The Toilet Paper Dilemma:
Podcast interview with Amichai Lau-Lavie
by Noam Dromi
It was an impossible situation for Amichai Lau-Lavie. He was “sitting on the john one Sabbath afternoon” and realized that there were no more squares of toilet paper left from the pile that his older brother had precut in advance of the Jewish day of rest. On the Sabbath, observant Jews are called upon to cease from creation; to be and not to do. In this Orthodox Jewish household, tearing toilet paper off the roll was considered doing, because “you take something that is and create a new entity” and was therefore not allowed.
The absence of precut toilet paper on that particular day was actually the result of 4 year old Amichai’s discovery that the squares burned beautifully when he feed them to the Sabbath candles, a ritual he had taken to practicing when his father and brothers would leave for synagogue. Somehow he was never caught and the burning continued unabated.
So there he was on the toilet, horrified to discover that there were no more toilet paper squares and wrestling with the decision of whether he should cut a square off the roll or not. Would he tear (a sin more serious than even burning) and risk the wrath of the Lord or not wipe his ass and risk the wrath of his mother?