Sunday, April 23, 2006

מים אחרונים nowadays

At the end of last week's parsha (שמיני) the pasuk says והתקדשתם והייתם קדושים. The gemara in berachos coments on this that והייתם קדושים refers to מים אחרונים.

In some circles today מים אחרונים has fallen out of favor. I would like to explain the reason for this.

The Gemara in Chullin (105a) requires מים אחרונים before benching because of the concern of מלח סדומית that may remain on the hands from the meal, potentially causing blindness through contact with the eye. Tosafot (both in Berachos and in Chullin) comment that the minhag in their day was not to wash מים אחרונים. They justify the minhag by saying that we no longer have מלח סדומית and therefore there is no need. Many Rishonim disagree with Tosafos based on the gemara in Berachos that links מים אחרונים to Kedusha.

The Tur and Shulchan Aruch quote the opinion that requires מים אחרונים, Tosafos's opinion is quoted as a יש אומרים. The Gra vehemently rejected the opinion of Tosofos as did the Kabbalists.

The Mishna Berura (כדרכו) is machmir that one should wash מים אחרונים.

Rav Yaakov Emden (Mor U-ketzia 181) writes that people during Talmudic times would eat without cutlery, thus necessitating hand washing before benching. Now that people do not eat directly with their hands, no obligation of מים אחרונים exists, even according to the Kabbala.

Both R' Shternbuch (Teshuvos V'Hanhagos) and R' Wosner hold that women do not need to wash מים אחרונים. They hold that chiyuv today is a chumra based on kabbala and only men accepted upon themselveves chumra's based on kabbala.

In short, the basis for not washing מים אחרונים nowadays is:
1. Tosafos which is quotes as a יש אומרים in Shulchan Aruch
2. R' Yaakov Emden that nowadays we use cutlery and therefore there is no chiyuv according to everyone
3. According to R' Wosner and R' Shternbuch nowadays it is only a chumra based on kabbala


Anonymous said...

What about what appears to be the prevalent custom of only washing maim achronim on shabbos (i.e. being machmir). It appears like you should either go one or the other...

Anonymous said...

Lots of people say women are obligated, or as obligated as men. The Chofetz Chaim's daughter claimed to have washed at home too. The notion that there was a different custom for women is speculative and may vary depending on location. The custom in many homes is for women to bring water to the table to the men, and the women wash in the kitchen, and it's possible that this broke down with women not being taught to do so.

Anonymous said...

Interesting, I have eaten at the same table with the Chofetz Chaim's grandaughter in Brooklyn,and she did not wash,while other women at the same table did.
I have been told by many aschenaz women that only sephardic women wash.
Being sephardic I can attest that all the women in my extended family do , however I have witnessed many aschenaz women also wash.
I really don't know why a women would not , but then again I am not a rabbi or anything.
Please forgive my poor english spelling.