Dipping Foods & Handwashing

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By: Rabbi Ari Enkin

There exists a lesser known obligation to wash one’s hands prior to eating foods that are dipped into certain liquids or otherwise eaten while wet. This halacha is widely observed at the Pesach Seder where we wash our hands without reciting a blessing before dipping the ‘karpas’ into salt water.[1] It follows, therefore, that should one enjoy dipping cake into one’s coffee, or cookies into milk, netillat yadayim may be required.[2] No blessing is ever recited over this washing, however. 

There are seven liquids that are subject to the requirement to wash one’s hands should one desire to dip any food into them. These seven liquids include: wine,[3] honey, olive oil, milk, dew, blood,[4] and water.[5] The common denominator between these seven liquids is that they are all liquids that render food susceptible to tuma, spiritual uncleanliness. Washing our hands, which is in effect purifying them, eliminates this concern. The procedure for this washing is the same as the washing done before eating bread. One pours water out of a vessel onto each hand two or three times, depending on one’s custom. 

The requirement to wash one’s hands remains in effect even if one does not intend to wet one’s fingers in the process of dipping.[6] Nevertheless, if it is an item that is never completely immersed when dipping, or there is an incentive that helps ensure that one will not to get one’s fingers wet (i.e. the liquid is too hot) then there are grounds to forgo the handwashing.[7] Similarly, if one is dipping only a tiny food particle in a liquid, then the washing may be omitted if it will prove too inconvenient.[8]

There would be no requirement to wash one’s hands for food dipped into liquid if it is a food that virtually no one else would ever consider eating in this way.[9] There is also no need to wash one’s hands if one is only dipping one’s finger into a liquid.[10] If one is dipping with a fork or other utensil however, washing is not required. Nevertheless, one would be required to wash one’s hands prior to eating a food that is normally dipped before eating even if one is now using a fork, or other utensil to eat the food.[11] Fruits that one washes before eating must be fully dry before actually eating them or a handwashing will be required.[12]

Those who conduct themselves leniently and do not wash before  eating wet food or dipping foods into liquid have authorities upon whom to rely.[13] Nevertheless, those who are meticulous in their performance of mitzvot will be sure to wash their hands before eating wet foods. In any event, keeping one’s hands clean is always a good thing, especially when one will be putting them into one’s mouth![14]

[1] Ben Ish Chai, Tazria

[2] O.C. 158:4, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 40:16

[3] Whenever wine is mentioned in halachic literature it includes grape juice as well.

[4] While blood as we know it may never be eaten, the reference to blood here refers to fish blood which is permitted to be consumed. (Magen Avraham) So too, one’s own human blood may be consumed although it should never be done so publicly.

[5] This includes any drink whose primary ingredient is water such as tea, coffee, and soda. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 40:21

[6] O.C. 158:4, Mishna Berura 158:21

[7] Kaf Hachaim 158:39

[8] Pitchei Teshuva 158:14

[9] Magen Avraham 158:5,8, Be’er Heitev 158:4

[10] Magen Avraham 158:5

[11] Mishna Berura 158:26, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 40:20

[12] Mishna Berura 158:12

[13] Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 40:17, Mishna Berura 158:20, Shraga Hameir 4:111

[14] Rema, OC 158:5.

About Ari Enkin

Rabbi Ari N. Enkin, a resident of Ramat Beit Shemesh, is a researcher and writer of contemporary halachic issues. He is the author of the “Dalet Amot of Halacha” series (8 volumes), Rabbinic Director of United with Israel and a RA"M at a number of yeshivot. www.rabbienkin.com


  1. At Yekke Sedarim, only the person leading the seder washes for karpas. This is an expression of freedom, not because of any requirement to wash before eating the dipped karpas, because washing is not required for less than a kazayit of karpas (R. S.Z. Auerbach)

  2. HaDardai-

    Thanks for that. However, most sources insist that the washing is indeed due to ‘tibulo b’mashkin’. In fact, some even say that we must davka wash for karpas at the seder in order to keep the tibulo b’mashkin requirement alive as nowadays it is all but forgotten. (in most communities)

  3. I’ve always thought it’s similar to how most people say birkat hamazon over a cup of wine at the seder (leaving aside sheva brachot), even though it should be done all the time- the seder is so formalized, we preserve there what we should do always.

  4. From Safrai & Safrai’s Haggadah of the Sages pp. 21-22:

    From the language in the Mishna, it seems that he dipped into the bitter herbs, in other words, dipping vegetables in bitter herbs was not a one-time activity involving one dipping, but an ongoing activity, which continues until the main meal is served. Festive meals in Eretz Israel began with a long series of appetizers, and the Pesah meal was based on this. The main meal is the meat that is eaten with the bread. That is what we learn in the Tosefta: “The servant dips into the innards and gives to the guests,” in other words, he dips into parts of the slaughtered animals and places them before the guests, in order to whet their appetite, a kind of preparation for the meal. This situation apparently is reflected more extensively in the Haggadahs from the Geniza published by Greenstone and Fleischer (and G262, G263). After the Kiddush, several blessings are mentioned there: the blessing for washing the hands, the blessings for vegetables and fruits, blessings for various delicacies, and final blessings. All of these precede the Ma Nishtana and the Haggadah.

  5. So basically, IH, it confirms all the above. 🙂

  6. HaDardai – Actually the Mishna Brura proves from the seder minhag that Netillas Yadaim IS required on even less than a kezayis of tibulo bemashke.

    Nachum – Birkas Hamazon over a cup of wine at the seder is not equivalent to birkas hamazon on a cup of wine year round. At the seder night, this itself is part of the kiyum of arba kosos – to bentch over the cup of wine, the same way we also say hallel and asher gealanu on a kos.

  7. R’ Ari:

    I don’t mean to nitpick here but I looked at all 3 sources you quote in note 13 as saying that, “Those who conduct themselves leniently and do not wash before eating wet food or dipping foods into liquid have authorities upon whom to rely,”, when in fact they say no such thing. They do say that there are people who are lenient in this matter but they do not say they have what to rely upon. In my mind, that is a big difference.

    Below are their respective conclusions –

    Kitzur Shulhan Arukh –

    והרבה מקילין בדבר זה אבל כל ירא שמים יש לו להחמיר על עצמו

    Mishna Berura –

    ולכן אף דהעולם אין נוהגין לברך עכ”פ אין להקל לאכול בלי נטילה
    (The MB does quote the Divrei Hamudot who says ” ויש להם על מה שיסמוכו ” but his own conclusion is as above).

    Shraga Hame’ir (2:97 to which he references in his follow up in 4:111) –

    ועכ”פ הוי כדברים המותרין ואחרים נוהגין בהן איסור וצריך להחמיר וליטול ידיו בלא ברכה

  8. R’ Jacob, shalom!

    Your further research is most certainly welcome! Chen Chen al chayalei d’oraissa.

    While I agree that these sources are not outright heteirim, they do imply the existence of such heteirim.

    For example, if it were compeltely forbidden to eat without washing, the KSA would have worded himself differently, as he does in other situations where people simply conduct themsleves in outright issur. So too, the Mishna Berura is in fact a source to be meikil, even though that source is not his. (i.e. I put it there so readers can see -in the Mishan Berura cited – that there are grounds to be lenient). Hence, the Mishna Berura is an esily accessible work to see the exist of such heterim.

    As such, I think there were grounds to include them.

  9. MiMedinat HaYam

    sounds like common sfardic custom of dipping breads, etc into salads, humus, etc at beginning of formal meals (which some claim is origin of karpas ritual anyway; was (supposedly) also practiced by greeks). (and also indicates bread “lelafet et haPat”)

    does honey (in the second paragraph) mean bee honey or date honey (per most talmudic honies) or both?

    2. how dare you mention dipping cake into coffee on pesach? (sarcasm)

  10. “Nachum – Birkas Hamazon over a cup of wine at the seder is not equivalent to birkas hamazon on a cup of wine year round. At the seder night, this itself is part of the kiyum of arba kosos – to bentch over the cup of wine, the same way we also say hallel and asher gealanu on a ko”

    Or cause and effect may be the opposite- there are four occasions to say a bracha on a cup, two unique to the evening (Maggid and Hallel) and two we do (or should do) all year long (Kiddush and Birkat HaMazon), totalling four.

  11. see also the Netziv in the Haggadah Imrei Shefer where Netziv points out that Karpas is rooted in the Halacha of Davar Shetibulu BMashkeh as one of many ways on Leil Seder that we are acting as if we are in the Beis HaMikdash.

  12. R. Ari,

    The KSA is certainly a source indicating a leniency, the MB is not. He quite clearly states that there is no room to be lenient. I think you should reread the entire source.

    The SA rules quite clearly that one must wash hands but not make a bracha. The MB, commenting on the “B’lo Bracha” notes that there are sources who do not require washing and therefore, due to safek brachot lehakel, we do not make a bracha. Nonetheless, notes the MB, the halacha is quite clear that washing is required. He spends the entire second half of the 158:20 stressing that it is required.

  13. R’ Enkin
    A possible solution/clarification – Maybe when sources don’t exactly say what it says in the actual body of the article (like the MB in this context), instead of just writing the source as MB, you could write “See MB” in the footnote. Then it’s clear that you aren’t saying MB says it, but rather that he says something relevant. I think that’s the standard way of doing it, so that no one gets the impression the source actually concludes in such a way

  14. Memedinat-

    It means bee honey only. Mishna Berura 158:14.

  15. James-

    I appreciate your analysis, but I feel that citing the Mishna Berura was entirely legitimate so that readers can see the Divrei Chamudot.

    Nevertheless, from an academic point of view, you are correct, and that footnote could have been better and more accurately written. I will be taking the advice of ‘Idea’, above.

  16. Idea-

    Perfect. Thank you.

  17. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my own blog and was wondering what all is needed to get set up? I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost a pretty penny? I’m not very internet smart so I’m not 100% sure. Any tips or advice would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

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