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I very often eat at meals where after the meal, all of the men wash mayim acharonim, but none of the women do so.

I am aware of a number of halachic sources that say both men and women should wash mayim acharonim (either because of a concern for melach sodomit or other salts like it today, or for kabbalistic reasons), and I am aware of sevaras out there that say nobody is required to wash mayim acharonim (because they don't care much for the kabbalistic reasons, and we don't have melach sodomit today).

What's the justification for this common minhag where men wash mayim acharonim, but women don't? (i.e. what's the justification for a difference in practice between men and women sitting at the same table?)

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Sources saying both men and women should wash mayim acharonim include Ben Ish Chai, First Year, Parshat Shelach, #11 and Halacha Berurah 181:1. I took a quick glance at the Mishnah Berurah and didn't find anything there about men or women in particular. The source for not requiring it for (almost) anybody is Shulchan Aruch OC 181:10. – Chanoch Aug 26 '12 at 3:30
up vote 9 down vote accepted

One justification given by Rabbi Shmuel Wosner (Shevet HaLevi 4:23) is that nowadays Mayim Achronim is only a chumra and it was not one that women accepted. [This reminds me of what some say to justify women's not davening maariv.]

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Just to note that I didn't include the many many sources which state there is no distinction between men and women because the question didn't ask for that. – Double AA Aug 26 '12 at 4:58
From the AishDas thread above, you can also note Ari Zivotovsky's article who says this is the only justification that he's found for women not washing mayim acharonim. – Chanoch Aug 26 '12 at 13:40

Sorry I don't have a specific source to cite, but I have heard that it goes back to the melah sedomis; women wouldn't need to wash after eating because they eat neatly, whereas men are more inclined to use their hands.

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Yosef, thanks for your answer and welcome to Mi Yodeya. I hope you stick around and enjoy the site. Even indicating from whom you heard this reason, or in whose name, if you remember, would be more valuable than a mere "I heard". – msh210 Aug 26 '12 at 18:44
a good source for this is the yaavetz in mor uketzia 181 -who cites that its possible that since women are generally more hygenic they dont need to wash. however he holds otherwise they share the same halacha as men. - see this great article - footnote link: ohr.edu/5285#_edn17 – user1248 Nov 5 '12 at 16:00

see this comprehensive article covering this question from all angles!


this is rabbi spitz's conclusion: She undeniably had what to rely upon not to wash Mayim Acharonim. Yet, she was definitely correct in making sure to do so anyway. As the Pele Yoetz[19] explains, even if there no longer is a danger posed from salt that blinds our eyes, nevertheless, we still have an obligation to listen to the words of our Chachamim, and not blind ourselves to their wisdom.

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excellent article! thanx for posting the link!! – cmb Nov 6 '12 at 19:32

A friend of mine spoke with a posek who said that the women usually were in the kitchen and had washed their hands there, hence no need for a ritual washing at the table.

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