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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Washing Before Touching Bread

I understand that we must wash our hands before eating bread because our hands are ritually unclean. Let’s say a person touches bread without eating it. Wouldn’t the same concern apply? This happens to me many mornings when I make my lunch for work.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

It’s a good question. Since we wash our hands for bread because of ritual uncleanness, by rights the concern should be the same however we come in contact with the bread, whether through eating or touching.

Even so, the Sages decreed washing only before eating bread but not before any other sort of contact. The reason is because there is no actual concern of ritual uncleanness. Washing the hands was only necessary for Priests in earlier times, when they would eat their tithes (terumah) in a state of purity. To help ensure that the Priests would be in the habit of doing the required washing, the Sages decreed that all Israel should wash before eating bread – the most common form of coming in contact with terumah, and this decree was maintained in later times, even though Priests may no longer eat terumah.

Thus, although in the olden days a Priest would have to wash his hands for both bread and other tithed produce, and both before touching and before eating them, the nationwide decree was instituted for eating bread alone. (See Mishna Berurah 158:1-2.)

In fact, as the Talmud points out, if one person were feeding another one bread, the one who is doing the feeding would not be required to wash, while the one doing the eating would (Hullin 107b).

Note that apart from the issue of washing before bread, one must wash his hands three times in the morning before touching any food (Mishna Berurah 4:14).

Two Yuds for Name of God

I see that prayer books often show God’s name with two letter yud‘s together. Is that one of God’s names? And what is the basis for it?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

It’s a very good question. The truth is, the double-yud symbol is a bit of a historical anomaly (as heard from my father of blessed memory, Rabbi Azriel Rosenfeld). There is a Kabbalistic triangular symbol for God’s name which consists of two yuds with a sideways vuv above them. The gematria (numerical value) of those three letters is 26, which is the same as God’s ineffable name (the Tetragrammaton). When printing was introduced, printers had trouble representing the sidewise vuv. They thus simplified the symbol into the two yuds alone – which de facto became a new not-very-sacred representation of God’s name!

Note that since this symbol is not an actual representation of God’s name, it does not have the sanctity of the actual names of God. Thus, by the letter of the law, it may be discarded. However, since it’s an accepted symbol it is no less sacred than any other representation of God’s name, such as His name in English. Thus, out of deference, it should preferably not be thrown out. See this response for a more detailed discussion. (See also Igrot Moshe O.C. IV 39.)

It’s amusing to note that without being aware of the double-yud’s curious history, many fascinating explanations for their significance have been proposed – several of them ingenious but probably none of them true. In that light I will share a nice little lesson I once heard myself (quoted from elsewhere by Rabbi Yitzchak Breitowitz).

A father was once teaching his small child to read, and they were reading verses of the Torah. The boy reached a double yud and pronounced it “yih’yih”. The father explained, that no, when two yud’s are together we say God’s name. Corrected, the boy continued. When he reached the end of the verse he saw a colon (as is typically used to divide Hebrew verses), and seeing two small yud-like symbols, he again pronounced God’s name. The father corrected him again: “When two yud’s are together, we say God’s name. When one is above the other we do not.”

The father then recognized the significance of what he had just said. The name of the letter yud is almost identical to the Yiddish word “Yid” – a Jew. Thus, when two Jews are next to each other, as equals, God’s Divine presence is with them. When one is above the other and looking down on him, God does not appear!

Milk and Meat on Same Table

My high school no longer has a lunch program, so we all brown-bag our lunches. It occurred to me that though most of us eat pareve or dairy, some kids come in with meat sandwiches. At home we have separate tablecloths for meat and dairy. Here, however, we’re all eating together. Is there any problem with that?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

There is an interesting rule regarding this. If I am eating kosher and my non-Jewish friend is eating non-kosher right next to me, there is no concern I will help myself to one of his sausages. The reason is because since I never eat non-kosher, there is no concern I will forget and do so now.

Regarding milk and meat, however, the Sages were more concerned. Since I eat meat all the time, if meat is right next to me while I’m eating dairy, I may forget and help myself to some of the meat. Thus, the Sages required that meat not be present at all on the table when I’m eating dairy – as well as vice versa of course (Shach Y.D. 88:2).

Now, let’s say the meat which is next to me is not free for the taking but belongs to someone else. Is there a concern I will help myself to it? It depends how friendly I am with the one it belongs to. If we are friendly enough to share food with each other, then the concern stands that I may take some meat during my dairy meal (Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 88:2). This would most likely be the case with fellow students sitting together at lunch.

Jewish law provides a few means of avoiding this issue, of safeguarding that I don’t absentmindedly take my fellow’s food. Here are the choices:

(a) If the two people are using separate tablecloths (Shu”A 88:2).

(b) If they place something noticeable in between them – something which wouldn’t normally be on the table during a meal, such as a cell phone (Shu”A & Rema 88:2).

(c) If the two people are sitting far enough apart that they cannot reach each other’s food (Pischei Teshuva 3).

(d) If someone is sitting in between them, say someone who is eating neither meat nor dairy (Pischei Teshuva 4).

Based on the above, in your situation the only concern is if a meat eater and dairy eater are sitting near each other with no one in between. When that occurs, they should place something on the table between them.