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Thought for the Day: Chazal Meant What They Said The Way They Said It

I finally figured out "snips and snails and puppy dog tails; that's what little boys are made of."  While I have not spend a huge amount of time contemplating the apparently obvious contradiction between this recipe and the experimental evidence that little boys are made of the same stuff as every other human being.  Still... in the back of my mind it's been festering.  What brought this to the fore was a halacha regarding washing n'tilas yadayim for a bread meal.

Shulchan Aruch, OC, siman 160 discusses delineates the requirements for water to be kosher for n'tilas yadayim.  Before you get your knickers in a twist (I love the visual that expression engenders), as long as you are using plain water straight out of the tap, you are are fine.  (Use at least three ounces on each hand and you can skip this and the next two simanim, in fact.)  Still here?  Good; then lets get to one of my favorite s'ifim: 160:10.  Anything that has start as water can be used, even though it isn't water anymore.  Such as?  Such as little red worms and fish oil.  Oh yeah, and those worms need to be all smushed into a mash to be sure there is uniform coverage. Isn't that great?  Straight out of Calvinstein and Hobbesberg!  That's what the nursery rhyme means... little boys are "made of", ie, their personalities and world outlook is formed by playing with "snips and snails and puppy dog tails".  So little boys, and by extension us ex-little boys, love gross, slimey halachos like this one.

As long as we are on the topic, to be acceptable for n'tilas yadayim, the water needs to be "rah'ooi l'shti'as k'lavim"/appropriate for a dog to drink.  As you may probably know, dogs do not have a particularly discriminating palate.  Now that we have machshired crushed worm mush, what could possibly be excluded?  Well... if it's so muddy and thick that the dog can't get it down, that would be a problem.  Also, if it's so bitter than the dog would turn up its nose, that's also no good.  What about if it's just bad for him?  Let's say it poisonous, for example.  This could come up, for example, after a flood when the health authorities are recommending that you drink only bottled water or at least boil it first.  Can one use that water for n'tilas yadayim without boiling it first?

In other words, does "appropriate for a dog" mean that a dog would drink it (basically because he's stupid like that) even though that's a fatal mistake, or does it mean that it won't hurt him?  I checked with R' Fuerst (any mistake is either how I asked or my understanding of his answer) and was told that it means what it says, if a dog will drink it, you can use it for n'tilas yadayim.  If Chazal had wanted you not to use poisonous water, they would have said so.  Chazal also knew about poison, but they chose to make the criteria depend on how a dog would choose; i.e., bitterness, not healthfulness.

You might still want to be careful about eating with hands washed with poisonous water.  Even though dogs are stupid like that, you don't need to be.


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