of the Rabbinical Assembly in Israel


Bet Midrash Virtuali



When one washes one must raise one's hands (which means the tips of the fingers) so that water which might go onto the palm cannot fall back and make the hands impure [again]. Note: The same applies if one lowers one's hands from the beginning of the washing to its end, because that has the same effect. However, one should be careful not to raise the tips of one's fingers at the beginning and then lower them, because then the water from the palm will fall back and make the hands impure [again]. All this applies when one does not wash the whole hand up to the wrist; but if one washes the hands that far one does not need to raise one's hands (but there are [authorities] who do not accept this). Likewise, if one pours one revi'it upon both hands in one go: since there can be no impure water there is no need to raise the hands. Likewise, someone who dips their hands [in water] does not have to raise them. (There are [authorities] who say that if one pours [water] over one's hands three times one need not pay any attention to all this - and it is the custom to take this lenient view.)


In order to understand paragraph 1 of Section 162 we must briefly recapitulate matters which we covered when we studied Tractate Yadayyim.

Hands which have not undergone netilat yadayyim are presumed to be ritaully impure and will impart that ritual impurity to anything that they touch. The ritual impurity of the hands can only be removed by pouring water over them. The minimal amount of water that will effect this ritual purification is one revi'it. This is a relatively small amount of water, about 90 cc's.

In earlier times it was customary to pour water over the fingers, up to where they join the palm. When water touches the fingers and drips off the purification process has begun; but it is not complete, for the water which was poured onto the fingers has itself become contaminated; therefore a second pouring of water is necessary in order to purify the first pouring of water.

The first provision of paragraph 1 of Section 162 is that while pouring the water over the fingers one should keep the hand raised upwards. There is concern that some of the water may reach the unwashed palm and then drip back onto the washed fingers: if this should happen the ritual impurity of the palm will be carried back to the fingers by the water which drips back onto them from the palm. If the fingers are held up all the time it is not possible for water which may have reached the palm to drip back onto the fingers.

So far this is the plain statement of Rabbi Karo, the author of the Shulĥan Arukh. Now, however, Rabbi Moshe Isserles, his annotator, add a point: the same objective can be reached if the fingers are held pointing downwards all the time: if water is poured over the fingers while they are pointing downwards there is no chance that water will reach the palm and thus there is no chance that impure water will drip back onto the fingers. He points out that this will only hold true if the fingers are kept pointing downwards right from the start of netilat yadayyim; if they were turned upwards and then downwards there certainly is a chance that water reached the palm of the hand.

Now we can return to the original text of Rabbi Karo. He says that all this problem will disappear if, instead of pouring water over the fingers alone we pour water over the whole hand up to the wrist. The first pouring of water will now remove the ritual impurity from the whole hand (and not just the fingers) and the second pouring will remove the impurity imparted to the first pouring. There is now no possibility that impure water will drip back because there can be no impure water.

Rabbi Isserles points out that there are halakhic authorities that disagree with this leniency and require the fingers to be raised (or lowered) even when water is poured over the hands as far as the wrist. Indeed, with halakhic hindsight, we can now say that these dissidents are the majority of later poskim [decisors] and Rabbi Karo is left as a minority view.

Rabbi Karo's next point is that if we pour a complete revi'it of water over the fingers of both hands in one go the (relatively) large amount of water will render the re-contamination of the fingers impossible. Rabbi Isserles also points out that if one pours water over one's fingers three times instead of two any possible re-contamination is thus dealt with. And he adds that it is now the prevalent custom to pour water over the fingers three times.

In normal circumstances in modern times all these considerations are outdated. It is our custom to use a natla for netilat yadayyim which holds a lot more than just one revi'it. It is also our custom to pour water over the whole hand up to the wrist (and not just over the fingers). Therefore, according to all viewpoints, it is sufficient to pour water from a natla (container) once over each hand up to the wrist.

Let us summarize how netilat yadayyim should be performed in the contemporary home on Sabbath Eve (or any other time we are about to eat bread):
  • The water container should contain at least one revi'it of water - slightly less than 100 cc's. An ordinary drinking glass contains 180 cc's. It is preferable to purchase a natla for the purposes of netilat yadayyim: a simple one made of plastic can be bought for very little outlay.
  • Rings should be removed from the fingers and any other extraneous matter that adheres to the skin. (See Shabbat 040 concerning what to do when this is not possible.)
  • The natla should be taken in one hand and some of the water poured generously over the other hand up to the wrist while it is turned downwards. The natla should now be passed to the washed hand and the rest of the water should be poured generously over the unwashed hand up to the wrist while it is turned downwards.
  • The meticulous can repeat this procedure once more if they really want to, though, as we have seen, it is unnecessary. They can even do it three times if they want to, but this is even more unnecessary.
  • Before drying the hands one should recite the berakhah over washing the hands: al netilat yadayyim. This berakhah may also be recited whilst drying the hands - or even after having dried them.
  • One should now proceed silently to one's place at the table in anticipation of grace before the meal. The pause between netilat yadayyim and ha-motzi will be the subject of our next shiur.


Bayla Singer writes concerning barriers on the skin, which was the subject of our previous shiur:

In considering possibilities for netilat yadaim when one hand has a barrier not easily removed - would it be permissible to wash the other hand, and use just that one for handling the bread?

I respond:

Yes. But I would imagine that it would be more convenient to make do with washing the fingers alone as described in today's shiur. However, of course, that will not avail if the unremovable bandaid is wound round the finger!

Nehama Barbiru writes on the same subject:

I hope no-one will ever need to practice the answer to the following question, but for the sake of the discussion - What does an amputated person do regarding the eating of bread as he has no hands?

I respond:

I would imagine that he or she would be concerned that the person assisting them perform netilat yadayyim properly! If the question was concerning the ritual purity of artificial limbs: they are ritually pure.