Simanim 157-158 Meal Time

  • Rav Asher Meir
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion


SHIUR #92: Simanim 157-158


by Rav Asher Meir





The Shulchan Arukh writes that meal time for most people should be during "the fourth hour," i.e. between 1/3 and 1/4  of the way through the day.  Torah scholars should try not to interrupt their morning "seder," and should delay eating until the sixth hour - toward halfway through the day.




It is important to remember that this is not referring to breakfast - which we learned in siman 155:2 should be eaten immediately following the morning prayers.  The MB there points out that our Sages greatly emphasized the importance of eating a good breakfast, though there is a certain difference of opinion how "good" breakfast should be, as we will now explain.


The Gemara states:

Eighty-three kinds of illness stem from "mara" [bile or melancholy], and all of them are prevented by having bread with salt and a container of water in the morning.


The Rabbis taught [in a beraita]: Thirteen things are said of having bread in the morning: It saves a person from (1) heat and (2) chills and (3) drafts and (4) harmful spirits; (5) it enlightens the simple, (6) it helps one to prevail in court, (7) to learn, (8) and to teach; (9) one’s words are understood, (10) and his knowledge is retained; (11) one doesn't give off offensive vapors; (12) he adheres to his wife, and is not attracted to other women; (13) It eliminates parasites from his intestines.


Some say, that it eliminates envy and arouses love.

(Bava Metzia 107b)


The gemara refers to "a container of water"; on this Rashi states, "If he doesn't have wine."  This suggests that a bit of bread and water is a minimum, but a richer breakfast will be even more successful in strengthening the body and raising the spirits. However, the Biur Halakha on 155:2 brings a different interpretation  (See the Maharsha ad loc.).




The Mishna Berura (s.k. 1) gives two reasons for this mitzva: truma and cleanliness.  The main source is found in the following passage:


Rav Idi bar Avin said in the name of Rav Yitzchak bar Ashian: Washing hands for ordinary food is [obligatory] by extension from truma, and also because of a mitzva.  What mitzva?  Abaye said, the mitzva to listen to the words of the Sages; Rava said, the mitzva to listen to the words of Rebbe Eliezer ben Arakh, as it is written (Vayikra 15:11) "And anything which the zav (someone with a genital issue) touches and did not wash his hands with water (must launder his clothes and wash himself in the water, and he will be tamei until the evening)." Rebbe Eliezer ben Arakh said: From this the Sages found a Scriptural hint for the obligation of hand washing, (although “his hands” is a synecdoche for his entire self, R. Eliezer found it significant that the hands specifically are representative of a tamei body).


Rava said to Rav Nachman, what can "and did not wash his hands with water" mean? [A zav] requires immersion in a mikva! But it means that SOMEONE ELSE [not a zav] who hasn't washed his hands is tamei.


Rebbe Elazar said in the name of Rebbe Oshaya: Washing hands for fruit is only for the purposes of cleanliness.  They (the students) understood this to mean that there was no obligation but only a mitzva, but Rava told them that there is no obligation and no mitzva; it is optional.  And [even] this differs from Rav Nachman who said, one who washes hands for fruit is a coarse-spirited person  (Chullin 106a).


Rav Idi mentions two reasons: truma and mitzva.  Yet, the Rabbinical decree is certainly a mitzva in and of itself.  Tosafot understand that the word "mitzva" hints at a more fundamental reason for this Rabbinical mitzva, namely cleanliness.  So this passage gives us both rationales mentioned in the MB.




This passage begs the question of why hand washing is necessary for truma itself.  To understand this complex issue, several preliminary layers must be addressed.


Truma, a priestly gift, is the first gift separated from harvested produce.  Only Kohanim may eat truma, and for a "zar" (non-Kohen) to eat it is a grave sin, punishable by "death at the hands of heaven"  (Rambam Trumot 6:6).


The Kohen himself is forbidden from the Torah from eating truma while he is tamei, and also when IT is tamei, even if the Kohen is pure (tahor) (Rambam Trumot 7:1).  It is furthermore forbidden to CAUSE truma to become tamei  (Mishna Trumot end of chapter 8). It follows that a Kohen eating truma must ensure that the truma remains tahor. Particularly, if his hands are tamei in a way which would disqualify the truma, he would be unable to eat the truma (at least with his hands), even if he himself were pure and hence permitted to eat truma.


According to Torah law, it does not occur that a Kohen would be tahor and his hands tamei.  If he came into contact with tuma in a way that made HIM impure, his whole body would become tamei. Washing his hands would accomplish nothing  (purity requires immersion and nightfall). Conversely, if his body is pure, then he would not defile truma by touching it, and would not need to wash his hands.


However, an early decree of the Sages established that everyone's hands are considered tamei unless the hands are washed and consciously protected from dirt and defilement  (Shabbat 13b). It follows that any Kohen who wants to eat truma, even if he is pure and his hands are pure, must wash his hands first. Otherwise his hands will defile the truma according to Rabbinic decree.  This is the foundation upon which Chazal erect the obligation to wash hands for bread.




The Gemara says that washing the hands for bread is required of all Jews because of "serakh truma," which we loosely translated "by extension from truma".  What does this phrase really mean? The MB (s.k. 1) gives one possible explanation.  According to this interpretation, it seems that hand washing should be required for any food.  The MB gives a reason why this would not be so in s.k. 2.


The Beit Yosef further explains why only bread would require hand washing.  According to many Rishonim, truma is a Torah obligation only on wheat, grapes, and olives.  Grapes and olives are usually eaten as wine and oil, which a person never touches with his hands.  Although they are occasionally eaten as fruits, since this is unusual they are exempt from truma on the de-oraita level according to many Rishonim.  (Ramban on the Torah Devarim 14:22. The Ramban himself seems to rule differently in his earlier Talmud commentary).


An alternative explanation is that bread specifically has an aspect of the sanctity of truma.  For instance, only bread requires the separation of challah, which is a kind of truma. 




The Shulchan Arukh rules that netila is required only for bread on which we say hamotzee.  But this ruling is actually ambiguous.  On regular bread, we ALWAYS say hamotzee.  On cake and the like we NEVER say hamotzee, rather, "mezonot." But on bread-like pastries we SOMETIMES say hamotzee, i.e. when we eat a sufficient quantity to constitute a meal.  Do these foods require netila?


The Beit Yosef addresses this question.  On the one hand he infers from the wording of the Rambam (Berakhot 6:1) and Rabbeinu Shimshon of Sens (Mishna Challah 1:5) that washing hands is dependent on the actual berakha of "hamotzee," so mezonot require washing if we eat a sufficient amount.  On the other hand, the Beit Yosef finds it strange that the very same food should sometimes require washing and other times not, depending on the quantity.  Fundamentally, these "mezonot" foods seem like foods which do not require hamotzee, and therefore no netila.  His conclusion, and his ruling in the Shulchan Arukh (explained in MB s.k. 8), is based on a responsum of the Rashba which deals explicitly with this question. 




As above, we need to explain those segments from the laws of "tuma and tahara" which form the basis of the laws of netilat yadayim.


According to Torah law, there are various levels of tuma.  Different objects are susceptible to different levels of tuma.  In general, an object affected by one level will acquire a LOWER level of tuma (a higher number).


(-1) A corpse is "avi avot hatuma" - "grandfather" of tuma.  This level renders susceptible objects "av hatuma" – (fathers or propagators of tuma).  In general, people, utensils, food and liquids (mashkim) are susceptible to become "av hatuma," level (0), though specific types of contact with “avi avot hatuma”.


(0) Most kinds of tuma mentioned in the Torah (for example, tamei vermin or certain animal corpses) are themselves "av hatuma". People, utensils, food and liquids become "rishon," or level (1), which is simply to be "tamei" upon contact with an “Av”.  Some tumot can make an affected person or object itself “av”.  Some tumot can make an affected person or object itself "av hatuma."


(1) As implied above, people, utensils, food and liquids are susceptible to this level, called "rishon."


(2) Only food and liquids can acquire the second level of tuma, sheni.


(3) Only truma and kodashim (sacrifices) are susceptible to the third level, shlishi.  This is what the MB means in s.k. 11 when he says that "sheni" does not lead to "shlishi" with chullin (food which is neither truma nor kodashim).


(4) Only kodashim are susceptible to the fourth level, revii. 


The above levels accurately reflect the transmission of tuma, and not only the severity.  "Avi avot hatuma" makes affected objects "av," "av" makes affected objects "rishon," and so on.  There is an exception; shlishi does not make kodashim "revii" on the de-oraita level.  A "mechusar kapara" (a person who requires a sacrifice to complete his purification) does.


Rabbinic law restructures these levels a bit. In particular, the decree mentioned above, which makes hands tamei, considers them "sheni” even though normally people cannot become sheni.  Furthermore, another aspect of the same decree rules that tamei "mashkim" (the seven liquids mentioned in our seif) are always considered "rishon" even though Biblically the affected liquid shoul be one level below the object from which it contracted tuma (Shabbat 13b).


The result is that when the unwashed hands touch a liquid, the liquid becomes a “rishon”, and makes any susceptible food or liquid a "sheni."


Now we can examine the original sources.  The Gemara in Pesachim 115a says that "all [food] which is dipped in [one of the seven kinds of] liquid requires netilat yadayim."


Rashi and Rashbam explain that just as unwashed hands (which are "sheni") disqualify truma (which is subject to "shlishi" as we just explained), so, too, unwashed hands make liquids "rishon" which in turn disqualify ordinary food.  So just as we are careful not to make truma (and by extension bread) tamei by touching it with our unwashed hands, so, too, we are we careful not to make ordinary food tamei by bringing it into contact with liquid which has touched our unwashed hands.


This explanation is incomplete, because actually there is no prohibition to make ordinary food tamei, or to eat it when it is tamei (Although in the times of the Tannaim there was a group called “chaverim” who insisted upon eating all of their food in purity, no mitzva requires this).  And if we consider ordinary food, and not just bread, to be like truma, then we should have to wash for it even if it is NOT dipped!


One possible answer is that really all food is considered like truma, but food becomes susceptible to tuma until after it has been "mukhshar" or wetted (even if it is subsequently dried).  Food which is not dipped is not only not susceptible to "shlishi"; it may not be susceptible to tuma at all! But bread is invariably subject to tuma, as it is wetted in kneading (Rav Danny Wolf.).


Another approach: the Gemara in Shabbat explains that consuming tamei foods and drinks was decreed to make a person tamei because otherwise he would eat these with truma and put them together in his mouth, thus contaminating the truma.  Ordinary foods are not themselves like truma, but the liquid eaten with them could be consumed TOGETHER with truma, and this would be a problem if we ate truma nowadays.  (Rav Shlomo Levi.)


The Tosafot disagree with Rashi.  They explain that this washing is to obviate the possibility of drinking the liquid itself, which would then contaminate the drinker (In general, "rishon" does not infect people and utensils, which are not susceptible to "sheni," as we have just explained.  However, part of the special decree which makes hands "sheni" and affected liquids "rishon" also imposes tuma on anyone who drinks tamei liquids- see Shabbat 13b.  This explanation has two consequences:


1.  Even in the time of the Mikdash, no blessing was required on this hand washing.  Blessings are said only on obligations which were specifically mandated - NOT on practices which are obligatory in order to keep us from committing transgressions (Just as we don't say a blessing on washing really dirty hands before praying or studying Torah - even though such washing is an absolute obligation).


2.  Nowadays, when tuma is inevitable, there is no obligation whatsoever.


The MB (s.k. 20) implies that most Rishonim maintain the first view, namely, that washing (and blessing) are obligatory.  However, the Tosafot's view creates a situation of a “doubtful berakha”, and so no blessing is said.


Other Acharonim take a more lenient view, considering this hand washing an appropriate stricture but not an absolute obligation (This seems to me to be the tenor of the Arukh Ha-Shulchan).




A key question for practical halakha is the status of "dip".  If sour cream is considered a kind of milk, then it is necessary to wash before eating vegetables dipped in it just as we do for bread.  Perhaps we can infer its status from the Be'er Heitev s.k. 9, which tells us the status of another popular dip base.


In s.k. 9 and 10, the MB mentions leniencies regarding hand washing for bread less than the halakhic size of an egg or an olive.  Do these leniencies apply to dipped foods as well? I have not seen such a leniency mentioned.




In seif 8 the SA rules that hand washing is not obligatory in a place where it would be dangerous.  Of course, if eating the bread itself is necessary to protect life, then this ruling is superfluous since saving life overrides all prohibitions on foods.  What this means is that it is completely permissible to eat bread in such a place, even though washing hands is impossible.  The decree of tuma is safeguarded in another way - MB s.k. 36.


The source of this ruling is the mishna in Eiruvin (17a) which says that the decree which obligates washing for bread exempts soldiers in a military camp.  Many leniencies apply to a military camp but to no other places of danger, however, the Rishonim understood that this particular exception applies to any place where going after water is a danger.  (Tosafot Eiruvin 21b, Beit Yosef citing Orchot Chaim).


This leniency has an associated stringency; even though the Mishna seems to imply that any military camp is exempt, the understanding of the Tosafot and Orchot Chaim seems to limit it to a camp during time of danger.  Thus, a soldier in an ordinary military camp must wash before eating bread, and can not just wrap his hands and eat.