May 19, 2024
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Washing on Wet Food: A Halacha Observed in the Breach? Sephardic and Ashkenazic Approaches

Gemara, Rambam and Shulchan Aruch

The Gemara (Pesachim 115a) is explicit: we must wash before eating wet food. Examples include washed fruit and vegetables, pickles in brine, cookies in milk, vegetables in olive oil and olives in olive oil. The Rambam (Hilchot Brachot 6:1) and Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 158:4) codify this rule, and the Rama does not dissent. Nonetheless, other than washing for Karpas at the Seder, most observant Jews seem not to observe this halacha. Is there justification for the widespread neglect of this halacha?

Ashkenazic Approach

The Magen Avraham (158:8) cites the Lechem Chamudot (Chullin 8:41), who notes the prevalent practice to not wash for wet food. The Lechem Chamudot concludes that there is a basis for this lenient practice. The lenient approach follows Tosafot (Pesachim 115 s.v. Kol Shetibulo B’Mashkeh Tzarich Netila) and the Maharam MiRutenberg (cited by the Tur Orach Chaim 473). They believe that this rule applies only in an era during which we observe the regulations of tumah and tahara (ritual purity).

Stam yadayim (unwashed hands) are classified as sheni (second-degree tamei) and render liquids a rishon l’tumah (first-degree tamei; Parah 8:7). Since we have not observed the laws of ritual purity since Talmudic times, we need not observe this halacha in our times, argue these lenient views.

The Vilna Gaon (Bi’ur HaGra Orach Chaim 158:4) vehemently disagrees, noting that the Geonim and most Rishonim disagree with the lenient views and equate washing for food with washing for bread. Just as washing for bread applies even today, so too, the Vilna Gaon argues, washing for wet food. The Vilna Gaon even requires one to recite a bracha on this washing!

The Mishna Berura (158:20), while citing the Lechem Chamudot and Magen Avraham, sides with the Vilna Gaon and the many Acharonim (such as the Taz, Orach Chaim 473:6) who rule strictly. While the Mishna Berura follows the Shulchan Aruch and believes that we should omit a bracha in deference to the minority view, the Mishna Berura concludes that one “should not be lenient” to eat wet food without washing.

However, the Shulchan Aruch HaRav (Orach Chaim 158:3), Chayei Adam (36:4), Aruch HaShulchan (Orach Chaim 158:5) and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (40:17) all note the prevalent practice to be lenient. While they urge a “God-fearing Jew” to be strict, they write that one should not protest against those who are lenient.

The prevalent practice among most Ashkenazic Jews continues to follow the lenient opinion, though some adhere to the stricter view.

 

Sephardic Approach

Rav Ovadia Yosef (Halichot Olam 1, Parshat Tazria) is adamant that Sephardic Jews must follow the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch and wash on wet food without reciting a bracha. He notes that the premier Sephardic authorities, the Ben Ish Chaim (Parshat Tazria 16) and the Kaf HaChaim (Orach Chaim 158:25), agree.

Rav Yosef’s sons Rav Yitzchak Yosef (Yalkut Yosef, Orach Chaim 158) and Rav David Yosef (Halacha Berura 158) follow in their father’s footsteps and vigorously support Sephardic Jews washing on wet food. They note that the overwhelming majority of Rishonim and Acharonim support the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch. Rav Yitzchak Yosef concludes that one who is lenient about this matter behaves shockingly, and Rav David Yosef writes that those who follow the lenient view do not have a legitimate basis upon which to rely.

By sharp contrast, Rav Shalom Messas (Teshuvot Shemesh U’Magen 2:45-46) writes that the prevalent practice is to be lenient about this matter. Rav Messas documents that Sephardic Jews have also traditionally followed the lenient view. He cites the Chessed LaAlaphim (158:7), who writes that many are lenient and that one should not rebuke them. Regarding the Ben Ish Chai, Rav Messas notes that the Ben Ish Chai in his Haggadah records the prevalent practice to omit this washing other than for Karpas at the Seder night. Rav Messas also notes that the Kaf HaChaim cites the Lechem Chamudot and Magen Avraham, who defend the prevalent lenient practice.

 

Conclusion

Undoubtedly, it is best for all Jews to follow the strict view and wash (without a bracha) for wet food. However, there is a basis for those who adopt the lenient view on this matter. Sephardic Jews are especially encouraged to be strict about this matter. Rav Ovadia Yosef was relatively lenient about most halachic matters. However, regarding this issue, he is insistent that Sephardic Jews follow the ruling of the Geonim, Rambam and Shulchan Aruch to wash without a bracha on wet food.


Rabbi Haim Jachter is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck. He also serves as a rebbe at Torah Academy of Bergen County and a dayan on the Beth Din of Elizabeth.

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