As I pointed out towards the end of our last shiur, paragraphs 2, 3 and 4 of Section 161 should be treated as a unit. Indeed, I only separated them from paragraph 1 because I feared that the shiur would be too long. However, had I known that such a separation would have led people to consternation because of misunderstanding I would have kept the whole section as one unit. People seemed most concerned about nail polish, which is specifically mentioned in the paragraphs we cover in this present shiur. Another concern was about bandages.
From paragraph 2 of Section 161 (the first paragraph in the above translation) it becomes quite clear that what does and does not constitute a barrier for netilat yadayyim is to a considerable extent a matter of personal idiosyncrasy. In this matter the consideration what constitutes a barrier is very different regarding netilat yadayyim than it is regarding purification in a mikveh - despite what Rabbi Karo stated quite explicitly in paragraph 1. Indeed, Larry Lennhoff points this out in a message he sent to me:
I'm surprized to hear that anything that constitutes a problem for mikveh constitutes a problem for netilat yadayim. Most sources seem to think that all nail polish must be removed prior to immersion in a mikveh. If this were true for netilat yadayim as well, it would seem than most women not on the Atkins diet (which forbids carbohydrates such as bread) would not be able to wear nail polish. Yet this does not seem to be our actual practice.
From even a casual reading of paragraph 2 of Section 161 it becomes clear that for women nail polish does not constitute a barrier during netilat yadayyim. But if, for any reason - say a stage performance, a man has painted his nails and intends to remove the dye afterwards, the polish does constitute a barrier for netilat yadayyim because it is of consequence to him.
The later expositors of the Shulĥan Arukh explain that the matter of 'personal consequence' is not to be understood as granting the individual complete discretion in this matter. The example of the painter is expanded. Where the painter has cleaned his hands of paint but some colouring still clings to part of his (or her) hand but the painter does not mind people seeing his hands thus stained, the dye adhering to his hands does not constitute a barrier; but if his whole hand were covered in paint even if this is of no consequence to him it must be removed before effecting netilat yadayyim. However, if whatever it is that is on one's hands and constitutes a barrier will wash off under the water of netilat yadayyim then it does not constitute a barrier.
Another matter which was of concern to people who sent me messages was that of injuries. Cheryl Birkner Mack writes:
Regarding the discussion of netilat yadayim - while we are specifically considering the ritual done on Shabbat, I am a little confused about band-aids being considered a barrier. Logically this makes sense, but practically it does not. Netillat yadayim is done before any meal with bread. If I try to do this regularly during the week, I will never be able to keep a bandaid on my hand for more than a few hours. While they are relatively inexpensive to replace, this strikes me as an excessively wasteful practice. Even on Shabbat, if I wash at all three meals then I must replace a bandaid several times during the day.
While the bother of constantly having to change a dressing is what troubles Cheryl the fear of not being able to eat bread is what concerns David Baird:
I eagerly await the next shiur, and I hope you will cover the question of nail polish, and whether one who is unable to remove a bandage or cast can still partake in HaMotzi.
A bandaid does constitute a barrier, and even more so a bandage. But it is equally clear that such things cannot conveniently be removed for netilat yadayyim. This same consideration applies to rings that are too small to be removed from the finger. Paragraph 3 above requires all rings to be removed before netilat yadayyim, but some rings just cannot be removed (without spoiling either them or the finger). The solution is hinted at in paragraph 4 above.
When performing netilat yadayyim one should, ideally, pour plenty of water over the hand completely, up to the wrist. This statement of Rabbi Karo is based on something that we learned when studying Tractate Yadayyim, Chapter 2, Mishnah 1: