Washing Hands with Drinking Water

Yadayim (1:4) | Yisrael Bankier | 6 years ago

The Mishnah (1:4) taught that water used for washing dishes or cleaning weights may not be used for washing hands. This fits under the rule stated in the previous Mishnah that any water that has been used for melacha is pasul (invalid). There, the Bartenura explains that once used it loses its status of mayim (water). The Rambam explains that they become mei shefuchim (waste water). That said, our Mishnah continues that water that has been used to rinse off clean or new dishes is still valid.

The Beit Yosef (160:4) quotes the Terumat HaDeshen that adds that one might think that water from which a chicken drank would be pasul. He cites the Mishnah in Parah (9:3) that states that any bird that drinks from mei chatat1 is invalid for use, except for a dove. Rashi (Chullin 62b) explains that since some water would fall back, it is invalid since it is as if melacha has been performed with them. The Tosfot (Chullin 9b) however question the connection between drinking and melacha.2 He also cites the Ohr Zarua who rules that water from which a dog drank would be pasul. The fact that a dog was singled out implies that any other animal would not be problem. If however drinking is a melacha then there should be no difference. Finally, even according to Rashi, the Terumat HaDeshen reasons that it would only be a problem for mei chatat. For washing hands however, the small amount of water that returned after the chicken drank from the water would certainly be batel (annulled) in the valid water to which it returned.

The Beit Yosef however is not convinced by the proof brought from the Ohr Zarua. If the above reasoning is sound, then why is the water pasul if a dog drank from it? It would appear that water drank by any animal would be pasul and the case of the dog was simply used as one example.

The Beit Yosef however a more fundamental issue. Why would an animal having a small drink be worse than using the entire body of water to rinse already clean dishes (which is valid for use)? Furthermore, even according to Rashi that defines drinking as a melacha that may only be the case for mei chatat. As we have seen in masechet Para, we are particularly stringent when it comes to mei chatat. It might be that there due the general stringency, we treat even small actions as melacha whereas for washing hands it does not qualify. Consequently, he rules in the Shulchan Aruch that if any animal or bird drank from the water, it may be used to wash hands.

The Bach finds the Beit Yosef’s position difficult in that goes counter to the Ohr Zarua who cited the Rabeinu Channanel. He therefore explains that Rashi’s does not mean that the water is invalid because of melacha. Instead Rashi was explaining that the water from which a chicken drank is pasul just like water that had melacha performed with it. In other words, just as in the case of melacha it is invalid because it becomes waste water, when an animal drinks from the water they become disgusting (mius) and likewise will be poured away. He continues that since when a person drinks and some spills back, we discard all the water, this would certainly be true in the case of animals. In contrast, when rinsing already clean dishes, the water is not spoiled and would therefore be valid.

The Bach therefore upholds the position of the Terumat HaDeshen and the Ohr Zaro. In other words, when it comes to birds, the small amount that might spill back is batel and the water may be used. If however a dog or pig drank from the water, the water is spoiled and may not be used. The Mishnah Berura cites this position that differentiate between cases involving birds and cases involving dogs or pigs. He also cites the Chaye Adam who writes that one can rely on the Shulchan Aruch in pressing circumstances even in these cases.

As with any of these articles, one should seek the advice of their local halachic authority before drawing any practical conclusions.


1 Recall, that this refers to spring water onto which the ashes of the para aduma have been placed. That water was used as part of the purification process for one who was tameh met.

2 The Mishnah Berura notes that the Rishonim provide different reasons why such water would be invalid, but they do not apply to netilat yadayim.

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