Question: If the bathroom door is open and one can see into it while sitting in the living room, may one speak words of Torah in the living room? Does the same law hold true for Ashkenazim as well?
Answer: Yesterday, we discussed that just as it is forbidden to speak words of Torah while facing excrement, it is likewise forbidden to recite Keri’at Shema or speak words of Torah while facing a toilet in the bathroom.
Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 83, Section 1) writes: “One may not recite Keri’at Shema facing a restroom, even if the excrement was removed from it. It seems to me that this only applies if it not surrounded by partitions; however, if it is surrounded by partitions, one may read facing it nearby without concern, as long as the odor does not reach there.”
This means that Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch presents us with a novel law that although one may not recite Keri’at Shema while facing a bathroom, nevertheless, this only applies when the bathroom (toilet) is not surrounded by walls. However, if the toilet is surrounded by walls, as is the case nowadays when the toilet is housed in a designated room (the bathroom), one may recite Keri’at Shema facing the bathroom without concern.
Similarly, if the door to the bathroom is open and one sitting in the living room can see into the open bathroom, it is nevertheless permissible to recite Keri’at Shema, blessing, and speak words of Torah since the toilet is in a totally different domain. The fact that one can merely see into the bathroom does not prohibit one from reciting words of holiness in one’s current location. (However, it seems based on the Responsa Salmat Chaim, Chapter 104 that if one can see the actual toilet that this will be forbidden.)
It goes without saying that the above applies only when there is no bad smell entering the adjacent room, for if there is an odor wafting out of the bathroom, one may not recite Keri’at Shema there until one move four Amot (approximately six feet) away from where the bad odor ends.
Regarding whether or not the above law applies to Ashkenazim as well, indeed, there are those authorities who disagree with the stance of Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch and maintain that even when the bathroom is enclosed by walls, one may still not recite Keri’at Shema while facing the bathroom. Nevertheless, Hagaon Chazon Ish (Chapter 17) and several other Acharonim posit that those authorities who rule stringently on this matter only referred to walls surrounding bathrooms in the olden days which were made to be used along with the bathroom and were therefore filthy. However, nowadays when the walls of the bathroom are shared among other rooms of the house and are not specifically designated for used of the bathroom, one read Keri’at Shema while facing them according to all opinions. Thus, regarding our scenario where the bathroom door is open, one may read Keri’at Shema facing the bathroom since one is not facing the actual toilet; rather, one is merely facing the open space of the bathroom which is surrounded by walls and this is considered a separate domain.
Summary: If the bathroom door is open and one is in another room, one may recite Keri’at Shema there while facing the bathroom as long as one is not facing the actual toilet and there is not bad smell there. Nevertheless, when one is inside the bathroom, one may not even think words of Torah.