08. Food Touched by Unwashed Hands

We learned (section 2 above) that because ru’aĥ ra’ah rests upon one’s hands in the morning, one must not touch food or drink before netilat yadayim. If a Jew touched food without washing her hands, the ruling is as follows: If it is a dry, washable food, like fruit, she should rinse it under water three times. Just as the washing of each hand three times purifies them, so too it will cleanse the fruit. However, if she mistakenly touched drinks or food that will become ruined when washed, some rule stringently that the food must be discarded out of fear that ru’aĥ ra’ah rests upon them (Od Yosef Ĥai, Toldot 6), but according to most poskim, even those foods that cannot be washed may be eaten.

There are two reasons for this: first, according to most poskim, the ru’aĥ ra’ah on one’s hands does not have the ability to render food unfit for eating (Ĥayei Adam 2:2; MB 4:14; AHS 4:15). Regarding alcoholic beverages, there are poskim who are stringent, but it is the consensus of most poskim that all other foods do not become invalidated by the touch of unwashed hands (BHL 4:5 s.v. “Lo”). Furthermore, as we have seen (section 3 above), some maintain that ru’aĥ ra’ah has been eradicated from this world and thus need not be feared. Therefore, one should not discard or waste food touched by unwashed hands.

Similarly, it is permissible le-khatĥila to buy bread or other food from off a store shelf, even though there is concern that it was touched by Jews who did not wash their hands in the morning. This is because, as we have already learned, according to most poskim, food is not invalidated by the touch of unwashed hands. Additionally, there is doubt as to whether these foods were actually touched by someone who did not wash his hands in the morning. Moreover, almost all people usually wash their hands in the morning, and it is said in the name of Arizal (Od Yosef Ĥai, Toldot 8), that even washing one’s hands once effectively weakens the power of ru’aĥ ra’ah.

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