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

Eating Meat Following Rosh Chodesh Av

The Mishnah in Masechet Ta’anit (26b) tells us that on Erev Tisha Be’av during the last meal one eats before the fast, one may not eat meat, drink wine, or eat two cooked foods, such as rice and an egg. Although the letter of the law dictates that the prohibition to eat meat only applies......

Read Halacha

Laws Pertaining to Tisha Be’av

There are five categories of abstinence which must be observed on Tisha Be’av: Eating and drinking, washing one’s self, rubbing one’s body with oils or lotions, wearing leather shoes, and marital relations. Our Sages also prohibited learning Torah on Tisha Be’av, for the word......

Read Halacha

Havdala on Motza’ei Shabbat Which Coincides with Tisha Be’av and the Laws of an Ill Individual Who Must Eat on Tisha Be’av

On years during which Tisha Be’av falls out on Motza’ei Shabbat, such as this year, 5782, there are three opinions among the Rishonim regarding how Havdala should be recited on a cup of wine on Motza’ei Shabbat. The first opinion is that of the Geonim who write that one should r......

Read Halacha

The Laws of Taking Haircuts During the “Three Weeks"- The Year 5782

The Customary Prohibition of Haircuts As a result of the mourning observed during the “Three Weeks,” the Ashkenazi custom is to abstain from shaving and taking haircuts beginning from the Seventeenth of Tammuz until the Tenth of Av. Nevertheless, the Sephardic custom is not as string......

Read Halacha


Those Who are Obligated and Exempt from the Fast of Tisha Be’av and their Status When Tisha Be’av Falls Out on Motza’ei Shabbat

Someone Ill with a Non-Life-Threatening Illness, An Elderly Person, and a Woman who has Recently Given Birth One who is ill (meaning when one is actually bedridden and the like, even if the illness is not life-threatening) is exempt from fasting on Tisha Be’av. When in doubt about one’s......

Read Halacha

When Av Begins, We Diminish Our Joy

This coming Friday will mark Rosh Chodesh Av. Next Shabbat will mark Tisha Be’av, however, since fast days are prohibited on Shabbat (besides for Yom Kippur), Tisha Be’av will be observed next Motza’ei Shabbat and Sunday. May Hashem soon switch this month to one of joy and celebrat......

Read Halacha

The Laws of the Last Meal Before the Fast of Tisha Be’av on Shabbat

On Erev Tisha Be’av, our Sages prohibited eating meat and drinking wine during the last meal before the onset of the fast of Tisha Be’av held after halachic midday. They likewise forbade eating two cooked foods during this meal.  Nevertheless, this year, 5782, since the fast of T......

Read Halacha

Tisha Be’av Which Coincides With Motza’ei Shabbat- Clothing for Tisha Be’av

The Baraita in Masechet Ta’anit (30a) states that our Sages prohibited five things on Tisha Be’av: Eating and drinking, washing one’s self, rubbing one’s self with oils or lotions, wearing leather shoes, and marital relations. Our Sages said (Ta’anit 30b): “One......

Read Halacha