Halacha for Monday 24 Av 5781 August 2 2021

The Laws of Washing One’s Hands for a Bread Meal

The Enactment of Washing One’s Hands for a Bread Meal
There is a rabbinic enactment to wash one’s hands before sitting down to eat a bread meal. The Mishnah in Masechet Eduyot (Chapter 5) relates that Rabbi Eliezer ben Chanoch was excommunicated for having raised doubts about the necessity to purify one’s hands. Although he raised doubts about this rabbinic enactment as a result of certain questions he had about the enactment, he was nevertheless excommunicated because there is a Mitzvah to heed the words of our Sages.

The First Reason for this Enactment: “As a Result of Terumah
There are several reasons for the enactment requiring one to wash his hands prior to a bread meal.

Let us first preface this discussion by stating the obvious fact that nowadays we are all impure as a result of coming in contact with corpses, for every single one of us has either been in the same room as a corpse or at least touched someone else who has been sometime during his lifetime. However, during the times when the ashes of the Red Heifer were accessible to the Jewish nation and it was therefore still possible to purify one’s self from the impurity of corpses, a large part of the Jewish nation would be careful to always keep their vessels and foods pure. This was especially true regarding the Kohanim who were meticulous that all of their foods stay pure and that no impurity come in contact with them, for the Kohanim would eat Terumah and it is well-known that impure Terumah may not be consumed.

Now, let us return to our discussion about the reasons for washing one’s hands before a bread meal. The first reason for this enactment is “as a result of Terumah,” meaning that since one’s hands are constantly in motion and they touch many objects, before the Kohanim would sit down to eat a meal (during the times when they were careful with the laws of purity and impurity, as we have explained above), they were required to wash their hands so as not to cause impurity to the Terumah by touching it. In order for the Kohanim to become accustomed to this enactment, our Sages decreed on the rest of the Jewish nation (who also tried to always eat their food amid purity) that whoever eats bread must wash his hands first. Even nowadays when Kohanim no longer eat Terumah, this enactment is nevertheless still in effect so that when the Third Bet Hamikdash is rebuilt, may this be speedily in our days, the Jewish nation will be accustomed to eating amid purity.

The Second Reason: Cleanliness
An additional reason for washing one’s hands is because Hashem wants us to conduct ourselves with cleanliness, for cleanliness results in purity and purity results in abstinence and sanctity. Thus, our Sages instituted that one wash one’s hands before a bread meal to conduct one’s self with cleanliness and not to eat when one’s hands are soiled.

The Definition of the Term “Netilat Yadayim
There are several explanations regarding the origin of the word “Netila.” The Rashba (Rabbeinu Shlomo ben Aderet, one of the great Rishonim) writes in one of his responses that the word “Netila” is a derivative of the word “Antal,” which is the name of the vessel which holds a Revi’it (81 cc or approximately 2.7 fluid oz.) of water, which is the amount of water prescribed for Netilat Yadayim. The author of the Tosafot Yom Tov (Hagaon Harav Yom Tov Lipman Ha’Levi Heller), however, writes that “Netila” is another term for “taking,” i.e. taking the water, just as we bless “Al Netilat Lulav” (“The Taking of the Lulav”). (See Yalkut Yosef, Volume 3)

Ask the Rabbi


הלכה יומית מפי הראש"ל הגאון רבי יצחק יוסף שליט"א

דין ברכת שפטרנו מעונשו של זה
לחץ כאן לצפייה בשיעורים נוספים

Recent Halachot

"תנא דבי אליהו כל השונה הלכות בכל יום מובטח לו שהוא בן העולם הבא"

נדה ע"ג א'

8 Halachot Most Popular

Salt on the Table

Question: Is there a halachic necessity to have salt placed on the table before reciting the Hamotzi blessing and is it necessary to observe this custom on weekdays as well? Answer: The Gemara (Berachot 40a) states: “Rava bar Shmuel said in the name of Rav Chiya: One may not recite the Hamo......

Read Halacha

Question: May one eat bread without washing one’s hands if one does not touch the bread with one’s hands directly and instead holds it with a napkin and like?

Answer: The Gemara in Masechet Chullin (107b) states: “The Sages permitted a cloth (i.e. they permitted eating bread without first washing one’s hands by wrapping one’s hands in a cloth) for those eating Terumah (meaning that during the time when the Bet Hamikdash still stood, befo......

Read Halacha

The Laws of Washing One’s Hands for a Bread Meal

The Enactment of Washing One’s Hands for a Bread Meal There is a rabbinic enactment to wash one’s hands before sitting down to eat a bread meal. The Mishnah in Masechet Eduyot (Chapter 5) relates that Rabbi Eliezer ben Chanoch was excommunicated for having raised doubts about the necess......

Read Halacha

Eating without First Washing One’s Hands

In the previous Halacha, we have explained that one may not be lenient and nullify the edict of washing one’s hands prior to eating bread; even if one does not touch the bread with one’s hands directly and merely holds it with gloves or a napkin, one may still not defy this edict. If one......

Read Halacha


The “Asher Yatzar” Blessing vs. Birkat Hamazon

Question: In the previous Halacha, we have discussed if one becomes obligated to recite an after-blessing on food and before he does so, he uses the facilities and becomes obligated to recite the “Asher Yatzar” blessing, one should recite the “Asher Yatzar” blessing first and......

Read Halacha

Question: If one becomes obligated to recite an after-blessing after eating any food (for instance, by eating a Kezayit, approximately twenty-seven grams, of fruit) and before reciting the after-blessing, one used the facilities and becomes obligated to recite the “Asher Yatzar” blessing, which blessing must one recite first: Should one first recite the “Asher Yatzar” blessing or the after-blessing on the food one ate?

Answer: This question has already been discussed by the Maharshal (Rabbeinu Shlomo Luria, one of the foremost Acharonim who lived approximately five-hundred years ago in Eastern Poland and authored the Sefer Yam Shel Shlomo and others) in his responsa (Chapter 97) and writes that if one becomes obli......

Read Halacha

A Power Outage on Shabbat

Question: Last Shabbat, there was a power outage and for six hours, we had no electricity. Later on in the day when the problem was repaired, the Plata (electric hotplate) turned back on. Is it permissible to eat the foods that were warmed on the hotplate? Answer: Regarding the aforementioned mat......

Read Halacha

Reciting Birkat Hamazon in the Place One Has Eaten

Question: Is one obligated to recite Birkat Hamazon specifically where one has eaten bread or may one recite this blessing elsewhere? Answer: One who eats a bread meal must recite Birkat Hamazon in the place where one has eaten and one may not go to a different place and recite the blessing there......

Read Halacha