Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 17 March 2012 / 22 Adar I 5772

The Coffee Dipping Conundrum

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
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Every afternoon, after school, my son comes home to have a “coffee date” with his mother. He sits down with her and tells her about his day, over steaming mugs of coffee and munching on tea biscuits. But before he dunks his biscuit into his coffee, he does something which might seem a bit strange to the uninitiated: he washes his hands.

I’m not referring to “washing up for supper”; I mean washing his hands with a cup, similar to washing before eating bread, just without a bracha.

Although this might appear odd, there is solid basis for his actions, as we all wash our hands on Pesach, at the Seder (U’rchatz), directly before dipping vegetables in salt water at “karpas”. One might contend that the connection between vegetables in saltwater to tea biscuits in coffee seems tenuous, but actually they are remarkably similar.

In order to properly understand this, we must first digress to a Gemara in Pesachim (115a). Rabbi Elazer states in the name of Rabbi Oshia “any food item that is dipped in a liquid requires handwashing before eating”. On this, Rashi and Tosafos[1] (among others) differ on the correct understanding his intent. Rashi maintains that this ruling is still applicable nowadays, as it is similar to the requirement to wash before eating bread; while Tosafos is of the opinion that this law is only relevant during the times of the Beis HaMikdash, as it is conditional to Ritual Purity, which in this day and age is non-applicable.

Although there are opinions that one may rely on the lenient view[2], it should be noted that the majority of Halachic decisors including the Rambam, Tur, Shulchan Aruch, Mishna Berura, Kaf Hachaim and Chazon Ish[3], hold that even nowadays one should do his utmost to be vigilant with this and wash hands before eating a food item dipped in liquid[4].

The lenient opinion is taken into account, however, and that is the reason why this washing is without the prerequisite blessing, as opposed to the washing before eating bread. This is due to the halachic dictum of “Safek Brachos Lehakel”, meaning that in a case of doubt regarding the topic of brachos, we follow the lenient approach and do not make the blessing, to avoid the possibility of making a blessing in vain.

The Chida, in his Simchas HaRegel commentary on the Haggada[5], explains that this is the background, as well as the reason for the added ‘vav’ by U’rchatz at the Pesach Seder. We find a parallel by the bracha that our patriarch Yitzchok bestowed on his son Yaakov, ‘V’Yitein L’cha’ – ‘And G-d should give you’. According to the Arizal, the extra conjunctive ‘vav’ means yitein yachzor v’yitein – that G-d should continually and constantly give.

Likewise, the Chida explains the extra ‘vav’ in U’rchatz. The Baal Haggada is transmitting a message to us. Just as during the Seder we all wash before dipping a vegetable in salt water, that extra ‘vav’ is telling us – rachatz yachzor v’rachatz – that we should continue to do so anytime we want to eat a food dipped in liquid, all year round.

The Chida continues that although many are aware of this halacha, they do not realize that it even applies to something as ubiquitous as dipping cake in to coffee!

So the next time you get that dunkin’ urge, do the conscientious thing, like my son is careful to do, and make sure to head to the sink before diving in to your cup-of-joe.

[1]Rashi and Tosafos ad loc s.v. kol.

[2]Including the Maharam M’Rottenberg (cited in Tashbatz Kattan 99 and Tur O.C. 473), the Rashbat (cited by the Mordechai on Pesachim 34a), the Baal HaItur (Aseres HaDibros Matzah U’Maror 134, third column),Maharshal (Yam Shel Shlomo on Chullin, Ch. 8, 18), Lechem Chamudos (Divrei Chamudos on the Rosh, Chullin Ch. 8, 41), Magen Avraham (O.C. 158, end 8), Ateres Zkeinim (O.C. 158, 4, end s.v. oh hapri), and Aruch HaShulchan (O.C. 158, 4 & 5).

[3] Rambam (Hilchos Brachos Ch. 6, 1), Tur(O.C. 473), Shulchan Aruch and Rema (O.C. 158, 4), Mishna Berura (O.C. 158, 20), Kaf HaChaim (O.C. 158, 13 & 25) and Chazon Ish (O.C.25, 14 & 15 s.v. kasav bM”B).

[4]Other authorities who hold this way include Rabbeinu Yonah (Brachos 41a s.v. kol), the Rosh (Chullin Ch. 8, 10), the Knesses HaGedolah (Shiyurei Knesses HaGedolah O.C. 158 Haghos on B”Y 3), Matteh Yosef (Shu”t vol. 2 18, 19 - who uses extremely strong terms against those who are lackadaisical with this), Gr”a (O.C. 158, 4, s.v. blo bracha), Shla”h (Shaar Ha’Osiyos 81b, haghah), Biur Heitiv (O.C. 158,11), Chayei Adam (klal 36, 4), Shulchan Aruch HaRav (O.C. 158, end 3), Ben Ish Chai (Year 1, Tazria 19), and Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (40, 17).

[5]In the end of his passage explaining ‘Urchatz’.

For any questions, comments or for the full Mareh Mekomos / sources, please email the author:

Disclaimer: These are just a few basic guidelines and overview of the Halacha discussed in this article. This is by no means a complete comprehensive authoritative guide, but rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issue. One should not compare similar cases in order to rules in any real case, but should refer his questions to a competent Halachic authority.

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.

L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda.

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