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First, some background information: This question is explicit in the halakhah and only due to a personal minhagh of the Rosh brought down by the Tur (OH 166 - where he re-interprets the gemara to fit this personal custom of the Rosh - see Rabbenu Yoel there) has there been any confusion on the issue. Rambam, Rashi, and the Ba`alei Tosafoth all agree that ...


2

Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik (Reshimot Shiurim, Berakhot p. 202) suggests that whether one requires a vessel for hand washing prior to bread depends on a dispute between Rambam and Ra'avad in Hilchot She'ar Avot Ha-Tum'ot 8:8. Ra'avad there extends the law of washing hands for ritual purity to all hand washing, but Rambam implies that this reason extends only to ...


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The Arukh Hashulhan discusses this issue in detail in Orah Haim 4. Your assumption is indeed correct; when clean hands are the only goal, such as when you scratch your head or the like, using a faucet or other flowing water would be fine, if not preferable to using a vessel. However, the netilah prior to eating bread and before shacharith involve other ...


1

To borrow from the answer of @Mefaresh here: Tzitz Eliezer, part 7, 2:14 concludes that if he washed his head and his hair is clean, even a person who scratches the roots of his hairs does not need to wash his hands.



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