Netilas Yadayim-The law and its reason

Introduction:
In the previous chapter the restrictions that apply prior to washing hands were discussed. This chapter will deal with the detailed laws of the washing; How the washing is to be done; The reason behind the washing; When a blessing is recited; Which waters may be used for the washing etc.

Negel Vasser: [1]

The term Negel Vasser is the Yiddish reference to the morning washing. The reason it is called Negel Vasser [nail water] is because according to Kabala the impure spirit resides on the nails and from there spreads to the rest of the fingers.

1. The law:[2]
The Sages instituted that one is required to wash his hands with water every morning, and upon doing so is to say a blessing of Al Netilas Yadayim. [This applies whether or not he went to the bathroom before washing, and applies even if he does not desire to pray for many hours to come.[3]]


2. What is the reason behind washing hands in the morning with a blessing?[4]
Introduction: In the previous chapter it was explained that upon sleeping at night a spirit of impurity resides on one’s body and does not leave the hands until he washes them properly. This explains why we wash hands in the morning. It however does not explain why a blessing is recited. Halacha states[5] that whenever one does something to remove danger [such as the morning washing] a blessing is not recited. Thus it cannot be simply due to this reason alone that we wash hands with a blessing. There must be a separate reason for why the Sages commanded us to wash the hands and hence say a blessing. This reason is disputed amongst Rishonim and Poskim. In the Basra, Admur records a dispute on this matter while in the Kama and Siddur only the second reason brought below is recorded. The following are the two reasons brought in Basra.

First opinion in Admur-Opinion of Rosh and Rambam:[6]
Must wash before every prayer with a blessing: Some[7] explain the reason behind the institution of washing hands in the morning is in order to have pure hands for the Shema and morning prayers.[8] Likewise according to this opinion if one’s hands are not clean he is requires to wash his hands with a blessing even before Mincha and Maariv, just like is required before Shacharis.[9]


Second Opinion in Admur-Rashba:[10]
Sanctify like Kohen and remove impurity: [Others[11] explain] that the Sages instituted to wash hands with water only in the morning [and not as a general law that applies prior to all prayers].[12] Their reason is due to the reason written explicitly in the Zohar, and mentioned in the Talmud, that when a person sleeps impurity resides on him as a result of the ascent of his G-dly soul upon sleeping. Thus in order to remove this impurity that resides on the hands and become sanctified with G-d’s sanctity, [the Sages instituted that] we pour pure water from a vessel [on to our hands], just like a Kohen which sanctifies his hands from the Kiyur. It is for this reason that they instituted to recite the blessing “That He has sanctified us…”.

Final Ruling:[13]
Practically the custom of all Jewry today is not to recite a blessing when washing prior to Mincha or Maariv, and only prior to Shacharis is it recited, hence accepting the reasoning offered by the second opinion. Nevertheless one should be stringent[14] also like the first opinion and wash his hands with water prior to all prayers, and travel for water for up to a “mils” distance. However one does not say a blessing over this washing, as in case of doubt a blessing is not said.

Q&A

If one prayed Shacharis prior to saying the blessing over washing, is he to wash and say the blessing after Davening?
If one did not recite a blessing over washing prior to Shacharis, and he has already Davened, then some Poskim[15] rule he may no longer wash with a blessing.[16] Others[17] rule one is still able to wash with a blessing.[18] Some[19] rule one is to wait until Mincha and then wash with a blessing.

If in middle of Shacharis one remembered that he did not say the blessing of Netilas Yadayim, what is he to do?[20]
Some write one may wash and say a blessing even in middle of Birchas Kerias Shema.

Are women to wash with a blessing even if they will not be Davening Shacharis?[21]
Yes.[22]

3. Does one wash his hands with a blessing after awakening if he slept with his clothing?[23]
One must always wash hands with a blessing upon awakening even if he slept with his clothing.[24]

Q&A

Must one wash his hands with a blessing if he slept with gloves?
Some Poskim[25] rule one is to wash without a blessing.[26] [According to Admur[27] it seems one is required to wash with a blessing even in such a case. At the very best one should use the bathroom or touch a covered area and then wash with a blessing.[28]] 

To Purchase this Sefer click here.



[1] Mishnas Yosef 5/6; Piskeiy Teshuvos 4 footnote 89; See Sefer Hamamarim 5678 p. 302-303

[2] Basra 4/1; Kama 4/1: “Every person which gets out of bed in the morning is required to wash his hands with a Revius of water.”

[3] Kama ibid

[4] Basra 4/1. Regarding Kama and Siddur, see notes below; See Peri Megadim 4 A”A 1; Kaf Hachaim 4/6 for the practical ramifications between the two reasons, in regards to whether the laws of the washing follow the same laws as washing for bread.

[5] Admur 181/2; Rambam Brachos 11/4; M”A 4/13; Peri Megadim 4 A”A 13; Elya Raba 4/8

[6] Basra 4/2 as first opinion; not mentioned in Kama 4/1 or Siddur as reason for the blessing.

Ruling of Kama regarding if this is a reason behind the washing: In Kama 4/1 Admur does not mention this opinion as a reason behind the morning washing with a blessing. He further emphasizes the negation of this opinion in 7/1 where Admur states that one cannot make a blessing prior to washing for prayer, even in a case that one’s hands are dirty from bathroom, as although one is obligated to wash with water if there is water available, nevertheless the obligation to wash with a blessing was only instituted for the morning when washing due to being a new creation. Thus he does not even take into account this opinion. Nevertheless in Kama 4/3 Admur rules that if one has no water available in the morning nevertheless a blessing is required when cleaning the hands on other items that clean if one plans to pray immediately after the cleansing. [This is not agreed to by the Siddur as will be explained in Halacha 15] Seemingly the explanation is as follows: According to Kama after awakening in the morning, a blessing is always made on washing or cleaning the hands in preparation for the daily prayers, due to the reason mentioned in 4/1 to sanctify himself like a Kohen. However before a particular prayer such as Mincha and Maariv, or even before Shacharis if one already washed with a blessing, a blessing may not be said upon the washing. This idea that the morning washing with a blessing is a preparation for all the prayers of that day is further emphasized in 6/2: “The main reason for washing in the morning is in order to sanctify oneself for service of G-d like a Kohen, and since the main service of G-d is to praise Him and to pray before him, therefore one may [delay to] say the blessing over washing hands [until directly] prior to prayer, as if not for the prayer there would be no need to wash hands.”  

Ruling of Kama regarding if one must wash before every prayer: Although Admur does not mention this opinion as a reason behind the morning washing, nevertheless Admur clearly rules that one is required to wash hands without a blessing prior to prayer. [Kama 4/3; 7/1; 92/4-5. No dispute is recorded in Kama ibid regarding if one needs to wash un-cleaned hands before prayer. Rather it is brought as an all accepted obligation.

[7] Rosh Brachos 9/23; Rambam Tefilah 4/1

[8] As since our hands are accustomed, when sleeping [even with clothing], to touch areas of our body which are [normally] covered [they are thus unclean and need to be cleaned before prayer. As one needs clean hands in order to recite Kerias Shema and the Amidah.] This cleansing is supported by the verse in psalms “I will clean my hands and then circle the altar to praise G-d”. Now, although according to this opinion when there is no water available one is able to clean his hands with any item that cleans [and is to then say a blessing-see Kama 4/3] being that the verse was only particular that one use water in order to have clean hands, nevertheless the Sages instituted a Mitzvah to travel for water for up to a Mil’s distance in order to clean ones hands specifically with water. Furthermore even a traveler was required to travel back up to a Mil’s distance in order to wash with water. Now since this washing [according to this opinion] is a Mitzvah therefore one says a blessing on the washing just like one says a blessing over all Rabbinical commands. [Basra ibid]

According to this opinion is one required to wash his hands before Shacharis if he slept with his clothing? Yes. [Kama 4/3 says that even if one slept with clothing one needs to wash hands with a blessing prior to prayer being it is possible he touched the uncovered areas. So is also implied from Basra 1/7 and Siddur Hilchos Netilah Shacharis which states “If one slept with his clothing since it’s possible that he did not touch the covered areas, [then according to the Talmud], he may say blessings and learn Torah prior to washing”, and does not mention that one is allowed to pray. Furthermore this opinion rules that washing is required before Mincha and Maariv, even if one did not sleep in-between, being that one’s hands were not guarded. Thus certainly if one slept, even with clothing, he is required to wash hands with a blessing even according to this opinion. [See however Admur 92/5 where a dispute is brought regarding if one must wash hands with water in a case that he does not know of any impurity of the hand, however seemingly one must say that the above is regarding Mincha and Maariv while the morning washing everyone agrees one must wash hands even if he does not know of the impurity and hence a blessing is recited [according to Kama], as clearly ruled in Kama 4/3.]

[9] Hence one must travel up to a Mil’s distance in order to wash before Mincha and Maariv. [ibid]

[10] Basra 4/1; Siddur [see analysis]; According to Kama 4/1 however the reason for washing with a blessing has nothing to do with impurity and is simply to sanctify oneself like a Kohen prior to prayer being every day we are a new creation and receive a “new” soul to serve Hashem and thus just like a Kohen would wash every day so too we also wash every day. [see analysis]

Analysis of ruling of Admur in Kama regarding the reason for washing with a blessing: In Kama 4/1 Admur writes: “Every person which gets out of bed in the morning is required to wash his hands with water even if he does not plan on praying until many hours later as every person upon receiving back his soul from G-d is considered like he was recreated anew, as the verse states “Chadashim Libikarim”. When one sleeps he returns his weary soul to G-d and G-d returns to him a re-energized and calm soul in order to serve Him with all his ability and service him throughout the entire day, as this is the entire purpose of man. Therefore we need to sanctify ourselves with His sanctity and wash our hands from a vessel, in order to perform his service, just like a Kohen which would sanctify his hands from the Kiyur every day prior to his service.” In Kama 6/2 Admur writes: “The main reason for washing in the morning is in order to sanctify oneself for service of G-d like a Kohen, and since the main service of G-d is to praise Him and to pray before him, therefore one may [delay to] say the blessing over washing hands [until directly] prior to prayer, as if not for the prayer there would be no need to wash hands.” It is evident from these Halachos that according to the Kama the reason for washing hands in the morning with a blessing has nothing to do with the idea mentioned in the Talmud and Zohar that we have impure hands upon awakening as Admur here makes no mention of impurity. The concept of impurity in the Kama is mentioned as an individual Halacha in 4/4 which carries its own set of washing laws in addition to the original requirement to wash due to being like a Kohen.

Analysis of ruling of Admur in Siddur: In the Siddur Admur writes as follows: “Even if one only has enough water to wash each hand one time a blessing is required as the reason behind the blessing said over the morning washing is not only to remove the impurity from one’s hands but also due to that one is required to sanctify himself with the sanctity of Hashem and remove the impurity from his hands through pouring pure water from a vessel just like a Kohen that sanctifies his hands from the Kiyur. This is why we say “Asher Kidishanu…”. Now, being that this is the reason for the blessing, the blessing can be said even after only washing the hands one time, just like a Kohen is only required to wash his hands once.” It is clear from the Siddur that although he uses the same reasoning as the second reason mentioned in Basra 4/1 [that the washing is done to remove impurity and sanctify oneself like a Kohen] nevertheless in the Siddur he novelizes that one is not required to completely remove the impurity [through washing three times] to be able to say the blessing and even a partial removal of impurity suffices. Admur in the Siddur also emphasizes in a later Halacha that the institution of the Sages is due to that when one awakens he is considered created anew. [As mentioned in Kama ibid]

Summary of differences between the Basra, Kama, and Siddur: Basra 4/1 learn that the reason for the blessing is because one is required to remove impurity from his hands and sanctify himself like a Kohen. There is no mention made of the fact that we awaken with a new soul every morning. However Kama 4/1 learns the reason for the blessing is due to receiving a new soul which needs to be sanctified like a Kohen and it has nothing to do with the impurity on the hands. Siddur mentions both the concept of removing impurity and being created anew. In the Siddur Admur learns one is not required to completely remove the impurity and even a single washing suffices

Summary of all the opinions mentioned behind washing with a blessing: Between the Kama, Basra and Siddur there are three reasons brought down for washing with a blessing:

  1. On may not pray with unclean hands [1st opinion in Basra 4/1]
  2. One needs to remove the impurity from his hands in order to sanctify himself like a Kohen. [second opinion in Basra 4/1] Siddur adds that this applies even when removing only part of the impurity.
  3. One reawakens every morning with a new soul, and thus needs to sanctify himself for the new service just like a Kohen. [Kama 4/1; mentioned also in Siddur] This new service that requires the washing refers to the service of prayer. [Kama 6/2]

[11] Rashba 1/190

[12] According to this opinion there is no need to clean one’s hands with water prior to prayer as only in the morning is there impurity which one needs to remove through washing. Thus unclean hands prior to prayer may be cleaned with any material and not specifically water. [So is clearly evident from Basra 4/1; However the Kama 4/3; 7/1; 92/4-5, and Siddur do not record a dispute regarding if one needs to wash un-cleaned hands before prayer. Rather it is brought as an all accepted obligation.]

[13] Basra 4/1; Kama 4/1 and Siddur only mention the second reason

[14] Lit. “Choshesh”. [Basra ibid; However Kama (4/3; 7/1; 92/4-5) and Siddur do not record a dispute regarding if one needs to wash un-cleaned hands before prayer. Rather it is brought as an all accepted obligation and hence it not a mere stringency to wash before prayer as learns Basra.]

[15] Ketzos Hashulchan 2/4 footnote 16; Chayeh Adam 7/5;  M”B 4/1; Kitzur SH”A 7/6; See Piskeiy Teshuvos 4/3

[16] As the entire reason behind washing hands with a blessing was in order to sanctify oneself and serve Hashem with prayer, hence if one has already prayed there is no longer a command to wash with a blessing. This applies according to the Rosh which rules the entire purpose of the washing is as a preparation to have clean hands before prayer. Furthermore, possibly even according to the Rashba, the blessing was only instituted to be said prior to the first prayer of the day, which is Shacharis. A proof for this can be brought from the Siddur of Admur which rules that in a time of need that one does not have a vessel available one may dip his hands in rain water and say a blessing before Davening. From the fact he does not say to dip the hands in the water without a blessing before Davening and then after Davening to wash with a blessing if a vessel becomes available proves that he learns one may not say the blessing after Davening. [Ketzos Hashulchan ibid]

[17] Avodas Hayom [brought in Tosefes Chaim on Chayeh Adam ibid];  Rebbe in Shulchan Menachem 1/6 [Shaareiy Halacha Uminhag 5/2]; Biur Halacha 4 rules that after Davening one should use the bathroom and hence once again becomes liable to say a blessing according to the Rosh.

[18] The Rebbe in  Shulchan Menachem ibid asks on the ruling of the stringent opinion based on the fact that one still needs to Daven Mincha and hence due to Mincha he should  be obligated to wash with a blessing [even according to the Rashba] in order to remove the impurity, sanctify himself as a new creation and prepare for prayer. This can also be inferred from Admur 51/1 which does not include the blessing over washing as one of the blessings that cannot be said after Davening. Nevertheless the Rebbe concludes there in the letter that he does not want to explicitly rule this way being that he has not found other Poskim which agree with his ruling. [However as mentioned in previous footnote it has been revealed that there are Poskim which rule this way as well.]

[19] Birchas Habayis 32/10; Afikei Maginim 4/2; Chayeh Adam ibid leaves this matter in question

[20] Piskeiy Teshuvos 3 footnote 53

[21] Bach 4; and so is implicit from all Poskim that did not differentiate in this regard. See Ishei Yisrael 2 footnote 93; However see Michzei Eliyahu 1/11; Birur Halacha 4; Meorer Yisheinim 23; Piskeiy Teshuvos 4 footnote 7 that rule a blessing is not to be said if one will not Daven.

[22] As they too will at least recite some prayer throughout the day, such as Birchas Hashachar and the like and hence fulfill the Biblical command of prayer. Furthermore, as rules the Bach, the Sages did not differentiate and state that one who will not be Davening [such as women, children and the ill] do not have to say the blessing, as they made a Lo Plug. This especially applies according to our custom to always recite the blessing of Al Netilas Yadayim even if one did not sleep at night and there is no evil spirit, as will be explained in Halacha 16. Those Poskim of today that rule a blessing is not to be said is because they hold Safek Brachos Lihakel as perhaps the main reason for the blessing is as rules the Rosh. However according to Admur which rules like the Rashba there is obviously no room to say that women do not have to say a blessing.

[23] Based on Basra 4/1; Kama 4/3

[24] The reason for this is because the reason behind the washing is to remove the impurity and the impurity resides upon sleeping even if one slept with clothing. [Basra 4/7; Siddur] Furthermore even according to the Rosh [first reason brought above in Halacha 2] one is required to wash with a blessing before Shacharis even if he slept with clothing as it is possible that he touched the commonly covered areas during sleep.[see footnotes on Halacha 2 first opinion]

[25] Biur Halacha 4 “Im Haya Niur” in name of Peri Megadim and Artzos Hachaim. To note however that Peri Megadim 4 A”A 1 does not give a final ruling in this matter.

[26] As in such a case according to the Rosh one is not required to wash before prayer, as his hands certainly did not touch his normally covered areas during sleep. However according to the Rashba one is required to wash with a blessing as the evil spirit resides on one’s hands irrelevant of whether he is wearing gloves or not while sleeping. [Peri Megadim 4 A”A 1; Nemukei Orach Chaim 4/1] Practically one is to wash without a blessing as Safek Brachos Lihakel. [Biur Halacha ibid]

[27] Basra 4/1 which rules like the Rashba; Siddur which does not mention the ruling of the Rosh, however see next footnote; See Ketzos Hashulchan 2 footnote 16

[28] As rules Admur in Siddur regarding one who slept a temporary sleep of 60 breaths, that he should touch his covered areas, as by doing so he becomes obligated to wash even according to the Rosh, and hence avoids the dispute.

Was this article helpful?

Related Articles

Leave A Comment?