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Shiur #12: Netilat Yadayim (7)

  • Rav David Brofsky





Dedicated in memory of
Joseph Y. Nadler z”l, Yosef ben Yechezkel Tzvi



Shiur #12: Netilat Yadayim (7)

Rav David Brofsky





Last week, we continued our discussion of the manner in which one should perform netilat yadayim. We noted that although the Mishna describes how one should wash his hands twice, once to purify the hands and then again to remove the mayim temei’im, some Rishonim (see Bi’ur Halakha 162:8 s.v. metuharim be-shifshuf) maintain that one may remove the mayim temei’im through niguv (drying one’s hands). According to these opinions, washing a second time is not necessary. The Bi’ur Halakha insists that the halakhically preferred method it to wash one’s hands twice.


Furthermore, the Shulchan Arukh rules that if one pours a revi’it of water over each hand, it is unnecessary to wash a second time. Some wash a second time regardless, in deference to the Ra’avad, who maintains that one must always pour water twice over each hand. Finally, we noted that some Rishonim (Tosafot, Chullin 107a s.v. de-lo, Smag Asin 27; see Tur 162) write that one should actually wash one’s hands three times. The first washing cleans one’s hands, the second purifies the hands, and the third washing removes the impure water. Although the Shulchan Arukh (162:2) cites this view, adding that the water for the first washing may be taken from the revi’it used for the netilat yadayim, the Bi’ur Halakha (162:2 s.v. ketzat) disagrees and rules that one who must clean his hands before netilat yadayim and has only a revi’it of water should clean his hands in another manner before performing netilat yadayim


It is customary to pour water only twice over each hand. Furthermore, although the Shulchan Arukh rules that when pouring a revi’it of water over each hand one need not pour more than once, some Acharonim (Chayei Adam 40; see Mishna Berura 162:21) write that one should still preferably pour twice over each hand, fulfilling the Ra’avad’s view as well.


In addition, we discussed the function of shifshuf (rubbing the hands together), mentioned by the Tosefta (Yadayim 1:2). Although the Rash (Yadayim 2:2) explains that the Tosefta refers to drying one’s hands, most commentators understand the Tosefta as referring to rubbing one’s hands together. The Acharonim disagree as to whether one rubs one’s hands together simply in order to remove dirt from the hands (Magen Avraham 162:24) or in order to ensure that the water has reached the entire hand (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzot Zahav 162:7). The Rema (162:2) cite this Tosefta. The Bach (162) writes that although it is not necessary to rubs one’s hands together, it is customary to do so. The Acharonim disagree as to whether one should recite the blessing of al netilat yadayim before or after the shifshuf (see Siddur Ha-Rav and Shulchan Arukh 158:11, Chayei Adam 40:4; we will relate to this debate below).


We also related that the Shulchan Arukh, based upon the Mishna (Yadayim 2:3; see also Rosh, Chullin 8:18), teaches that if one touches one’s washed hand with the other, unwashed hand, or if another person touches one’s hands after they are washed but still wet, one must repeat the entire process. The Acharonim (see Mishna Berura 162:48) disagree as to whether in this case, in which one’s tamei hand touches the other washed, but still wet, hand, one must dry the hands before washing them again. Therefore, one should preferably pour a revi’it over one’s right hand, or pour less than a revi’it twice over the hand, thereby removing the mayim temei’im, and then pass the vessel to his left hand, without touching the hand, and repeat the washing.


Finally, we noted that some meticulous people dry the handles of the netilat yadayim vessel before washing their hands. Some (Sha’ar Ha-tziyun 162:41 cites the Pitchei Teshuva) express concern that when one touches the handle with his left hand, in order to pour the water over his right hand, he renders the water on the handle impure, and therefore when he then places his right hand on the handle, the mayim temei’im which was left by the left hand renders the right hand impure. Others (Eretz Tzvi 35) fear that in public places, some people may wash their right hand with less than a revi’it, and then take the handle of the vessel with their right hand, thereby leaving mayim temei’im on the handle of the vessel. Some Acharonim insist that one need not be concerned, and one does not need to dry the handles of the vessel before washing. Some (Chazon Ish OC 24:30; see also Siddur Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav) also suggest that one should dry his hands before washing netilat yadayim, although others (Bi’ur Halakha 162:2 s.v. ha-notel) disagree. Although the common custom adopts the lenient view, some meticulous people dry their hands and the vessel before netilat yadayim.


            This week we will discuss the conclusion of the netilat yadayim, i.e. the niguv yadayim (drying one’s hands), and the recitation of the blessing “al netilat yadayim.


Niguv Ha-yadayim


The Talmud (Sota 4b) attributes significance to the actual drying of the hands: “R. Abbahu says, ‘Whoever eats bread without first drying his hands is as if he eats lechem tamei (unclean bread).’” The Rishonim disagree regarding the reason and the halakhic significance of this passage.


Rashi (Sota 4b s.v. kol) explains that eating bread with wet hands is simply “ma’us” (disgusting), and therefore one must dry one’s hands after washing. Other Rishonim (see, for example Or Zaru’a 79), however, explain that by eating with wet hands, one will transfer the tum’a from one’s hands to the bread, and he will therefore, quite literally, eat “lechem tamei.” Seemingly, there are numerous differences between these two explanations. For example, if one washes his hands with a revi’it of water, or it one immerses one’s hands into a mikveh or ma’ayan, the water on one’s hands is tahor (pure), as we discussed previously, and therefore there would be no need to dry the hands. Furthermore, one might suggest that although when one’s hands are still damp but not “tofei’ach al menat le-hatpi’ach” they cannot transfer tum’a, they may still be considered too damp in order to eat bread. Therefore, while those concerned with impurity might permit eating bread with hands which are still somewhat damp, those concerned with “mi’us” might insist that one’s hands be completely dried.


Some (see Chazon Ish, OC 25:10) note that even one who pours less than a revi’it over his hands removes the impure water after pouring water over his hands a second time. Therefore, why would one still need to dry his hands? Seemingly, the Rabbis instituted that one should completely remove the impure water through drying one’s hands as well (see Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav 158:17).


The Shulchan Arukh (158:13) rules that one who immerses his hands, and one who pours a revi’it of water over his hands, may eat bread without drying his hands. R. Shlomo Luria (Maharshal) in his Yam Shel Shlomo (Chullin 8:39) disagrees. He adopts Rashi’s explanation of the Gemara and therefore always requires one to dry his hands before eating bread so as to avoid the problem of “mi’us.”


The Mishna Berura (159:46) cites the Bach, who concurs with the Maharshal’s view, and concludes that such is the consensus of the Acharonim and that such is common practice (see also Arukh Ha-Shulchan 158:18).


            R. Shimshon b. Tzadok, a student of the Maharam Mi-Rutenburg, in his Tashbetz Ha-katan (287), writes that one should not wipe his hands on his garment (chaluko), nor should one put one’s clothes under one’s head, as it may cause forgetfulness. It is not clear whether this practice is Kabbalistic or symbolic in nature.


His source is most likely a passage in Horayot (13b), which lists things which cause one to forget one’s studies, including putting clothes under one’s head (for sleeping) and drinking “mayim mi-shiyurei rechitza (water remaining from washing one’s hands). The Tashbetz apparently believes that water left over from washing is, in general, dangerous and therefore should not even be wiped on one’s clothing. Many Acharonim (see Magen Avraham 158:17; see also Mishna Berura 158:44 and Arukh Ha-shulchan 158:17) cite this stringency. The Acharonim question whether this fear of forgetfulness applies to all of one’s clothes or only one’s upper garments (see Pri Megadim, Eshel Avraham 158:17), whether it applies only to his own garments or to others’ as well (see Responsa Rivevot Efrayim 1:126), and whether this practice applies to all water or only to mayim temei’im from netilat yadayim (see R. Re'uven Margoliot’s Nefesh Chaya 2:3). Seemingly, it is preferable to wipe one’s hands on his garment than to eat with wet hands.


May one allow one’s hands to dry on their own? Furthermore, may one dry one’s hands under a hot air dryer? The Chazon Ish (OC 25:10) writes that one may also wait until the hands dry by themselves. He explains that since the reason for drying the hands is to ensure that one does not eat with wet hands or that the tum’a on one’s hands is removed, even if the water dries on its own neither of these issues poses a problem. Other Acharonim (see Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav 158:17) insist that one should preferably dry one’s hands, unless one immersed his hands in a mikveh. R. Betzalel Stern (1911 – 1989), in his Responsa Be-tzel Ha-chokhma (4:141), writes that one who poured a revi’it of water over his hands may certainly let one’s hands dry, or dry one’s hands in an electric air dryer; however, one who poured less than a revi’it of water over each hand should preferably dry one’s hands properly.


The Blessing of Al Netilat Yadayim


The role of niguv in the ritual washing of the hands may also impact upon another question: when is the proper time to recite the blessing over washing the hands? Generally, the blessings recited upon the performance of mitzvot are recited “oveir la-assiyatan” (Pesachim 7b) - before the performance of the mitzva. Indeed, the Rambam (see Hilkhot Berakhot 11:7) asserts that all blessings recited upon performing mitzvot are said prior to the mitzva, except for tevilat ha-ger, the immersion of a convert, who cannot recite the blessing until emerging from the water, at which point he is considered to be Jewish.


            The Rambam’s source is a passage from the Gemara (Pesachim 7b), which teaches that “one … immerses and then arises [from the mikveh] and upon rising says the blessing asher kiddeshanu … al ha-tevila.” Other Rishonim, however, challenge whether tevilat ha-ger is really the only exception to the principle. For example, Tosafot (Pesachim 7b s.v. al ha-tevila, Berakhot 51a s.v. mei-ikara; see also Rosh, Berakhot 7:34) cite those who insist that this applies to netilat yadayim as well, as one’s hands may be dirty, and therefore one should preferably wait until they have been washed.


            Some Rishonim (see Tosafot, Pesachim ibid., Rosh, Berakhot ibid.) cite an additional reason for delaying the blessing. They explain that reciting the blessing before drying them is actually still considered to be oveir la-assiyatan, as if one is reciting the blessing before the performance of the mitzva; the Gemara, cited above, teaches that “whoever eats bread without first drying his hands is as if he eats lechem tamei (unclean bread).” Seemingly, according to this second reason, one should recite the blessing before drying the hands, while according to the first reason, one can recite the blessing even later, possibly until one says the blessing before eating bread (ha-motzi).


            The Shulchan Arukh (158:11) writes that one should recite the blessing before washing his hands. He adds that it is customary to say the berakha after washing, “as sometimes one’s hands are not clean, and therefore we recite the blessing after rubbing the hands together, at which point the hands are already clean, before pouring water over them a second time.” The Rema comments that “one can also recite the blessing before drying the hands, as the drying is also part of the mitzva, and it is considered to be oveir la-assiyatan.” In other words, the Shulchan Arukh cites the first answer suggested by the Rishonim, that the blessing was instituted to be recited after washing lest one’s hands are too dirty to recite the blessing. The Rema, on the other hand, cites the second reason, which views the niguv ha-yadayim as an integral part of the mitzva.


            What if one forgot to recite the blessing before drying his hands? The Rema concludes, “and if he forgot to recite the blessing until after he has already dried his hands, he may recite the blessing afterwards.” The Taz (158:12) cites the Maharshal (Yam Shel Shlomo, Chullin 39) who argues that one may recite the blessing until one says ha-motzi before eating the bread. The Taz (see also Chayei Adam 40:4) disagrees and argues that one should not recite the blessing after drying his hands. Some Acharonim (see, for example, Kaf Ha-chayim 158:86 and Pri Megadim 158, Mishbetzot Zahav 12) suggest scratching one’s head or touching one’s shoes, thereby creating a new obligation to wash one’s hands, at which point one may recite the blessing in the proper manner. The Mishna Berura (158:44), however, writes that the Acharonim agree with the Rema, and be-di’avad (post facto) one may recite the blessing until he says ha-motzi. Interestingly, R. Ovadia Yosef (Yalkut Yosef 158:10) disagrees, and rules that in this case one should not recite the blessing after drying his hands. He also objects to the advice offered by the Acharonim cited above, lest this lead one to recite an unnecessary blessing (see Shulchan Arukh 162:4).


            Since it is customary to recite the blessing before drying them (niguv), many mistakenly believe that one may talk until reciting the blessing “al netilat yadayim.” Indeed, R. Yechezkel Landau (1713 – 1793), in his Derushei Ha-Tzelach (Derush 4:22) observes that many, even Torah scholars, are more careful to avoid speaking in between the blessings of al netilat yadayim and ha-motzi than in between washing one’s hands and the blessing recited before niguv. He insists that although not interrupting between al netilat yadayim and ha-motzi is a “zehirut be-alma” (merely a precautionary measure),, interrupting after washing one’s hands is an actual hefsek (interruption) and one may have to wash one’s hands again! R. Ovadia Yosef (Yalkut Yosef, 158 fn. 11) rules that one who speaks in between washing and the berakha does not need to wash again, although he should certainly be more careful the next time.


            Next week we will discuss the laws of chatzitza, and the rules regarding one who does not have any water for netilat yadayim.