Halacha Date: 27 Av 5775 August 12 2015
Question: Is one permitted to speak between washing one’s hands and reciting the Hamotzi blessing?
Answer: The Gemara in Masechet Berachot (42a) states: “Immediately following hand-washing, one must recite the blessing.” The Rishonim disagree as to the explanation of this Gemara: The Rambam explains that the words of the Gemara refer to Mayim Acharonim (“Final Waters”) which follow the meal and this means that one may not interrupt between Mayim Acharonim and Birkat Hamazon. However, between Netilat Yadayim and the Hamotzi blessing, one may speak according to the Rambam’s opinion.
Some explain that the Gemara refers to Netilat Yadayim prior to the meal and thus, the Hamotzi blessing must immediately follow the hand-washing without any interruption of speech in between them. The Tur (authored by Rabbeinu Yaakov son of Rabbeinu Asher) writes that his father, the Rosh, was accustomed not to speak even between the initial hand-washing and the Hamotzi blessing.
The Talmud Yerushalmi states: “If one does not interrupt between washing his hands and blessing, the Satan does not prosecute regarding that meal.” The simple meaning of the Yerushalmi seems to be referring to interrupting between the hand-washing before the meal and the Hamotzi blessing, for it says there that “the Satan does not prosecute regarding that meal,” which seems to imply that it is referring to the meal one is about to begin, i.e. that this refers to interrupting between the hand-washing before the meal and the Hamotzi blessing. Nevertheless, the phrase, “The Satan does not prosecute regarding that meal,” can also be understood as referring to the previous meal, meaning that one will not be harmed by the foods one has already eaten. There are sources for this explanation in several places throughout the Talmud Yerushalmi.
After quoting the words of the Poskim and the Talmud Yerushalmi regarding this topic, Maran Ha’Bet Yosef (Chapter 166) concludes, “It is therefore preferable to be careful with regards to the hand-washing prior to the meal as well.” His words, “It is therefore preferable to be careful,” seem to imply that according to the letter of the law, the Halacha follows the view of the Rambam that one may speak between Netilat Yadayim and the Hamotzi blessing. Nevertheless, it is preferable not to speak at all between Netilat Yadayim and the Hamotzi blessing. This is indeed the ruling of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l.