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Washing the Hands before Kiddush

(OH 271:12)

Question:
It is customary to wash the hands on Friday night between kiddush and hamotzi. This is problematic at kibbutzim and other educational institutions where the hands are washed in another room, which leads to a long delay between kiddush and hamotzi. Is it permissible to wash the hands at the table? Is it permissible to wash the hands before kiddush?

Responsum:
There are two possible solutions to this problem:

1. It is certainly permissible to wash the hands at the table as is customary at the seder since this was the standard practice in the talmudic period (Tosefta Berakhot 4:8 and parallels).

2. It is also permissible to wash the hands before kiddush (but not before Shalom Aleikhem) since that was one of the standard customs throughout the Middle Ages and until today. The main source discussed in this regard is found in Pesahim 106a: “Rabbi Bruna said in the name of Rav: He who washes his hands should not recite kiddush.” Maimonides, the Tur and R. Joseph Karo ruled on the basis of that source that the hands must be washed after kiddush. But Rabbeinu Tam and others interpreted that source in a different fashion. In practice, many Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews in the Middle Ages used to wash their hands before kiddush and this practice was endorsed by R. Moshe Isserles. Many Ashkenazic Jews later abandoned this practice, but it is still the standard practice among German Jews and their descendants.

Thus it is permissible to sing Shalom Aleichem and Eishet Hayil and bless the children, to wash the hands and then to make kiddush and hamotzi without a break.

Rabbi David Golinkin
Approved Unanimously 5751

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