‘Cover up your excrement!’

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The Bible Says What?

‘Cover up your excrement!’

Rabbi Naomi Goldman takes a controversial topic from the Torah and offers a progressive view

Torah scroll (Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash)
Torah scroll (Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash)

If you want evidence that the whole of life is in the Torah, then you can find it in Deuteronomy 23, which explains in some detail how to deal with going to the loo while living a nomadic existence, or in a military camp, largely outdoors and without modern plumbing.

“You shall have a place outside the camp where you may relieve yourself. With your weaponry you shall have a spade, and when you have squatted you shall dig a hole with it and cover up your excrement.” (Deut 23:13-14)

Toilet talk in the Torah may come as a surprise, but it shouldn’t. Judaism believes in embodied spirituality, that every part of us is holy. There is no part of our lives that isn’t connected to our relationship with God and an ethical life. If we want to be a holy community, we have to sort out our sanitation first.

What we do in the toilet counts in other ways, too. With climate change on our minds after COP26, one way we can protect our forests is to buy toilet rolls made from recycled paper rather than virgin wood pulp. If we are trying to repair our world and fulfils our responsibilities to the environment and to our planet, then we need to look at every aspect of our lives, even the smellier bits.

The Torah goes on to say that since God moves about in our camp to protect us, our camp needs to be holy. Nachmanides comments that you shouldn’t pray in sight of excrement – not because there’s anything wrong with it, but because it might lead to negativity in the soul and disturb your concentration. As long as it’s covered properly, that’s okay. Body and soul are always interconnected. Just make sure you flush before you pray!

Rabbi Naomi Goldman serves Kol Chai Hatch End

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