This Mishnah teaches that natiylat-yadayim (ritual hand-washing) and table fellowship are of great importance. This post will discuss how tzedakah (charitable disposition in deeds) is essential for table fellowship.
Mishnah Yadayim 2:4 states: “Concerning the case for “the uncertain ritual purity status of hands at table fellowship”, do they transmit uncleanness (tamei’, or unclean) or are they declared ritually pure (tahor, or clean)? Concerning “uncertainty concerning hands”, they do not transmit impurity, but are considered clean. R. Yossi says concerning hands, “nevertheless, hands are susceptible to transmit ritual impurity”:—but if the hand’s ritual purity status is legally unclear, and if they had touched the bread—the hands remain in whatever is their original ritual status, and the bread stays in its original ritual status.” (Author’s Translation)
Here is my restatement of this Mishnah: where there is uncertainty if transmission of ritual impurity occurred by someone touching food with his hands, the halakhah is that no transmission occurs since everything is clean prior to eating: the food at the table remains in its original ritual status and so do the hands.
I think this Mishnah’s halakhah is clarified by Yeshua’s teaching in Luke 11:37-41. One pharisee invites Yeshua to eat his food at his table and the Master accepts. Then the Pharisee washes his hands and looks expectantly at Yeshua to do so also, but He does not. A flash of anger crosses the pharisee’s face. I think Yeshua hadn’t yet washed in order to teach an important halakhah about natiylat-yadayim.
This pharisee was angry since Yeshua continued teaching rather than washing hands and eating. He fumed, “if Yeshua won’t wash, then I will not be able to eat the food I shared with him! Such a waste of food on this uncouth Rabbi!” He was eager to invite Yeshua to eat only so he could satiate himself.
So greedy, so eager to eat his food, this pharisee worries that all his food is now unclean. He wonders if Yeshua had moved cups and plates around on the table or touched the food before washing. Yeshua points to the halakhah that the pharisees say, “the cup and plate do not impart ritual impurity”. Yeshua rebukes him saying that his outward deed to share a meal must also align with his intention (cf. Luke 11:40). If it truly was the pharisee’s intention to sit and eat with the Master, then as the host he must first patiently consider the honor of his guest. According to this Mishnah, the food was apparently in no danger of becoming unclean by Yeshua’s hands. It will remain ritually pure while the pharisee listens to Yeshua teach; certainly Yeshua will wash His hands when He finishes teaching and He is ready to eat.
This Mishnah and the Master’s teaching show that food on the table was to be considered a tahor status since eating hadn’t begun yet. The Master had most likely not touched it yet, but even if He did, the purity status of His hands couldn’t render the food unclean before the meal began. But as R. Yossi says, hands will still need to be washed before eating begins. In conclusion, we should eat together with love for one another our priority. Disciples shouldn’t wash hands in order to eat, but we should wash hands for the love of HaShem and for our fellow Disciples. Do you do natiylat-yadayim? Why or why not?