Siman 160:1-12 Water for Netilat Yadayim

  • Rav Asher Meir
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion


SHIUR #95: SIMAN 160:1-12

By Rabbi Asher Meir





The end of the first chapter of Tractate Yadayim deals with types of water suitable for washing hands. Most of the laws in these mishnayot find their way into our siman, so we will start by translating them:


Mishna 3


1.         Water in vessels which became unpotable for beasts is unfit [for hand washing], but in the ground it is fit.

2.         If ink or dark dye fell in and changed the water's appearance, it is unfit.

3.         If he did work with it or soaked bread in it, it is unfit.

4.         Shimon Ha-timni says, even if he intended to soak his bread in this [vessel] and it fell into the other, it is fit.  (The problematic formulation "even if" will be discussed later.)


Mishna 4


5.         If he rinsed dishes or evened out a measure with it, it's unfit.

6.         If he rinsed already-rinsed or new dishes in it, it's fit; Rebbe Yosi disqualifies with new [dishes].


Mishna 5


7.         Water in which the baker dips the pastry is unfit, but that in which he rinsed his hands is fit for washing hands.


In the previous chapter, we saw that while tum'at yadayim, and its purification by washing, are Rabbinical innovations, this washing is likened by Chazal and the Rishonim to two kinds of purification by water found in the Torah. One is the water of the "kior" (laver) from which the Kohanim washed in the Mikdash; the other is the "mei chatat" – the water mixed with ashes from the para aduma, sprinkled on people who are temei met as part of their purification.


In siman 159 we learned that the laws of the kior and the mei chatat help explain the various requirements for the vessel we wash from; in this siman we will see that these laws help explain the requirements for the water we wash with.




This halakha corresponds to ruling 2 in the mishna according to our numbering. At least three reasons are brought in the commentators for this ruling – reasons which do not necessarily contradict, as we will explain.


1.         The Rash (Rav Shimshon of Sens, whose commentary on the mishnayot of Zeraim and Taharot appears in the regular Vilna Shas) explains the reason for rule 3 that doing work with the water effects a change of status from water to something else. To use a modern parallel, the water's accounting definition would be changed from "raw materials" to "production goods."  From the context, it seems that this idea is meant to explain rule 2 as well – the water is changed from "water" to "color."


2.         Several commentators on the mishna explain that this is an extension of the rule that a change of appearance disqualifies a mikveh (Mikvaot 7:3). This doesn't contradict the previous reason, because it could be that disqualification of a mikveh is also due to the fact that the colored water is not considered "water." (This would imply that three lugin (measures) of dyed water would not permanently disqualify the mikveh, and this is indeed what the mishna cited suggests.)


3.         The MB s.k.1 brings a third reason. His reason doesn't contradict the previous one, because the gemara Zevachim 22a-22b likens the water of the kior to mikveh water.  (In fact, the Ra'ah himself – who is the source for the MB – mentions mikveh together with mei kior.) This reason has a certain elegance because we learned last chapter that regarding the washing vessel, the water of the kior and that of the mei chatat serve as paradigms.




Several reasons could be adduced for this rule:


1.         The Rash, as we just mentioned, suggests that the water changes status to a "means of production" rather than being just "water."


2.         The Rambam considers that once the water has been used, it is considered like waste water. This rationale is cited by very many commentators including the MB.


3.         Doing work with the water for mei chatat disqualifies the water just as doing work with the para aduma itself disqualifies the heifer (mishna Para 4:4).  This is a Torah law as seen from the Sifri on Bamidbar 19:9.  Insofar as we have frequently liken the water of hand washing to the mei chatat (even in this siman – see MB s.k. 21), this would seem to be an obvious explanation for this disqualification. Yet, I have found this rationale indicated in only one authority – as a hint in the Beur haGra on the Shulchan Arukh. (The Gra gives as a source/example for this rule a passage in Gittin which explicitly deals with mei chatat alone.)




The wording of rule 4 in the mishna is as follows: "Shimon Ha-timni says, even if he intended to soak his bread in this [vessel] and it fell into the other, it is fit." The commentators have trouble with the expression "even if."  If the intention was for the first vessel, this is all the more reason that the second one should be fit! Several solutions are proposed by the commentators.


1.          The Rash suggests changing "fit" to "unfit."  Shimon Ha-timni maintains that soaking bread in water disqualifies the water even though he intended to use OTHER water to soak the bread. Since there was intention to soak the bread, albeit in another bowl, the water has been used.


The Rambam gives a variant of this explanation. He suggests that the mishna is punctuated "bitmeah" – incredulously. "Could it be" that even though there was intention to soak the bread, the water is fit? Rather, the water is unfit.


This is the approach adopted by the SA in se'if 2.


2.          Another solution suggested by the Rash is to eliminate the word "even though." The mishna tells us that because the intention was to use the FIRST vessel, the water in the SECOND vessel is okay. Although there WAS intention to soak the bread, there was no intention to do so in this vessel, and so the water is not viewed as though it was used for work.


The Tosafot Yom Tov in the name of Maharam proposes a variant, as do other commentators. EVEN THOUGH there was some intention to soak, the water in the second vessel is fit because there was no intention to soak the bread THERE - but rather in the first vessel. In other words, Shimon Ha-timni doesn't say "even though he intended the FIRST," but "even though he INTENDED the first."


Here, the halakhic conclusion is opposite that of the first solution.


According to both explanations, if there was no intention whatsoever to use the water, the water is fit. (MB s.k. 8.)




The source is a mishna which discusses the mei chatat - the water in which the ashes of the para aduma are soaked and which are sprinkled to purify from tum'at met:


If an animal drank from it, it is unfit. All birds make [the water] unfit except for pigeons, because they suck [the water] (Mishna Para 9:3).


Rashi (Chullin 62b) explains that the reason for this rule is that drinking without sucking (as animals besides pigeons do) is like doing work. According to this, we completely liken water for netilat yadayim to mei chatat. This is the first view mentioned in the SA se'if 4.


But many commentators explain that the mei chatat are disqualified because of the small amount of backwash from the animal which falls into them. This disqualification wouldn't matter for washing hands, because such a small amount of spittle would be considered nullified (see MB end of s.k. 22).


Another lenient approach suggested by the Beit Yosef is to say that the definition of work for the mei chatat is especially strict, but, for washing hands, drinking is not considered "melakha." According to this, even Rashi could agree that water for netilat yadayim is kosher after an animal drank from it, as the definition of "work" would vary depending on the area of application.




The main source is a gemara in Chullin (105a):


It is taught [in a beraita]: Mayim rishonim (washing for bread) may be hot or cold. Rebbe Yitzchak said, that is only if it is not yad soledet (so hot that the hands recoil), but if it is yad soledet, we may not wash with them. Some apply [Rebbe Yitzchak's saying] to mayim acharonim (washing after a meal): Mayim acharonim must be cold, not hot. Rebbe Yitzchak said, this is only if it is yad soledet, but if it is not yad soledet we may wash.


According to the second interpretation, even mayim acharonim may be hot if they are not scalding, and mayim rishonim can even be scalding. This is the conclusion of most Rishonim, and the ruling of the SA in se'if 6. The MB s.k. 27 qualifies this ruling somewhat.




In se'ifim 4 through 9 we see that the requirements for water for netila are stricter than those for tevila - as explicit in the SA se'ifim 5 and 9. This may seem paradoxical since netilat yadayim is a Rabbinic requirement and tevila is often deoraita.


However, the paradox disappears if we recall that we may indeed DIP the hands anytime the water is fit for immersing the body. We see this in MB s.k. 25, SA se'if 7, MB s.k. 40.