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Shabbat Parashat Naso 5775

Ask the Rabbi: Disposing of Old Netilat Yadayim Cups

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I have plastic cups that we had used for netilat yadayim and negel vaser but no longer need. Should I put them in geniza, just keep them, or dispose of them, and how?


Answer: The gemara (Megilla 26b) says that tashmishei mitzva (articles used to facilitate a mitzva) may be thrown away, as opposed to tashmishei kedusha (related to holy texts), which require geniza). The examples given for tashmishei mitzva are: sukka, lulav, shofar, and tzitzit.

The Tur (Orach Chayim 21) cites the Sh’iltot, that as long as tzitzit are still on the garment, they must be treated with respect and may not be used for non-mitzva purposes. Although they lack intrinsic sanctity, using them for other things while they are still slated for a mitzva is a bizuy (disgrace to the) mitzva.

Is there bizuy mitzva after one has finished using them? The Shulchan Aruch (OC 21:1) rules that tzitzit may be discarded in the garbage (although they may not be used for something disgraceful - see Mishna Berura 21:13). On the other hand, the Darchei Moshe (the Rama on the Tur) cites the Kolbo, who says that the gemara only means to exempt them from geniza, but one may not disgrace them, and the Rama (OC 21:1) says that throwing them out in a disgraceful place is included. He also cites the Maharil’s more stringent practice to do geniza as a preferable but not binding practice.

The arguably different levels of tashmishei mitzva, depending primarily on the level of connection to the mitzva, apparently adds complexity. For example, the Shulchan Aruch (21:2) says that although one many not disgrace a tallit, it (the garment part) does not require geniza but may be thrown into the garbage. Unlike regarding tzitzit, the Rama agrees regarding a tallit (understanding of the Mishna Berura 21:13; see practical complexity in Living the Halachic Process, II-G-5). This is because although tzitzit are meaningless without the garment, the tzitzit are the main part of the mitzva.

A similar distinction exists regarding a sukka. The Mishna Berura (21:6; 638:24) forbids throwing s’chach to a garbage dump or even a place where many are likely to trample them. Regarding the walls of the sukka, he cites the Pri Megadim as saying not to use them directly for something disgraceful (actually, in Mishbetzot Zahav 21:2 he is uncertain), but brings no limitations on throwing them out. Again, while walls are needed for a sukka and are set aside for its exclusive use during the chag (Shulchan Aruch, OC 638:1), the s’chach has a higher mitzva status, which may increase the care needed after the mitzva is over.

What is a netilat yadayim cup’s status in this regard? Our halachic intuition is that it is similar to a tallit and the walls of a sukka rather than to tzitzit and s’chach. After all, while a utensil (or a body of water) is required for netilat yadayim before a meal, the specific qualifications are very broad and general, and one does not need a special netilat yadayim cup (see Orach Chayim 159). While the mitzva of netilat yadayim always pertains, when one comes to retire a cup, it apparently can be disposed of like sukka walls. 

We will now relate to different situations. Simple netilat yadayim cups that are often used for other kitchen purposes besides netilat yadayim do not assume any halachic status. It is laudable to avoid putting special cups used exclusively for the mitzva, directly in a garbage, especially with identifying elements that link it to the mitzva (see this distinction in Ginzei Hakodesh 20:(9) in the name of Rav Chaim Kaniefsky). Putting it in an opaque bag first sufficiently removes bizuy. Placing it in a recycling bin (if feasible) is a cleaner and more dignified solution (see Shevet Hakehati IV:OC 10). Geniza is certainly not required, and keeping them “around,” without disgraceful use, is fine. Cups that are used primarily for negel vaser (upon awaking), after the bathroom, or before davening should be even more lenient, as there is not a real halachic requirement to use a cup for these (see Shulchan Aruch, OC 4:7)
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