- Question: [Sunday, 15th Sivan, 5783]
We were on a class field trip in the mountains the other day with our school and when it came time for lunch almost nobody bothered to wash their hands for the bread. They simply ate the bread through the bag claiming that when you’re traveling you do not need to wash and can eat the bread so long as you don’t touch it directly. That is not what I was taught so I waited until we reached an area where I can wash, which was only five minutes away. To note, that we all had bottles of drinking water and could’ve technically washed from it. Can you please clarify this matter.
It is forbidden for one to eat bread without washing even during travel if water is available. Thus, they should have used their drinking water to wash hands, at least for the minimal amount required for washing. Furthermore, even if no water is available, if water will certainly become available within traveling distance of 72 minutes, then they must wait until they reach the water prior to eating bread. The only case that there is ever room to permit eating bread with a plastic bag without washing is if there is no water currently available and it will not for certain be available for a distance of at least 72 minutes forwards and 18 minutes back, and even then there are opinions which are stringent, and therefore one who is stringent is blessed.
This is an unfortunately common situation, in which many are mistakenly lenient against Halacha to eat bread within a plastic bag without washing hands before hand, even though it is Halachically required in their situation. The reason behind these mistaken leniencies is due to the fact that there are lenient opinions who permit this but that we do not rule like, and due to the fact that in specific situations which are often not met by a typical traveler we are lenient. Practically, there was no allowance in the above case for the girls to eat the bread without washing being that they had water available with them and within a 72 minute travel distance, and thus you did the right thing by waiting to eat until you wash. This especially applies for Chassidim who follow the rulings of the Alter Rebbe, who encourages one to be stringent and never rely on eating bread without washing even during travel and even in the permitted cases. It is a Mitzvah to publicize this matter, and the teachers should direct their students in the proper Halacha, and arrange to make a rest stop by a place that they can wash their hands to eat lunch. Below we will explain the exact scenarios in which a leniency is permitted.
The sages prohibited eating bread or wet foods due to the impurity of one’s hands until one washes his hands beforehand. The question is therefore raised regarding whether the hand washing obligation for bread or wet foods applies even if one does not touch the food directly, such as if he eats the bread with a fork, or while wearing gloves, or through holding onto a plastic bag which contains the bread. The reason to consider the leniency is because one’s impure hands is not touching the bread directly and hence perhaps washing is not necessary. On the other hand, perhaps the sages instituted the washing obligation irrelevant of whether one is directly touching the food or not so long as one is eating it. Practically, although we find a debate in this matter in the Rishonim with some ruling that it is always permitted to eat wet food or bread while wearing gloves [as opposed to a fork which is forbidden even in their opinion] without washing them before hand, nonetheless, the final ruling in the Poskim and Shulchan Aruch is not like this opinion. Rather, the final ruling is that we only permit eating foods indirectly without washing hands before if water is not available, such as during travel, and even then only under certain conditions.
The following is the rule: If water is available during travel, then according to all final opinions it is forbidden for one to eat bread without washing even during travel. Furthermore, even if no water is currently available, if water will for certain become available within traveling distance of 4 mil [i.e. 72/96 minutes] forwards in their journey or 1 Mil [i.e. 18/24 minutes out-of-the-way], then they must wait until they reach the water prior to eating bread. Furthermore, even if water will not for certain become available within 4 Mil forwards, and 1 Mil out of the way of travel, according to many Poskim, and so rules Admur in his Seder, the allowance is only to eat the bread while wearing gloves or while both hands are both wrapped in a cloth, and not while they are simply inside of a bag. Furthermore, Admur in his Seder brings opinions who completely argue on any allowance in eating bread without washing during travel, and he concludes that one who is stringent is blessed.
Hence, it is clear that many people, including those in the above scenario, are relying on the above leniency in cases that they were never intended, and even in the case that the conditions of the leniency are met, they must make sure at least initially to wrap their hands in a cloth and not rely on the bread being in a bag, and if they are Chabad Chassidim they should not rely on the leniency at all as is encouraged by the Alter Rebbe.
Sources: See Seder Netilas Yadayim Halacha 22; Admur 163:1 Michaber 163:1; Piskeiy Teshuvos 163:1-6 See regarding eating foods dipped in liquids with a fork or with gloves or in a bag: Seder Netilas Yadayim Halacha 22 [permitted if common, or on road]; Admur 158:3 [permitted if common, or on road without water for 4 mil and 1 Mil]; 163:1; Michaber and Rama 163:1; Elya Raba 163:4 Opinions who are always lenient with a cloth but not with fork: Rambam Brachos 6:18 See regarding the general prohibition against eating bread with a fork or with gloves or in a bag: Seder Netilas Yadayim Halacha 22; Admur 163:1; Michaber 163:1; Beis Yosef 163; Chulin 107b according to Rosh Chulin 8:18; Rabbeinu Yona Brachos 8; Kaf Hachaim 163:1 in name of Semag, Semka and Raavad, Levush, Bach Opinions who are always lenient with a cloth but not with fork: Rambam Brachos 6:18 “a person may wrap his hands with a cloth and eat with them bread or wet foods even though he did not wash his hands”, brought in Beis Yosef 159 and Admur 159:17 in parentheses “as there are opinion would permit eating with a cloth in all situations”; See opinions who permit eating bread through gloves while on the road if there is no water available for 4 Mil forwards and one Mil backwards: Yeish Makilin in Admur Seder Netilas Yadayim Halacha 22; Only opinion in Admur 163:1; Michaber and Rama 163:1 [permits even with fork]; Aruch Erech Gevel; Rabbeinu Chananel Pesachim 46a; See regarding eating in bag, versus fork, versus glove: Admur Seder Netilas Yadayim Halacha 22 [permits only with cloth on both hands, such as gloves]; Admur 163:1 [permits even with fork]; Michaber 163:1 [permits with cloth on both hands] and Rama 163:1 [permits even with fork]; M”B 163:7 and 10 and Piskeiy Teshuvos 163:3-4 [Must initially wrap hands, eating in bag does not suffice]; Kaf Hachaim 163:8 [may eat with fork although best with cloth]; Tzitz Eliezer 8:7 and Avnei Yashpei 2:11 negates eating in bag See regarding being lenient in case of Safek if water will be available: Admur 163:1; M”A 163:1; Kaf Hachaim 163:2; See opinions who prohibit eating bread through gloves even while on the road even if there is no water available for 4 Mil forwards and one Mil backwards: Yeish Cholkin in Admur Seder Netilas Yadayim Halacha 22; Rashal in Yam Shel Shlomo Chulin 8:22 and Shut 94 Mordechai Brachos 8:195 in name of Tashbeitz 276; Hagahos Maimanis Hilchos Brachos 17; Ritva Pesachim 46, brought in Biur Halacha 163:1; Poskim in Piskeiy Teshuvos 163:6 See regarding the length of a Mil: Admur 184:3; 459:1 [18 versus 24]; Biur Halacha 163:1 [follow time not length]; Piskeiy Teshuvos 163:1