Prohibitions Before Washing Negel Vasser – An Overview
By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
There are three things that should not be done before one washes Negel Vasser in the morning.
- One should not touch the open areas of the face before washing Negel Vasser on the hands: These are the mouth, the nose, the ears and the eyes. This is based upon the Gemorah in Shabbos (108b) which indicates that there is a danger to these orifices on account of the Ruach Rah that exists on the hands before it is washed off. The Gemorah gives a warning to other body parts as well, but Rashi explains that these areas do not refer to Negel Vasser but to other times. There is a debate as to whether the outer sections maybe touched, such as the lips, outer nose, outer ear, and eye lids. It is best to be stringent according to the Mishna Brurah (MB 4:12).
- One should not directly touch food before washing Negel Vasser on the hands. If someone touched food and only washed his hands once for hygiene purposes, it is a debate between Rav Ovadiah Yoseph and Dayan Fisher as to whether the food has been contaminated. Rav Ovadiah cites the Arizal that each time one washes 33 and1/3 percent of the impurity is removed. Since the sages have said that the food is forbidden until one washes one’s hands, we have no indication that it would be prohibited if there was only 67% of the impurity on one’s hands. Dayan Fisher (Even Yisroel 8:1), on the other hand, states that the fact that the Tumah is weakened allows it to transfer to other things more easily, and is thus perhaps a bigger problem than not having washed once at all.
- If one’s hands are not clean then no bracha or Divrei Torah may be recited. If they are definitely clean, such as if one slept in clothing in such a manner that one did not touch the covered parts of the body, then according to the Talmud and the Shulchan Aruch, one may recite a blessing or read any Divrei Torah before washing Negel Vasser in the morning. Nonetheless, the Zohar (introduction page 10b) is extremely strict on this issue and states that the Ruach Rah prevents the bracha from being effective.
 The juxtaposition of OC 46:2 immediately after OC 46:1 shows clearly that the Shulchan Aruch disagrees with the position of the Zohar.