Monday, 1 June 2009

Working Toilets Even at Shul

We are all souls in a physical body. Even when we are involved in a very spiritual act, still we need to make sure we have taken care of our physical needs in order to concentrate on the spiritual. Going to Shul (Synagogue) is no exception. Even though we might have a few hours of prayer ahead of us, still it is possible that our bodies might require some relief hence the need for toilets even in a place of worship.

Imagine for a moment, that you decide one day to spend a few hours immersed in prayer together with the community. You dress up in your finest Shabbat or Yom Tov clothing, walk over to the Shul, confident to be there in time for the services. You find yourself a seat where you can hear what is happening, perhaps where you can see the Baal Korei and then just as you are about to open your siddur (prayer book) to pray, your physical body demands a little attention.

Quietly you slip out to where to toilets are, hoping to return just as quietly and quickly. You don't want to make a fuss or to arouse any attention as to where you are going or why. To your dismay the toilet seat is down and on the lid is Muktza (set apart from use on Shabbat or Yom Tov). Or the Toilet door is locked and inquiry leads to watching people shrug their should and continue their Davening. There is no key and you need to just manage as such. Or when you have finished you try to open the door and discover the door has jammed and the force required to open the door backfires on you, hurting your body. Or the door is locked from the inside and you are unable to open the door or attract any attention. Being Shabbat or Yom Tov you have no cell phone with you, what to do? Or the toilet has no window at all and you feel claustrophobic, perhaps nervous to use that toilet. Or the toilet window does not close and faces onto buildings and a busy street where anyone walking by can see exactly what you are doing.

Before you stop reading, thinking this would not happen in a Synagogue, unfortunately, it does and it has. However, this is not the Torah way.

The Shulchan Aruch, in the laws of "Conduct in the Bathroom" mentions in Halacha (Law) 2 that a person should be modest in a bathroom and should not completely undress himself until he is sitting down.

On this point the Biur Halachah (The Chofetz Chaim - Rav Yisrael Meir Kagan [1839 - 1933]) states that the Gemara argues regarding the attribute of modesty (as to whether or not it is considered a Mitzva De'Oraisa - a Torah Mitzvah or not,) and the Sefer Mitzvos Katan counts modesty as a Mitzvah of the Torah itself.

The Chofetz Chaim continues, saying that he personally saw places that were lazy in building toilets for the public (i.e. Shuls), and this has caused - as a result of this - a number of stumbling blocks, obstacles and hindrances, not withstanding that the attribute of modesy will be lacking through this. More than this, one comes as a result of this, to a number of disgraceful and damaging situations.

For one thing, hundreds of blessings and holy Names of G-d are mentioned at every moment in vain through this, because it is surely known that that the Shulchan Aruch already rules in this (Chapter 29) that if a person is not able to hold himself in for the time period of 72 minutes his prayer is an abomination. However, if there is a toilet close to him and he needs to use it before praying the Shmoneh Esrei, he will not be lazy to go and to make use of it. This is not the case when there is no toilet available and he needs to remove his Tefillin to go home (so that he can use his own personal toilet in his house.) Here he will certainly be lazy in this matter (as it will take him much time to remove his Tefillin, go home, return, put on the Tefillin again, and then hope and pray he will not need the toilet again until after his prayers!)

And so, he will hold himself in until after the prayers are finished if he is a normal person. And even if he is a Torah scholar he will not be lazy to go and to search out some place or to go home, because of this. Nevertheless there will be much davening time that could be said together with the congregation, wasted through this. And also a great loss of time wasted where he could have been studying Torah. Also this results in embarrassment (on many many levels) because one incident leads to the next - also with a fear of a life threatening danger, because holding oneself back can lead to bowel disease. And there are many further troubles and problems. Therefore it is a great mizvah to help in this matter in order to remove these stumbling blocks from the Jewish people and that they should mention the Name of G-d in holiness.

Frustrated with the difficulty in finding a Shul with adequate toilet facilities, we are working on developing a Shul that fulfills these Torah laws, to give respect to the body as much as the soul. In addition to toilets being clean, well ventilated and accessible in terms of functioning doors and windows, we are also concerned to have separate men's and women's toilets, access for the disabled and any other requirement laid down by the Torah.

Please join us with this important and holy project. The first phase we estimate to require US$50 000. Follow our work and become a part of the Shul and Torah Centre we are working on.

Please do read our website and other projects.

Before you consider this amount is too large a figure to request, let us break it down. If 1000 Jews contribute US$ 50, we will have the first phase completed. If 2000 Jew contribute US$ 25, we will have our first phase completed. If anyone reading this has maaser money and can contribute more, it will enable us to complete this phase sooner.

Thank you for your kindness and generosity. Remember the real thanks will come from Heaven for assisting and being a part of fulfilling the Torah to the best of our ability.

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