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Shabbat Parashat Devarim| 5770
Ask the Rabbi: Doing Dishes on Tisha B’Av
Question: When I have dirty dishes from the seuda hamafseket (meal before the fast) and from feeding children on Tisha B’Av, may I wash them on Tisha B’Av?
Answer: Washing one’s skin is forbidden on Tisha B’Av, including even putting one’s finger in water without justification (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 554:7). When there is justification, such as for the need of a mitzva, it is permissible to wash as much as is necessary (ibid.:8). There are other justifications besides mitzvot, as the gemara (Yoma 77b) says that one whose hands are dirty may wash his hands normally on Yom Kippur (and thus certainly on Tisha B’Av). In explaining this halacha, the Tur (Orach Chayim 554) says that only washing for enjoyment is forbidden.
Thus, there is logic to say that since few people intend to have washing enjoyment from doing dishes, it should be permitted to wash dishes normally. However, there are strong indications that we permit non-enjoyment washing only under circumstances that justify it. For example, the gemara (ibid.), when allowing one to wade through water on Yom Kippur to visit his rabbi (a mitzva), leaves it as an open question whether the rabbi may go to visit his student. We are stringent on the matter (Shulchan Aruch, OC 613:7). One can claim that this is perhaps a more objectively enjoyable form of real bathing, which thus requires a more serious justification. However, even when allowing one to wash the hands for a mitzva need, he is required to wash the minimum area of the hand, not the whole hand as we normally prefer (Shulchan Aruch, OC 554:11). This does not seem to be such a clear objective enjoyment, and thus it seems that there must always be a clear need.
We do find that preparing a meal is a legitimate justification to get one’s hand wet. The gemara (Shabbat 114b) allowed doing keniva of vegetables toward the end of Yom Kippur, so that one will have the presence of mind that he will be ready to eat when the fast ends. The Rashba and Ramban explain that keniva is washing and thus the fact that one’s hands will undoubtedly get wet in the process does not prohibit it. (We do not practice this leniency, but for an unrelated side reason (ibid.; Shulchan Aruch, OC 611:2)). Also, the Magen Avraham (554:11, cited by the Mishna Berura 554:19) says that women who are cooking on Tisha B’Av may wash meat even though their hands will get wet.
On the other hand, getting the hands wet in that context is somewhat of an issue. The Pri Megadim (ad loc.) makes two comments on this Magen Avraham. One is that it is talking about one who needs meat. The Machazeh Eliayhu (87) understands that he was bothered by the fact that it is forbidden to eat meat until the next afternoon. The fact that he must point out that he needs the meat earlier is a sign that it would be forbidden to wash one’s hands while cooking on Tisha B’Av for the next day’s meal. The second point is that one should not use warm water, which is a higher level of enjoyment. The Kaf Hachayim (OC 554:46) takes issue on the second point, at least in cases where warm water is necessary, and it seems logical to be lenient in that case.
The position of avoiding touching water when possible is the topic of the following disagreement. The Beit Yosef (OC 615) and Taz (615:1) say that when a child needs to be washed, a non-Jew should do it, so the Jew can avoid the pleasure of the water. The Magen Avraham (ad loc.:1) and most authorities say it is permitted for a Jew to wash him.
In the final analysis it is proper to wash only those dishes that need to be washed on Tisha B’Av. This can be to avoid flies and odors or to make sure there are as many dishes as are needed for those who need to eat on Tisha B’Av or to break the fast right afterward. In other cases, one should either use rubber gloves or wait until after Tisha B’Av. Also, unless one cannot wait, housekeeping type activities should be done after chatzot (midday), even when issues of washing do not apply (Rama, OC 554:22).
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Hemdat Yamim of this week is dedicated
Yitzchak Eizik Ben Yehuda Leib a"h,
This week’s Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in loving memory of
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