Shabbat Parashat Terumah| 5765
Ask the Rabbi
Question: I was at a friend’s house on Shabbat and found only a roll of toilet paper in the bathroom, with no cut paper. What does one do in such a situation?
Answer: The answer to this question must deal with two distinct issues. The first is simply what to do when there is no prepared toilet paper for Shabbat. The other involves dealing with the fear of insulting friends with differing halachic standards on certain issues.
The overwhelming majority (at least) opinion is that one cannot use toilet paper by ripping it from a roll on Shabbat. One who rips it on the perforation, which creates a measured piece of paper, violates the Torah prohibition of mechatech. If one rips off a piece in an unmeasured manner (not on the perforation), it is a matter of considerable discussion whether he violates the Torah prohibition of korei’ah (ripping for a constructive purpose) or just a rabbinic violation of metaken kli (see Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 340:13: Biur Halacha, ad loc.; Tzitz Eliezer XI, 30). The crux of the issue is whether korei’ah applies when one cuts a part of an object from the rest of the object in order to use only one of the two parts (Biur Halacha, ibid.).
Several poskim rule that in the case of kavod habriot (compromising of human dignity) one is allowed to rip off the toilet paper in a way that only a rabbinic violation, not a Torah one, will be violated (Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata 23:16; Tzitz Eliezer, ibid.; Piskei Teshuvot 340:28). This is based on the principle that in cases of significant need of kavod hab’riot, rabbinic laws may be pushed off (Berachot 19b). Although we need to apply this rule with care (see Tosafot, ad loc.) we do have precedent for using something muktzeh as toilet paper (Rama, Orach Chayim 312:1, based on Tosafot Sukka 36b; see also Shemirat Shabbat K’hilchata, ibid.). One can make the matter a rabbinic violation by cutting the toilet paper in a significantly unusual way. (Using elbows and legs are among the poskim’ssuggestions, as is wetting the paper away from the perforation so that it will rip easily in a halachically less severe manner.)
This, of course, is under the assumption that there is no other way to deal with the kavod ha’briot issue without ripping the toilet paper. This is not always the case, as we now need to discuss the general question of whether one can find other solutions. The most direct, if the problem is discovered in time, is to ask the host for tissues or pre-cut toilet paper (one may open a package by destroying it), which they may have forgotten to put out. This is not a big deal and has probably happened to all of us. On the contrary, one who says nothing can cause embarrassment when the host discovers later that they put their guest into an uncomfortable situation. The question is about situations where one is convinced that the people are not aware or have purposely been lenient (with an unusual rabbinic ruling or without one) on the matter.
What would happen if one would raise the need for pre-cut paper, either explicitly or with a question like, “I didn’t find the Shabbat toilet paper”? While it is not pleasant on either side, it is sometimes preferable to having the host find out years and dozens of guests later that they were unaware of or not careful about something that their peers were and put their guests in uncomfortable positions. If they will not listen or it is a community where you are one of the few who is careful on the matter, then one can, in many cases, apply the rule of mutav sheyihiyu shog’gin (it is better that people violate something unknowingly (or partially so) than knowingly - Beitza 30a). It is trickier when a person might listen, but he is in a fragile religious state where he could also react negatively to what he sees as religious meddling. We cannot address guidelines in a paragraph, as a book would be needed. The basic advice is to be smart (including bringing your own provisions to a home wher you expect such a problem).
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