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Mishna Berura -
Lesson 96

Siman 160:11-15, 161 Netilat Yadayim (Part 2)

Rav Asher Meir



When someone touches the water in the washing cup before netilat yadayim, do we need to pour out the water? The Rema answers this question at the end of se'if 11.


The Rema's source is found in the (late Rishon) Terumat HaDeshen (henceforth "THD") siman 159.


The THD cites two rulings suggesting that such water is unfit:


1. The Tosefta rules that washing one hand only defiles the washing water, which can in turn defile the other hand;


2. Likewise, when the hands are still wet from washing, if someone else touches them then the water becomes tamei and returns the hands to their tamei state, (as ruled in SA OC 162:4. We will see there that neither of these worries applies when a full revi'it is poured all at once on the hand or hands).


The THD reasons that "kol she-ken"(a fortior!) unwashed hands can disqualify the water while it is still in the washing cup (Evidently the "kol she-ken" is as follows: If water touched in this way renders the tahor hands tamei, "kol she-ken" such water can't make the tamei hands tahor).


On the other hand, there are many rulings that indicate the opposite:


1. Washing from someone else's hands is insufficient only "because the cupped hands are not a vessel." (We saw this in SA OC 159:6). This implies that the tum'a of the pourer's hands is not a problem.


2. When the baker puts his hands in the water in order to use only the water he takes out, the water is not defiled. We saw this in 160:2.


These rulings can be reconciled by positing that the cupped hands or the baker's hands referred to have been washed.


However, the Piskei Tosafot rules that one can wash by pouring water on one hand from a cup and then using that hand to wipe the other. This directly contradicts the ruling we just mentioned! We just learned that such wiping defiles the pure hand. Yet Tosafot suggest that it purifies the tamei hand! Tosafot explain that in the case above the original intent was to wash only one hand (The requirement for intention in washing was discussed in 159:13). If the original intent while pouring was to purify both hands, it can be accomplished even by pouring on one and then wiping the other.


The THD finds it hard to accept the fact, that intention can change the outcome so dramatically. Nevertheless he agrees that even someone who has not washed does not disqualify the washing water, since wet hands are MORE susceptible to tum'a than washing water as it sits in a cup.


In other words, THD REVERSES the "kol she-ken" which he just suggested! Perhaps the reasoning is as follows: The "kol she-ken" (as we explained it) relates to the OBJECT of the water. But here, by touching the washing water while it is still resting on the hands, the tamei hand is interfering with the PROCESS of washing. The tamei hand is not defiling the wet, newly washed hand; rather it is preventing it from completing its purification.


According to this understanding, if washing was completed, and only afterwards the hands were wet again, the hands would NOT be returned to tum'a if someone else touched the wet hands.





What about the water set aside for washing in the morning? Sometimes it too can be touched by someone who hasn't washed yet.


The SA (4:1) says that even water that is unfit for washing for bread is fit for washing in the morning; but he adds (4:7) that it is best to apply the same standards. It would seem that at any rate there is no reason to MORE stringent with "neigel vasser" (washing upon waking up).


However, the Shulchan Arukh HaRav, in the notes the Alter Rebbe prepared for a second edition (printed at the beginning of the book), explicitly warns not to touch the water prepared for others to wash from, so as not to defile them.





Here is a passage from the gemara in Berakhot (50b):


The Rabbis taught [in a beraita]: Undiluted wine's berakha is not "borei pri ha-gafen" but rather "borei pri ha-etz"; and we wash hands from it. Once it is diluted, its blessing is "borei pri ha-gafen" and we may not wash hands from it - thus says Rebbe Eliezer. But the Sages say in either case we may not wash hands for it. What is the Tannaitic source for Shmuel's saying that we may use bread for any need - it is the view of Rebbe Eliezer [who allows washing hands with undiluted wine].


The Rishonim assume that halakha is like Rebbe Eliezer - perhaps because Shmuel relies on his opinion. They point out that this seems to contradict the ruling in Chullin (107a) that washing water needs the appearance of water (see SA 160:1). Several solutions are suggested:


1. The Mordechai suggests that Rebbe Eliezer is referring to white wine, which has the appearance of water.


2. The Rosh suggests that water whose appearance has changed is unfit because it has been degraded from its original status - not because the appearance of water is required. But wine or other fruit juice is acceptable no matter what its color.


3. Ultimately, the Rosh adopts the opinion of the Raavad, who concludes that Rebbe Eliezer is referring to washing hands for cleanliness. We might think that using wine for cleaning the hands would show disrespect for the wine; Rebbe Eliezer tells us that washing the hands is so important that it is a fitting use for wine (This would explain how Shmuel learns from this rule that food can be used for purposes other than eating). But washing for bread demands clear water.


However, the Rashba points out that the Raavad himself rules elsewhere that Rebbe Eliezer is talking about washing for bread. Even so, the Rashba discourages using wine for this purpose because it shows disrespect for the wine. (Shmuel permits using bread only for uses which do not make it disgusting for eating - see SA 171:1. But no one would drink wine after using it to wash).


These three approaches parallel the three opinions mentioned in the SA and Rema in se'if 12.





Our siman begins by comparing chatzitza in washing to chatzitza in immersion. So a short introduction to that subject is in order, expanding a bit on what the MB writes in s.k. 1.




It is useful to distinguish between a "permitted chatzitza" and something that is not a chatzitza at all. The extent of chatzitza is also important.


1. A loose garment or ornament, one which does not interfere with water reaching the skin, is not considered a "chatzitza" at all, since it does not in fact interpose between the body and the water.


2. Something which DOES interpose, but which people don't mind ("eino makpid"), is considered a "permitted chatzitza." The SA's example is the small amount of dirt that normally accumulates between the finger and nail. Most people don't bother to gouge this dirt out every day.


3. An interposition which people mind ("makpid") is a forbidden chatzitza.


According to Torah law, immersion is invalid only if MOST of the body is covered with a FORBIDDEN chatzitza (rubo umakpid). But derabanan, ONE of these disqualifications is enough, namely rubo (even if the person doesn't mind) or makpid (even if only less than half the body is covered). But "mi'ut she-eino makpd" - a minority of the body covered with something people don't mind - is permissible. (Nidda 67b)




            The custom is for women to avoid even "mi'ut she-eino makpid" and anything which does not really interpose. This is because:


1. Prudence dictates that all possible pitfalls be removed, and not all women are knowledgeable about what is considered a chatzitza (see Rema end of se'if 3);


2. Some Rishonim rule that "mi'ut she-eino makpid" is permissible only on the hair, but not on the skin;


3. Some Rishonim and many Acharonim rule that even if water enters freely (no interposition), "hakpada" can still create a chatzitza.





Since what bothers some people at times doesn't bother other people, a clear definition of "hakpada" is required.


Most Rishonim agree that whatever MOST people mind is considered a "chatzitza" even if the person immersing personally doesn't mind it.


According to many Rishonim, personal feeling IS a factor "le-chumra,"(for stringency) and if for instance a particular person can't stand to have antiperspirant on, then for that person antiperspirant is a chatzitza. Other Rishonim conclude that for all purposes we use the more "objective" definition of what most people think.


"Most people" means most people in a person's normal milieu - which may mean the people in his profession, as we see in se'if 2.





The central discussion in the gemara of the rules of netilat yadayim for bread is in Chullin, 106a-107b. At the end of 106a we read:


"The Rabbis taught [in a beraita]: Washing hands for chullin [non-holy food] is up to the joint; for teruma, up to the joint; sanctification of the hands in the Mikdash is up to the joint. And everything which interposes for immersion of the body, interposes for washing for bread and for sanctification of hands and feet in the Mikdash."


Rashi explains that the repetition of the phrase "up to the joint" means that subsequent joints are indicated. Washing for bread is up the second joint from the fingertips - the one just above the joining of the finger to the hand. Washing for teruma is up to the next joint, namely the one joining finger to hand. And washing in the midkash is up to the wrist - the joint attaching the hand to the arm.


The gemara comments:

"Rav said, for chullin up to here [he was pointing to the place], for teruma up to here [pointing to a different place]. And Shmuel said, both for chullin and for teruma, up to here [pointing], lechumra. And Rav Sheshet said, "both for chullin and for teruma, up to here lekula." The conclusion of the gemara is like Shmuel.


According to Rashi's explanation, Shmuel indicates that even for bread we need to wash the entire finger.


The Rif has a different text: "Washing hands for kiddush is up to the joint; for chullin, to the pakak; for teruma, up to the joint."


This wording no longer suggests subsequent joints - on the contrary, it seems that teruma and kiddush have the same rule, and chullin is more lenient. It also suggests that chullin involves a different kind of joint. In other words, the Rif understood that according to the beraita, both kiddush and teruma require washing to the wrist and chullin only part of the finger, but according to Shmuel even washing for bread (chullin) must be up to the wrist.


The Beit Yosef concludes that since some Rishonim agree with the Rif, and since it is no special trouble to wash up to the wrist, this is the proper conduct, as he rules in the SA se'if.



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