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Shabbat Parashat Vayechi | 5768

Ask the Rabbi

Question: What happens if one has an urge to go to the bathroom that arises when he is in the middle of davening (Shemoneh Esrei or other)? If and when should he go to the bathroom? Does he recite Asher Yatzar when he returns? From where does he resume davening?
Answer: These are important questions, as many people do not know what to do or find it hard to follow these halachot, which are a little counterintuitive to some of us.
The gemara (Berachot 23a) takes the matter of preparing the body for a clean and respectable tefilla very seriously. Accordingly, if one davens when he is unable to hold in his need to eliminate (regarding urination the matter is unclear – see Biur Halacha to 92:1) for 72 minutes his tefilla is considered an abomination, is disqualified, and needs to be repeated (see Rambam, Tefilla 4:10). Even when one can wait 72 minutes, he should properly take care of his needs before davening if he feels any real urge to go to the bathroom even if, as a result, he will be unable to daven along with the congregation (Mishna Berura 92:5).
If one started when it was forbidden and then thinks the matter over again, he must stop right away no matter where he is in the tefilla. However, if he started when he did not need the facilities and then his situation “deteriorated” unusually quickly, the matter depends on where he is in tefilla and the severity of the urge. In Shemoneh Esrei, where it is forbidden to move under all but the most severe circumstances, he must continue until the end and then go to the bathroom even if he will miss Kedusha (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 92:2 and Mishna Berura 92:8). Only if he reaches the point where restraining himself is considered difficult to the point of being degrading would one be able to leave his place in the midst of Shemoneh Esrei (Rama, Orach Chayim 92:2 and Mishna Berura 92:11). Even in that case, if he is davening publicly and walking out in the middle will be of significant embarrassment, he may decide to continue davening (Mishna Berura, ibid.). Regarding Kri’at Shema, he may go to the bathroom if he likes or continue if he likes (Mishna Berura 92:9). However, since he may not start Shemoneh Esrei in that state, it is best to find one of the relative breaks in Kri’at Shema to go to the bathroom (ibid.). Regarding P’sukei D’zimra, one may go to the bathroom between any of the sections of psalms or before Yishtabach. He should not wait until after Barchu, which begins the next section of tefilla (ibid.).
As long as one stopped properly, he can continue upon return to the place in the tefilla that he was up to. Even if he should have stopped earlier, that which he said in any part of tefilla other than Shemoneh Esrei is valid after the fact and therefore he can continue from where he was (ibid.:6). The only issue is that if he spent more time in the bathroom than it takes for him to recite the entire section he is in, he must return to the beginning of the section (Biur Halacha to 92:2). If he started Shemoneh Esrei when he could not have waited 72 minutes, the tefilla was valueless and therefore he must go back to its beginning.
Regarding reciting Asher Yatzar upon exiting the bathroom, the matter depends on the place in tefilla one finds himself. If he was in the middle of P’sukei D’zimra, he would optimally make the beracha at the first break between “paragraphs” of P’sukei D’zimra (see Mishna Berura 51:8; Ishei Yisrael 16:6). If he went to the bathroom during Kriat Shema or its berachot he should wait to recite Asher Yatzar until after Shemoneh Esrei (ibid. 66:23) (assuming he will not have felt a new urge to go to the bathroom by the time he has the chance to recite it). During Shemoneh Esrei certainly one would not be able to recite Asher Yatzar and must wait under all circumstances.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in loving memory of
R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld
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Max and Mary Sutker
 and Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.

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