Peninei Halakha

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09. The Law Concerning a Baby

Feces of young infants do not smell that bad and therefore it does not have the status of excrement. When a child reaches the age that he can eat a kezayit of cereal grain within a shi’ur akhilat pras (the time it takes to eat half a loaf of bread; c. 6-7 minutes), one must distance herself from the excrement as she would from an adult’s excrement (SA 81:1); some write that this starts at one year of age. Speaking sacred words near a baby’s feces is only permitted in extenuating circumstances. Le-khatĥila it is better to distance oneself from the excrement of even a week-old baby when speaking sacred words (MB 81:3; Kaf Ha-ĥayim 1:6).

When praying near a baby at least one year old who is still in diapers, one should first make sure that no foul odor is present. If there is a foul odor and it reaches the person praying, she must stop her prayers. However, as long as the child does not smell, she may pray near him, for even if he did defecate, since the feces are covered in a diaper and clothing and there is no scent, it is not forbidden to speak sacred words near him. 1

When a woman is in the middle of the Amida and her child comes to her with a dirty, smelly diaper, she may not continue praying. If someone else can take care of the child, she must signal with her hands that they should distance the child from her, and then she can continue her prayers. However, when no one else is present to care for the child at that moment, she should, if possible, place him in a crib or in a different room where he can play until she completes her prayer. If no such option is available – for example, if the child is crying and requires her attention – since she is prohibited from continuing to pray while he is next to her anyway, she must stop praying, clean the child, change his diaper, and wash her hands. She should try to return to her prayer as quickly as possible, because if the interruption is shorter than the time it takes for her to recite the whole Amida, she may continue praying from the place where she stopped. If in her estimation, however, the interruption lasts longer that the time it would take her to recite the entire Amida, from start to finish, she must begin the Amida from the beginning (SA 104:5).

If a soiled child approaches a woman while she is reciting a short berakha, she should distance herself from him to a place where the odor cannot be smelled and then finish the berakha. If she is reciting Birkat Ha-mazon, which takes more time to say, and she cannot distance herself from him long enough to complete all four berakhot of Birkat Ha-mazon because he is crying and she needs to pick him up to calm him down, since she cannot continue her berakha while she smells his excrement anyway, she should clean him, change his diaper, wash her hands, and continue from the beginning of the berakha at which she stopped (SA 65:1; BHL 183:6, s.v. “Afilu”).

  1. The poskim disagree about feces that are in a different domain or are covered. All agree that it is forbidden to speak sacred words anywhere the odor reaches. The dispute is about whether it is necessary to distance oneself by four amot from the place where the smell ends. Some are stringent, though most poskim are lenient (see Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 3 n. 10). This also applies to the feces of a baby that are covered in a diaper and undergarments: one may not speak sacred words anywhere the foul odor reaches, and the poskim disagree about whether one must distance herself by an additional four amot from there. If the baby’s odor is completely undetectable, there is no need to move away, and it has the status of covered feces (SA 79:1-2). Therefore, as long as one does not smell a bad odor from the child, there is no need to check the child’s diaper; this is the prevalent custom. MA 81:1 rules very stringently that one may not pray next to a baby under any circumstances. However, this opinion was not accepted by most poskim, as explained in SAH 76:6 and Kaf Ha-ĥayim 81:7.

    R. Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halikhot Shlomo: Prayer 20:4-5) also rules that one may pray near a baby who does not smell and there is no need to check him. However he adds a novel insight: If the person praying knows that the baby defecated in his diaper, the diaper has the status of a graf shel re’i (a vessel that holds feces, such as a chamber pot), which in turn has the status of actual feces even if it does not smell. Thus, one must move four amot away from a baby with a dirty diaper unless there is another piece of clothing on top of the diaper and there is no foul odor. If the baby urinated in his diaper, even if he is not wearing clothes, one may pray near him as long as there is no foul smell. Some disagree and maintain that since diapers are either disposable or cloth, and is thrown out or laundered after each use, they are not considered a graf shel re’i (R. Nisim Karelitz, cited in Ve-zot Ha-berakha p. 150. R. Auerbach further states that one may bring a baby to synagogue when he is diapered and dressed, and there is no need to be concerned that he might defecate.

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The Laws of Shabbat (1+2) - Yocheved Cohen
The Laws of Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Women’s Prayer - Atira Ote
The Laws of Pesach - Joshua Wertheimer
The Laws of Zemanim - Moshe Lichtman

Editor: Nechama Unterman