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I've always noticed people that make sure their hands are perfectly dry before washing (i.e. washing for eating bread). Why do people do so? Where does this apparent stringency come from?

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up vote 11 down vote accepted

According to the Chazon Ish (Orach Chaim 24:20) they must be completely dry before washing or the washing is invalid b'dieved. According to the Mishna Berura (Beiur Halachah 162:2) they may even be completely wet before washing. The Baal haTanya apparently holds in his Shulchan Aruch like the Mishna Berura but rules in his siddur like the Chazon Ish.

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how is it invalid bediavad?maybe you mean valid bediavad? – Avraham Sep 16 '11 at 11:44
@Avraham I think he means invalid EVEN bdiavad – Double AA Dec 20 '11 at 17:30
IIRC Hacham Yishak writes that the Sidur was written later and therefor when there is a contradiction we follow the Sidur. – Hacham Gabriel Jun 30 '13 at 2:23

I know that I have a minhag from my grandparents in Russia, that they would wash and dry their hands before ritual washing. The reason is, that if one's hands were dirty, it would create a chatzitzah (barrier) between one's skin and the water being poured. That is why they would wash their hands. As for drying them before washing netilas yadayim, perhaps they did that to prevent any (safek) tamei water that is already on one's hands from making the water of netilas yadayim tamei as well. The same would seem to apply here regarding just drying one's hands.

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You are correct, though, that the reason for Yoel's answer is that the water on the hands (which could have been anywhere and contracted a zecher to any kind of impurity) could constitute a separation between the washing water and the hands. – WAF Nov 2 '11 at 1:35

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