Are women to perform Mayim Achronim?

Are women to perform Mayim Achronim? 

Letter of law: The Sages instituted the washing of hands at the end of a meal of bread in order so one recites Birchas Hamazon in purity and cleanses his hands from the leftover food.[1] There is no difference mentioned in Halacha between men and women regarding this obligation, and just as men are obligated to perform Mayim Achronim, so too women.[2]

Custom: Nevertheless, the widespread custom today amongst women is to no longer be particular in performing Mayim Achronim.[3] Some Poskim[4] justify this custom.[5] Other Poskim[6], however, negate the custom and rule woman are to be careful in this matter just like men. [Practically, each family and community are to follow their custom, and each have upon whom to rely. Regarding the Chabad custom, while there is no known written testimony from the Rabbeim on this matter, the widespread custom amongst women of Anash is not to wash Mayim Achronim.[7]]

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[1] The Mitzvah of Mayim Achronim is a Mitzvah of holiness, to sanctify oneself to bless Hashem over the food he ate. The reason this sanctity is needed is because prior to the washing the hands are dirty with the filth of the foods that were eaten, and they are hence invalid for saying the blessing. [Admur 181:1; Rabbeinu Yona 40a; Maadanei Yom Tov on Rosh ibid Taf; Brachos 53b] In additional reason behind the obligation of washing hands is due to the Sodomite salt that rests on the hands after a meal, and the sodomite salt can blind a person if it touches his eyes. The Sages thus obligated that one wash his hands after a meal. [Admur ibid; Rabbeinu Yona ibid; Chulin 105:1;]

[2] Toras Chaim Sofer 181:1; Salmei Chaim [Rav Chaim Zonenfeld] 119 “Without doubt [women are obligated]”; Rav SZ”A, brought in Vezos Habracha 14 and Halichos Bas Yisrael 3; Halichos Olam 2 Parshas Shelach; Halacha Berura 181; Sheivet Haleivi 4:23 that from the letter of the law there is no difference; See Mor Uketzia 181; Aruch Hashulchan 181:5 “One is to warn all his household to perform Mayim Achronim”; See Rashi Yuma 83b that a certain man’s wife was killed as a result of her not doing Mayim Achronim

The reason: There is also no logic to differentiate between the genders, as the reasons behind the institution of Mayim Achronim apply equally to men and women, so they have clean and pure hands upon reciting Birchas Hamazon. [Salmas Chaim ibid]

[3] So testifies: Mor Uketzia ibid that our women are not particular to do so as they eat with a fork and do not touch food during the meal; Hagahos Tahras Hashulchan 181 questions why women do not do so

[4] Mor Uketzia ibid; Shevet Halevi 4:23; Piskeiy Teshuvos 181:1

[5] The reason: The reason for this is because we find that even by men, many are no longer accustomed to performing Mayim Achronim, as one of its main reasons of performance is to cleanse the hands of the Sodomite salt, and this salt is no longer common today. Likewise, we are no longer particular to wash hands after touching foods, and hence the hands are no longer considered dirty. [Admur 181:9; M”A 181:8; Michaber 181:10; Darkei Moshe 181 that so is Minhag Ashkenaz; Tosafus Brachos 53b, Chulin 105a; Rosh Brachos 8; Mordechai Remez 207] Accordingly, although the widespread custom amongst men is to be stringent despite the above justifications, most women never accepted this stringency upon themselves and hence are not accustomed to perform Mayim Achronim. [Sheivet Halevi ibid] Alternatively, the reason is because women eat with forks and do not get their hands dirty during the meal. [Mur Uketzia ibid] Alternatively, women are constantly in the kitchen during the meal, and end up washing hands regardless. [Heard from Rav Groner]

[6] All Poskim in previous footnotes regarding the letter of the law

[7] Related to me by Rabbi Leibal Groner that they are not accustomed to wash, and there is no need to do so.

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