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Netilat Yadayim – What is it?

Jewish Blog Netilat Yadayim – What is it?
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Hand washing, or Netilat Yadayim in Hebrew, is an essential part of Jewish ritual. Individuals are understood to be in a state of impurity at many points during their day. To rid themselves of such contamination, one must wash their hands using a washing cup or running water. Following the Netilat Yadayim ritual helps Jewish individuals be as sanctified as they possibly can be, which allows them to be prepared for the time that the Messiah arrives.

When Does the Jewish Law Dictate That One Must Wash Their Hands?

  • After waking up in the morning.
  • Before prayer.
  • After one has touched their private parts.
  • After leaving a cemetery.
  • After leaving the lavatory, latrine or bathhouse.
  • Before breaking the bread that one serves at dinner.
  • After eating a meal that included the salt of Sodom.
  • During the Passover Seder.

Which of These Hand Washes Require the Use of a Washing Cup?

Out of the list above, there are only two instances that the hand-washing ritual must be done with a washing cup: upon waking up in the morning and before the breaking of bread. For all of the other times, one must wash their hands according to Jewish law; it is permitted to do so using running water from a tap. Jewish law states that one must wash their hands after they awake in the morning in order to wash away evil. The Jewish faith believes that when we sleep, our souls make their way to heavenly realms rejuvenate after a full day of being awake. Since the soul is away while one is asleep, the body fails to fight off any impure spirits that influence people during their slumber. So, one washes their hands using a washing cup when they wake up in the morning to wipe off any negative spirits that may have stuck to them in their sleep.

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The other time one must use a washing cup to fulfill Netilat Yadayim properly is before one eats bread. The need to wash one’s hands before eating bread is a rabbinic mitzvah that is written in the Torah. This came about because of the Torah’s command to put a small portion of the grain, olive oil, and wine that we produce aside to give as a gift to the kohen. Since these gifts had to remain pure, one had to ensure that their hands were rid of all impurities before putting the holy portion aside for the kohen. The practice of putting parts of the meal aside for the kohen is no longer practiced, but it remains part of Jewish ritual to wash one’s hand before eating bread made of grains. This handwashing is to be done three times consecutively, to make sure one’s hands are wholly sanctified.

How to Properly Use a Jewish Washing Cup

Netilat Yadayim is done using a washing cup with two handles. The common practice for washing one’s hands using a washing cup is to pour water on one’s right hand twice, and then doing the same thing for one’s left hand. For left-handed people, this ritual is done in reverse of that order. It is Hasidic custom to pour water on each side three times, to truly ensure that one is adequately sanctified. Once one has completed their handing washing, this blessing is to be recited before they do anything else:

בָּרוּךְ אַתָּה אַדָנָי אֱלהֵינוּ מֶלֶךְ הָעולָם אֲשֶׁר קִדְּשָׁנוּ בְּמִצְותָיו וְצִוָּנוּ עַל נְטִילַת יָדַיִם

in hebrew

Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu Melech ha-olam, asher kidshanu b’mitzvotav vitzivanu al n’tilat yadayim.

in english

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with Your commandments, and commanded us concerning the washing of the hands.

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The Benefits of Purchasing a Washing Cup

Hand-washing cups make ideal housewarming gifts, Bar or Bat Mitzvah gifts, wedding gifts, or a gift for any high Jewish holiday. Since anyone who practices Judaism follows Netilat Yadayim, giving them the gift of a hand-washing cup that suits their personality is sure to make them smile. You can also treat yourself to one of our beautiful washing cups to make sure your Netilat Yadayim looks precisely the way you’d like it to. Whether you are on the road or in the comfort of your own home, having a washing cup close by that you can use to practice Netilat Yadayim is a necessity.

Different Designs and Materials to Suit Anyone’s Preference

The pomegranate is found on many of our decorated washing cups because it is one of the Seven Species of Israel. Other hand-washing cups have engravings of a Jerusalem panorama, or have only one solid color on them, or have Hebrew text printed on them with an abstract design. No matter what denomination one is a part of, we are sure to have a hand-washing cup that is designed to their liking.

Jewish hand-washing cups can be made out of a wide range of different materials, which means anyone’s preference can be met. Our hand-washing cups are most commonly made of aluminum or ceramic, but can also be made out of sterling silver, metal, plastic, stainless steel, polyresin, or wood. They can also be gold plated or silver plated. We recommend plastic ones for children, aluminum ones for daily use, and sterling silver for the high holidays – but the choice is all yours!

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