Shabbat Parashat Bereishit | 5769
Drying one’s hands with an electric hand dryer instead of a towel after netilat yadayim
Ask the Rabbi
Your assumption that there is a need for niguv (drying of the hands) is basically correct, but the reason behind it will impact on the requirements for this niguv.
One of the rationales that Tosafot (Pesachim 7b) gives for the practice of making a beracha on ny after the washing occurs (usually the beracha precedes the mitzva) is that ny is not finished until after the niguv. This seems to give a halachic status to the practice, but Tosafot does not explain why this is so. One suggestion has to do with the fact that the water one uses for ny can become tameh (impure) after the first washing and steps need to be taken to remove it. The main solution is to wash a second time, but some understand that niguv is a final part of the removal process (see Beit Yosef, Orach Chayim 158).
The gemara (Sota 4b) discusses how to make sure that water of ny should not pick up impurity and then return to make the hands impure. The gemara then says: “Whoever eats bread without drying his hands is like eating impure bread.” It brings a pasuk that talks about impure hands, and according to Rashi, we see from it that matters of mi’us (unsightliness) can be called impure. The simple understanding, then, is that niguv is a matter of manners (wet hands make bread soggy) which, in this case, Torah sources equate with impurity.
However, it is difficult to say that mi’us is the only issue. The Tosefta (Yadayim 2:1) says that niguv is required only after ny, not tevillat yadayim (immersing hands). If the issue is tumah, the matter is understandable, as after immersion, all the water is pure. However, according to the approach of mi’us, why should there be a difference between moisture from washing or immersing? (The Taz (158:13) rejects the possibility that the gemara argues on the Tosefta).
Therefore, a third approach is suggested (Taz ibid., based on the Maharshal), which includes elements of the first two. The heart of the problem is mi’us, but the Rabbis instituted that their rabbinic mechanism of ny would be incomplete until niguv is done. However, in regard to tevillat yadayim, which is a throwback to the Torah laws of tevilla, the need for niguv was not formalized.
A difference between the approach of removing tumah and that of a formal requirement related to mi’us is in regard to one who does ny with at least a revi’it (3-4 ounces) of water for the first washing. The Shulchan Aruch (OC 158:13) says that since in that case, there is no impure water, niguv is unnecessary. The Maharshal says that since there is an issue of mi’us that is under the framework of netilla, niguv is required. Since the latter approach is more accepted (Mishna Berura 158:46), even after ny with a lot of water (which is now commonplace), niguv is needed.
The Levush (OC 158:13) makes a claim that is pertinent to our question. He says that the Tosefta never denied a need for dry hands after immersing, but meant only that it need not be done in a formal, halachically effective drying, using something absorbent. Rather, after tevilla, one can allow the hands to dry by themselves in order to avoid mi’us. In contrast, in order to remove tameh water, an absorbent material must be used. Several poskim (see Shulchan Aruch Harav, OC 158:17; Kaf Hachayim, OC 158:87) accept the Levush’s stringency (the Chazon Ish, OC 25:10 does not). In all probability, using an electric dryer is considered a means of speeding up the natural process of hands drying themselves and would not suffice according to the Levush. However, if a revi’it of water was used on the first washing and the issue is only mi’us, the Levush’s concern does not apply and all would agree that an electric dryer is fine (B’tzel Hachochma IV, 141).
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Hemdat Yamim of this week
R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfel
Hemdat Yamim is endowed by Les & Ethel Sutker of
and Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.