Halacha Club

Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Shlomo Ganzfried

Chapter 40 : Laws Pertaining to Washing of Hands Before the Meal


If you wish to eat bread for which Hamotzi is required, you must first wash your hands. If the volume of bread you are going to eat is equivalent to that of an egg, you must recite a berachah for the washing. But if you are going to eat less, you do not recite the berachah upon washing.


For this washing you must use a halachically accepted utensil. The utensil must be completely intact, without any holes or open cracks. It must be level on top without grooves or projecting parts. When using containers or pitchers having a spout protruding above the edge of the utensil from which the water flows, you should not wash your hands with water poured through the spout; because the spout does not have the halachic status of a utensil, since it cannot hold liquid. Rather you should wash from the side of the pitcher which contains the liquid.


A vessel that cannot stand without support — if it was originally made to be used by means of this support, it is considered an halachic utensil. But if it was not made to be used this way, for example, the cover of a vessel, you should not wash with it. There are many halachic details on this issue discussed in the Shulchan Aruch.


It is very difficult to estimate the exact amount of water to be used. You should therefore pour a liberal amount of water on each hand, because Ray Chisda says [Shabbos 62b] "I washed with full handfuls of water and was granted full handfuls of goodness." You should wash your right hand first and then your left. The water must cover your whole hand, until the wrist, and no part of the hand should be untouched by water. Therefore, in order to accomplish this, your fingers should be parted slightly, and raised somewhat upward, so that the water reaches the entire length of the fingers, the finger tips and the circumference of the fingers. The water should be poured [on the hand] in one flow. Therefore you should not wash from a container with a narrow mouth [e.g. a soda bottle] from which the water cannot be emptied at one time. It is also proper to pour water twice on each hand.


After you wash both hands rub them together and raise them opposite your head as it is said: [Psalms 134:2] "Lift up you hands" etc. Before you dry your hands recite the following berachah: Asher kiddeshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu al netilas yadayim, [Who has sanctified us with His commandments and has commanded us regarding washing the hands.] (Even though when performing other mitzvos the berachah is recited before the performance of the mitzvah, nevertheless, in regard to netilas yadayim, since there are times when one's hands are not clean before washing, therefore, the Rabbis established that in all cases of washing of hands, the berachah should be recited following the washing. Another reason it is said then, is because the drying of the hands is also part of the fulfillment of the commandment.) If it is your custom to pour over water each hand twice, then pour first over each hand once, rub them together and recite the berachah. Then pour a second time over each hand. Be careful to dry your hands well. Do not dry them with your clothes, because it is detrimental to the memory.


If after you pour water on one of your hands, you touch it with your other hand, or if another person touches it, then the water on your hands becomes impure, and you must then dry your hands and wash them a second time. However, if this should occur after you have already recited the berachah, do not repeat the berachah.


If you do not have a vessel, you can dip your hands into a river or into a mikvah [ritualarium] that is halachically fit for the ritual immersion of women or in a natural spring even if it does not contain forty seah of water so long as your hands are covered by the water at one time. You should also [in the case of dipping] recite the standard berachah, Al Netilas Yadayim. In an emergency, you may immerse your hands in snow, if there is enough snow on the ground equal to the amount needed for a mikvah. If you have to wash your hands from a pump, place one hand near the ground and with your other hand work the pump to bring up the water. Afterwards, reverse the procedure or have a friend draw the water for you. But if your hands are high above the ground, the washing is invalid.


Water that becomes discolored, whether due to its location or due to something that fell into the water, is unfit to be used for netilas yadayim. [But] if the change of color was due to natural causes, the water is fit for use. Water that was utilized for something, such as washing dishes, or for soaking vegetables, or if the water was used to store containers of beverage for cooling or the water was used for measuring, it is unfit for the purpose of netilas yadayim. Some authorities forbid using water that has become loathsome, for instance, when a dog, a pig or other such animal drank from it, because it is considered dirty water. One should take this opinion seriously.


If you had not washed your hands and you touched water, the water does not become defiled. Therefore, upon leaving the lavatory, you may take a handful of water out of the barrel to wash your hands, and the remainder may be used for netilas yadayim [before meals]. However, if you dabble your hand in the barrel to clean them, even if you dipped only your little finger to clean it, all of the water is unfit since some work was done with it.


Water that is salty, spoiled, bitter or muddy, if it is so bad that a dog would not drink from it, it is unfit to be used for netilas yadayim.


Before you wash, inspect your hands to make sure that they are clean without any chatzitzah. If you have long fingernails, clean them carefully so that underneath them there is no mud or dirt because this constitutes a chatzitzah. You must also remove your rings so that they will not be a chatzitzah.


If your hands are colored with dye, but there is no substance to it, merely the coloring, this does not constitute a chatzitzah; but if even a little tangible dye-stuff is on your hands it is consideted chatzitzah. However, it you are a craftsman such as a painter, or if you are a bucher, and your hands are stained with blood, or you are a scribe, and your hands are stained with ink, and this is their usual appearance and other members of this craft are not concerned with these stains, they are not considered a chatzitzah, unless the stains cover the greater part of the hand. Similarly, if you have a wound on your hand, and there is a bandage covering it, and it is painful to remove it, the bandage is not considered a chatzitzah. (For further details see Chapter 161 which discusses the laws of chatzitzah in reference to the ritual immersion of women and these laws apply as well to the washing of hands.)


The water must come upon your hands through manual effort; but if the water comes of itself, this does not constitute proper washing. If a barrel has a spout and you remove the spout, then the following rule applies: The water that flows out as a result of your initial effort, the first gush of water is considered coming through manual effort; but the water which flows afterward, is not considered flowing from manual effort, but rather as having come of itself. Therefore, if you want to wash your hands with water coming from the spout, you must be sure that the first gush of water covers your entire hand. Then close the spout and open it again for the second flow; and if you cannot estimate this properly, you should not wash your hands in this manner, and certainly you should not wash your hands from a cistern which has a small spout from which a thin trickle of water flows.


It is forbidden to eat [bread] without washing, even if you plan to wrap your hands in a cloth. If you are traveling and do not have water, if you know that within four mil in the direction you are heading or a mil behind you, you will find water, then you are required to travel within four mil forward or one mil backward to wash for eating. But if even [after traveling] these distances you will not find water, or if you are with a group, and you are afraid to be separated from them, and similarly, if you are in any other emergency situation in which you are unable to wash your hands, wrap your hands in a cloth, or put on gloves, and you may eat the bread this way.


If you went to the lavatory before the meal so that you have to wash your hands to recite the berachah Asher Yatzar (see Chapter 4, paragraph 6) and you also have to wash your hands for the meal, there are numerous questions [as to the best procedure]. Therefore, the best thing to do is to wash your hands first in a manner that does not meet the halachic requirements for the washing of hands before a meal, that is: pour only a little water onto one palm and rub both hands together with this water and dry them thoroughly. Then recite the berachah Asher Yatzar and afterwards wash your hands properly, fulfilling the requirements of washing the hands before a meal, and recite the berachah Al Netilas Yadayim.


If, during a meal, you touched your body in areas that are usually covered, or scratched your head, or urinated, you must wash your hands a second time, but do not recite the berachah. So, too, if you moved your bowels and washed your hands during the meal you do not recite Al Netilas Yadayim.


If you eat something that was dipped into a liquid, or if a liquid came into contact with the food, and the food is still moist from the liquid, even though you will not touch the part that is moist, nevertheless, you are required to wash your hands first, but do not recite the berachah Al Netilas Yadayim. Many people are lax in fulfilling this requirement. But every God-fearing person should be stringent about it.


There are seven liquids, with regard to this law: wine and wine vinegar, honey from bees, olive oil, milk and whey, dew, blood from an animal or fowl (if eaten in permissible circumstances such as for medicinal purposes) and water. These seven form the following acronym: Yad shachat dam. But other fruit juices, do not have the status of liquid, in regard to this halachah.


[If you are eating] fruits preserved in sugar, you do not have to wash your hands, because sugar is not considered a liquid. Similarly, the moisture that oozes out of the fruit is not considered liquid, rather it is (considered as) fruit juice. But if the fruit was preserved in honey, and the honey congealed, then it is no longer considered a liquid, and it is considered a food and you do not have to wash your hands. But if it did not congeal well but merely thickened a little, and the honey still flows, you have to wash your hands. So, too, regarding butter which is in the category of milk, if it is in a solid state, it is not considered a liquid but rather a food, but if it is melted (in a liquid state) it is considered a liquid.


Foodstuffs that are usually eaten without a spoon or fork, even when eaten with a spoon or fork, require Netilas Yadayim (if the food was moist as in the previous halachah). But something that is eaten only with a spoon [or fork], for example pancakes, or puddings, or fruits preserved in honey, where it is customary to eat them only with a spoon or fork, you do not have to wash your hands.


Salt produced from water is considered in the category of water, (Because water, even when it solidifies, does not lose the status of water). Therefore, if you dip a radish or similar item into this salt, you have to wash your hands. Whiskey made from grains or fruit is not considered a liquid in this context, for it is only the vapor of the grain or fruit. Even though it also contains some water, and it is diluted with water, nevertheless, (water) is a minor part of it; therefore, if you dip something into it and you wish to eat it, you do not have to wash your hands. But whiskey made from shells or seeds of the grape or from wine sediment, it appears to me, should be considered a liquid.