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Shabbat Parashat Bechukotai 5774

Ask the Rabbi: Children in Diapers in Shul During Davening

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: Is it permitted for young children in diapers (i.e., not capable of bowel control) to be in shul during the time of tefilla? I have been bothered that in my shul not everyone is careful about this.  

 

Answer: Your question about diapered children in shul during tefilla involves two issues: 1. Preserving the honor of a beit knesset (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 151), even not during tefilla time. 2. Davening in the presence of excrement (see the great detail in Orach Chayim 76-87), which applies even outside a shul. (While the main classical sources (see Berachot, 3rd perek) discuss Kri’at Shema, the halachot apply to davening, berachot, and speaking divrei Torah – Mishna Berura 76:2.)  We do not believe that the coincidence of the two is more problematic than the elements separately. Realize that if the first issue is a problem, a toddler sibling of a baby having a brit in shul could not attend. The second issue would greatly limit involvement in matters of kedusha in a house with non-toilet-trained children present. (The excrement of newborns for several months is not an issue – Shulchan Aruch, OC 81:1).

Let us dispatch quickly of the matter of the honor of a shul. We found no indication that bringing in a baby in diapers is considered a disgrace to a beit knesset and have no reason to question the clear minhag to allow babies in.

Regarding davening near possible or definite excrement, the first major rule is that the excrement must be covered (Berachot 25b). Thus, at first glance, a diaper should be sufficient. However, there are some complications. First of all, there must not be a smell (whose extent is hard to quantify) that escapes the covering (Shulchan Aruch, OC 76:2; Mishna Berura 76:3). A smell affects people up to four amot from the furthest point it reaches. However, poskim rule that one does not have to constantly check to see if there has been a bowel movement and a spreading smell (Ishei Yisrael 52:18, Ohr L’tzion II:86:14). If one knows that the baby has eliminated (Ohr L’tzion ibid.) and perhaps if long enough has passed to assume a baby has eliminated (Ishei Yisrael ibid.), he should check.

According to the concept of graf shel re’i, a utensil used for collecting excrement is considered soiled, so that one is not allowed to daven when it is in his view or, if it is behind him or sufficiently to the side, within four amot (Shulchan Aruch, OC 87:1; ibid. 79:1). Is a diaper a graf shel re’i, given that it is a receptacle of excrement? Rav Moshe Feinstein (see Igrot Moshe OC IV:106) says, regarding cloth diapers, that after being washed, it is not a graf shel re’I, implying that while it is soiled it is one. Therefore, there is logic to require that the diaper to be covered (e.g., by the child’s clothes) even if it does not smell. On the other hand, modern diapers are made to be thrown out soon after becoming soiled and not reused. Some point out that modern diapers have the advantage of having their own non-absorbent plastic covering (Avnei Yashfeh III:70). Rav S.Z. Auerbach is said to not accept this distinction because the diaper is absorbent and a covering must be something external, not the diaper itself (Halichot Shlomo, Tefilla 20:5). It is not clear what Rav Auerbach’s full opinion was on this matter (see Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 47:38; Nishmat Avraham, OC 76:(9). In any case, his stringency is only when the diaper is soiled, not wet.

There is also an opinion that a covering is insufficient to cover excrement at the anus (see Magen Avraham 81:1). However, the great majority of poskim say that the stringency of excrement at the source is only for the soiled individual, not for those davening in his presence (see Ishei Yisrael 52:9).

We conclude that the prevalent practice to allowing matters of holiness to be spoken in the presence of a baby in diapers is very well-grounded, with certain steps are laudable. If one who wants to be more machmir , he should consider the “price” and certainly should not impose his view on co-congregants.

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