Question: If one uses the restroom in the middle of a bread meal, must one wash his hands with a blessing and recite the Hamotzi blessing on the bread upon returning to the meal or not?
Answer: Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch rules (Chapter 164) that if one touches a covered part of one’s body during the meal, one must wash one’s hands again and recite the “Al Netilat Yadayim” blessing.
The Opinion of Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch
The above certainly applies to one who uses the restroom and cleans himself during the meal where according to Maran, one will be required to wash one’s hands again three times from a vessel, just as one would need to before a bread meal. If one wishes to continue eating bread, one will also be required to recite the “Al Netilat Yadayim” blessing again. After reciting this blessing, one should recite the “Asher Yatzar” blessing for having used the restroom.
Thus, according to Maran, one who leaves to use the restroom after having washed one’s hands and beginning a bread meal must wash one’s hands again upon exiting the restroom with a blessing, as if he would be beginning the meal at this moment.
The Opinion of the Maharshal
Nevertheless, Hagaon Maharshal (Rabbeinu Shlomo Luria) disagrees with Maran in his Yam Shel Shlomo and writes that although one is obligated to wash one’s hands out of cleanliness, however, one is not obligated to perform an actual Netilat Yadayim by washing his hands three times using a vessel; one certainly should not recite a blessing on this hand-washing because it is not included in the laws of Netilat Yadayim for a bread meal.
Many Acharonim quote the opinion of the Maharshal as Halacha. This is indeed the Ashkenazi custom. However, Sephardic Jewry always follow the rulings of Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch.
Should One Recite the Blessing Here?
Nevertheless, following the rule of “When in doubt regarding a blessing, do not bless,” it would seem that even Sephardic Jews who follow the rulings of the saintly Maran HaShulchan Aruch, one should not recite the “Al Netilat Yadayim” blessing in this situation, for there is concern for a blessing in vain. This is indeed the custom of many Sephardic individuals who, after using the restroom in the middle of the meal, wash their hands three times in accordance with the ruling of Maran but do not recite a blessing on this washing out of concern for the opinion of the Maharshal.
On the other hand, it seems that according to Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l, one who uses the restroom in the middle of the meal and wishes to continue eating bread should indeed wash one’s hands and recite the “Al Netilat Yadayim” blessing. This is because Maran zt”l references a rule in several places throughout his works that although we are concerned with blessings in vain even when this against the ruling of Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch, nevertheless, when the disagreement is not about the blessing itself, rather, it is regarding the actual Mitzvah and the blessing is only a result of the actual disagreement, such as our scenario where the dispute is not about whether or not to recite the “Al Netilat Yadayim” blessing, rather, it is if the obligation to wash one’s hands in this situation is a full Netilat Yadayim for a bread meal, i.e. three times using a vessel or whether one must merely wash one’s hands for hygiene, in such a situation, we are not concerned about a possible blessing in vain against the ruling of Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch. Since the halachic decision regarding this Mitzvah follows Maran who rules that one must perform a proper Netilat Yadayim, it follows that one must likewise recite a blessing on this Mitzvah. The Halacha Berura rules likewise in this scenario that we are not concerned for a blessing in vain here.
Clearly though, one should only recite the “Al Netilat Yadayim” blessing when one intends to eat at least a Kebeitza or 54 grams of bread upon returning from the restroom, for if not, one would not recite this blessing in any case, as is the law anytime one washes one’s hands for a bread meal.
Summary: If one leaves to use the restroom in the middle of a bread meal, one must wash one’s hands again before resuming one’s meal. If one wishes to continue eating bread as well, one may recite the “Al Netilat Yadayim” blessing on this handwashing. The Ashkenazi custom is not to recite a blessing on this handwashing.