Halacha for Tuesday 25 Av 5781 August 3 2021

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, before eating Terumah, the Kohanim were required to wash their hands first so as not to impurify the Terumah by touching it. Our Sages ruled leniently for them that, if they wished, they would not need to wash their hands; rather, they would be permitted to eat their Terumah in a way where they would not touch it directly, i.e. by wrapping their hands in a cloth or by wearing gloves and the like). However, they did not permit a cloth for those eating their food amid purity (for in the times of the Bet Hamikdash, there were pious non-Kohanim who would eat all of their foods amid purity so as not to impurify their foods. These individuals would also need to wash their hands before eating any food so as not to impurify the food by touching it. Our Sages did not provide the leniency of eating without washing one’s hands by using a cloth for such people).” Rashi there explains that the reason why our Sages were lenient regarding this matter only with regards to Kohanim eating their Terumah and not for any other people is because the Kohanim were quite accustomed to eating all of their foods amid purity all their lives (for with regards to them, this matter could sometimes border on an actual prohibition) and there is therefore no need to be concerned that they will mistakenly touch their food with their hands. Thus, our Sages were lenient and allowed them to eat without first washing their hands through the use of a cloth. On the other hand, regarding other people who were not as accustomed and careful to eat their food amid purity (for this matter never borders on an actual prohibition for them and they were therefore less meticulous in this regard), we must be concerned that they will mistakenly touch the food with their hands. Therefore, there is no room for leniency for them to eat with the use of a cloth without first washing their hands.

Based on this, many Rishonim deduce from here regarding the hand-washing we perform before eating bread that since we can certainly not be included in the category of the Kohanim who were especially careful to keep their foods pure, the rabbinic edict to wash one’s hands before eating a bread meal is applicable in any case and one may not act leniently by eating with the use of a napkin. If one does eat with the use of a napkin in order to circumvent the requirement to wash one’s hands, one has nullified an edict of our Sages. The Tur and Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 163) rule likewise. All this applies to one who would like to eat a food dipped in liquid (which requires a hand-washing before) as well.

Summary: One may not act leniently and eat bread without first washing one’s hands even if one is not directly touching the bread with one’s hands, for instance, if one is eating with a napkin and the like; in any case, one is obligated to wash one’s hands. However, there is one situation where the Sages were lenient and permitted one to eat bread without first washing one’s hands. We shall discuss this further, G-d-willing, in the following Halacha.

Ask the Rabbi


8 Halachot Most Popular

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

Motza’ei Yom Kippur

Adding From the Mundane Onto the Holiness One must add some of the mundane weekday onto the holiness of Yom Kippur upon its exit, i.e. one should not end this holy day immediately with nightfall; rather, one should wait another few minutes. Thus, it is prohibited to eat or perform work on Motza&rsq......

Read Halacha

The Obligation to Eat in the Sukkah

Since there is not so much time left to discuss the laws of Sukkot, let us now spend the next few Halachot discussing some pertinent Halachot for the upcoming Sukkot holiday. A Meal of an Established Character Throughout the entire Sukkot holiday, both during the night and day, it is prohibited ......

Read Halacha

Reciting Selichot Alone, Without a Minyan

Question: If one is unable to recite Selichot with a Minyan (quorum of at least ten Jewish men) for whatever reason or if a woman wishes to recite Selichot and she cannot do so with a Minyan, may one recite the Selichot texts alone or should one abstain from doing so? Answer: If one wishes to rec......

Read Halacha


The Laws of Eating a Kezayit of Bread in the Sukkah on the First Night of Sukkot and One who is Uncomfortable in the Sukkah

In the previous Halacha we have discussed that one may not eat an established meal outside of the Sukkah anytime during the Sukkot holiday. One must be aware that the reward for the Mitzvah of Sukkah is that it protects one during turbulent times (see Zohar, Parashat Tetzaveh). The Mitzvah of......

Read Halacha

The Custom of “Tashlich”

Following Mincha services of the first day of Rosh Hashanah, it is customary to go to a seashore, river, well, or pit in order to recite the order of “Tashlich.” If there is no river, lake, or pond in close proximity of one’s vicinity, it is likewise perfectly acceptable to recite ......

Read Halacha

The Proper Behavior for the Days of Rosh Hashanah-The Custom of Maran zt”l

It is customary to eat red meat and sweet foods on the days of Rosh Hashanah, as the verse in Nechemia states, “Go eat fatty foods and drink sweet beverages and sent gifts of food to those who do not have, for the day is sanctified to our Lord.” One may not fast at all on Rosh Hashana......

Read Halacha

Blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah

It is a positive Torah commandment to hear the Shofar blasts on the day of Rosh Hashanah, as the verse states, “It shall be a day of [Shofar] blasts for you.” One may not speak between the various sets of Shofar blasts and certainly not during the blasts themselves. The Poskim disagree r......

Read Halacha