It is permitted to say words of Torah and kiddushah before
a garbage can from which there issues no bad smell if it is ten tefachim high
(which sets it apart as a separate domain) and if the garbage is not visible,
as when it is contained in plastic bags. The garbage can itself is not
considered unclean and offensive.
If a bad smell issues form a garbage can, a person is not
permitted to say words of Torah unless he is standing at least four amos from
the point from which the smell is not noticeable. According to the Grach,
four amos is 1.92 meters. According to the Chazon Ish it is 2.32 meters. A
person whose ability to smell is impaired because, for example, he has a cold,
is forbidden to say words of Torah, just as he would be if he could smell
When there is no bad smell and the garbage can is covered,
it is permitted to say words of Torah while standing next to it even if the
garbage be seen through the covering. But if it is not covered, since it is
likely that there is a diaper in it, it is considered like a shovel of
excrement and it is forbidden to talk Torah within four amos of it. (It makes
no difference that the diaper has its own plastic wrapping, for it is part of
the diaper.) Even though it is sufficient to be four amos away when the
garbage can is to the side, it is best to stand so that it is four amos
behind. A person who is facing the garbage can must be far enough away so that
he does not see the garbage can. At night, when a person does not see so well,
he must stand as far away from it as he would during the day. The distance
required is determined by the sight of an ordinary person. Turning away or
closing the eyes does not allow a person to stand any closer. Also, a person
whose eyes are weak cannot stand any closer.
If the garbage can is viewed from an open window, the
Rashba is machmir (and we follow this ruling) and forbids speaking Torah even
though the garbage can is in a separate domain. But in case of dire need it is
permissible if a person closes his eyes or if it is nighttime, if he cannot
turn away. But if the window is closed, speaking Torah is permitted, even
though the garbage can is visible. The glass creates the necessary separation.
Eyeglasses cannot do that because they are worn and—like clothing—considered
part of his body. That is why there is no reason to remove glasses for reading
the Torah and saying Kiddush Lavana.
Wherever it is forbidden to say words of Torah, it is
forbidden to have Torah thoughts. Similarly, it is forbidden to say Shalom
because it is a name of G-d. Nevertheless, it is permitted to contemplate the
existence and the greatness of G-d.
It is permitted to talk Torah before a child who is
clothed, even if his diaper may be dirty, so long as there is no bad odor.
Similarly, it is permitted to answer “amen” to his blessings.
If a person who is standing in an unclean place where he is
forbidden to speak Torah, hears the blessings recited by someone who is
standing in a place that is clean, he may answer “amen” if he is not
fulfilling an obligation to recite a blessing through the recitation of the
other. If he is, he may not say “amen” because, in that case, it would be
as though he were reciting the blessing.