The prohibition of learning Torah or reciting blessings with unclean hands

This Halacha is an excerpt from our Sefer


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The prohibition of learning Torah or reciting blessings with unclean hands:[1]

Introduction-Impurity versus filth: It was explained above in Halacha 3 a list of actions that cause an impure spirit to reside on the hands. In the Q&A there it was explained that it is permitted to learn Torah and recite blessings prior to washing off the impure spirit from one’s hands. Nevertheless there remains a prohibition to learn Torah and recite blessings with unclean [i.e. dirty] hands. Not all of the actions which bring an impure spirit dirty the hand. Likewise not all actions that dirty the hands bring an impure spirit.[2] The Halachic ramification between impurity and filth is that if an action only causes filth then although he must clean his hands prior to prayer or Torah learning he is not required to do so specifically with water. If it causes an impure spirit, but not filth, then although he must wash his hands with water, he may learn Torah beforehand. If the action causes both impure spirit and filth then he must wash his hands to remove the impure spirit and may not learn Torah until he cleans them. The list of actions that dirty the hand and hence prohibit Torah study and blessings will be discussed in this Halacha.

 

The law:[3]

It is forbidden to learn Torah or recite blessings with dirty hands.

Thinking words of Torah:[4] It is permitted to think words of Torah prior to cleaning one’s hands that were dirtied due to the actions to be mentioned.

 

 

Q&A

May one answer Amen prior to cleaning the hands?[5]

This matter requires further analysis. [One may however quickly wipe his hands on his clothing and then answer Amen.]

 

If one heard thunder or saw lightning may he say the blessing prior to cleaning his hands?[6]

No.

 

What is one to do if he heard Kaddish or Kedusha prior to washing the hands?

He is to quickly wipe his hands on his clothing and then answer.

 

May one pray a personal prayer to Hashem with unclean hands?[7]

Yes. It is permitted to pray a personal prayer so long as one does not mention Hashem’s name.

 


List of actions:

The hands are considered dirty after performing any of the following actions. [This applies even if the hands do not visibly appear dirty.[8]]

  1. Hands that touched the normally covered areas of the body.[9]
  2. Hands that scratched ones head.[10] (However one who merely placed his hands on his head, or even rubbed his head such as to dry his hair, but did not actually scratch between the hairs, is not required to wash.[11])
  3. One who touched ear wax.[12]
  4. One who touched mucus from his nose. [13] [If however the mucus is dry one is not required to clean his hands unless he touched the inside of his nose.[14]]
  5. One who slept naked[15] [or without being fully clothed[16], even during the day.[17]] [This however only applies if one slept a set sleep. If however one slept a temporary sleep then he may learn Torah and recite blessings even prior to cleaning the hands.[18] The same applies if during the day he slept a set sleep but was fully clothed.[19] Nevertheless it is necessary to eventually wash the hands in order to remove the impure spirit as explained in Halacha 4A.]
  6. Learning Torah and reciting blessings after using the bathroom, prior to cleaning the hands:[20] If one used his hands to wipe himself, [or he touched a normally covered area while using the bathroom[21]] he is required to clean his hands prior to learning Torah or reciting blessings. If however he did not dirty his hands or touch any normally covered part of his body, then he is not required to wash [or clean] his hands prior to learning or reciting a blessing. Nevertheless, even in such a case, it is proper to wash ones hands. See Chapter 7 Halacha 14 for the full details of this subject.

One who used a cloth to touch any of the above areas:[22] One who touched any of the above areas with a cloth is not required to clean his hands.

 

Other bodily fluids:[23]

The rule is that all bodily fluids that are viewed as repulsive and dirty require the hands to be cleaned from them upon touching it, prior to learning Torah or reciting Hashem’s name. The following is a general list of fluids and their law:

·         Blood: Plain blood does not need to be cleaned off the hands. However blood of an infected wound requires cleaning. A Rav who looks at a Maarah is required to clean his hands if the cloth was dirty in addition to the blood.

·         Bandage: Touching a dirty bandage requires cleaning of the hands.

·         Puss: Touching the puss of a wound or pimple requires the hands to be cleaned

·         Tears: Touching tears do not require the hands to be cleaned.

·         Mucus of the eyes: Touching mucus of the eye does not require the hands to be cleaned.[24]

·         Saliva: Some[25] rule that touching saliva does not require the hands to be cleaned. Others[26] rule saliva is disgusting and hence requires the hands to be cleaned.

·         Feces: Touching feces requires the hands to be cleaned.

·         Urine: Touching urine requires the hands to be cleaned.

Must one clean his hands if he touched a potty?[27]

If the potty is clean one is not required to clean his hands prior to learning or prayer. If the potty is dirty one needs to clean the hands. This applies by potties of all materials.

 

Must one clean his hands if he touched a diaper or baby wipe?[28]

If the diaper or baby wipe is dirty he is to clean his hands. If it is clean he is not required to clean his hands. However some Poskim[29] rule one is to clean his hands even in such a case.

Must one clean his hands if he touched mud or other filth?[30]

Yes.

If one slept during the day with an undershirt that has a low neck line must he clean his hands prior to learning Torah or reciting blessings?[31]

Yes, as we assume he touched the area of his chest that is normally covered and contains sweat. This is in addition to the requirement to wash hands due to the impure spirit as explained in Halacha 4A.

 

 

How is one to clean his hands?[32]

[Although it is necessary to wash one’s hands with water in order to remove the impurity that resides on the hands after some[33] of the above actions were performed nevertheless,] to be allowed to learn Torah and recite blessings it is not necessary to specifically wash the hands with water. Rather, he may clean them with anything that cleans.[34] This applies even if one has water readily available in front of him, nevertheless he may clean them in other ways.[35] However, prior to prayer one is required to wash his hands specifically with water.[36]

 

What items are valid to be used for cleaning?[37]

·         Rock

·         Earth

·         Beam

·         Wall

·         Cloth[38] [including one’s clothing or a towel]

 

Q&A

How are the hands to be cleaned?[39]

One is to wipe clean both the front and back of the hand up until the wrist. [This applies even if only a small part of the hand became dirty.[40]] It is not necessary to clean the hands three times after touching the above areas.[41]

 

Must one clean/wash both hands if only one hand touched a dirty area?[42]

Some Poskim[43] rule one is only required to clean/wash the hand that touched the dirty area and not the other hand. Other Poskim[44] rule one is required to wash both hands [by actions that bring an evil spirit[45]]. Practically the main opinion follows the lenient opinion although one who is stringent [regarding those actions that bring the evil spirit], is blessed.

Can saliva be used to clean the hands?

Some Poskim[46] rule that saliva is valid for cleaning the hands after touching the above areas. Others[47] however rule that saliva is disgusting and even touching it requires the hands to be cleaned.

_______________________________________________________________________

[1] Based on Kama 1:5; Basra 1:6; 4:1; Siddur

[2] All actions that were not listed above in Halacha 1 and 4 do not cause an impure spirit to reside. Thus if one blew his nose in a tissue and got mucus on his hands the impure spirit does not reside on his hands, even though they are considered dirty. If however he entered his finger in the cavity of his nose then the impure spirit resides, as it is considered a normally covered area. The same applies with all matters to be listed in B, that if they were not listed in Halacha 1 to cause impure spirit then they do not cause it and one is not required to clean his hands specifically with water.

[3] Kama 1:5; 4:3; Basra 1:6; 4:1; Siddur

[4] Basra 1:6; Kama 1:5; Siddur

[5] See Ashel Avraham Butchach 84; Piskeiy Teshuvos 4:32

[6] Seder 13:17

[7] Olas Tamid 4:15; Admur Siddur; Basra 1:6; Kama 1:5 regarding Modeh Ani

[8] Kaf Hachaim 4:103; as perhaps there is dirt on the hands which is not visible. [ibid]

[9] 92:5-7; 164:2 [such as the thigh and leg]; 7:2; Siddur

The reason: As the normally covered areas of the body contain sweat which dirty the hands. [92:7; 164:2]

[10] 92:7; 164:2

[11] 164:2 Parentheses in original.

[12] 92:7; Rama 92:7; Chayeh Adam 22:9; Shaar Hakavanos; Kaf Hachaim [Falagi] 8:30; Machazik Bracha 92:4; Many Poskim mentioned in Kaf Hachaim 4:97

Other Opinions: The Mor Uketzia and Gra are lenient regarding one who touches mucus that he is not required to clean his hands before prayer or learning Torah. [brought in M”B 92:28] Shaareiy Teshuvah 92:2 brings the Machazik Bracha who argues on this opinion. Ashel Avraham Butchach 92; Mahrsham 3:241 are lenient.

[13] 92:7; Rama 92:7; Poskim in previous footnote

Other Opinions: The Mor Uketzia and Gra are lenient regarding one who touches mucus that he is not required to clean his hands before prayer or learning Torah. [brought in M”B 92:28] Shaareiy Teshuvah 92:2 brings the Machazik Bracha who argues on this opinion.

[14] Kaf Hachaim [Falagi 4:30] brought in Kaf Hachaim 4:97

[15] Basra 1:6; 4:1; Kama 4:3; Siddur; As most probably one touched the uncovered parts of the body. [ibid]

[16] M”B 4:60; Peri Megadim 4 A”A 27; Kaf Hachaim 4:109

[17] As at night it is anyways forbidden to learn Torah prior to washing after awakening due to the impure spirit. However upon awakening from sleeping during the day, although one is to wash his hands as explained in chapter 4 Halacha 20, nevertheless he may learn Torah before doing so, as long as he cleans his hands on other matters.

[18] M”B 4:60; Peri Megadim 4 A”A 27; As only when one sleeps a set sleep do we assume that he touched his normally covered areas.

[19] Kama 4:3; Basra 4:7

[20] 7:2; 613:4

[21] 7:2; 92:5-7; 164:2; Seder Birchas Hanehnin 13:17

[22] 92:7; Rama 92:7

[23] Piskeiy Teshuvos 4:29

[24] Oar Letziyon 2:1-11

[25] Ashel Avraham Butchach 4; M”B 97:7; Mahrsham 3:14; Tiferes Adam brought in Toras Yekusiel 1:9

[26] Minchas Elazar 3:54

[27] Kaf Hachaim 4:88; However see Rav Akiva Eiger in next Q&A

[28] Kaf Hachaim 4:67; Piskeiy Teshuvos 4:29

[29] Rav Akiva Eiger 4 in name of Sefer Chassidim 823

[30] Peri Megadim 4 M”Z 14

[31] M”B 4:60

[32] Basra 4:1; 7:1; 92:6; Siddur Seder Netila; M”B 4:61; 227:11

In 613:4 Admur allows washing with water even on Yom Kippur, if one got his hands dirty in the process. This however does not mean to say that using water is an obligation, but rather simply that it is allowed. This also explains why he uses the word “permitted” and not “obligated” regarding this washing. However Tzaruch Iyun from Seder Birchas Hanehnin 13:17 where Admur rules that one who used the bathroom is required to wash his hands prior to saying the blessing over thunder and does not offer the ability to simply clean the hands on another item. The M”B 227:11 writes regarding that Halacha that one can  either wash his hands or clean them in another method, and so writes Piskeiy Teshuvos 227:8. Vetzaruch Iyun.

[33] All matters that were listed above in B that were not listed in Halacha 1 to cause impure spirit, do not cause it and one is hence not required to clean his hands specifically with water. With regards to touching mucus or wax of the ear, Admur does not mention them in the list of matters that require washing. [See Halacha 4P] Nevertheless if one touched the inside of his ear or nose it is considered as if he touched the normally covered areas of the body and hence washing to remove the impure spirit is required. [Piskeiy Teshuvos 4:29]

[34] For this reason, according to all opinions, when washing prior to learning or reciting a blessing one does not say a blessing on the washing. [Basra ibid]

[35] 92:6; Peri Megadim brought in M”B 4:61

[36] Basra 4:1

However even prior to prayer, if there is no water available, one may clean his hands with anything that cleans, as the verse does not specify a cleansing with using water. Nevertheless before prayer it’s a mitzvah:obligation to walk up to a mil’s distance [18-24 minutes] to find water. 

[37] Kama 1:3; 92:5

[38] Chayeh Adam 7:2; Kaf Hachaim 4:100

[39] P”M 4 M”Z 15; Kaf Hachaim 4:103; M”B 4:57

[40] Ketzos Hashulchan 2:11; Eretz Chemda brought in Kaf Hachaim 4:86; M”B 4:57

[41] As even when washing with water one is only required to wash one time after doing the actions listed in Halacha 5A. See Halacha 3 and Q&A.

[42] Kaf Hachaim  4:86

[43] Chayeh Adam 40:18; Admur in Seder Netilas Yadayim 17 regarding one who touched a covered area during a meal that he must only wash that hand [However Tzaruch Iyun if this can be used as a source as perhaps regarding removing the Ruach Raah washing both hands is required.]; Other Poskim listed in Kaf Hachaim ibid

[44] Yifei Laleiv 1:27; Leiv Chaim 2:7; There he concludes that so rules the Shlah Hakadosh and so is the custom of the world.

[45] See Halacha 1. All actions that are not listed there are not known to bring an evil spirit and hence would not require the cleaning of both hands according to any opinion.

[46] Ashel Avraham Butchach [Mahadurah Tinyana] 4; Mahrsham 3:14; Tiferes Adam brought in Toras Yekusiel 1:9;

[47] Minchas Elazar 3:54

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