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Weekly questions: Laws regarding bread


Am I permitted to speak during netilas yadayim or between netilas yadayim and hamotzi?

While a person washes one’s hands it is forbidden to speak until one makes the blessing al netilas yadayim (Drashos HaTzlach, 4:22). The bracha applies to the mitzvah of washing and there should be no interruption between the mitzvah and the bracha.

If a person did speak before making the blessing he should again wash netilas yadayim. One should first rub his scalp or touch his shoe so that a blessing on the new netila will be justified (Piskei Teshuvos, 158:122).

After netilas yadayim it is preferable not to talk until hamotzi is recited (Shulchan Aruch 166:1). Bidieved, if one did speak he is not required to wash netilas yadayim again provided that he did not have hesech hadaas, any distraction from maintaining the cleanliness of his hands (Mishnah Berura 166:6).

What’s the proper procedure for netilas yadayim before eating bread?

One should pour at least one revi’is (about four ounces), all at once, on the right hand, allowing water to flow over one’s entire hand, both the front and back and between the fingers (this can be done by simply rotating one’s hand). When water is plentiful the Mishnah Berurah writes that one should ideally pour a second time on the right hand (162:21). The cup should then be transferred to one’s right hand and this procedure should then be repeated for the left hand.

One should then rub one’s hands together, a process called shifshuf (Shulchan Aruch, 162:2), a practice Rav Belsky, zt”l felt is too often overlooked (Shulchan Halevi, chapter 3:1b)

One should then make the blessing al netilas yadayim and then dry them (Mishnah Berurah, 158:42).

Why do we wash netilas yadayim before we eat bread?

The requirement to wash one’s hands is rabbinical. Kohanim were required to wash their hands to purify them before eating or handling terumah (produce separated for the Kohanim). To ensure that Kohanim not overlook this practice, Chazal required them, as well as all of klal Yisroel, to wash their hands before eating “regular”, or chulin, bread. (Chulin, 106a) Although terumah is not eaten at this time, Chazal maintained this requirement, even in the diaspora, so that this halacha will remain familiar to us when the Bais Hamikdash is rebuilt (Aruch Hashulchan, 158: 2, 3).

Another basis for netilas yadayim is that we are enjoined to lead our lives with sanctity: “You should sanctify yourselves and be holy” (Vayikra, 20:7). The Gemara (Berachos, 53b) understands “you should sanctify yourselves” as referring to washing one’s hands before eating bread.

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