|Tractate Berachot, Chapter 6
[A person] who enters into a bath house2 [should] pray two [prayers], one as he enters [the bath house] and one as he exits [the bath house]. As he enters [the bath house] he says [the following prayer]: May it be Your will, Hashem, my God, that you will bring me in peace and you will take me out in peace. And may there not happen with me a disaster. But if a disaster will happen to me may my death be a forgiveness for all of my sins.3 [However] save me from this and anything similar to it in the future. [If] he exited in peace he says [the following prayer]: I thank You, Hashem, my God that you took me out in peace. So may it be Your will, Hashem, my God, that I will come to my place [of residence] in peace.
מסכת ברכות פרק ו
הנכנס ל בית המרחץ מתפלל שתים אחת בכניסתו ואחת ביציאתו. בכניסתו אומר יהי רצון מלפניך ה’ אלהי שתכניסני לשלום ותוציאני לשלום ואל יארע בי דבר קלקלה ואם יארע בי דבר קלקלה תהא מיתתי כפרה על כל עונותי, ותצילני מזו ומכיוצא בה לעתיד לבא. יצא בשלום אומר מודה אני לפניך ה’ אלהי שהוצאתני לשלום. כן יהי רצון מלפניך ה’ אלהי שאבוא למקומי לשלום.
- The Tosefta continues on the same subject from the previous Tosefta. It is not related to any Mishna.
- The Tosefta is referring to a Roman bath house, known as the Balneae or Thermae in Latin, which were very common in the Land of Israel in Talmudic times. Ruins of many of them can still be seen today, for example in Masada and Caesarea. There was a room in each bath house called the Caldarium which contained the actual hot baths. The walls and the floor of the Caldarium were hollow where the opposite dividers were connected by stone pillars. Hot air was passed inside these hollow walls which kept the room extremely hot all the time. The mosaic floor of the Caldarium was built directly above the hypocaust, a type of a central heating system, where hot steam was pumped in between the stone pillars. The furnace itself where the fire burned was built either on the side of the hypocaust or directly below it. See William Smith, Charles Anthon (editor of the American edition), “A dictionary of Greek and Roman antiquities”, Volume 2, edition 3, 1843, entry Baths, p. 151. The idea was to have the furnace as close as possible to the hot bath so it could be kept as hot as possible. Often the floor would get so hot that the material from which it was made would burn through and the people in the Caldarium would fall down directly either into the hot steam in the hypocaust or even further down directly in to the fire of the furnace, and get killed. Talmud Bavli (Berachot 60a) relates a story about Rebbi Avahu, a Palestinian Amora of the 3rd century CE, who once went into a Roman bath house, most probably in Caesarea, where he lived, and the floor collapsed. However, Rebbi Avahu did not get killed, because he happened to be right above a stone pillar, so when the floor fell he remained standing on the pillar. He was also able to save a few people this way by grabbing and holding on to them thus preventing them from falling into the hot steam. In Talmud Bavli (Pesachim 112b) Rebbi Yossi Ben Rebbi Yehudah tells Rebbi Yehudah Hanassi not to enter a newly built bath house, because of the possibility of the floor collapsing. Obviously the Rabbis felt that there was a danger associated with bath houses, especially newly built ones or really old ones which were not repaired, although it is not clear how often accidents actually happened.
- As was already explained in note 7 on the previous Tosefta, these prayers are not formal and therefore they do not have to be said in Hebrew and using the exact expression mentioned by the Tosefta. They were so informal that the Talmud Bavli (Berachot 60a) mentions the opinion of Abaye who says that the line “but if a disaster will happen to me may my death be a forgiveness for all of my sins” should not be said at all, because it is like jinxing oneself, that since the person mentioned death now it is going to happen. The expression that Abaye uses is “a person should not open his mouth to the Satan.” Abaye claims that this dictum, or if I may “superstition”, of not jinxing oneself with words originally comes from a Tannaitic teaching of the Tanna Rebbi Yossi or from a teaching of Reish Lakish who was a Palestinian Amora, which makes it difficult to accuse Abaye of being influenced by Zoroastrian superstitions prevalent in Babylonia during the rule of Sassanid Empire when Abaye lived, in the 4th century CE, since Rebbi Yossi was never exposed to Zoroastrian culture. However it is clear from this Tosefta that the Tannaim of the Land of Israel were not really concerned about jinxing oneself, especially during a prayer to God, since the opinion of Rebbi Yossi is not even mentioned.
Caldarium from the Roman Baths at Bath, England. The floor has been removed to reveal the empty space where the hot air flowed through to heat the floor. Notice the pillars between which the hot steam passed through. Rebbi Avahu escaped death due to one of these pillars.
Caldarium from the Roman bath house at Masada, Israel. Remains of the original floor can still be seen in the left upper corner. Photo: David Shankbone.