01. Netilat Yadayim

One who prays the Amida must cleanse herself; it is therefore a mitzva to wash one’s hands before prayer. However, there is a distinction between a situation in which she knows that her hands are sullied and the normal case where she does not know whether her hands have been dirtied.

For example, if one knows that her hands are dirty because she relieved herself or touched body parts that are normally covered – areas that soiled from perspiration – she must wash her hands before praying. Le-khatĥila, she should pour water over her entire hand with a vessel, as one washes before a meal. However, be-di’avad, if she rinses her hands with water without a vessel, she fulfilled her obligation of preparing herself for prayer, because most important is that her hands are clean before she prays.

If there is no water nearby, she must take the trouble to walk up to the distance of a mil (912 m). If there is no water even within a mil, or there is water but the designated time for prayer will pass if she treks to it, she may rub her hands with sand or on her clothing in order to remove any trace of dirt from them – and then she may pray (SA 92:4; MB 92:20, Peninei Halakha: Prayer, 5:2 n. 1). 1 the [normally] covered parts of one’s body, because they contain beads of sweat. For instance, scratching one’s head [is considered touching a dirty place].” This refers to rubbing the roots of one’s hair, but if someone only touches the top of her head, she does not need to wash her hands (SAH; MB 162:58, 164:10).

Concerning a woman who knows that her hair is clean, for example, one who just recently washed her head, in the opinion of some Aĥaronim, she does not need to wash her hands even is she scratches the roots of her hair (Tzitz Eliezer 7:2:14). One may rely on this opinion as long as she feels that this area is clean from the washing, although when her hair is covered, sweat accumulates there faster. See Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 5 n. 2.

Concerning one who touches other normally covered parts of the body: If her body is washed clean and does not have beads of sweat on it, the Aĥaronim disagree as to whether or not she must wash her hands. Eshel Avraham (Buczacz) 4:21 is stringent, and Yabi’a Omer, part 5, 1:4-5, cites poskim who are lenient.

Touching earwax and mucus is considered touching a normally covered part of the body (Rema 92:7 and Peninei Halakha: Prayer, ch. 5 n. 2).

With regard to Torah study and reciting berakhot, one who normally touches covered parts may be-di’avad rub her hands on her clothes and then study Torah or recite berakhot (SA 4:23 and MB 4:61).  ]

Under normal circumstances, that is, when a woman did not wash her hands recently but does not remember touching something dirty or body parts that are normally covered, the poskim disagree about whether she must wash her hands before prayer. Hence, if there is water available, she should wash her hands. However, if there is no water near her, she does not need to wash her hands and may rely on the poskim who maintain that hands under normal circumstances need not be washed before prayer. To dispel uncertainty, she should preferably rub her hands on her clothing (SA 92:5, 233:2; MB 92:26; BHL s.v. “Ve-im”).

One who leaves the bathroom after having washed her hands and is then careful not to touch the parts of her body which are normally covered need not wash her hands again before praying. However, if she was not mindful of that, she must wash her hands. If no water is available, since she is not certain that her hands are unclean, she may pray without washing. 

  1. If one is walking on her way and within the four mil (c. 3.65 km) ahead of her there is water, she must walk to it and only then pray. SA 92:7 states: “A dirty area is [defined as