A woman who wakes up in the middle of the night in order to cover her child or give him a pacifier need not, technically speaking, wash her hands before doing so, although she must be careful not to touch her child’s mouth or any other bodily orifice.
However, if she wakes up to prepare food for the child or change the child’s diaper, it is proper for her to wash her hands beforehand, so that she does not touch food or one of her child’s orifices with unwashed hands. Likewise, it is proper that a woman who wakes up in the middle of the night to nurse her child wash her hands before starting. However, if it is very difficult for her to go wash her hands, she may rely on lenient opinions that do not netilat yadayim of those who wake up in the middle of the night (Eshel Avraham [Buczacz] 4:1; see also section 3, which mentions that some say that nowadays the ru’aĥ ra’ah does not exist). In any case, according to all opinions, no berakha is recited on netilat yadayim performed in the middle of the night, because the Sages instituted a berakha only on the morning washing, which prepares us for prayer and the new day.
Le-khatĥila, one wakes up in the middle of the night to drink something should preferably wash her hands three times without a berakha before reciting She-hakol. Similarly, one who wakes up in the middle of the night to use the bathroom should preferably wash her hands three times so that she can touch her bodily orifices without concern. After relieving herself, she must wash her hands so that she may recite Asher Yatzar. If she wishes, she need not wash her hands prior to using the bathroom in the middle of the night, relying on the opinion that one only needs to wash her hands three times after rising in the morning. However, after relieving herself, she must wash her hands in order to recite Asher Yatzar. If she does not have water, she must clean her hands by rubbing them on her shirt and then recite Asher Yatzar (SA 4:22). 1
- SA 4:14-15 maintains that every regular sleep at night causes ru’aĥ ra’ah, and in order to remove it, one must wash her hands three times alternately. Even so, in the cases above, I wrote “should preferably” because the author of Eshel Avraham (Buczacz) states in the name of his father-in-law that ru’aĥ ra’ah is present only after waking up in the morning. Many who do not wash their hands when they arise in the middle of the night rely on this. The opinion of most kabbalists, according to Arizal, is that ru’aĥ ra’ah only lingers after one sleeps through ĥatzot, but if one went to sleep after ĥatzot, the ru’aĥ ra’ah does not rest upon her hands. Moreover, even if one who slept through ĥatzot already woke up once after ĥatzot and washed her hands three times, the ru’aĥ ra’ah does not rest upon her hands a second time. Hence, according to this, it is not necessary to wash one’s hands three times every time one awakens at night. Additionally, there are those who say that nowadays ru’aĥ ra’ah does not exist. Therefore, only one who wakes up in the morning must be careful to wash her hands three times because the source for this stems from the Talmud. However, beyond that, concerning waking up in the middle of the night, it is not an obligation to wash one’s hands, though it is proper to do so. Those who follow kabbalistic practices must ensure that the first time they wake up after ĥatzot they wash three times. It is also preferable but not obligatory for one to wash her hands before reciting She-hakol, as explained in SA 4:23. Even if she touched normally covered parts of her body, it is sufficient for her to rub her hands on a cloth of some sort, as clarified in MB 4:61. Similarly, before using the bathroom, it is advisable to wash one’s hands because of the ru’aĥ ra’ah, but it is not an obligation, as clarified above. Additionally, see the opinion of R. Ovadia Yosef in n. 2. An elaboration of these issues appears in Peninei Halakha: Prayer 8:6-7. ↩