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Is maintaining cleanliness and personal hygiene a Jewish thing?

Is maintaining cleanliness and personal hygiene a Jewish thing?

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Question:

Is there a source in Jewish teachings for the importance of maintaining cleanliness and personal hygiene?

Answer:

In Deuteronomy,1 the Torah discusses rules that regulate battle encampments. Now, an impromptu temporary battle camp is not a place where you'd expect a high standard of cleanliness. But this is what the Torah says:

And you shall have a designated place outside the camp, so that you can go out there [for use as an outhouse]. And you shall keep a shovel in addition to your weapons; and it shall be, when you sit down outside [to relieve yourself], you shall dig with it, and you shall return and cover your excrement. For the L-rd, your G‑d, goes along in the midst of your camp, to rescue you and to deliver your enemies before you. [Therefore,] your camp shall be holy, so that He should not see anything unseemly among you and would turn away from you.

This standard certainly can be applied to any area wherein we wish to welcome G‑d's presence. And certainly this includes the human body, which is the ultimate Sanctuary for the Divine Presence.

Also of note is the last section of the Mishnah of tractate Sotah:

Rabbi Phinehas ben Jair used to say: Heedfulness leads to cleanliness; cleanliness leads to purity; purity leads to abstinence; abstinence leads to holiness; holiness leads to humility; humility leads to fear of sin; fear of sin leads to saintliness; saintliness leads to (the possession) of Divine Inspiration; Divine Inspiration leads to the Resurrection of the Dead; and the Resurrection of the Dead comes through Elijah of blessed memory, amen.

Rabbi Eliezer Posner

FOOTNOTES
1.

23:13-15.

Eliezer Posner is a former member of the Chabad.org Ask the Rabbi team.
All names of persons and locations or other identifying features referenced in these questions have been omitted or changed to preserve the anonymity of the questioners.
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Discussion (6)
July 7, 2009
unnatural dirt
No, dirt is not an unnatural state.

Here's somethings to ponder for you:

Did you know that the Torah is technically Tamei? The reason we don't touch it, isn't because we contaminate it, but because it makes us unclean to do so. "What's that?" you say, well...you have to understand that the Torah has no need to be "cleansed" like we humans do, it is holy no matter what, because of what it contains....the Torah itself is a living thing.

Remember the "angels" who visited Abraham? They ate milk and meat together, yikes! That's not Kosher. But they are divine beings, not constrained by the laws given to man....

Is this starting to show you a trend? The laws we speak of pertain only to humankind, and can not arbitrarily be applied to other objects or creatures unless specifically stated in the law itself.
Saul
Fort Collins, Colorado, USA
July 7, 2009
Relief in the Synagogue
I think Howard meant, relieving oneself in the synagogue proper, not in the bathroom...am I right Howard? After all, the bathroom is not usually, I've never seen one anyway, right there next to the Aaron, eh? (Maybe a porta-potty behind the Bimah? just kidding)

There is nothing un-holy about the human body...
Saul
Fort Collins, Colorado, USA
June 15, 2008
I would definitely relieve myself in a synagogue('s bathroom). While one feels the need, it is not appropriate to pray, say blessings, or even learn Torah. Judaism isn't a religion that denies physicality. Our bodies were created a certain way, and, Thank G-d, when everything works right there's a special blessing one says after going to the bathroom. (After one washes one's hands, of course.)

Amen to everything else, Howard!
Chanoch Berenson
West Hartford, CT
May 24, 2008
Would you relieve yourself in a synagogue? Even though relieving oneself is completely natural, I think one would agree that it's inappropriate in a synagogue. The verse about keeping the camp clean tells us that we shouldn't just be presentable in the synagogue. Wherever you are--even in the battle field--you got to keep yourself orderly and clean, because G-d is everywhere. That's why some very religious Jews won't uncover themselves even in their own bedroom. When they change their clothes, they do it under a blanket or something. God is everywhere and we always need to mindful of His presence.
Howard
May 24, 2008
It's natural to be clean. Dirt is an unnatural state, no?
Dr. Berel
May 23, 2008
I don't understand why this would offend G-d, who made us this way? Why would He be offended by something natural?
Anonymous
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