Netilat Yadayim

views updated


NETILAT YADAYIM (Heb. נְטִילַת יָדַיִם; lit. "raising the hands"), rabbinic term for the obligatory washing of the hands. The rabbis made this ritual mandatory in the following instances:

(1) upon rising from sleep (Ber. 60b; Sh. Ar., oḤ 4:1)

(2) after the excretion of bodily wastes

(3) after the paring of nails

(4) after the removal of shoes

(5) after the combing of hair or touching parts of the body that are usually covered

(6) after leaving a cemetery or participating in a funeral

(7) after sexual intercourse (Sh. Ar., oḤ 4:18)

(8) before prayer and the recitation of the *Shema (Ber. 15a; Sh. Ar., oḤ 92:4)

(9) before eating bread (Ḥul. 105a; Sh. Ar., oḤ 158:1)

(10) before reciting Grace (Ḥul. 105a; Sh. Ar., oḤ 181:1)

(11) before eating the parsley at the Passover *seder (Pes. 115a–6; Sh. Ar., oḤ 473:6)

(12) the levites wash the hands of the kohanim before the *Priestly Blessing (Sh. Ar., oḤ 128:6)

In all these instances the hands must be washed at least up to the third joint of the fingers, i.e., the junction of the phalanges and the metacarpus. Nevertheless, the rabbis considered it preferable to wash up to the wrist (Sh. Ar., oḤ 161:4). However, when washing before Grace, it is sufficient to wash only up to the second joint of the fingers (Sh. Ar., oḤ 181:4). A minimum of ¼ log (approx. ½ pint) of water is poured over the hands from a utensil with a wide mouth, the lip of which must be undamaged (Sh. Ar., oḤ 159:1, 3; 160:13). The hands must be clean without anything adhering to them prior to the ritual washing, and no foreign object such as a ring may intervene between them and the water (Sh. Ar., oḤ 161:1–3). Upon rising from sleep, each hand must be washed three times (Sh. Ar., oḤ 4:2), but before partaking of bread, it is sufficient if they are washed once (Sh. Ar., oḤ 162:2). It is customary to hold the cup in the left hand and wash the right one first, and then to reverse the procedure (Mishnah Berurah to Sh. Ar., oḤ 158:1 n. 4). A benediction is only recited after washing the hands upon rising and before eating bread. Its text reads "… and commanded us concerning the washing of the hands." After rising, it is today recited as part of the preliminary *Shaḥarit service, while before the meal it is recited prior to the drying of the hands (Sh. Ar., oḤ 158:11–12).


Krauss, Tal Arch, 1 (1910), 210f., 667f.; J. Preuss, Biblisch-talmudische Medizin (19233), 146ff.; M. Perlman, Midrash ha-Refu'ah, 1 (1926), 42.