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Beit Midrash Prayer

Chapter five-part one

One Who Must Relieve Himself While Praying

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8. One Who Must Relieve Himself While Praying
The Chachamim teach that one who needs to relieve himself, be it to urinate or to defecate, is prohibited from praying (Berachot 23a), since the need to relieve himself is likely to disrupt his kavanah. In addition, it is not proper to come to pray before HaKadosh Baruch Hu when one’s body is made repulsive by the excrement inside him. Even if he is uncertain as to whether or not he needs to relieve himself, it is proper that he try before beginning to pray (Berachot 15a). The Chachamim support their statement with the verse (Amos 4:12), "Israel, prepare to meet your God." It is also written (Ecclesiastes 4:17), "Guard your foot when you go to the House of God," meaning, make sure you do not need to relieve yourself at the time that you are standing to pray.
There are two levels of need: 1) a need so pressing that it is impossible to wait even the amount of time it takes to walk a parsah, which is approximately 72 minutes; 2) a need to relieve oneself, but which can be controlled for longer than 72 minutes.
If a person begins to recite the Amidah when he cannot control his need to defecate for 72 minutes, his prayer is considered an abomination and he does not fulfill his obligation. Instead, he must go back and repeat his prayer after he relieves himself. However, if he recites the Amidah when he cannot control his need to urinate for 72 minutes, although it is clear that he did not act in accordance with the law, the Acharonim are divided as to whether or not his prayer is considered an abomination. Due to the fact that it is not in our power to settle this dispute, there is no obligation to repeat the prayer, but it is good to go back and pray a voluntary prayer (tefillat nedavah) (see Bei’ur Halachah 92:1, s.v. "V’tzarich lachzor"). 7
If a person is able to control himself for 72 minutes, and he recites the Amidah, his prayer is considered valid because his need to relieve himself is not so urgent. In any case, l'chatchilah, even a person who can wait 72 minutes is prohibited from praying. Even if he will miss praying in a minyan because of this, he must relieve himself and pray individually. If, however, before he relieves himself, the time to pray will pass, he should pray immediately so that he will not miss praying altogether (Shulchan Aruch 92:1; Mishnah Berurah 92:5).
The estimation of a person’s ability to control himself can only be determined by the person himself. If he thought before the prayer service that he could wait 72 minutes, but after beginning to pray he was proven mistaken, his prayer is still considered valid, since at the time he started to pray he believed he could contain his need (Bei’ur Halachah 92:1, s.v. "Shiur Parsah").
If he has doubt as to whether or not he needs to relieve himself, or if his need is very slight, as we learned, l'chatchilah he should relieve himself before the prayer service, but he should not miss out on praying with a minyan for that purpose. 8

9. One Who Needs to Relieve Himself Before Reciting Other Matters of Sanctity
Just as one who needs to relieve himself and cannot wait 72 minutes is prohibited from reciting the Amidah, so too, he is prohibited from reciting berachot, saying Shema, and learning Torah, for it is not proper to engage in matters of sanctity when one’s body is offensive. However, there is a significant difference between the Amidah and other matters of sanctity. In the Amidah we resemble people standing in front of the King. If one does not pray in the proper manner, he disgraces the respect of Heaven and his prayer is an abomination. Therefore, when the person reciting the Amidah cannot control his need for 72 minutes, his prayer is invalid. This is not so regarding other matters of sanctity. While saying them, one is not considered to be standing before the King. Hence, b’dieved, if he recites berachot or Shema even when he is not able to control his need for 72 minutes, he fulfills his obligation (Mishnah Berurah 92:6; Bei’ur Halachah s.v. "Afilu B’Divrei Torah"; Kaf HaChaim 3). 9
One who can wait 72 minutes, according to most Acharonim, is permitted l'chatchilah to recite berachot and learn Torah, though there are those who say that it is preferable for him to relieve himself first (Mishnah Berurah 92:7). However, if he must exert himself in doing so, he does not need to relieve himself.
A person who starts to learn when he does not need to relieve himself, but in the course of learning feels a need, to the point where he can no longer wait 72 minutes, should l'chatchilah go and relieve himself. If he is in the middle of a subject of study, some say that he may continue to learn until he finishes that subject (Bei’ur Halachah 92:2 s.v. "Koreh"; Yalkut Yosef, part 2, p. 338), whereas others say that he should go relieve himself immediately (Kaf HaChaim 3:48). If he is teaching Torah, he should finish his class and then relieve himself, for human dignity (kevod habriyot) is so great that it overrides the rabbinic prohibition of "Do not abominate oneself" (Mishnah Berurah 92:7).

10. One Who Needs to Relieve Himself in the Middle of Praying
The ruling regarding a person who does not need to relieve himself when he starts to pray, but in the middle of his prayer feels a rising need, is based on how much he needs to relieve himself, and what stage of the prayer he is in. There are three levels of need concerning this law:
1. One who can wait 72 minutes is permitted to finish praying.
2. One who estimates that he will not be able to wait 72 minutes, but does not yet have to contain the urge, and would have to exert himself slightly to relieve himself at the moment – since when he started to pray he was permitted, and his immediate need is not so great, he may finish the section that he is saying. If the need arises in the middle of Pesukei d’Zimrah, he should wait until reciting Yishtabach, thereby finishing Pesukei d’Zimrah, and then go relieve himself. If the need arises while he is reciting Birkot Keriat Shema, he may, in principle, finish the berachot. However, because he will need to relieve himself before Shemoneh Esrei, it is better not to pause between birkat Ga’al Yisrael and the Amidah. Therefore, he should relieve himself immediately upon finishing the specific berachah or paragraph that he is reciting (Mishnah Berurah 92:9; Bei’ur Halachah s.v. "Ya’amid"). 10
3. One who has to actively suppress the need to relieve himself while praying is in the most serious stage, because at this point he is transgressing the prohibition, "Do not abominate oneself" (Rama 92:2, according to Shulchan Aruch HaRav 3:11). If he is saying Pesukei d’Zimrah or Birkot Keriat Shema, he must immediately go relieve himself since interruption at that point is not so serious. However, if he is in the middle of the Amidah, where a pause at that point is serious, and if, when he began reciting the Amidah, he did not feel the need to relieve himself, he should finish praying. Only in a situation in which he is incapable of waiting at all, should he go relieve himself. 11

11. One Who Is Tipsy or Drunk
A person must be clearheaded when he prays. Unlike many idol worshipers who perform their rituals using drugs and alcohol to attain a state of ecstasy, our petitions to Hashem are achieved through seriousness and deep thought. That is why the Torah commands the Kohanim not to enter the Temple and perform the divine service while inebriated (Leviticus 10:8-11). The Chachamim derive from this that one who is drunk or tipsy is prohibited from praying.
"Tipsy" is the word used to describe someone who is slightly under the influence of alcohol, and finds it somewhat difficult to concentrate and focus his thoughts, but is still capable of talking before the King. The word "drunk" is used to describe a person who drank so much that he cannot properly speak before the King.
B’dieved, one who prays while tipsy, since he is able to speak before the King, fulfills his obligation. Likewise, if he begins praying and then remembers that he is tipsy, he may finish his prayer (Eliyah Rabbah; Kaf HaChaim 99:2). However, a drunken person who mistakenly starts to pray is required to stop immediately, for the prayer of one who is intoxicated is an abomination. Even if he concludes his prayer, he does not fulfill his obligation. If he becomes sober before the permissible time to pray ends, he must go back and pray in accordance with the law (Shulchan Aruch 99:1).
The Chachamim say that a person who drinks a revi’it (86 ml; recent calculations are 75 ml) of wine is considered tipsy, and if he walks a mil (960 meters, approx. 5.97 miles) it will diminish the effect of the wine (Eiruvin 64b). However, we do not know how to compare the wine of those days to our wines today. Therefore, the rule is that any time he feels disoriented from wine or alcohol, he is considered tipsy, and when he feels his clarity of mind returning, he is permitted to pray (Shulchan Aruch 99:3; Mishnah Berurah 2).
According to the Rama, because kavanah in prayer has deteriorated throughout the generations, we are not so strict about this law, and even a person who becomes slightly inebriated is allowed to pray. This is especially true when one prays with a siddur, for then there is no need to worry that he might mix up the words of the prayer. Customarily, we rely on the Rama’s opinion when the permissible time to pray begins to expire (Mishnah Berurah 99:3, and 17, and see Kaf HaChaim 22). There are those who add that even to prevent missing prayer in a minyan, a person who is slightly tipsy is permitted to pray. On Purim, when it is a mitzvah to drink, it is customary to be lenient in allowing one who is tipsy to pray so that he will not miss praying in a minyan (see Peninei Halachah Zemanim 16:14).
Concerning Shema and its berachot, the poskim are divided. Therefore, l'chatchilah, someone who is tipsy or drunk should not recite them. Instead, he should wait until the effect of the wine wears off. If, however, the time to recite Shema is about to pass, a tipsy person should say the Shema with the berachot, and a drunken person should recite it while omitting the berachot (Rama 99:1; Mishnah Berurah 8).
A tipsy person may recite other berachot, for example, Birkot HaNehenin (the berachot one recites before deriving pleasure from something) and Asher Yatzar, but a drunken person should not recite them. Nevertheless, even a drunken person should recite berachot that he can recite only at that time. For instance, if he became drunk at a meal, he should still recite Birkat HaMazon. Similarly, if he relieves himself, he recites Asher Yatzar (Rama 99:1; Mishnah Berurah 11).
A person who has reached a state of intoxication such as Lot, and is unaware of what is happening to him, is considered a shoteh (a deranged person), and is exempt from performing all the mitzvot. Even the berachot that he did recite are considered invalid (Mishnah Berurah 99:11).




^ 7.According to the Magen Avraham, it is not necessary to go back and repeat the prayer. However, according to the Eliyah Rabbah, one must. Many Acharonim are lenient like the Magen Avraham, such as the Shulchan Aruch HaRav 92:1 and the Aruch HaShulchan 92:1. The Kaf HaChaim 92:4 is inclined to rule this way as well. Nevertheless, the Bei’ur Halachah writes that we do not have the power to resolve this disagreement. The subsequent conclusion is that it is good to recite a voluntary prayer (tefillat nedavah).
As for the reason behind this controversy, there are those who maintain that it is contingent upon the root of the prohibition. According to the Rambam, Hilchot Tefillah 4:1, it is because the need to relieve oneself disturbs one’s kavanah. If so, no distinction is made between urine and excrement and his prayer is considered an abomination. According to Rabbeinu Simchah, who is cited by the Hagahot Maymoniyot, it is because his body is in a state of repugnancy. Therefore, the prayer of a person who only needs to urinate is not considered an abomination, since urine does not have as much contamination. Likewise, the prohibition to distance oneself from urine is rabbinic, and from excrement, biblical, as written in Or L’Tzion, part 2, chapter 7, 15. Or L’Tzion links this dispute to the argument regarding whether or not one who needs to relieve himself is prohibited from learning Torah and reciting Shema. If it is because the need is a disturbance, he is only prohibited from praying the Amidah. However, if it is because his body is considered an abomination, the prohibition applies to all matters of sanctity. (Nevertheless, an argument can be made that one fulfills his obligation b’dieved if he recites matters of sanctity when he cannot control himself for 72 minutes, even according to the opinion that his body is an abomination, because he is not considered one who is standing before the King, as is explained later on.) In practice, we are careful to follow both interpretations.

^ 8.The Rishonim are divided concerning a person who needs to relieve himself but can wait 72 minutes. According to Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah, the Rambam, and Rosh, he is prohibited from reciting the Amidah, and that is what the Shulchan Aruch 92:1 rules. But the Rif, Rashi, Or Zarua, and Agudah maintain that he may pray l'chatchilah. The Chida writes in Kesher Gudal 7:32, that if in order to relieve himself he will miss praying in a minyan, he may rely on those who permit him to recite the Amidah l'chatchilah when he can wait 72 minutes. However, the Acharonim do not accept his ruling, as clarified by the Mishnah Berurah 92:5 and Kaf HaChaim 6. There are those who write that a printing error was made in the writings of the Chida. See Yechaveh Da’at 4:19, in the footnote. Nevertheless, when one’s need to relieve himself is slight, it seems that he can rely on the Chida’s reasoning, especially because there are people who always feel a slight need to relieve themselves. If, in order to relieve himself, he needs to exert himself to help push out the waste, then there is an opinion that he is not at all transgressing the prohibition, "Do not abominate oneself," and he is permitted to pray (the notes of Rav Eliyahu to the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 12:3, in the name of an opinion brought by the Ben Ish Chai, Vayetzei 3). L'chatchilah, a person must try to relieve himself, as explained in Berachot 15a and Shulchan Aruch 2:6.
^ 9.It is implied from Aruch HaShulchan 92:1, that even if the time to recite the Shema will pass, l'chatchilah he should not recite it. However, this matter requires further study since presumably it is better that he recite the Shema so that he will not miss saying it (for in this case there is no fear of reciting a berachah in vain).
^ 10.However, Shulchan Aruch HaRav 92:2 clarifies that since he was permitted to pray when he started, he may finish until the end. That is what is implied in Aruch HaShulchan 92:6-7 as well. Still, the Mishnah Berurah 92:9 and Bei’ur Halachah s.v. "Ya’amid" explain that he may continue only until the end of the particular part he is reciting, whether it is Pesukei d’Zimrah, Birkot Keriat Shema, the Amidah, or the like. If he goes on to pray when he cannot wait 72 minutes, his prayer is considered an abomination. In order to avoid uncertainty, one should conduct himself according to the Mishnah Berurah. All the more so when he is violating the prohibition, "Do not abominate oneself," for then according to the Rama, even in the middle of Pesukei d’Zimrah or Birkot Keriat Shema, he must stop immediately. If at the time he reaches Birkot Keriat Shema he feels a need to relieve himself and he knows that he can wait 72 minutes, he may continue to pray the Amidah, as I have written above in level 1. The reasons for this are as follows: according to all opinions, if he prays in this manner, he fulfills his obligation. Similarly, the Rif and Rashi rule that one is even permitted to pray this way l’chatchilah. The Chida writes that one may rely on these sources so that he may pray in a minyan. Finally, the Shulchan Aruch HaRav writes that if he was permitted to pray when he started, he may finish saying all the prayers.
The Bei’ur Halachah 92:1, s.v. "Hayah" is uncertain regarding the law of a chazan who feels a need to relieve himself before Chazarat HaShatz and cannot wait 72 minutes. However, concerning a communal Torah reader, he is lenient and rules that he may read, for human dignity (kevod habriyot) is so great that it takes precedence over a rabbinic prohibition. Nonetheless, regarding prayer, which is considered an abomination, he is doubtful. Thus, even if the chazan will be slightly embarrassed, it is preferable that he goes to relieve himself and has someone replace him. Only if the matter will humiliate him greatly may he continue to pray.

^ 11.The Mishnah Berurah 92:11 states that according to the Rama, when he reaches the point where he will violate the prohibition, "Do not abominate oneself," he stops even in the middle of the Amidah. According to the Magen Avraham he is permitted to continue so as not to be humiliated in front of the congregation. The Chayei Adam and Kaf HaChaim 8, maintain that he is prohibited from stopping in the middle of the Amidah. That is also the opinion of most poskim. If a person is in a situation where he cannot control his need to defecate, everyone agrees that he must go relieve himself. However, regarding urination, according to the Shulchan Aruch HaRav, he should not stop in the middle, even if the urine trickles down his knees. Kaf HaChaim 8, writes that if this concerns a lot of urine and he is praying in a congregation, he may stop so that he will not embarrass himself. According to the Chayei Adam and Mishnah Berurah 92:11, when he cannot wait, he may relieve himself even just to urinate. That is what I have written, as well.
If he must stop to defecate in the middle of the Amidah, it is reasonable to assume that he was probably prohibited from praying when he originally started and it was clear that he would not be able to wait for more than 72 minutes. Therefore, he does not fulfill the obligation for the parts of the Amidah that he already recited and he must go back to the beginning. However, if he truly thought that he would be able to wait 72 minutes, and was surprisingly attacked by such a strong urge to the point where he needed to relieve himself immediately, then if the interruption lasted the time needed to pray all of the Amidah prayer, from beginning to end, he must start the Amidah again, as explained in Shulchan Aruch 104:5 and Rama 65:1. But if the break lasted less time, he continues from the berachah at which he stopped. It seems that a person who was unsure of whether he could, at the outset, estimate his ability to wait 72 minutes, and in the end could not control his need to defecate, must repeat the Amidah because it stands to reason that he was prohibited from praying when he began to recite the Amidah. Furthermore, it is possible that concerning prayer he is considered a repulsive person, based on the logic brought by the Bei’ur Halachah 92:2, s.v. "Yoter."



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