Laws of washing hands

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Washing one’s hands after using the bathroom [1]

The laws of washing hands after bathroom use in order to remove the impure spirit were already discussed in length in chapter 5 [Shulchan Aruch 4/18]. The Halacha here discusses a separate issue of whether it is permitted to learn Torah, pray or recite blessings, such as Asher Yatzar, prior to washing the hands after bathroom use. The practical ramification is regarding when water is not available to remove the impure spirit may one do the above actions despite not having washed his hands? Alternatively, is it permitted to learn or say a blessing until he washes? It was explained there, that the impure spirit which resides on the hands after using the bathroom does not prevent Torah learning and it is only if one’s hands became dirty that it is prohibited. The full details of this law and what consists of dirtying the hands is explained here.

 

A. When is washing required?[2]

[One is always required to wash his hands after using the bathroom in order to remove the impure spirit.[3] This washing however does not necessarily prevent one from being allowed to learn or Daven.] If one did not dirty his hands with feces or urine and did not touch his Erva [or other normally covered area[4]] in the process then it is permitted for him to [learn or] even Daven[5] without washing [or cleaning] his hands beforehand. Nevertheless it is proper for one to wash his hands prior to learning or mentioning Hashem’s name [and certainly before Davening[6]], as the verse states “Israel Prepare yourself to greet your G-d”.[7] Thus although if one did not dirty his hands it is permitted to recite Asher Yatzar without washing his hands beforehand, nevertheless one is to always wash his hands in order to say the blessing of Asher Yatzar with clean and pure hands.[8] [This is in addition to the fact that he should wash his hands in order to remove the spirit of impurity.[9]]

If one dirtied his hands: If one dirtied his hands in the process, such as he wiped off drops of urine or used his hands to clean himself after a bowel movement, then he is obligated to clean his hands prior to reciting Asher Yatzar [or learning and Davening]. Likewise if one touched his Erva, or other normally covered part of his body, he is obligated to clean his hands prior to doing the above.[10] Nevertheless it is not necessary to specifically wash the hands with water in order to be allowed to learn or say a blessing.[11] However prior to prayer one is required to wash his hands specifically with water. See Chapter 5 Halacha 5C where this law was explained in length.

 

Summary:

One is always required to wash his hands after using the bathroom in order to remove the impure spirit. If he dirtied his hands in the bathroom, or touched normally covered parts of his body, it is forbidden to learn Torah or recite a blessing until he cleans his hands. In all cases it is proper to wash the hands prior to learning or saying a Bracha in order to exemplify the verse of “Prepare yourself to greet your G-d”.

 

Q&A

May one begin the blessing of Asher Yatzar prior to drying his hands?[12]

Yes. However some[13] are accustomed to delay the blessing until the hands are dry.

 

If one used the bathroom and there is no water available what is he to do?[14]

If one dirtied his hands in the process, or touched his normally covered areas, he is to clean his hands on any material that cleans, such as a towel and the like, and then say the blessing.

 

B. Not to say the blessing of Netilas Yadayim when washing after bathroom use:[15]

One does not recite the blessing of Al Netilas Yadayim when washing the hands after using the bathroom. This applies even in a case that one dirtied his hands and he now desires to learn or Daven.[16]


[1] 7/2 and 613/4

Other Opinions: Kaf Hachaim [Falagi] and Chesed Lealafim [brought in Kaf Hachaim 4/61] learn that all the laws that apply prior to morning washing apply likewise towards one who has the impure spirit through leaving the bathroom and the like. So rules Kaf Hachaim 227/16 that based on Kabala a blessing may never be made until one washes his hands. It is however evident from Admur ibid that even according to Kabala [which he brings in both the Kama and Basra] it is only forbidden to learn Torah prior to the morning washing after awakening and not prior to the washing of other impure spirits.

[2] 7/2; Michaber 7/2

Other Opinions: See Kaf Hachaim 7/3 that some Poskim [Bach; Yeshuos Yaakov] rule that after the bathroom one must always wash his hands prior to learning or saying a blessing as we assume they touched a normally covered part of the body.

[3] See Chapter 5 Halacha 1; See Kaf Hachaim 7/3 which implies that if one did his needs outside of a bathroom then the impure spirit does not reside. Vetzaruch Iyun.

[4] Pashut and so writes Admur in Seder Birchas Hanehnin 13/17

[5] So writes Admur ibid. The novelty here is that although one is required to wash hands prior to prayer as explained in Basra 4/1, this only applies if he dirtied his hands in the process. [see also Siddur in Seder Netilas Yadayim]

The ruling of Admur in 613/5: Regarding washing hands on Yom Kippur Admur rules that even if one did not dirty his hands while using the bathroom, although he may not wash his hands prior to Asher Yatzar, he may wash his hands prior to prayer. [613/4-5] This seemingly contradicts the above ruling which states that even prior to prayer washing is not required, and hence why differentiate on Yom Kippur between prayer and Asher Yatzar. Perhaps however since praying in purity is of such importance, as explained in Basra 4/2, therefore the Sages allow washing the hands even on Yom Kippur even though in such a case it is not required from the letter of the law. However saying Asher Yatzar with pure hands is not of such importance, and is hence not allowed on Yom Kippur unless required from the letter of the law.

[6] See previous footnote from 613/5

[7] 7/2; Michaber ibid states “Due to cleanliness or due to Prepare”

Ruling of Admur in Seder Birchas Hanehnin 13/17: In Seder Birchas Hanehnin 13/17 Admur rules: “If one sitting in an “impure area” [such as a bathroom] and he heard thunder or saw lightning, then if he is able to leave and say the blessing within “Kdei Dibbur”, he is to do so. However this only applies if he did not touch any normally covered areas, and he did not yet defecate or urinate, or he is able to wash his hands. If however the above is not the case then he is not to say a blessing.” This ruling of Admur is based on the ruling of the Magen Avraham 227/2. This ruling implies that if one went to the bathroom, then even if he did not dirty his hands in the process, he may not say a blessing until he washes them. [As the M”A and Admur do not differentiate between one who did his needs and did not dirty his hands, as he does in 7/2 and 613/4] This seemingly contradicts the ruling of Admur here. This contradiction also applies to the Magen Avraham, as in chapter 4 and 613 it is clearly evident from the Magen Avraham that one does not need to wash before saying a blessing unless he dirtied himself in the bathroom. This contradiction in the M”A is addressed by Reb Akiva Eiger in chapter 227. Vetzaruch Iyun Gadol. See Piskeiy Teshuvos 227 footnote 38.

[8] 613/4

[9] See however Kaf Hachaim 7/3 which writes that the entire scenario here is discussing one who did his needs in the field and hence a spirit of impurity does not reside. Vetzaruch Iyun as what his source is that the impure spirit does not reside after simply using the bathroom.

[10] 7/2; Vetzaruch Iyun why this matter was completely omitted from 613/4 and only the case of dirtying the hands is discussed.

[11] Basra 4/1; 7/1; 92/6; Siddur; M”B 4/61; 7/5

In 613/4 Admur allows washing with water even on Yom Kippur. 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.

[12] See Chapter 4 Halacha 8C for the full discussion on this matter with regards to washing hands after awakening. To note however that the impurity that comes after using the bathroom is different than the impurity that comes due to sleep, as explained in chapter 5 Halacha 3.

[13] Halichos Shlomo 22 footnote 20

[14] M”B 7/5; Kaf Hachaim 7/4; and so applies according to Admur, as explained above.

[15] 7/1

[16] Although in such a case one is now obligated to wash his hands with water prior to Davening, if water is available, nevertheless  the sages only instituted the blessing over washing to be said when washing in the morning [upon awakening] as a new creation, and when eating bread, due to a decree involving Teruma. [ibid]

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