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A Hot Air Blower
“Whoever Eats Bread Without Wiping His Hands…”
(Sotah 4b)



The Gemara tells us that if a person ritually washes for bread but does not dry his hands, it is considered like eating impure bread. Two reasons are offered. Rashi explains that his wet hands will make the bread soggy and unappetizing. The Gemara cites a verse (Yechezkel 4:12-13) that compares such to bread baked on coals made from human excrement. From here we see that unappetizing food is considered “impure.”


Impure Water

The Beis Yosef (O.C. 158; see also Mishna Berura s.k. 46) offers a different explanation, based on the halacha that the water used for washing hands becomes impure unless a revi’is of water is poured over the hands at once. If less than this amount is used, the water remaining on the hands is impure and renders the food it touches impure as well. Therefore, one must dry his hands before touching bread.

The practical difference between these explanations is evident when a person washes with a revi’is. According to Rashi, since the bread still becomes unappetizing, it is still considered impure. According to the Beis Yosef, since the water on the hands is pure, the bread is also pure.


Immersion In A Mikvah

The Beis Yosef cites a proof for his explanation from the Tosefta (Yadayim 2:1, cited in the Mordechai: Berachos 202) that directs if a person immerses his hands in a mikvah rather than washing them, he need not dry them before he eats. We see from here that if the water is not impure, one need not dry his hands. In the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayyim158:13), the Beis Yosef rules according to his own explanation that when washing with a full revi’is, or immersing hands in a mikvah, one need not dry them before eating.

The Maharshal (cited by Mishna Berura) contends that even when washing with a full revi’is, one must dry his hands, although the water on them does not become impure. This follows Rashi’s explanation of the sugya that wet hands make the bread unappealing, regardless of whether or not the water is impure.

The Maharshal explains that there is no proof against this from the Tosefta, which rules that one need not dry his hands after immersing them in a mikvah. Immersion is a form of purity recognized even by Torah law, when one immerses his entire body, his entire body is now in a state of purity. In such a case, one certainly need not dry himself. Our Sages did not make their Rabbinic enactment of immersing hands any more severe than the Torah rule upon which it is based. Washing hands, however, is purely Rabbinic, but the requirement to dry them afterward was to prevent the bread from becoming unappetizing.


Drying By Themselves

The Levush notes another difference between the reasons presented by Rashi and the Beis Yosef: waiting until one’s hands dry by themselves. According to Rashi, this is permitted since dry hands will not make the bread unappealing. However, Levush explains, according to the Beis Yosef, this is forbidden, since one must remove the impure water before touching bread. “Wiping them dry purifies them more thoroughly.”

The Shulchan Aruch HaRav (158:17) and Kaf HaChaim (s.k. 87) both cite the Levush, and rule that l’chatchila – a priori – one must wipe his hands dry rather than wait until they dry by themselves. The Chazon Ish (25:10) argues against the Levush and concludes that according to both Rashi and the Beis Yosef, it is sufficient to wait until one’s hands have dried by themselves. The Chazon Ish maintains that since at present no impure water is on his hands, there is no difference if the hands dried by themselves or were wiped dry with a towel.


Washing with a Revi’is

The Mishna Berura (158 s.k. 37) rules that although technically speaking, hands may be washed with less than a revi’is of water, doing so involves many complicated halachic details. Therefore, it is best to always use a revi’is or more of water. In such case, one may certainly wait until his hands dry by themselves. According to the Beis Yosef, one need not dry them at all, since the water is not impure. According to Rashi, it is always sufficient to wait until they dry [even according to the Levush]. Therefore, the poskim rule that when washing with more than a revi’is, one may use an electric hot air blower to dry his hands after washing netilas yadayim (B’Tzeil HaChochmah 4:141).


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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.