Bathroom Blessing Blues

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Last Hanukkah my mother gave me a decorative wall hanging with the text of Asher Yatzar, also known as the bathroom blessing, the most hilarious benediction in the Jewish canon to any Hebrew school student. In a liturgical tradition with hundreds of formulas for giving gratitude to God at various special occasions, perhaps it should come as no surprise that traditional Judaism urges us to thank God each time we successfully emerge from the toilet. But tell that to a school age child. Or to my grown up self, trying not to giggle at my mother’s gift.

Sign for men's restroom


Photos: Bonnie Rosenbaum

My mother does not practice Judaism and does not read Hebrew. But every year for Hanukkah, in a heroic act of motherly love, she ships appropriately-themed gifts across the country for both myself and my Labrador. The dog got a stuffed dreidel. I got a ceramic placard with the words of Asher Yatzar. I’m not sure she knew what it was.

Like most Americans, I was raised with what I consider a completely normal level of neurotic shame surrounding bathroom functions. An integral part of my toilet training were the instructions to close the door behind me, pull up my pants when I’m done, and don’t talk about what I did afterwards, especially not at the dinner table.

And, like most gender-variant people, that primer of bathroom shame was coated with an extra layer of fear and confusion: Will I scare someone in the ladies’ room today? Will I be safe in the men’s room? Is sitting down to pee an affront to my already insecure masculinity?

As a girl child, I experimented with standing to pee, mostly out of curiosity. I failed
Sign for women's restroom
miserably. As an adult, I experimented again, mostly out of a sense of obligation that this was something I should want. Admittedly, the first time I used a stand-to-pee device was an unforgettable experience. I faced the toilet fully pantsed, unzipped, and stood in awe of the perfectly aimed stream. It was exhilarating. It was transgressive. It was intoxicating. But it was also a lot of work. Where to wash the device? Where to store it stealthily? And, most importantly, as a person profoundly disinclined to needless physical exertion, why should I stand when I could sit?

Posted on February 6, 2013
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