According to Gemara Makkot 16b, the phrase in Vayikra 20:25

... and do not make your souls disgusting - וְלֹא תְשַׁקְּצוּ אֶת נַפְשֹׁתֵיכֶם

is a command not to hold in the urge to urinate or defecate.

What are the parameters of this mitzvah?

  • At what degree of urgency does the commandment apply? From the first awareness of the need, or when the feeling becomes more pressing?
  • Are there particular punishments mentioned for transgressing this mitzvah? Rewards for fulfilling it?
  • Are there circumstances and considerations which override this mitzvah? I'm thinking of davening, human dignity, not embarrassing someone, interrupting another mitzvah, tircha d'tzibura (troubling the community).

And any relevant thing else I have not thought of.

  • 1
    I vaguely recall a discussion of davening considerations somewhere in, err, the first 25 pages of B'rachot. That's not much help, but maybe we'll come across it in the next month of daf yomi if nothing else. Jul 26, 2012 at 14:43
  • @MonicaCellio: Perhaps Berachot 8A: "מצא זה בית הכסא אמרי במערבא הא דמר זוטרא עדיפא מכלהו" hebrewbooks.org/shas.aspx?mesechta=1&daf=8&format=pdf
    – Menachem
    Jul 27, 2012 at 7:40

3 Answers 3


As for your third point, the Aruch HaShulchan (OC 3:10) and the Mishna Berura (OC 3:31) both rule that it is permissible to delay until one can find an appropriate place to relieve oneself. Additionally, the Mishna Berura explicitly includes all other cases of Kavod Habriyot (human dignity) in this exception.

  • Bal teshaketzu is derabanan, but "lo yihieh lecha akar ve'akarah" is de'oraysa. The question said "to hold in the urge to urinate or defecate." Your answer covers defecation, but isn't urination de'oraysa and not overruled by human dignity? (Sources: MB, end of siman 3.)
    – b a
    Jul 27, 2012 at 22:25
  • @ba (Sorry for late response) I see your diyuk in the MB. Do you see anywhere explicit that lo yihyeh akar is deoraita and not also derabanan?
    – Double AA
    Aug 13, 2012 at 4:26
  • Since human dignity doesn't trump it, it has to be. The Mishnah Brurah also implies so in 92:7
    – b a
    Aug 13, 2012 at 5:17
  • @ba Well he doesn't say human dignity doesn't trump it; he just doesn't say that it does, which is why I'm looking for other evidence that it is actually deoraita and not that the MB was being lav davka when listing what is trumped by human dignity. Please let me know if you find that other source. I too will keep my eyes out.
    – Double AA
    Aug 13, 2012 at 5:20

If you can wait for 72 minutes, there is no prohibition in delaying at all. Ben Ish Chai 1, Vayeitzei 3.

  • 2 comments: 1- It would be helpful to add in the other condition of the BIC that it must be "coming out" without need to help it along. 2- Since a parsah has a few opinions on its length, you should probably qualify your statement.
    – YDK
    Jul 26, 2012 at 19:28
  • @YDK Who has a different opinion? I have never seen any opinion that it is anything other than an hour and a fifth.
    – b a
    Jul 26, 2012 at 19:31
  • 3
    A parsah is 4 mil. A mil is either 18 min 21.5 min or 24 min IIUC.
    – Double AA
    Jul 26, 2012 at 19:44

There is no apparent parameter for this. The Halakha is basically as soon as one feels the onset of any sort of bowel movement then they should try their best to relieve themselves. The only exception would obviously be at the risk to human life or the like. The concept is based on keeping one's body as healthy as possible in order to have a longer and healthier life to perform many more miswoth.

"Since maintaining a healthy and sound body is among the ways of G-d - for one cannot understand or have any knowledge of the Creator, if he is ill - therefore, he must avoid that which harms the body and accustom himself to that which is healthful and helps the body become stronger. They are as follows: a person should never eat unless he is hungry, nor drink unless thirsty. He should never put off relieving himself, even for an instant. Rather, whenever he [feels the] need to urinate or move his bowels, he should do so immediately. - Rambam Hilkhoth De'oth 4:1

And goes further to explain the depths of this concept:

Similarly, it is forbidden for a person to delay relieving himself at all, whether through defecation or urination. Anyone who delays relieving himself is considered among those who make their souls detestable in addition to the severe illnesses he brings upon himself and becoming liable for his life. Instead, it is appropriate for a person to train himself [to eliminate] at specific times so that he will not have to separate himself in the presence of others and not have to make his soul detestable. Whoever is careful concerning these matters brings an additional measure of holiness and purity to his soul and purges his soul for the sake of the Holy One, blessed be He, as [Leviticus 11:44] states: "And you shall sanctify yourselves and you will be holy, for I am holy.- Rambam Hilkhoth Ma'akhaloth 'asuroth 17:31-32, also see Mahadura Basra 3:1 S"A

I only know of one place an example is given where the concept of relieving oneself is specifically mentioned in relation to performing a commandment, and that is in relation to tefilah

"...One who must relieve himself should not pray. Whenever anyone who must relieve himself prays, his prayer is an abomination and he must pray again after he relieves himself. If a person can restrain himself for the length of time that it takes to walk a parsah, his prayer is considered prayer. Nevertheless, a priori, one should not pray until he has checked himself very well, checked his intestines, rid himself of phlegm and mucus and any [other] bothersome thing. [Only] afterwards should he pray... When urine flows on a person's legs during Shemoneh Esreh, he should wait until the flow ceases, and return to the place at which he stopped. If he waited the time necessary to complete his Shemoneh Esreh, he should return to the beginning. Similarly, one who urinates should wait the length of time it takes to walk four cubits, and then pray. After one has prayed, he should wait this length of time before urinating, in order to make a distinction following the words of prayer. - Rambam Hilkhoth Tefilah 4:10,13-14

  • 3
    What is the Mahadura Basra of S"A (Shulchan Aruch?)?
    – Double AA
    Jul 26, 2012 at 19:23
  • @msh210 Great editing and links! Have a ♦. :-) Jul 27, 2012 at 7:51

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