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Locking versus Knocking-Locking the door of the bathroom behind you
Is a person who is using the bathroom required to lock the door behind him? I was by a public bathroom and I guess I forgot to lock the door [as I am not always careful to lock it behind me] and someone walked in on me. I asked him as to why he did not knock to which he replied that I should have locked the door. He said that he was always taught that you need to lock the door behind you not just for the obvious reasons, but also due to a Halachic obligation. Is this correct?
It is true, that according to Halacha, one is to both close and lock the door behind oneself when using the bathroom in order to ensure privacy and that a person does not suddenly barge in. Both the closing and locking of the door is recorded in Poskim.
Notwithstanding the above, it is common courtesy to also knock before entering when you see that the door is closed, even though this concept is not recorded in the Poskim. Nonetheless, I would say that the onus of ensuring privacy is on the person using the bathroom to lock the door behind him, more than it is on the person who desires to enter, for him to knock, and on the contrary, knocking each time one desires to enter will cause the person in the bathroom to unnecessarily need to communicate that they are there, which compromises on the talking restriction relevant to the bathroom. All in all, I would say that while it is common courtesy to knock on the door, if the door is locked, then the person using the bathroom should not answer anything, and when they try the handle they will find out for themselves that a person is inside.
The Talmud and Poskim record of the obligation to be modest in a bathroom, which includes regulations regarding speaking in a bathroom, exposing the body in a bathroom, and privacy while using the bathroom. The Rama records in the name of the Or Zarua that due to these rules of privacy, one is to close the door upon using the bathroom. This ruling is recorded in all the Achronim, including the Alter Rebbe in both versions of his Shulchan Aruch.
Now, the question is raised as to whether the term “close the door” means to simply close the door but not necessarily lock it or to actually closing it and locking it. Meaning, is the reason behind this instruction so no one sees the person using the bathroom and hence simply closing the door suffices, or is it in addition in order so no one enter the bathroom while he is using it, which would require the door to be locked.
So, the Chesed Lealafim explicitly writes that one is to also lock the door from the inside in order to prevent people from coming in, and so was the response of Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky, when asked as to the intent of the statement. Likewise, so is explicitly mentioned in the Mishna in Miseches Tamid, and Talmud Brachos and Tamid, regarding the bathroom of the temple, that if it was found to be locked then it was known that someone was inside.
Likewise, so is implied from the wording of the Alter Rebbe in his Mahadura Basra, in which he states that the reason for closing the door is so no one else enter, which would imply that this closing of the door includes also locking the door as otherwise this would not prevent someone from suddenly entering. This is further implied from the continued ruling there of the Alter Rebbe in his Basra, that even “if one cannot close the door behind him and another person wants to enter they should grunt at each other.” Now, if the intent of the word close is to simply close it without locking it, then if one cannot close the door why would there be a need for them to grunt at each other so they be aware of their presence, wouldn’t the person who is arriving see with his own eyes that someone is using the bathroom. On the other hand, if close means to also lock the door, then the scenario makes perfect sense, as if the person attempts to open the closed door that cannot be locked, then one should grunt at him in order so he doesn’t open it.
This is in contrast to the simple wording in the Rama and Mahadurah Kama of the Alter Rebbe in which he writes that the reason for closing the door is simply due to modesty, and therefore can be interpreted that its purpose is not to prevent people from entering but simply so he does not use the bathroom in view of others. Perhaps this then is a difference between the wording of the Alter Rebbe in his first and second version, as according to the first version there is no need to lock the door while according to the second version one must lock the door. Vetzaruch Iyun.
Now, let us address the common courtesy to knock on the door of the bathroom before entering. Many people are accustomed out the common courtesy to always knock on the door of the bathroom before trying to open it. This is done out of respect so if there’s a person inside [even with a locked door] he does not feel that someone is trying to barge in. However, one can make the valid halachic argument that knocking on the door would require the person using the bathroom to communicate that he is there, and part of the laws of modesty is a prohibition against speaking in a bathroom, and therefore it is ruled that even if one cannot lock or close the door and he should not speak but rather grunt at a person trying to enter. However, even this grunting is only due to lack of choice, and ideally it would be better to simply lock the door and not need to communicate anything, as the person will see for himself that is locked. Perhaps you can be proven from the above Mishneh in Tamid that it was not common practice to knock on the door, but simply to try to handle and see if it’s locked.
Sources: Vayar Pinchas 3:6 See regarding closing the door behind you: Admur Kama 3:2“and one shall close the door behind him due to modesty”; Basra 3:2 “and one shall close the door behind him in order so no other person enter there… And therefore if you cannot close the door and another person wants to enter he should grunt at him”; Rama 3:2 “and one shall close the door behind him due to modesty”; Darkei Moshe 3:1; Or Zarua 1:137; See regarding locking the door behind you: Admur Basra ibid; Mishneh Tamid 1:1; Brachos 62b; Tamid 27b; Chesed Lealafim 3:5 “One should close the door behind him due to modesty and he should make a lock behind it in order so a person does not suddenly enter and open the door, which would be embarrassing.”; YifeiTalmud on Tamid ibid; Daas Nota p. 88; Piskeiy Teshuvos 3:4