Join many around the world learning just 2 mishnayot a day and finish Shas in under 6 years.
The Mishnah (2:1) records a debate whether washing one hand by pouring the water over it once, is satisfactory. The Tana Kama maintains it is sufficient while R' Meir understand that the hand is only tahor if a revi'it (150ml) of water was poured on it. We shall try to understand this ruling.
The Tifferet Yisrael first explains that less than a revi'it is only enough according to the Chachamim as long as it was "shayarei tahara". For washing hands, the vessel used must contain at least a revi'it of water. Anything left over after using some of the water is considered shayarei tahara and can still be used for washing hands.
We have learnt that for washing hands, water must be poured over the hand twice. The first time is to purify the hands and the second is to purify the water that is on the hand. The exception is if a full revi'it is poured over the hand, which can achieve both these ends. That being the case how do we understand the position of the Chachamim that pouring the water once with less than a revi'it is sufficient for one hand.
The Tifferet Yisrael explains that the Mishnah is readily understood according the position of the Rambam (Mikvaot 11:3) who explains that washing twice is only necessary when washing hand for terumah. If, however one washes their hands for chulin (regular food) once is sufficient. Consequently, our Mishnah is only to understood as referring to washing hands for chulin. For terumah however, one would be required to pour water twice. It is important to note that the Raavad argues with the Rambam and requires washing twice for both terumah and chulin.1 We shall try to understand the position of the Rambam.
The Grach (143, s.v. ve'henei) begins by citing the following Gemara (Chulin 106): "R' Yitzchak bar Ashyan said that washing hand for chulin is due to serach tumah (in order for kohanim to become accustomed to washing hands prior to eating). Furthermore, it is a mitzvah to listen to the Chachamim." The Tosfot however notes, that the "furthermore" implies an additional reason different to the first one. They therefore explain that the Chachamim also institute the washing for cleanliness. What is the additional reason of cleanliness?
The Gerach explains that for terumah, it is clear that washing one's hands twice is necessary for purification (as explained above). The Raavad understands that for chulin, the Chachamim applied the same parameters as terumah. The issue of tumah was extended to the hands and the prohibition of eating bread without washing hands applied until the tumah was removed. Consequently, washing twice is needed for both terumah and chulin.
The Rambam however understands that washing hands for chulin is not an act of tahara (purification) like it is for terumah. That being the case, one wash of water would be sufficient. Why so? For chulin the Chachamim instituted a mitzvah of washing such that they required one's hands to have a status of "washed hands" for eating. That being the case, things can occur that can remove that status from the hands, e.g. dirt. Consequently, it is not the unclean hands (the second reason above) that obligates hand washing. It is rather that the Chachamim required washed hands for eating, and dirty hands removes that status from the hands.
The Gerach cites the case of the kohanim washing hands prior to avodah in the Beit HaMikdash as an example of this understanding. When they wash, it is clearly not for purification. Instead, the kohanim must have washed hand to perform avodah. If they urinate, for example, they must again wash their hands and feet. The urinating is not what obligates the washing per se, but rather it removes the status of washed hands and feet so the kohen must wash again.2
1 The Tifferet Yisrael explains that according to the Raavad, the Mishnah can be understood as referring to the first pouring of water with an additional one being required.
2 The Gerach explains that the Raavad also agrees with the Rambam that the Chachamim instituted a maaseh netilah. Yet, they also instituted that they have a status of tumah to mirror the necessity of washing for terumah.
Receive our publication with an in depth article and revision questions.
Listen to the Mishnah Shiurim by Yisrael Bankier