Guidelines to Brachos: Volume 1 - A Bread Meal
Questions and Answers about the law of Brachos
By Rabbi Elozor Barclay and Rabbi Yitzchok Jaeger

The Jewish laws of Jewish blessings-berachot- in this clear, concise guide for kiruv & beginners from the acclaimed Guidelines Q&A series. In Vol. 1, A Bread Meal, learn the halachot of brachos on bread, birkat hamazon, washing of the hands & more.

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Chapter Three

The Water

36. May one use any water for netilas yadayim?
No. The following conditions must be fulfilled for the water to qualify:
• It must not be discolored.
• It must not have been previously used for other purposes.
• It must not have a very bad taste or smell.
Details of these rules will be given shortly.
Note: An alternative method of purifying the hands is to immerse them in certain bodies of water. Water that is unfit for washing may be suitable for immersion, and details of this method are given in questions 130- 139.

37. What is considered discolored?
If ink, dye, or similar materials are mixed with or fell into water, the water may not be used for netilas yadayim.

38. What if the water contains soil or mud?
Although soil and mud discolor the water, this is a natural phenomenon, and furthermore the water eventually clears when these materials sink to the bottom. Such water may therefore be used, provided that it is not so soily or muddy that a dog would not drink it.

39. Must one wait until the soil or mud sinks?
No. One may use the water immediately.

40. What if the water from the faucet is slightly yellow or brown?
One should leave the water in a container for a short time to test it. If the discoloration is due to particles of sand, rust, etc., the water should become clear and such water may be used. If the discoloration remains, it may not be used.

41. What if the water has a cloudy appearance?
This phenomenon occurs sometimes when high water pressure creates air bubbles in the water. If the water is allowed to stand in a vessel, the air bubbles rise leaving the water clear. Such water may be used for netilas yadayim, but according to some opinions, one should wait until the water becomes clear.

42. May one use sea water?
If the water is so salty that a dog cannot drink it, one may not use it for netilas yadayim. Nevertheless, it is permitted to purify the hands by immersing them in the sea, despite its being extremely salty (see questions 130- 131).

43. May one use foul tasting or smelling water?
If the water is so foul that a dog cannot drink it, one may not use it for netilas yadayim. Nevertheless, it may be suitable for immersing the hands if certain conditions are fulfilled (see Chapter Five).

44. What is meant by water that was previously used?
These laws are complex and beyond the scope of this work. Nevertheless, the following common examples will provide basic guidelines. One may not use water that was used:
• To rinse dust or dirt off dishes or food.
• To measure how much a utensil holds.
• In a vase of flowers.
• By another person to wash his hands.

45. What if a person immersed his hands in a container of water?
• If his intention was to clean his hands from dirt or to purify them from being tamei, the water is considered used and is disqualified for netilas yadayim.
• If he simply scooped out some water from the container, the remaining water is not considered used and is fit for netilas yadayim. This applies even if his hands were tamei.

46. May one use water that was left uncovered for some time?
Yes. Although some people are particular not to drink such water, it may nevertheless be used for washing hands. This applies even if the water was left uncovered overnight.

47. What if unfit water became mixed with usable water?
If there is more usable water than unfit water, the mixture may be used for netilas yadayim.

48. May one deliberately make such a mixture?
Yes.

49. May one use hot or warm water?
Yes.

50. May one use soda water?
Yes.

51. May one use other liquids besides water?
In extenuating circumstances, when water is not easily available, one may perform netilas yadayim with other liquids. However, the b’racha should not be recited.

52. How much effort must be made to obtain water?
If a person is traveling and has no access to water, he may not eat bread if either:
• by continuing his journey he will be able to obtain water within seventy-two minutes, or
• by traveling in a different direction he will be able to obtain water within eighteen minutes.

53. What if neither of these is possible?
• If he is not extremely hungry, he may still not eat bread.
• If he is extremely hungry, he may perform netilas yadayim with other liquids that are available. The b’racha should not be recited.

54. What if he is unsure whether water is obtainable within the allotted time?
He may follow the rules given in the previous question.

55. What if no liquids are available?
If he is extremely hungry, he may eat bread without performing netilas yadayim. However, his hands must be covered during the meal. Details of this method will be given shortly.

56. What if one is at home and has no water?
Although this is a rare occurrence in a modern house, the situation could nevertheless arise when the water supply is cut off. In this case, one may not eat bread if he could obtain water by walking or driving to another place within eighteen minutes. If this is not possible and he is extremely hungry, he may eat bread after performing netilas yadayim with a different liquid or by covering his hands.

57. How should the hands be covered?
• The hands must be covered with gloves, a cloth, a plastic bag, or any other material.
• Both hands should be covered, even if only one hand is used to hold the bread.
• The hands should be covered up to the wrists.

58. May one wrap the bread instead of the hands?
No, this method is not acceptable. The hands must be covered, not the bread.

59. Must the hands be covered while eating other foods during the meal?
Yes. The hands must be covered throughout the meal, whether he is eating bread, other foods, or drinking.

60. May one remove the covering while not eating or drinking?
Yes, provided he is careful not to touch any food or drink. Similarly, he may remove the covering at the end of the meal, when he is ready to bensch.

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