Not Talking After Washing for Bread
I know that after washing for bread one should not speak until after he has taken a bite of the bread. My difficulty is that on Shabbat when we’re waiting for everyone to wash, my ADHD kids (yes, they inherited it from me!) start getting antsy and clowning around. How important is it that they remain quiet waiting for me to cut the challah?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
It’s interesting that this is one area in which people seem to be more stringent than necessary. The Talmud states, “Immediately after the washing is the meal” (Brachot 52b). One should therefore recite the blessing on the bread as soon as possible after washing, ideally within the time it takes to walk 22 cubits (approx. 7-10 seconds; Rema 166:1). This is of course not possible when waiting for everyone to wash at a Shabbat meal.
Primarily, however, the meaning of the Talmud is that one should not take his mind off of the meal in between washing and eating. The purpose of washing is so that we will have clean hands for the meal (a commemoration of the Kohanim, who were obligated to maintain a higher level of purity for themselves and their food). Therefore, one should not get involved in any distracting activity while waiting for the meal to begin.
The accepted practice is that one should not interrupt by so much as speaking a single word before partaking of the bread. However, if one does speak briefly or get distracted for a short time, he does not need wash again (Shulchan Aruch 166:1, Mishnah Berurah 6). For kids, it would certainly be sufficient to keep them from running off to the back yard.
Another point is that one is permitted to speak between the washing and eating about matters relating to the meal (Mishnah Berurah 166:2). Thus, calling out to someone to pass the salt is technically okay – although people typically start grunting and gesturing at such times. (Shabbat guests unfamiliar with Orthodox practices often find this amusing.)
One important rule that many people are not that aware of is that one must be careful not to talk while he is washing. Talking between the washing and the blessing recited afterwards – al netilat yadayim – is an interruption between the act and the blessing and would invalidate the blessing altogether.
One final point is that after reciting the blessing on the bread – hamotzi lechem min ha’aretz – one must be very careful not to talk until after he has swallowed some bread. This is much more serious than interrupting between the washing and the blessing on the bread. As we know, on Shabbat when the challah is served to many people at once, there can easily be a minute-long delay between the blessing and eating while the challah is being sliced and distributed. During that time you should be careful not to take your mind off the bread at all – not to e.g. gesture or read something while waiting for the challah to come your way (see Shulchan Aruch 206:3).