When can a person eat bread after merely wrapping his hands?

Most Rishonim maintain that one may not wrap his hands in a cloth to avoid washing. There is a concern that the cloth may slip and he may come to touch the bread with his unwashed hands. If a person is traveling and there is no water (or it is questionable whether there will be water) for a distance of four mil ahead of him and one mil behind him, he may be lenient and eat bread with wrapped hands. He may also be lenient if he has water but does not have a proper utensil for washing. One should only rely on this leniency if he is weak as a result of his travels. People who are not traveling but do not have water in the vicinity of a mil around them can also be lenient. The poskim disagree about whether a person who is eating this way must wrap both hands or just the hand that he will use for eating. One should be stringent.

סי' קס"ג ס"א ס"ק ב'-ה' ביה"ל ד"ה אם וד"ה ידיו ביאורים ומוספים דרשו 1

How far must one drive to procure water for washing?

It takes eighteen minutes for the average person to walk a mil. Figuring that four mil takes seventy-two minutes, the conclusion is that a person may eat bread with wrapped hands if water will not be available for seventy-two minutes of travel on his journey. (The distance will vary depending on the form of transportation one is using, but the 72 minutes of water unavailable on the way is the constant in evaluating whether wrapping the hands is permitted.) As an alternative to wrapping the hands, Rema allows one to eat the bread with a utensil. Other Achronim say that if a person’s hands are not wrapped, he may come to touch the food. Therefore, one should only use a utensil if a cloth is unavailable.

ביה"ל ד"ה ברחוק ס"ק ז'

Is it permissible to feed a person who did not wash?

It is forbidden to feed bread to a Jew who will not wash his hands. Since doing so would cause him to sin, it is a transgression of lifnei iver lo sitein michshol. If a person who refuses to wash would become angry if he was not fed and if this might cause him to harbor animosity towards religious Jews, there is a concern of chilul Hashem. He might end up proclaiming that religious Jews are rude and have no manners. In such a case, some poskim allow him to be fed one time, with the instruction to wash and recite brochos. If he was fed once, he can no longer claim that religious Jews are nasty. After that, he may not be fed unless he agrees to wash and make a brocha. If there is a chance that feeding him will bring him closer to Torah and mitzvos, it is permissible to feed him even if he does not wash his hands.

ס"ב ס"ק י' ביאורים ומוספים דרשו 7, 10

  • When a person washes his hands, he must make sure that there is nothing on his hands (e.g. pebbles or twigs). Even when particles are not stuck to the hand and water can reach below them, there is a concern that water from the first pour will land on them. The water from the second pour can only purify tamei water that is on the hand, not tamei water that sits on top of an obstruction.

  • If a person has a wound on his hand and he plans to keep it bandaged throughout the meal, he does not need to remove the bandage for netilas yadayim.

  • If a person is unable to wash his hands due to illness, he should wrap them in a cloth before eating bread.

  • Is it necessary to wash immediately before eating?

  • What is the best way to protect the hands from becoming unclean?

  • Is above the elbow considered a covered area?
PLEASE NOTE:  The information in this email is for learning purposes only. Please review the Mishna Berura and Biurim U'Musafim before making a halachic decision. Hebrew words are occasionally transliterated to enable a smoother reading of the text. Common Ashkenazi pronunciation is generally used in these cases.
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