Simanim 162:5-end and 163 Drying Hands after Washing continued

  • Rav Asher Meir
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Mishna Berura
Yeshivat Har Etzion

SHIUR #98: Simanim 162:5-END, 163


by Rabbi Asher Meir








In se'if 4, the SA discusses ways in which improper hand washing can result in a previously washed hand becoming defiled by the tamei water from the other hand. As we learned last week, if the first pouring is less than a revi'it, then while the hand is purified, the water on it becomes tamei; if the other hand touches this water then it becomes defiled by the water.


The MB (s.k. 49, citing Magen Avraham) points out that the same problem exists if the hand comes into contact with tamei water via the cup handle. If I take the cup in my left hand and pour less than a revi'it on my right hand, then the right HAND is purified but the WATER on the hand is tamei. Then I take the cup in my right hand and pour on my left hand; now the left hand is in the same state. In the meantime, the tamei water from the first washing of the right hand has wet the cup handle.


If I now return the cup to the left hand to wash off the tamei water from the right hand, the right hand becomes completely tahor - but the LEFT hand has become completely defiled by the wet handle! Pouring another less-than-revi'it of water on it by pouring from the right hand will leave the left hand with tamei water on it even though it has been washed twice, and furthermore, transferring the cup to the right hand will defile that hand too. In the end, after the entire elaborate hand washing process, the hands are in the same tamei state in which they began!


Actually, the MB's exact words are "the handle of the cup becomes tamei." This suggests that the problem exists even if the handle is dried off between hands. However, as the Chazon Ish points out, this interpretation is halakhically untenable. Practically all utensils are tamei nowadays; our only concern in washing for bread is for tum'a which arises from the hands via the washing process itself.




The SA indicates that touching the unwashed part of the hand during washing can re-defile the hands, even if the water on the hands is pure. The reason is that the unwashed PART of the hand is still tamei. It follows that this caution applies even AFTER hand washing - for instance, if the hands become wet during the meal.


In order to understand this se'if, we need to review the dispute of the Rishonim regarding how much of the hand needs to be washed. According to the Rif and Rashba, the entire hand up to the wrist needs to be washed.  According to the Rosh, only the fingers require washing.


We might think that "tum'at yadayim" applies, as the name suggests, to the entire hand, and only to the hand. It would follow that according to the Rif, the problem can not arise, because the entire hand requires washing and the arm is not subject to tum'a. But the Rosh does need to worry, because the palm and back of the hand are subject to tum'at yadayim but were never purified.


In fact, the problem does NOT arise according to the Rosh, and CAN arise according to the Rif! The Beur Halakha points out that the Rosh himself understood that just as washing is required only for the fingers, likewise tum'at yadayim only applies there (alternatively, we could say that washing the FINGERS purifies the entire HAND). Indeed, we learned last week that the Rosh is worried about tum'a from the unwashed part of the hand only because of the tamei water that dripped there - not because that part of the hand is itself tamei. Whereas we learned last week that according to the Arukh,  even the forearm is subject to tum'at yadayim.


Practically speaking, the two main approaches le-halakha are those of the Rosh and the Rashba. The Rashba holds that the entire hand needs washing and that only the hand is subject to tum'a, and the Rosh holds that only the fingers need washing and only the fingers are subject to tum'a. We can easily see that this se'if applies to neither of these approaches - neither leaves an unwashed but tamei "remnant" after a kosher washing.


So what is the source of the SA's "mystery shita" which warns against rubbing the hands in the middle of washing? The Beit Yosef says that the source for avoiding rubbing the hands after washing is from the Raavad, as cited by the Kol Bo. According to this approach, only the fingers require washing but the entire hand is subject to tum'a. (We learned last week that this is also how the Rashba understood the ruling of Rav in the gemara - a ruling which the Rashba nevertheless rejects.)


Surprisingly, the Beur Halakha indicates that this se'if is based on the Rashba. We have seen, however, that according to the Rashba the problem doesn't arise! Perhaps the Beur Halakha's intention is as  follows: Our custom to be lenient and permit washing only the fingers is based on two foundations:

1. The Rosh and many other Rishonim rule that only the fingers require washing.

2. While the Rashba REQUIRES washing the entire hand, he could recognize that washing the fingers only is partially  effective, and can  rid at least the fingers themselves of tum'at yadayim.


So we really have TWO opinions to rely on. But if one hand touches the unwashed part of the other hand, then we are on safe ground according to the Rosh, but NOT according to the Rashba - even "bediavad."





The SA here rules that the place of a bandage does not require netilat yadayim. Yet in 161:1 we learned that netilat yadayim is not effective when a bandage is worn, because it interferes with the netila!


The MB there explained that our siman is talking about a bandage which is very painful to remove. The person would never think of removing it, and so the place of the wound is in effect "decommissioned." In fact, the Rosh, who is the source of this ruling, likens the place of the wound to a missing limb!


The fact that the bandage is unlikely to be removed implies a second leniency as well: even if we consider that part of the hand tamei, it is unlikely to come in contact with food.


(The MB on siman 161 seems to understand that both reasons are really the same: since it hurts to remove the bandage, there is no worry that the food will be defiled by contact with the place of the wound, and therefore no washing is necessary there. However, the words of the Rosh likening the wound to a missing limb could support the interpretation that the "decommissioning" of the wound is a separate reason for leniency.)




The Pri Megadim on our siman (MZ 7) writes: "After the many details explained in this chapter and those preceding it, the average person should reflect a bit and consider: [Perhaps] all my life I have never washed my hands properly!"


The Pri Megadim's main concern is that the entire hand should be washed. Even though a small interposition (chatzitza) does not disqualify immersion in a mikveh, if even a tiny part of the body is out of the water altogether the immersion is certainly invalid. Likewise, the Pri Megadim seems to imply that if even the slightest bit of the hand (or according to the lenient view, the fingers) does not come in contact with the water, the washing may be invalid.


Even if a person is scrupulous to use the right amount of the right kind of water in the right kind of cup, and then is careful to avoid anything which would allow tum'a to return to the purified hands, the whole process can be endangered by not washing thoroughly enough.


The Pri Megadim does say that rubbing the hands in the way described by the Rema at the end of se'if 2 can help overcome this difficulty, because the rubbing can be considered as a continuation of the washing. (The MB seems to understand the Rema a little differently.)


This is another good reason to wash the entire hand. Washing only the fingers is likely to result in missing some part of the fingers. Someone who tries to wash the entire hand, however, is likely to cover at least the fingers.




We saw in siman 158:8 that "Someone who is in the desert or a dangerous place, and he doesn't have any water, is exempt from netilat yadayim." In this siman we learn that even if there is NO danger, there is a limit to how much effort we need to invest in finding water for washing.




The SA rules that when we can't (or don't need to) find water, we need to cover the hands. The implication is that this way of avoiding tum'at yadayim is permissible only when there is no water. This subject is discussed in the gemara, Chullin 107b:


Rav Tachlifa bar Avimi said in the name of Shmuel: They permitted [wrapping hands in] a cloth for eaters of teruma, but not for eaters of taharot.


(The continuation of this same gemara is the source for the rule in se'if 2 that washing is always required for the one eating, not for the one serving the food.)


Rashi explains that "eaters of taharot" refers to the custom of "chaverim" who would eat ordinary food in ritual purity, just as Kohanim eat teruma. Even so, Shmuel says, a chaver is still not as scrupulous as a Kohen, and we are afraid that he will end up touching the food despite the cloth.


The Beit Yosef understands that Rashi means to limit the prohibition specifically to chaverim. But for eating ordinary bread, wrapping the hands is permissible. The requirement of netilat yadayim is because of "serakh teruma," the resemblance to teruma, and so it shouldn't be more stringent than the rule for ACTUAL teruma.


This is certainly the understanding of the Rambam, who rules explicitly that any person may eat bread by wrapping his hands instead of washing them. (Berakhot 6:18, Shaar Avot HaTum'a 8:9. The Rambam uses the word "loat" to mean "wrap." This is why the MB uses this unusual term.) It would seem to follow that the Rambam does NOT require one to walk a mile, or any distance at all, for washing water! How would the Rambam understand the gemara which DOES impose this requirement (Chullin 122b)? One possibility is that there is a COMPLETE exemption if the water is distant - even covering the hands is unnecessary. However, since the Rambam doesn't mention the mile/four mile shiur at all (at least the Ein Mishpat says he doesn't), it seems he understood that the halakhic conclusion is against the gemara's ruling.


However, the Beit Yosef says that most Rishonim, including the Raavad, the Rosh and Rabbeinu Yonah, forbid using a cloth instead of washing. The Rosh reasons that if we are afraid that even a chaver eating taharot may be careless and touch the food with his fingers, certainly we need to be stringent with an ordinary Jew eating ordinary bread. This explains the ruling of the SA, that covering the hands is only permissible when there is no water around.


We now know that wrapping the hands is not permissible when there IS water - is it necessary when there ISN'T water? Maybe the rule that exempts us from netilat yadayim when there is no water exempts us from the entire decree of "serakh teruma"! The Arukh rules that although we needn't go a long distance for water, we need at any rate to wrap our hands, and this is the ruling of the SA.




The Pri Megadim suggests that it is better to wrap the hands than to wash with water which is usually considered unfit; we could extend this idea and say that in any case where we are compelled to rely on a minority opinion we should also wrap our hands. We already saw this in the MB (159:21 and elsewhere).