Laws Pertaining to the Water Used for Washing Hands Before Meals (1)
Water that has changed its appearance, as, for example,
when ink falls into it, is unfit for washing hands before meals. If it has
changed its appearance because it has stood still for a long period of time,
there are poskim who are lenient and allow its use. We learn this from the
laws pertaining to the water in the kior, which was used for washing
hands in the Temple. The word “water,” which appears an extra time in the
verse, is interpreted by the rabbis to teach us that the water has to have the
appearance of water.
Water that has become clouded or discolored by mud is still
considered fit because, even in nature, water is often found that way and, in
any case, when the water is allowed to stand, the particles settle out and the
water becomes clear. Nevertheless, if there is so much mud in the water that a
dog would not drink it, it is unfit. For this reason, faucet water that is
cloudy because of particles it has picked up in the pipes can be used
immediately, even before the particles settle out.
It is permitted to wash hands before a meal by dipping them
in a mikveh that contains forty sa’ah or in a spring. The mikveh water, but
not the spring water, must have the natural appearance of water. (To be fit
for immersing the entire body, spring water must also have the natural
appearance of water.)
Water that has been used (e.g. to soak bread or anything
else, to wash dishes or rinse vegetables) may not be used for washing hands.
But the water is not rendered unfit by rinsing dishes that are clean or new.
Cold water that is used to cool a warm baby bottle, or hot
water that is used to heat a cold baby bottle is considered water that has
been used and, therefore, unfit for washing hands before a meal. It is unclear
whether the water used in a hot water bottle is considered water that has been
used. It seems to me that if no other water is available, it may used for
washing before meals, for water that is doubtfully unfit for washing hands
before meals is considered fit.
Even though we ordinarily say that a person cannot render
unfit that which is not his, if Reuven uses Shimon’s water in a way that
would make it unfit (e.g., he washed vegetables or cooled a hot baby bottle
with it), most poskim are stringent and hold that Shimon may not use it to
wash his hands.
If a utensil or garment falls into water, so that it is
unintentionally cleaned in the water, the water remains fit for washing hands
before meals. But water that is squeezed from the garment may not be used. If
the utensil or garment was so dirty that it fouled the water, the water is