(Please note: this post is intended not as a discussion on halachah l’maaseh, but rather an experiment in machshava; attempting to apply logic to halacha.)
I want to share a thought I had the other day about showering on Yom Tov, and why I think there should be no question that it’s muttar, without the need to halachich acrobatics.
Let’s start with some basic groundwork. We start with the fact that there is an issur melachah on Shabbos and YomTov. There are certain activities which are proscribed as being “work.” Does bathing/showering fall into one of these catergories? No. How do I say that? Read on.
We need to focus on one particular YomTov for this: Yom Kippur. You see, Yom Kippur is known as a “Shabbat Shabatton;” a day more like Shabbat than any other non-shabbat day. We know that the rules that apply to Shabbat, with regard to the prohibition against work, apply to Yom Kippur as well. And yet, a separate and additional prohibition against bathing is instituted on Yom Kippur. That’s right, among the things that are prohibited on Yom Kippur as part of the affliction of the day is bathing.
Logically, this would suggest that bathing isn’t in the category of melacha, but rather something else. This would suggest that chazal at the time didn’t consider bathing (and all of its attendant activities, like touching your hair, etc.) as prohibited “work,” for otherwise, why include the added prohibition on Yom Kippur. For instance, there isn’t a separate prohibition against burning fire on Yom Kippur; there doesn’t need to be, because it’s subsumed as part of melachah.
Well, if bathing isn’t considered melacha, then the assumption must be that’s muttar on Shabbos. (and that includes all the things you need to do to bathe, including wash your hairy parts and dry off). The only problem comes with heating the water, which would not fall into this protective assumption (since in those days you were bathing in the river, this isn’t such an issue). But heating the water isn’t an issue on Yom Tov: “mitoch she hutru hav’ara l’tzorech, hutru nami shelo l’tzorech“; “once the rabbis permitted cooking (including boiling water) for the purposes of necessity (for eating) it was permitted for all purposes, even without necessity.”
So boiling water is OK on Yom Tov. Well, that solves that last hurdle. Bathing isn’t considered melacha + one is allowed to boil water = hot shower.
One last thing: in today’s culture, when we bathe every day (sometimes more often) as part of our regular hygeine routine, I think the calculus of what would be allowed and what not would shift significantly in favor of being allowed to shower. Remember, Yom Tov is all about simcha and enjoyment. If the chachamim knew that we were going a three-day yom tov without an essential part of our hygeine routine, they would scold us for taking things too far.