Zevachim 30 - 36
The 22-Amah Delay
“… And some say that that one should be careful not to make an interruption (hefsek) between netilat yadayim (washing and drying hands) and saying the beracha of ‘hamotzi,’ and it is good to be careful.” Rema: “And if one delayed for the time that it takes to walk 22 amot, this is called an interruption.” (Shulchan Aruch Aruch Chaim 166:1:1)
This prohibition against a time delay, even without speaking, between doing netilat yadayim and saying hamotzi is based on the requirement of ‘immediately (tekef) after washing is the beracha,’ as taught in the sixth chapter of Berachot in the Talmud Yerushalmi. Details of this halacha, such as the time being counted only after drying the hands, that rewashing is not needed if there was a delay, an interruption for the need of the meal is permitted, ideally there should be no delay at all — and more — are taught in the Mishnah Berurah there.
What is the source for this quite practical halacha, and in what way is it a “Talmud Tip”? Tosefot in Masechet Sotah 39a explains that the definition of “immediately” can be derived from our sugya in Masechet Zevachim.
On the previous daf (32b) the Sage Ulla teaches in the name of Reish Lakish that a partial entry into the azarah (courtyard) of the Beit Hamikdash is considered an entry, which is forbidden for someone tamei (ritually impure) and may result in the punishment of malkot if done intentionally, with a warning and in front of witnesses. He derives this halacha from interpreting a verse in Vayikra that juxtaposes the words touch and enter in Vayikra 12:4 — just as touch is only partial (in general), likewise, even partial entry is forbidden by the Torah.
On our daf the gemara suggests that the following beraita is an earlier text that supports the teaching of Ulla that a partial entry is considered an entry: “All of the semichot (laying hands on the korban) that were there (the azarah) followed the rule of ‘immediately after semicha is shechita,’ (learned from the nearness of verbs samach and shachat in Vayikra 1:4 and 5), except for this one (the korban asham, guilt offering, of the metzora in Vayikra 14), who was at the Nikanor Gate, because he cannot enter there (the azarah) until the kohen sprinkles the blood of his chatat (sin offering in Vayikra 14) and the blood of his asham.”
The gemara’s suggested proof is as follows: If a partial entry is not considered an entry, why can’t the metzora stand at the northern side of the Nikanor Gate (the eastern gate of the azarah, which did not have the kedusha of the azarah), and reach into the azarah to lay his hands on the asham, which could then be immediately followed by its shechita inside the azarah? Since the beraita states that there could be no semicha for this korban, the reason must be that a partial entry into the azarah (hands for semicha) is considered as if the entire metzora had entered the azarah, an act that is clearly forbidden since he is still lacking the atonement with his sacrifices. Therefore, the gemara suggests that the beraita constitutes a proof for Ulla’s teaching that a partial entry is indeed considered an entry.
However, the gemara replies that this beraita is not a proof for Ulla’s teaching, and offers two different teachings from Rav Yosef that would invalidate the proof.
The first way that Rav Yosef offers is that the beraita actually holds that a partial entry is not considered an entry, not like Ulla, and nevertheless a semicha cannot be done on the asham of the metzora for a different reason. He claims that the Tana of the beraita holds like Rabbi Yosi the son of Rabbi Yehuda, who rules in Zevachim 20a that the shechita of the asham must be done at the north side of the mizbe’ch (altar), which was 22 amot distant from the Nikanor Gate where the metzora could stand. Doing semicha at the gate and then shechita at the north of the mizbe’ach would constitute a breach of the principle of ‘shechita immediately after semicha’ due to the delay in moving 22 amot. Therefore, the beraita could agree that a partial entry is not an entry, but that that there is a ‘timing problem’ in doing semicha this much in advance. And this is why the beraita teaches that it was not done for the asham of the metzora. (See our sugya, which offers a second answer from Rav Yosef for semicha not being possible even if the shechita of the korban could be done within reach of the metzora, just inside the northern part of Nikanor Gate (like the ruling of Rebbi in Zevachim 20a), and not 22 amot distant at the north side of the mizbe’ach. And see the Magen Avraham 166:(3) who asks a fascinating question on how to understand the basic premise in our sugya, and how he and the Bi’ur HaGra answer this question in different manners.)
It should be mentioned that the Talmud Yerushalmi actually teaches three cases when there is a need for one act to immediately follow another: shechita after semicha (as in our sugya), beracha after netilah (as in Tractate Berachot), and tefillah after geulah (shmoneh esrei prayer after the beracha of geulah that follows saying the Shma in the morning and evening services).
One might wonder what is to be done nowadays in the event that the place for washing hands is farther than 22 amot from the place from the table where the beracha of hamotzi will be said. The Aruch Hashulchan rules that there is no issue in this case, since the rule of immediacy apples only where applicable. Based on this, it should follow that there is also no concern when many guests or family are washing for a Shabbat, and there will be a delay of more than “22 amot” before the beracha is made on the two challahs for everyone. Nevertheless, many years ago I heard from Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, zatzal, a word of advice: If one can inconspicuously return to the table before fully drying one’s hands, and then wait until just before the person who will say hamotzi is about to return to the table, he can then say “al netilat yadayim,” dry his hands with a napkin, thereby fulfilling that the beracha of hamotzi will take place immediately after the netilah washing.
- Zevachim 33a