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


8 Halachot Most Popular

The Laws of Mentioning “Mashiv Ha’Ruach”

We Begin Reciting “Mashiv Ha’Ruach” “Mashiv Ha’Ruach U’Morid Ha’Geshem” is a praise we recite to Hashem during the winter months within the “Mechayeh Ha’Metim” blessing of the Amidah as is printed in all Siddurim. We begin recitin......

Read Halacha

The Laws of One Who Forgets to Mention “Ve’Ten Tal U’Matar” in the “Blessing of the Years”

In the previous Halacha, we have discussed in a general manner that our Sages enacted that beginning from the Seventh of Marcheshvan (outside of Israel from the Fourth or Fifth of December), one begins reciting “Ve’Ten Tal U’Matar” (a request for dew and rain) in the “B......

Read Halacha

Eating and Washing One’s Self Yom Kippur

Some Laws of Yom Kippur All are obligated to fast on Yom Kippur, including pregnant and nursing women. Any woman whose health is at risk due to the fast should consult a prominent Torah scholar who is well-versed in these laws and he should render his ruling whether or not she must fast. One whose ......

Read Halacha

The Laws of Shevi’it in a Cooperative Garden

This year (5782) is the Shemitta year. In previous Halachot, we have already explained the basic laws of Shemitta including the fact that one may not plant in or work (in any manner) any land within the Land of Israel unless the work is meant to protect the crops from harm that will befall them if t......

Read Halacha


“The Blessing of the Years”

Beginning from last night, the Seventh of Marcheshvan, we have begun to request rain in the Amida prayer (only in the Land of Israel; the law for those outside of Israel will be discussed further). Let us therefore review some of these pertinent laws. The Enactment of the Sages to Request Rain O......

Read Halacha

When the Sanctity of Shevi’it Will Apply to Fruits and Vegetables and More on “Heter Mechira”

In the previous Halachot we have explained that any produce grown in Jewish-owned fields in the Land of Israel this year (5782) retain the sanctity of Shevi’it. We have likewise discussed the ramifications of this sanctity and the proper way to treat such produce. This sanctity rests even on f......

Read Halacha

Sprouting Avocado Pits During Shevi’it and the Blessing on Hydroponic Produce

Question: What is the blessing on vegetables that grow from the water (and not from the ground)? Likewise, is it permissible to plant such hydroponic produce during Shevi’it? Answer: The Blessing on Mushrooms and Truffles The Mishnah in Masechet Berachot (40b) states: “On things whi......

Read Halacha

Forbidden and Permissible Forms of Work During Shevi’it

In this Halacha and the next, we shall discuss the basic laws of tending to a garden during Shevi’it. We shall not discuss all of the details of these laws, for these laws do not apply to those residing outside of Israel. Works Forbidden by Torah Law and Rabbinic Enactment Some works forbi......

Read Halacha