Is it necessary to wash immediately before eating?

The Gemara states that a person can wash his hands in the morning according to all the halachos of netilas yadayim (for reasons of cleanliness) and stipulate (either verbally or in his mind) that he wants the netilah to cover any time he wants to eat throughout the day. The poskim disagree about whether this can always be done or whether it should only be done under pressing circumstances (e.g. if one who will be travelling is concerned that he will not find water on his travels). A person who does this must be careful to remain focused on not getting his hands dirty throughout the day. For example, if he is about to touch a covered area, he must instantly remember that he has already washed his hands. If he wears gloves throughout the day, he can be certain that his hands will remain clean.

סי' קס"ד ס"א ס"ק א'-ד' ביאורים ומוספים דרשו 3

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

The Achronim write that it is no longer customary to wash in the morning and stipulate that the netilah will cover eating throughout the day. They explain that it is difficult for us to keep our hands clean. Under very pressing circumstances, however, one can be lenient and wear gloves from the time he washes until it is time to eat. Under all circumstances, one should wash again without a brocha if water becomes available. The idea of washing for later only applies when a person is not washing for the sake of eating (e.g. if one is washing for cleanliness in the morning). Washing to eat with a plan to eat later in the day is not acceptable, since there is a din that washing for bread must take place immediately before eating. One may wash for bread, eat, and then stipulate that the netilah should cover future meals.

נ"ל ס"ק ד' ה' ביה"ל ד"ה לא

Is above the elbow considered a covered area?

If, during a meal, a person realizes that he touched an area of his body which is normally covered or that he scratched his head, he must rewash his hands. Even if he is not planning to eat any more bread, he must still rewash. If it occurs to him while he has a piece of bread in his mouth, he is forbidden to swallow until he rewashes. Above the elbow is considered an area which is typically covered. The poskim disagree about whether people who wear short sleeves that expose part of their upper arms must rewash after touching the exposed area. If a person touches actual tumah (e.g. a dead body) during a meal, he does not need to wash again.

ס"ב ס"ק ח' וט' ביה"ל ד"ה בשוק ביאורים ומוספים דרשו 15

  • 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.

  • One may eat bread with wrapped hands if water will not be available for seventy-two minutes of travel on his journey.

  • 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.

  • Is a brocha necessary if one rewashes in the middle of a meal?

  • What is the proper procedure for one who goes to the bathroom before a meal?

  • What was the Chafetz Chaim’s personal practice regarding Asher Yotzar and Al Netilas Yadayim
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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