By Israel Drazin
I was in the lavatory of an Orthodox synagogue recently – I am an Orthodox Jew – and I saw a man exiting a stall where he had defecated, walk to the sink, and take a cup set near the sink for hand washing. He filled the cup with water twice and poured half of it twice on each hand, dried his hands, grabbed hold of the bathroom door, left the room, and said a prayer that one says after using the bathroom. I was appalled.
Hygienists have told us that we need to wash our hands with both soap and water and rub them together for at least twenty seconds before drying them. They recognize that many people leave bathrooms without washing their hands, or not washing them sufficiently, like this pious man, and then contaminate door handles when they leave bathrooms. They suggest that we use the paper towel to open the door. Many places recognize this need and place a trashcan near the door.
This pious man followed a ritual but ignored its purpose. Jews have been praised for their cleanliness. Many historians say that fewer Jews died during the 1348 Bubonic Plague because they washed their hands after using the toilet and before eating. The Code of Jewish Law advises people to wash twice after using the toilet. However, the ritualistic manner that this pious Jew followed the law was insufficient. His perfunctory minimal washing ignored the law’s goal. He contaminated the door handle, reentered the sanctuary and placed his insufficiently washed hand on the Torah scroll and kissed his hand. Some men and women latter kissed the Torah scroll with their mouths and others, like the pious man, touched it and then kissed their hand. He also used the synagogue prayer book, which was later used by others. He probably contaminated many co-religionists to some degree.