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According to the Tur (OC 4:1), the reason that we wash our hands in the morning is because of the "evil spirit" (רוח רעה) that had settled on them during the night. Is this custom referenced prior to the Tur? What is its origin? I'm guessing that it's not mentioned in the gemara, since the Bet Yosef doesn't bring a source.

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    Just a reminder, when one makes the bracha al netilas yadayim in the mor they are doing it for tefillah ,the bracha jas nothing to do with ruach raah and the alteranting 3 times also has nothing to do with the bracha – sam Dec 22 '16 at 18:02
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The Gemara Shabbos (108b / 109a, I think it depends on your print) says that one should not touch certain areas of your body (with the hands) in the morning when you wake up (like the mouth) unless you first wash your hands. The reason given there is because of the ruach ra'ah (evil spirit) that rests on the hands before washing. The remedy given is to wash the hands three times alternating each hand.

The Zohar (I 184:2) discusses the reasoning for this. When a person sleeps, they experience a taste of death. This evil spirit then rests on the person. When they awaken and the soul returns, the evil spirit remains just on the end of the hands.

Poskim from the Rishonim until our times debate if this evil spirit does not exist today at all, or it does exist in a limited version, or it exists just as it existed as mentioned in earlier tradition. There are various Halachic ramifications.

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    related: judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/7746/…. – mevaqesh Dec 22 '16 at 8:56
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    if this evil spirit does not exist today at all Could you give an example of this view in the Rishonim? – mevaqesh Dec 22 '16 at 8:58
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    @Mevaqesh Tosfos in Yoma 77b divrei hamaskil: Mishum Shivsa : "Nowadays people are not careful about this, for this Ru'ach Ra'ah does not dwell in these kingdoms, just like we are not careful about exposure [of liquids that snakes might drink from] and Zugos (doing things in even numbers). See also Rambam Hilchos Shevisas Asor 3:2 with commentary of the Lechem Mishnah. (You may wish to see an Acharon; the Maharshal on Chulin 8:31) – David Kenner Dec 23 '16 at 18:03
  • @ShimonbM You are welcome, Happy Channukah! :) – David Kenner Jan 1 '17 at 17:16

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