Why do I have to wash my already clean hands before eating bread?

December 13, 2021 by Rabbi Raymond Apple
Read on for article

Asks the rabbi.

Rabbi Raymond Apple


Q. Does Judaism believe in angels?

A. What do you mean by “believe”? Judaism always believed that angels existed, though there were objections to praying to them or regarding them as middlemen between God and human beings.

The angel, as the Hebrew name “malach” implies, is merely a messenger or agent of the Almighty.

God sent an angel to find Hagar in distress in the desert (Gen. 16:7). He sent an angel to stop Abraham from sacrificing his son (Gen. 22). God’s angels accompanied Jacob on his wanderings and the Children of Israel on their way to the Promised Land.

Angels do not need to have quasi-human characteristics; the forces of nature (the wind, the fire, etc.) also act as God’s messengers (Psalm 104:4).

At no stage are the angels independent of God, nor, despite some folklore, can they rebel against Him. The well-known story that God had to stop the angels from singing when the Israelites crossed the Red Sea is not an indication that angels can disobey but that they sometimes act with an excess of enthusiasm.

In post-Biblical Judaism some groups elevated the angels and thought of them as higher than mortals. The classical philosophers promptly downgraded them. Maimonides argued that man was a higher being in that he had the capacity to perfect himself and to rise closer to God intellectually.

The Kabbalists, however, restored status to the angels and ascribed to them an important influence on earthly events. Some of the popular meditations in the siddur, introduced in kabbalistic circles, mention angels with great respect.

More rationalistic schools of thought regard these references as poetry and colourful imagery. They accept that God can and does utilise many methods of governing the world and there are many forces that influence human character and conduct; all of these are “angels” in a metaphorical sense.


Q. Why should I wash my hands before eating bread if my hands are already clean?

A. This is precisely when one must wash one’s hands.

Before washing hands ritually, a person must check that their hands are physically clean. If the hands are dirty they must be washed and dried in the normal way, and only then does the ritual washing apply.

Originally it was a priestly duty to wash the hands before eating but the ancient Pharisees extended it to apply to every Jew.

So before eating bread, everyone should wash their hands (pouring the water on each hand from a vessel) and say the blessing.

Rabbi Raymond Apple served for 32 years as the chief minister of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, Australia’s oldest and most prestigious congregation. He is now retired and lives in Jerusalem where he answers interesting questions.

Speak Your Mind

Comments received without a full name will not be considered
Email addresses are NEVER published! All comments are moderated. J-Wire will publish considered comments by people who provide a real name and email address. Comments that are abusive, rude, defamatory or which contain offensive language will not be published

Got something to say about this?

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.