In The Jewish War, Josephus writes of Jewish sects in the First Century AD including the Essenes who, he explains, had a year-long trial before joining the sect in which they:
“Observe the same rule of life as the members, receiving from them a hatchet, the loin-cloth mentioned above and white garments.”.. He goes on to explain that “they abstain from seventh-day work more rigidly than any other Jews; for not only do they prepare their meals the previous day so as to avoid lighting fire on the Sabbath, but they do not venture to remove any utensil or to go and ease themselves. On other days they dig a hole a foot deep with their trenching-tool (for such is the hatchet they give to the novices) and draping their cloak round them so as not to affront the rays of the god, they squat over it; then they put the excavate soil back in the hole. On these occasions they choose the more secluded spots; and through emptying the bowels is quite natural they are taught to wash after it, as if it defiled them.” (See The War of the Jews, Excursus I – Jewish Sects)
It was the Essenes who universalized the shameful nature of the most basic bodily function to the extent that moving one’s bowels on the Sabbath became prohibited!
Josephus is no longer our only source for this animus to the anus… The Dead Sea scrolls provide additional support. Temple Scroll prohibits the act of defecating in the city of Jerusalem.
Note: While the rabbis refer to the bathroom as a “house of the chair” בית הכסא in the Dead Sea scrolls it is referred to as “place of the hand” מקום היד …
13 And you will make for them a place of the hand outside of the city where they shall go;
14 outside to the northwest of the city – houses with beams and pits in their midst
15 into which excrement shall drop and shall not be visible to anyone at a distance
16a from the city of three thousand cubits vacat
Similarly, the Qumran community built latrines to the northwest of Khirbet Qumran in the War Scroll:
6b And there shall be a distance
7 between all of their camps and the place of the hand two thousand cubits. And any immodest nakedness shall be seen around any of their camps.
(see A SCROLL IN ONE HAND AND A MATTOCK IN THE OTHER: LATRINES, ESSENES, AND KHIRBET QUMRAN by Ian Werrett, Saint Martin’s University for a review of the current literature/controversy over the Dead Sea Scrolls and this issue).
In a large groupof Old Testament passages (primarily prophetic texts) dung stands as a symbol for death and decay. God "will consume the house of Jeroboam, just as one burns up dung until it is all gone" (1 Kgs 14:10). "The corpse of Jezebel shall be like dung on the field" (2 Kgs 9:37). In his decree supporting the restoration of the Temple, King Darius threatens "if anyone alters this edict, a beam shall be pulled out of the house of the perpetrator, who then shall be impaled on it, The house shall be made a dunghill" (Ezra 6:11): Job says the sinners "will perish forever like their own dung" (Job 20:7). The Psalmist reminds of Israel's enemies who "were destroyed at En-dor, who became dung for the ground" (Ps. 83:10). Isaiah prophesies that "the Moabites shall be trodden down in their place as straw is trodden down in a dung-pit" (Isa. 25:10). Jeremiah warns that the Lord will punish his disobedient people, and the bones of the inhabitants of Judah will be brought out of their tombs and “they shall be like dung on the surface of the ground" (Jer. 8:2). "Dung on the surface of the ground" is a recurring image of divine punishment and destruction in Jeremiah (9:22; 16:4; 25:33). Zephaniah also foretells that the flesh of sinners will be "like dung" (1:17). All of these mainly prophetic texts are characterized by a dark, pessimistic, and threatening tone.
See: The Grotesque Body in Early Christian Discourse: Hell, Scatology and Metamorphosis (BibleWorld) 1st Edition, Kindle Edition by Istvan Czachesz
According to our prayer book, the Ashar Yatzar is placed right before the prayer for learning Torah. The irony is not missed by Ellen Frankel, a commentator in the My Peoples Prayer Book series, who also brings a feminist perspective to her comments. She writes:
“what a strange juxtaposition it is – thanking God simultaneously for teaching us Torah and for giving us internal plumbing that works! Could any two spheres be further apart? And yet in this odd pairing we find the genius of Jewish prayer: on the one hand, if our tubes and valves fail to function, how difficult it is to focus our minds on study! But on the other, how healing it can be for us to “make the words of Your Torah sweet to us and to the house of Israel, your people,” despite physical distress.
Frankel continues: For women, whose anatomical system is far more complex than men’s, this blessing is especially meaningful. The very word for duct “n’kavim (נקבים), shares its root with n’kevah (נְקֵבָה), the Hebrew word for “female.”
Frankel goes on to point out, that while, by tradition, every human is a vessel and a void created to hold holiness and life, yet it is a woman whose spaces and hollows permits the birth and wonder of new life. For those of you who are students of Jewish mysticism, you certainly appreciate the meaning of a void and how mankind redeems the world through filling the void… מלא את החללל.. this sense of “hollows and hollows” חלולים חלולים was certainly not lost on the author of this prayer.
I first came across a derogatory reference to this prayer as an undergraduate student while reading… of all people, Karl Marx. It’s possible that this unique prayer was part of a long list, compiled by anti-Semites to demonstrate Judaism’s embrace of the physical, mundane and crass. It may be that it was his own innovation, due to a rabbinic background or a fixation on feces , but in one of his earliest works written in 1843 called: On the Jewish Question Karl Marx writes:
The monotheism of the Jew, therefore, is in reality the polytheism of the many needs, a polytheism which makes even the lavatory an object of divine law. Practical need, egoism, is the principle of civil society, and as such appears in pure form as soon as civil society has fully given birth to the political state. The god of practical need and self-interest is money. (see )
The uniqueness of Jewish law’s attention to the lavatory and the Asher Yatzer and it’s materialism was noted in 19th century thought.
In a Pulitzer Prize (1974) work named The Denial of Death, Ernest Becker dedicates a complete chapter to the bathroom (The meaning of anlality). I quote this student of 19th century psychoanalysis at length because it seems to me, more than any contemporary thinker, Becker appreciates the significance of literature and, in our case, a prayer relating to the movement of the bowels. He writes:
The tragedy of man’s dualism, his ludicrous situation, become too real… We now understand that what psychoanalysts have called “anality” or anal character traits are really forms of the universal protest against accident and death. … To say that someone is “anal” meant that someone is trying extra-hard to protect himself against the accidents of life and danger of death, trying to use the symbols of culture as a sure means of triumph over natural mystery, trying to pass himself off as anything but an animal. … We read that men of the Chagga tribe wear an anal plug all their lives, pretending to have sealed up their anus and not to need to defecate. An obvious triumph over mere physicalness. Or take the widespread practice of segregating women in special huts during menstruation and all the various taboos surrounding menstruation….
Anality explains why men yearn for freedom from contradictions and ambiguities, why they like their symbols pure, their Truth with a capital “T”. …. The upsetting thing about anality is that it reveals that all culture, all man’s creative life-ways, are in some basic part of them a fabricated protest against natural reality, a denial of the truth of the human condition, and an attempt to forget the pathetic creature that man is. …
Excreting is the curse that threatens madness because it shows man his abject finitude, his physicalness, the likely unreality of his hopes and dreams.
But even more immediately, it represents man’s utter bafflement at the sheer non-sense of creation; to fashion the sublime miracle of the human face, the mysterium tremendum of radiant feminine beauty, the veritable goddesses that beautiful women are; to bring this out of nothing, out of the void, and make it shine noonday; to take such a miracle and put miracles again within it, deep in the mystery of eyes that peer out – the eye that gave even the dry Darwin a chill: to do all this, and combine it with an anus that shits! It is too much. Nature mocks us, and poets live to torture. pp 55 – 58
Reasons the Ancient Egyptians worshipped the Dung Beetle
"The ancient Egyptians 5,000 years ago were clearly captivated by the cycle of life, as dung beetles buried droppings from which new beetles would eventually emerge," Professor Ford writes in the latest issue of The Microscope Journal.
"Notions of dung may be repellent to us, but they once were holy in Egypt." see: https://www.thesun.co.uk/tech/8580877/ancient-egyptians-holy-poo-beetles-immortality/ and: