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Netilas yadayim with sea water


Rabbi David Sperling

Tammuz 3, 5777
Is it permitted to use seawater during a fishing trip to wash for a meal ? I have a 2 handled cup to bring with me.
Shalom, Thank you for your question. There are many details about the laws connected with hand washing before eating bread. One of them concerns the type of water to be used. According to the Shulchan Aruch (Orech Haim 160, 9) water that a dog would not drink cannot be used for hand washing. This includes sea water. So, filling your cup with sea water will be unacceptable for netilat yadayiim. However – do not despair! Apart from washing one's hands by pouring water over them from a vessel, one has another option. One can purify their hands by immersing them in a body of water that has the laws of a mikvah. The sea is definitely considered as a kosher mikveh. (See Mishna Brurah, ibid 38). So – instead of filling your cup with sea water to wash your hands with, you should immerse your hands into the sea (dip them fully into the water), and then, after saying the blessing, dry them off and proceed to the blessing for bread, and eating your sandwiches. The only question left is what blessing does one say in such a case? The Shulchan Aruch (159,20) rules that one uses the standard "al netilat yadayiim". The Rema adds that some say "… al tevilat yadayiim" or "… al shetifat yadayiim". The Mishna Brurah rules that when the mikvah water is not drinkable the "… al tevilat yadayiim" formula should be used. Others (notably the Shulchan Aruch HaRav of Chabad) prefer reciting "… al shetifat yadayiim". But the major opinion is to use the standard "al netilat yadayiim" (see Piskay Tshuvot 159, 23), and this is the more accepted practice. Happy Fishing!
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