Why is washing the hands such a common ritual in Judaism? It is part of the principle of cleanliness that is basic to Jewish thinking. As against the old saying “cleanliness is next to godliness”, Judaism says “cleanliness is part of godliness”.
The importance of cleanliness is illustrated by the rule that no-one should live in a town that has no bath house. Cleanliness of the body goes with purity of the heart.
Why do we wash our hands before eating bread?
In biblical times hand-washing was essential for the kohanim but it was later extended to apply to every Jew.
For centuries, antisemites accused Jews of poisoning the wells – how else could they explain why major epidemics seemed to bypass the Jewish communities? The truth was that Jews washed their hands when rising from bed, before eating and after using the toilet, took regular baths, and observed other principles of health and hygiene.
Women immersed in the mikvah each month; pious men also used the mikvah on a regular basis. This is not to say that these practices necessarily aimed at preventing disease, though this was a crucial consequence.
Designed in 1972 by Sharon Geller-Metal at the Jewish Museum
in New York City, this sterling silver ritual handwashing cup
represents the perfect synthesis of form and function. Ergonomically designed, the pure lines and graceful handle combine to produce a striking washing cup that is beautiful to look at, a pleasure to use and a joy to own. The inside of the cup reveals the Hebrew words "al netilat yadayim," the conclusion of the blessing for ceremonial hand washing.