Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Question: Does one wash one’s hands in the bathroom with soap and water, or is it required to pour [fresh] water from a vessel with handles three times on each hand alternatingly? I have heard it said that a vessel is used only in the morning.

A Reader
New York, NY



Synopsis: Last week we explained the basic principle of washing the hands in the morning with water poured three times on each hand, alternatingly (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayyim 4:1-2), and cited several sources for this established practice. We cited the Rishon Letziyyon, Rabbi Yitzchak Yosef that one who sleeps with gloves should also say the blessings [Birkot Hashachar], even where there is no seeming need for actual washing the hands. We noted Rabbi Nissim Katzuri’s difficulty with this reasoning. We also noted Ma’she Rav that perhaps a fourth round of washing the hands be required, which the Mishna Berura seems to dismiss.

* * *

Answer: Sha’arei Teshuva states that there are different reasons for washing the hands in the cases listed by the Mechaber, since some are due to the evil spirit resting on the hands (after sleeping), while others are mandated for the sake of cleanliness. Only upon arising from sleep is there a requirement to wash three times with water.

But both the Sha’arei Teshuva and the Mishna Berurah cite sources that also advocate strictness in the case of exiting from a bathroom, namely, washing the hands by pouring water on them three times. (The Mishna Berurah attributes this opinion to Heichal Hakodesh.)

So, although from a strict halachic point of view the requirement to wash the hands by pouring water from a vessel is limited (according to most opinions) to the morning, there is much confusion in this area of practice, particularly when it comes to a child’s education. Lasting impressions are formed in a child at a very young age, and that is why girsa de’yankuta, the knowledge acquired in childhood, is so important.

In his responsa Mishneh Halachot (vol. 7:1), Rabbi Menashe Klein answers the question: At what age are small children required to perform netilat yadayim? He quotes the Pri Megadim (Orach Chayyim 4:7), who is astonished by the fact that many parents are lax in this regard. Therefore he suggests that as soon as it is practical – even when a child is one year old – parents should wash their children’s hands (by pouring water) since it is not so much a question whether they are of an age to be halachically required to do so, but rather a matter of avoiding danger. (Regarding the mitzvah of sukkah, The Pri Megadim states in his general introduction, Peticha Kollelet 2:1, that for the purpose of chinuch a child may even be younger than age five.) The Chida points out that we wash the hands of very small children so that they will not [ritually] contaminate whatever they touch.

Rabbi Klein does not cite the Mishna Berurah (op. cit. 4:2), who remarks that it is important that small children wash their hands in the morning because they touch the food (that their mothers prepare), and concludes that if a non-Jew touches food (as in a restaurant, etc.) without washing his hands [ritually], it is of no concern since they are not defiled by the nocturnal evil spirit.

Rabbi Klein also quotes Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, who states in his Minchat Shlomo (4:2) that the spirit of uncleanliness seeks to rest on a vessel of sanctity, namely, the body whose soul has temporarily risen to heaven while a person is asleep, and leaves once the soul returns. Since it is accepted that the divine soul establishes itself in the human being at the age of responsibility for the fulfillment of mitzvot, i.e., twelve plus one day for a girl and thirteen and a day for a boy, people have been lenient about allowing small children to touch food even without [ritually] washing their hands. Thus, accustoming children to wash their hands is clearly advised for educational purposes.

Finally he quotes the Lechem Mishneh’s commentary on Rambam (Hilchot Shevitat Asor 3:2), who states that according to Rambam we do not worry about evil spirits since they are not found among us today.

Rabbi Klein concludes that we teach young children to wash their hands as soon as they are able to comprehend the meaning of the mitzvah.

It is written in Mishlei (22:6), “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it.” In order to endure, a structure needs a solid foundation.

Share this article on WhatsApp:

Previous articleReport: Gantz Gifted the PA Half a Billion Shekels to Cover Shahids’ Salaries
Next articleThe Unbeaten Path
Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.