Kosher and Washing the Hands Before a Meal

Kosher is so much more than merely food. It is the way we approach everyday activities. We have the ability to elevate the plain everyday actions into something that is wonderful and holy – this is kosher.


We are taught: “Whoever eats bread without scouring his hands is as though he were eating food that is ritually unclean.” (Sota 4b) In other words, failure to observe the practice of washing hands before the meal can cause one to eat forbidden meat.


“The L-rd said, “In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations… “ (Ezekiel 4:13)


It happened in the days of the persecution by the Romans that there was an innkeeper who used to cook forbidden meat as well as clean (kosher) meat and sell them, in order that nobody should know that he was Jewish. After much observation of people who came into his inn, his practice became: If anybody entered the inn without washing his hands, he knew that this must be a non Jewish person and set pork before him. But if if a person washed his hands, he knew that this must be a Jewish traveller and gave him meat that was kosher.

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On one occasion a certain Jewish merchant came into the inn to eat and did not wash his hands. He served the merchant pork, and he ate it and was satisfied. The man ate and did not say the grace after meals. When the time came to settle the account, the innkeeper said: “You have eaten a piece for ten copper coins.” “Yesterday,” said the other, “I ate the same meat for eight, so how can you ask for ten today?” The innkeeper answered, “I served you pork.” When the man heard this, he became very upset and whispered to the innkeeper: “I am Jewish, how could you serve me pork, unkosher food? ” The innkeeper explained, “When I saw that you did not wash your hands before eating, I believed that you were not Jewish.” The merchant became angry and answered: “How could you presume that I was not Jewish?”

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The innkeeper looked at the merchant for a moment then replied: “Kosher is a way of life for us, and is much more than the food we eat. You came into the inn and did not wash your hands, you sat at the table and did not offer any blessing for the food or bread, you ate in a voracious manner and then you did not offer a prayer of thanks to the Holy One, blessed be He. Now you tell me how I was to identify you as Jewish?”


Because the merchant did not wash before the meal, nor did he act in a kosher way, he was fed nonkosher meat.

Based on Yoma 83b

May all your tales end with Shalom (peace)

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