The observance of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, calls for abstention from five activities: eating, drinking, anointing/washing oneself, wearing leather shoes and marital relations.
When the sages speak of anointing the body, they refer to putting oils and perfumes on ones skin. This is basic anointing.
That refraining from anointing is considered an “affliction” is derived from a passage in the Talmud Yoma 76b:“For it is written, ‘I ate no desirable bread, and meat and wine did not enter my mouth, and I did not anoint myself with an anointing’ (Daniel 10:3). From where do we know that [the abstention from anointing] was considered an affliction? Because it is written: ‘Then he said to me: Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and to afflict yourself before God, your words have been heard; and I have come because of your words’ (Daniel 10:12).”
Further, in the Talmud (Shabbat 86b) it is written: “How do we know that anointing is the same as drinking on the day of atonement? Though there is no proof of this, yet there is an allusion to it, for it is said, ‘and it came into his inward parts like water, and like oil into his bones’ (Psalms 109:18).”
This same verse, Psalms 109:18, is cited in Yoma (76b) as the source from which it is learned that the prohibition of anointing includes washing. Says Rabbi Zutra the son of Rabbi Tobiah: “Just as the oil is applied externally, so also the water [is such as is applied] externally.”
The Talmud contains an in-depth discussion regarding the specific washing/anointing acts that are prohibited on Yom Kippur. Without question, washing for pleasure in order to feel refreshed, is not permitted on Yom Kippur. Therefore, if one is actually dirty (for example, one’s hands are soiled after cleaning off a child), one is permitted to wash.
Copyright © 2011 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.