Siman 162:1-4 Drying Hands after Washing

  • Rav Asher Meir
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion

SHIUR #97: Siman 162:1-4


by Rabbi Asher Meir






The gemara Sota 4b relates a mixture of halakhic and aggadic sayings regarding netilat yadayim. The aggadic sayings connect neglect of netilat yadayim to coarseness of spirit and pride - highlighting the role of this mitzva in developing refinement and restraint. The main halakhic saying is as follows:


Rav Chiya bar Ashi said in the name of Rav: Mayim rishonim [washing for bread] - he must raise his hands upward; mayim acharonim [washing after a meal] - he must lower his hands downward. We learn the same thing from a beraita: One who washes his hands must raise his hands upward, lest the water pass the joint and then return and defile the hands.


The Beit Yosef presents four different approaches in the Rishonim to the wording and meaning of this gemara. In order to understand them, we should recall what we learned in last week's shiur and in the BH at the end of the previous siman: The Rosh and (according to the understanding of the Beit Yosef) most other Rishonim consider that only the FINGERS need to be washed for bread. But the Rif and other Rishonim understand that the ENTIRE HAND must be washed.


Here are the four approaches.


1. ROSH:  If washing was done with less than a revi'it, then the hands DO become pure from the washing, but the water which touched the unwashed fingers itself becomes defiled. In order to complete the washing it is necessary to wash a second time with a small amount of water (as we see in se'if 2).  If some of the tamei water drips BELOW the area of washing, it will NOT be washed away with the second washing, and it can then drip back onto the fingers. (This understanding is compatible with the Rif's ruling as well. According to the Rosh "below the area of washing" means the hand; according to the Rif, it means the forearm.)


2. ARUKH: The entire hand needs to be washed, and will be washed by both first and second pourings. But the water may land in the first place on the arm - which is not normally washed; the water will be defiled by the arm and afterwards drip onto the hand. As the Drisha points out, some work is required to reconcile this view with the mishna in Yadayim which suggests that tum'at yadayim does not extend to the forearm.


(The Chazon Ish OC 24:15 asserts that the Arukh's approach is the same as that of the Rosh. However, I don't see how we can reconcile the Chazon Ish with the words of the Arukh, as they appear in the Beit Yosef and in the printings of the Arukh which I examined.  The Arukh emphasizes that the problem is that the water touches the arm WHICH HE DID NOT WASH and then goes back and defiles the hands. The clear implication seems to be that the water acquires its tum'a from the arm. The Arukh's explanation of mayim ACHARONIM fits in with the explanation of the Rosh on mayim RISHONIM; perhaps the Chazon Ish understood that this second explanation was meant to apply to mayim rishonim as well?)


3. RASHBA: Rav requires washing only for the fingers. But water can land on the hand too; it will become tamei and can then drip back onto the fingers.


This is parallel to the view of the Arukh, who is also worried that the water will become tamei from a part of the body which is not washed at all. We might think that the following objection applies: if the back and palm of the hand don't require washing, isn't it logical that they don't defile the water? The Rashba assumes that even though the body of the hand doesn't require washing, it IS subject to tum'at yadayim and CAN defile the water. The Magen Avraham considers and ultimately concurs with this reasoning of the Rashbba.


Like the Arukh, the Rashba is NOT concerned that water from the first washing will escape and drip back. It follows  that there is no basis for concern if the ENTIRE hand is washed. Then all water lands either on the hand (which is adequately purified by washing) or on the arm (which is not subject to tum'at yadayim in the first place).


Since the Rashba himself rules like the Rif, that one must ALWAYS wash the entire hand, and since he rules that there is no need to raise the hands when the entire hand is washed, it follows that le-halakha the Rashba does not require raising the hands at all.


4. TALMIDEI RABBENU YONAH (henceforth "TRY" - Berakhot 42b in the Rif pages) write: "At the time of washing, take care not to raise the hands upward until drying them. Because if you raise them, water from the second pouring, which comes to purify the water on the hands [from the first pouring],  will become defiled from the arm and go back and defile the hands, and the washing doesn't count."


The various commentators have difficulty understanding what the TRY are getting at. The most obvious question is how the TRY can learn from Rav NOT to raise the hands, but more fundamentally the intention of their ruling is in itself unclear. Here are three different interpretations:


a. Mahari ibn Chaviv cited in the Beit Yosef: Rav is telling people that if they raised their hands for the BEGINNING of the washing, they must continue to leave them elevated, so that tamei water from the arm doesn't drip back on to the hands. The TRY further explain that it is better yet not to raise the hands at all - then the problem of tamei water on the arms won't arise in the first place. (The Rema in Darkhei Moshe approves of this interpretation.)


b. The Beit Yosef can't accept that the TRY (Rishonim) in effect disagree with Rav (an Amora), but he explains in a fundamentally similar manner: TRY say that while one SHOULD raise the hands as Rav said so that water which happens to drip on to the arm won't return, at the same time one SHOULDN'T raise them too much. That way not too much water will run down the arm in the first place.


c. The Drisha explains that TRY recommend raising the FOREARM. In this way hands and forearm are both raised in comparison to the wrist, forming a kind of "V" shape. Again, the object is to keep water from running down the arm. The water drips down the hands to the wrist, but doesn't continue onto the arm because the forearm is raised above the wrist.


As we have seen, there is a difference of opinion as to whether TRY recommend lowering the hands. But even if they themselves don't recommend this, it does seem to be an obvious suggestion. Rav himself suggests it for mayim acharonim! This leads the Beit Yosef, and other Acharonim, to ask why indeed this isn't an acceptable solution. Why then don't the gemara and the Rishonim suggest LOWERING the hands?


BEIT YOSEF suggests that this is indeed an acceptable alternative. The only reason why raising the hands is better is because it has support from the verse from Yishayahu (quoted below).


MAHARI ABUHAV (author of "Menorat HaMaor") answers that water may fall on the hands and not on the fingers. If the water is not enough to wash the hands, it will become tamei and drip on to the fingers. (This resembles the Rashba's explanation of Rav.)


BACH interprets Rashi as implying that when the fingers are lowered there is a chance that water won't properly reach the finger tips.


BE'ER HEITEV says that there is a reason according to Kabbala to raise the hands before the berakha. He doesn't give a source, but there is a similar idea in Chasidut. Raising the hands in washing is interpreted as raising our hands towards God to ask for His blessing; this is  meant to show that through the MATERIAL sustenance of the bread we are preparing to receive our SPIRITUAL sustenance from God, just as we did with the miraculous manna. (Likutei Halakhot Breslav.) Tehillim 134:2 says "Raise your hands in holiness and bless God," and this serves as a source in the gemara for raising the wine before blessing on it (Berakhot 51a) and for washing - and by implication raising - the hands before blessing birkhat Kohanim (Sota 39a).





The MB (s.k. 9) suggests a mnemonic for the obligation to keep the hands raised after washing. It is the end of a verse from Yishayahu, "vayinatlem vayinasem kol yemei olam" (He will take them and raise them up forever). The word "yinatlem" is from the same root as "netilat yadayim," implying that after netila comes "raising up."


(The MB seems to imply that this mnemonic comes from the gemara, but the Tur refers to it merely as a "siman," a reminder or mnemonic device. I have not found it in the gemara.)


This mnemonic highlights the question of the origin of the term "netila," literally "taking," for washing hands. The etymology was discussed by the Gaonim, as summarized in the Kol Bo, siman 23:


Rav Hai Gaon suggests that the term "netila" is derived from this very verse, BASED ON the requirement to raise the hands! Since we have to raise the hands after washing them, the verse "vayinatlem vayisa'em" hints that we should refer to the washing as "netila." This turns the Tur's "siman" on its head: instead of learning the requirement to raise the hands from the term for washing, Rav Hai learns the term for washing from the requirement to raise the hands - all on the basis of the verse from Yishayahu.


Other Gaonim consider that the word "netila" is derived from the name of the washing cup, an "antal." (Marcus Jastrow inclines to the opposite view - that the Greek word is derived from the Hebrew, based on the root "netila.")




A "revi'it" of water is always necessary for a kosher netilat yadayim, but the halakha will depend on whether the revi'it is used for two (or more) people, for the two hands of the same person, or for one hand. According to the SA, the distinctions are as follows:


1. A single revi'it is enough for two people, but according to the preferred opinion in the SA (160:13) both people (that is, all four hands) must be washed from a single pouring.


2. If one person washes from a revi'it, he doesn't need a single pouring. If both hands ARE washed in a single pouring, then that single pouring is all that is required. But if he washes each hand separately,  many special requirements apply:

i. Each hand must be washed twice - three times if the hands are dirty to begin with. (Is more water required then? See BH d.h. "ketzat.")  This is because less than a revi'it purifies the hand but not the water. (Unlike washing with an entire revi'it at once which is considered like a mikveh, which never becomes defiled itself as it purifies something else.) A second pouring is necessary to remove the tamei water. (The first washing may not cover only part of the hand, but the second may - se'if 3.)

ii. When the hands are washed twice it is necessary to raise them (se'if 1).

iii. Care needs to be taken between the two washings not to touch his own UNwashed hand, or anyone else's (se'if 4). This was discussed in the shiur on siman 160 se'if 11.


3. If there is a revi'it for each hand, then the person may pour for himself a revi'it on each hand. There is no need to wash each hand more than once, no need to raise the hands, no need to dry the hands in the middle, and no need to do a balancing act to make one pouring onto both hands as described in se'if 4.


Remember that quite apart from the halakhic "convenience" of using a revi'it for each hand, there is an independent importance to washing with plenty of water, which brings with it plenty of blessing (as we saw in SA 158:10).