not have walls [such as a field[3] and the like] one must direct himself when having a bowel movement to face towards South, having his back face towards North, or vice versa [with his face towards North and back towards South]. [These laws apply equally to both men and women[4], and apply equally by day and night.[5]]

Not to face West or East: By the above open area it is forbidden[6] to have a bowel movement with one’s back[7] facing towards West or East. The reason for this is because [it is not honorable[8] to] the Divine presence, [which] is found in the West, and faces the East[9].[10] 

Northeast and Southeast etc:[11] Regarding having a bowel movement with one’s back facing Southwest or Northwest or Southeast or Northeast, then if he is facing more North or South than East or West, it is permitted to be done. If however he is facing more towards East or West than South or North, it is forbidden.

Facing Jerusalem:[12] Those who live in areas which are north of Jerusalem, are to have a bowel movement with their front facing south and their back facing north and not the contrary.[13] This applies to all countries which are more north of Jerusalem than West [or East] of it.[14] Even more so does this apply to those areas which are directly north of Jerusalem. [The same applies for one who lives in an area that is South of Jerusalem, and is more south than West or East of it, that their backs may only face South and not North.[15]]

Urinating:[16] One may urinate facing any direction, even facing East or West within an open area.[17]

 

B. In an area with walls:[18]

The above restrictions in directions only apply in an open area; however in an area with walls one may face his back towards the wall. Thus even if there is only one wall [in an open field and that wall is] facing West or East one may have a bowel movement near[19] the wall with his back towards the wall.[20] [However one may not defecate with ones face towards the wall, having his back towards the open west or east end.]

 

C. In a Bathroom:[21]

Based on the above [B], when having a bowel movement in an area that is surrounded by walls, such as by all public and private bathrooms, there is no restriction as to which direction one may face. This applies even if the bathroom walls are not surrounded by any other walls [such as mobile bathrooms, and typical bathroom units found in parks].[22]

In what direction should a toilet be inserted?[23] Upon building a bathroom it is initially proper, if possible, to position the toilet to be facing south[24] [in areas North of Jerusalem, or North in areas south of Jerusalem[25]], and not East or West.[26]

 

D. Not to view the Temple mount:[27]

One may not urinate[28] facing the Temple Mount, if one is in an area that the actual Temple mount is currently within his sight.[29] Rather one must turn his face slightly towards a different direction.

 

Summary:

One may face any direction when using a bathroom. When one is defecating in the open, then if he is not within four Amos of a wall, he may not face East or West. If he is North of Jerusalem he is likewise not to face North with his back towards south. If he is within four Amos of a wall he may defecate with his back facing the wall irrelevant of direction. One may urinate in any direction. One may not urinate in view of the Temple mount.

 

Q&A

How tall must a wall be to be allowed to defecate with one’s back towards the wall?[30]

There is no minimum height of ten Tefach as is commonly required for a legal separation. Rather so long as it blocks the view from the direction it is valid.

 

Is a tree or plant considered a wall in this regard?[31]

Yes. Thus one may defecate with his back facing a tree or bush.

 

May one go to the bathroom facing a Shul or Beis Midrash?[32]

It is forbidden to urinate or defecate facing a Shul or Beis Midrash if one is doing so in the open. When one is in a bathroom one may face any direction.

 


[1] Basra 3/6-7, Kama 3/7-10; Siddur “Seder Netilah”; Gemara Brachos 61b

[2] Kama 3/7; Basra 3/6; Michaber 3/5

Siddur Seder Netilah: “By an open area one may not have a bowel movement facing towards East or West or even South by those provinces that are North East of Jerusalem, rather their backs should only face north. However one may urinate in any direction”

[3] According to Admur any outside area which does not contain a wall within four Amos is considered an open area as will be explained in B and footnotes there. Thus even the streets of a walled city is considered an open area. [See Kaf Hachaim 3/14]

[4] Beis Yosef 3

[5] P”M 3 A”A 12; Kaf Hachaim 3/36

[6] In Kama; Basra and Siddur ibid the term “forbidden” is not used, but rather that one simply may not do so. However in Kama 3/9 as well as the end of Basra ibid the term forbidden is used.

[7] Basra ibid; In Kama ibid it states this as follows: Whether one is facing East or whether he is facing West it may not be done. [Kama ibid]

[8] Basra 3/6

[9] Basra 3/6. In Kama 3/7 however says that the reason why one cannot have a bowel movement towards east is because it is opposite the west. In any event the above explains why one may not defecate in either direction. One cannot defecate towards west being that the Divine presence is there. One may likewise not defecate towards east being that the Shechina faces east and hence one will be facing the face of the Shechina while he is defecating towards east.

[10] It is for this reason that the east is called “front” while the west is called “back”, as the verse states “Back and front you have formed”. The south is therefore called the “right” and “Teiyman” [Yemen]. [Basra ibid]

[11] Basra 3/6

[12] Basra 3/6; Siddur Seder Netilah [see above]; omitted in Kama and Michaber

Background:

The Michaber ibid rules that one may have a bowel movement facing either North or South, and so rules Admur in Kama ibid. The M”A 3/6 however rules like the Heichal Kodesh that one may also not face towards North. So rules also Bechor Shur [Brachos 61b] Elya Raba 3/3; Malbim in Artzos Chaim 3/3. In Basra ibid Admur suspects for this opinion and writes it is best to not face North, and so rules M”B 3/11. However in the Siddur Admur plainly rules like the M”A that one may not face North. The reason behind this opinion of the Heichal Kodesh is because he learns that the entire prohibition of facing certain directions is due to Jerusalem and not due to the Shechina. [See Rashi Brachos 61b “Hanifneh]  All the other Poskim however learn it is due to the Shechina.

[13] This is done in order so their back does not face Jerusalem and the temple which is in the south. [Basra ibid]

Is there a prohibition involved in facing north? In Siddur ibid Admur writes that one may not do so with his back facing south. However in Basra ibid Admur simply writes “it is proper for them to beware, when possible”, hence implying it is not a clear prohibition.

[14] However those countries that are more east and west than North or South, certainly may face either direction. For example: In North and South America they may face either North or South being that they are more East/West of Jerusalem than North or South. However Eastern Europe and Western Russia may not face North.

[15] Pashut and so writes Piskeiy Teshuvos 3 footnote 25

[16] Basra 3/7; Kama 3/7; Siddur; Rama 3/5

Other Opinions: The Gr”a rules that one may not urinate facing west, which is towards the Shechina. Rather one is to urinate either to North, South or East. Biur Halacha “Ulihatil” concludes that today that we wear pants and not much of the body is revealed when urinating one may be lenient even according to the Gr”a.

Terms used to refer to bowel movement in Halacha: To note that the term used for urinating is “Lihatil Mayim” while the term used for bowel movement is “Lehasich Raglav” [Kama ibid] or “Lifnos” [Basra and Siddur]

[17] One may urinate even facing west, even though he is revealing himself towards the west [which is towards the Shechina]. [Kama 3/7]

[18] Basra 3/7; Kama 3/8; Siddur Seder Netilah: “By a wall one may sit near it with his back facing it even if it’s to East, West, or South”; Levush; Elya Raba 3/3

Other Opinions in Basra: In Basra ibid Admur brings a second opinion that rules a wall [interval] never helps to lessen the restrictions of which direction one may face, and hence one may never face East or West even when facing a wall. This opinion is not mentioned in Kama or Siddur ibid.

A city that is surrounded by walls: A walled city is nevertheless considered an open area unless one defecates near the actual wall. [M”A 3/5; Admur ibid; Unlike Nivei Shalom 3/4 who learns from Michaber that in a walled city one may face any direction. See Kaf Hachaim 3/14]

A courtyard that is surrounded by walls: A walled courtyard is considered an open area unless one defecates near the actual wall. [Based on Admur ibid which adds “near”; Taz in Kuntrus Achron brought in P”M 3 A”A 6; Piskeiy Teshuvos 3 footnote 31; unlike M”A 3/5 which rules it is permitted to face any direction even if one is not near the wall.]

[19] Admur Kama; Basra; Siddur all add “near” and so rules M”B 3/8. This is based on Abuhav and Taz 3/3 in Kuntrus Achron. [See Beir Heiytiv 3/5; It is unlike the opinion of the Beis Yosef and seemingly also unlike the M”A 3/5 which consider a courtyard a walled area and it is thus permitted to face any direction even if one is not near the wall.]

Definition of Near: “Near” refers to within four Amos of the wall. [M”B 3/8]

Must one build a toilet that faces East or West within four Amos of the wall? No. The above stringency of Admur and Taz only apply by an unroofed area. However by a building that has a roof it does not apply. [Peri Megadim 3 A”A 6]

[20] Thus if the single wall is in the West he is to have a bowel movement with his back facing the west towards the wall. If the wall is in the East then his back is to face the East towards the wall. [Admur ibid; M”A 3/5; Kitzur SH”A 4/2]

Other Opinions if there is only one wall in East: Some Poskim rule that if there is only one wall in the East, one may not have a bowel movement with his back facing the wall being that his front is open towards the west. [Peri Megadim 3 A”A 5; Yeshuos Yaakov; Gr”a; M”B 3/8 and Kaf Hachaim 3/15 bring both opinions and rule one is to suspect for this opinion.]

[21] Basra 3/7; and so seemingly applies also according to Kama 3/8 and Siddur

Second Opinion in Basra: The above follows the first and main opinion in Basra. However Admur brings a second opinion [Beis Yosef in name of Rambam] that rules that a wall [interval] never helps to lessen the restrictions of which direction one may face, and hence one may never face East or West even in a bathroom. This opinion is not mentioned in Kama or Siddur ibid. Vetzaruch Iyun if we rule like the Siddur over the Basra and hence Admur in the Siddur retracted his ruling from the Basra to rule like the Kama.

[22] As the wall of the bathroom itself is judged like an interval between the person and the direction his back is facing. [ibid]

[23] Basra ibid; not mentioned in Kama or Siddur; Yifei Laleiv 3/10 and Ben Ish Chaiy Vayeitzei 9 rule like Admur in Basra. The Ben Ish Chaiy states that the custom in Bagdad was not to build any bathrooms facing East or West. So concludes also Kaf Hachaim 3/15

Ruling of Siddur: This stringent opinion is not mentioned in Kama or Siddur ibid. Vetzaruch Iyun if we rule like the Siddur over the Basra and hence Admur in the Siddur retracted his ruling from the Basra to rule like the Kama. If this is the case then there is no need to be particular in what direction to position the toilet. Vetzaruch Iyun.

Other Opinions: It is evident from all the following Poskim that one may build a toilet that is in a bathroom in any direction: M”A 3/5; M”B 3/11; Maaseh Rav 6; Kama 3/8. See Piskeiy Teshuvos 3 footnote 35 who concludes that the custom today is not to be careful in this matter.

[24] Meaning that when one sits on the toilet his back is towards North and front towards South in areas North of Jerusalem.

[25] Based on Basra 3/6 those areas which are more north of Jerusalem than east or south are to build the toilet facing South and not North. Those areas which are more south of Jerusalem than East or West, are to build it facing north. Those areas which are more East or West  of Jerusalem than North or South can build it facing either North or South.

[26] The Reason: Since there are opinions which say that the direction restrictions apply even when there is a wall facing east or west, therefore one is at least initially to suspect for their opinion when building a bathroom, and position the toilet to face South. [Basra ibid]

[27] Kama 3/11; Michaber 3/7; Not mentioned in Basra

[28] May one defecate facing the Temple mount? The above law in Rambam [Hilchos Beis Habechira 7/9] and Shulchan Aruch ibid is written only with regards to urinating and not regarding a bowel movement. In the Gemara [Brachos 61b] however the law is discussing defecating [Lifnos] and not only urinating. Similarly the Gr”a [3/7] brings the Tosefta in Megila that explicitly writes that one may not have his back to the Mikdash while defecating, and may not have his front to the Mikdash while urinating. Practically so rules Piskeiy Teshuvos 3/5 that one may not defecate with his back facing the Mikdash and that this applies even if on account of doing so he will have to defecate towards East or West. [ibid footnote 30] Vetzaruch Iyun as why would the Rambam, Michaber and Admur omit this important point and explicitly limit the law to urinating. Hence it appears that according to the Rambam and Shulchan Aruch there is no prohibition in defecating with one’s back facing Tzofim and inwards. Perhaps the reason for this is because we mainly rule that the restriction of direction is due to the Shechina and not due to the Mikdash, and it is only if one will be staring at the Mikdash that we also invalidate that direction. Thus by defecation which is done with one’s back facing the Mikdash, since he does not actually see the Mikdash it would be allowed. Vetzaruch Iyun Lemaaseh.

[29] This is irrelevant of the direction that one is facing; north, south etc, and is irrelevant of whether one is inside or outside Jerusalem.

Tzofim: The area around the old city of Jerusalem that the Temple Mount cannot be seen from is called Tzofim. The area that the Temple Mount can be seen from is called “within Tzofim”. Hence the above law applies to a person that is in Tzofim and inwards. [ibid]

Other Opinions: The Gr”a rules that one may not face the Temple Mount even if he is outside Tzofim [not within view of the Temple].

[30] Ben Ish Chaiy Vayeitzei 9; Kaf Hachaim 3/15; M”B 3/8 in name of Peri Megadim

[31] Piskeiy Teshuvos 3/5

[32] M”B 3/14

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