Today is Global Handwashing Day, a global advocacy day dedicated to increasing awareness and understanding about the importance of handwashing with soap as an effective and affordable way to prevent diseases and save lives.” Judaism encourages frequent handwashing, as noted in one of the very first Treats presented by Jewish Treats:

Some people wash their hands obsessively, while others are careful to use hand sanitizer. For the “clean freaks” among us, perhaps the “Employees must wash hands” sign is disturbing. After all, what about everyone else?

Jewish law calls for the washing of one’s hands after many mundane actions, such as before eating (especially when eating bread), after cutting one’s nails or touching one’s feet. Hygienic? Certainly. But in this case, water is used to remove “spiritual impurities” that come upon the hands from touching certain body parts or due to general contact with a not-so-clean, physical world (a Kabbalistic idea).

Jews are charged to strive for a level of holiness (Leviticus 19:2), which is accomplished through preparing for, and participating in, holy activities. Washing one’s hands before eating turns eating into a holy act (“We eat to live!” – Proverbs 13:25). Washing after leaving the restroom enables one to properly participate in a holy act. Many people also wash their hands before prayer. The significance is obvious.

In the first two examples cited, the washing of hands is followed immediately by the recitation of a blessing. The washing and the blessing help us recognize that food is a gift of God and acknowledge God’s role in allowing our body to function properly.

This Treat was last posted on August 1, 2008.

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