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Halacha Talk Eating on the Go

With the start of the summer season, I found it apropos in my last article to discuss the halachos of tefilas haderech. Keeping with that theme, it is worthwhile to review some of the halachos that apply when a person eats while traveling.

Question #1: If one is traveling and does not have water available to wash for bread, may he wrap his hands or wear gloves instead of washing?

Question #2: If one starts eating in a picnic area and then relocates, should he recite a new bracha rishonah?

Question #3: May one use a disposable paper or plastic cup for netilas yadayim?

Question #4: Does changing location from the house to the car, or from the car to a store, necessitate a new bracha rishonah?


There is a mitzvah miderabanan to wash one’s hands before partaking of a bread meal. One of the reasons for this mitzvah is based on the possuk (Vayikra 20:7), “and you shall sanctify yourselves.” The Gemara (Brachos 53B) explains that this refers to washing before a meal. Even though this Gemara implies that netilas yadayim is midi’oreisa, since it cites a possuk as its source, it is indeed miderabanan. The obvious question is then, why does the Gemara cite a possuk as a source for a mitzvah derabanan? The answer to that is that it is common practice for Chazal to find Biblical sources for their mitzvos, in order that the mitzvah carry more weight in the eyes of the people. If they see that the source of the halacha is a possuk, they would be more careful in its performance.

In several places Chazal warned us to treat netilas yadayim stringently (see Shabbos 62b, Sotah 4b, Mishnah Eduyos 5:6). Nevertheless, in certain situations Chazal permitted one to eat bread without washing one’s hands first because it is difficult to do so. One of these situations is where there is no water readily available. In this case Chazal limited how far one needs to travel in order to obtain water.


Chazal established two different distances that one is required to travel: One mil and four mil. Before discussing when these distances apply, let us first define them.

One mil is two thousand ammos and four mil equals eight thousand ammos. Since an ammah, according to the measurements of HaGaon HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Shu”t Igros Moshe O.C. I, chap. 136), is 21.25 inches (53.975 cm), one mil is two-thirds of a mile (1.08 km) and four mil is 2.68 miles (4.3 km). The measurements of HaGaon HaRav Avraham Chaim Na’ah zt”l are approximately eleven percent less than those of Rav Moshe, and perhaps one could be lenient since netilas yadayim is medarabanan.


These two distances are applied in different situations.

If one is traveling by foot and knows that by continuing in the direction he is walking, he will find water within another four mil (2.68 miles/4.3 km), he must wait until he has water before eating his meal. Alternatively, if he knows that by going back in the direction from which he came, he will find water within one mil (two-thirds of a mile/1.08 km.), he must travel back this distance in order to obtain water. (Shulchan Aruch 164 and Mishnah Berurah there)


If someone is traveling by any other method aside from walking (i.e., bicycle, automobile, train, etc.) the amount that he is required to travel is not measured by distance, but by time. As we said, Chazal established that a journey of four mil is the maximum distance one needs to travel in order to obtain water. According to the Gemara, the average person can walk a distance of forty mil (26.83 miles/43.18 km) during a twelve-hour day. Based on this, the average person would require seventy-two minutes in order to travel four mil. Therefore, a person who is driving or riding would have to travel for the amount of time it would take a person to walk four mil, i.e., seventy-two minutes. (Biur Halacha 163 s.v., b’richuk)


These are the distances that a traveler must traverse in order to obtain water. However, a person who is at home and has no water for netilas yadayim in his immediate vicinity is required to go a distance of one mil in order to wash for bread. (M.B. 3)


Incidentally, these distances are also relevant to the obligation to daven with a minyan. Chazal did not obligate a person to walk more than one mil to find a minyan. However, if one has the option to drive, he would have to travel for eighteen minutes, the amount of time required to walk one mil. (Shulchan Aruch 90:16 and Mishnah Berurah)


If one knows that he will not find water for netilas yadayim within the distance that he is required to travel, or even if he is not sure that he will, he is then allowed to eat bread by thoroughly wrapping his hands. However, this is only true if he is very hungry. (Biur Halacha 163, s.v., b’rachuk)


Until now we have discussed the casewhen one can find water in the direction he is going or in the direction he came from. What is the halachah if water can be found in a totally different direction? For example, if one is traveling from north to south, and knows that if he will go east he will find water, is he required to do so?

Before answering this, let us discuss the rationale behind the distinction between the direction one is going, where he must travel four mil, and the direction he came from, where he must travel a mil? The reason why he must wait the distance of four mil when searching for water in the direction he is going is because he is going in that direction anyway, and is not losing anything by continuing to travel. However, if he needs to go back in the direction he came from, he is losing time, and therefore Chazal only required him to travel a mil.

We can now answer our question about having to travel in a different direction altogether. Since Chazal established that a mil is not too great a distance to backtrack to find water, the same logic will apply for going off in a different direction. If he knows that he will find water immediately after a mil in any direction (aside from the direction he is traveling), he is required to wait. If not and he is very hungry, he may thoroughly wrap his hands and eat. (Sefer Ahlaich Ba’amitecha [authored by HaRav HaGaon Rav Betzalal Stern zt”l] 11:4)


When a person is at home it is relatively easy to observe mitzvos in a meticulous fashion. However, when a person travels he very often finds himself in less than ideal situations and he necessarily cannot adhere to all of the practices that he does at home.

A very common question that arises especially when traveling, is whether one can use a disposable paper or plastic cup for netilas yadayim. At home this is usually not an issue, as most people have the standard thick plastic or metal washing cup. However, since the traveler usually opts to “travel light,” a disposable cup is called into service. At this point, many might ask, “What’s wrong with a disposable cup?” The truth is that much has been written on the subject. Although this topic deserves a full discussion of its own due to the many factors involved, we will briefly mention two points.

There is a responsum authored by HaGaon HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Shu”t Igros Moshe O.C. 39) regarding whether one may use a disposable cup for kiddush. Rav Moshe maintains that preferably one should not use these cups for kiddush. This is because the cup used for kiddush should be an item of importance, and since disposable cups are meant for a one time use, they do not qualify.

Based on this, there are those who wish to say that disposable cups are not considered to be utensils. Therefore, since a utensil is a prerequisite for netilas yadayim, these cups are invalid. (See Kuntres U’Vlechtecha BaDerech chap. 8, footnote 91)

The counter argument to this is that the requirement for a kiddush cup to be important and nice is because of kavod for the bracha of kiddush. For netilas yadayim, on the other hand, the utensil does not need to have intrinsic importance; rather it needs to be functional, which of course, a disposable cup is.

Another claim made against disposable cups is based on the following: One of the requirements of the netilas yadayim cup is that it be whole and that no water leaks from it. What about a utensil that has a hairline crack, but does not leak; can it be used or not? The halacha is that if a cracked vessel cannot hold hot water, that vessel is no longer deemed valid for netilas yadayim (see Biur Halacha 159, s.v., keivan). Therefore, disposable plastic and paper cups, which do not hold hot water, would not be considered valid utensils.

On the other hand, it can be argued that this requirement, that the utensil must be able to hold hot water, only applies to a utensil that is used for hot liquids. A utensil that is only used for cold liquids will not have this requirement. Therefore, disposable cups which are used for cold drinks would be valid for netilas yadayim. Aside from this, the entire claim is not understood in the first place, as plastic and paper cups do hold hot water. (For a full discussion of this topic, see Sefer Birchos Shamayim pp. 243-245, the source of the above quoted arguments, who quoting HaGaon HaRav Shmuel Wozner shlita and HaGaon HaRav Yitzchak Greenwald shlita, refutes all of the arguments against the use of disposable cups.)

One should consult his/her halachic authority for guidance in this issue. We would suggest to avoid the entire issue and take a regular cup for netilas yadayim when traveling.


This topic has many details and was covered in a previous article. At this point we will only discuss what is relevant to the traveler.

The halacha is that if a person ate in one location, interrupted his meal and went elsewhere, it is considered as if his eating session has ended. If he wishes to continue eating either in his new location or after returning to his original place, a new bracha rishonah is required. (Sh.A. 178:2)

This applies only to foods that do not require a bracha acharonah in the place they were eaten. This includes: 1) all foods and drinks that are “shehakol” or “ha’adamah,” 2) rice, and 3) all fruits, except for those included in the zayin minim, i.e., grapes, figs, pomegranates, dates, and olives.

All other foods not included in these two groups, i.e., bread products, mezonos foods and fruits of the zayin minim are not affected by a change of location. Therefore, if one changes location after reciting a bracha and partaking of these foods, a new bracha rishonah is not required in order to continue eating. (Note: Bread products are definitely not affected by a change of location.  There is a question in the poskim regarding mezonos foods and the zayin minim whether a change in location affects the bracha rishonah. Practically speaking, however, although one should not leave his location after eating mezonos or zayin minim foods without first reciting a bracha acharonah, if he did change locations without the bracha acharonah, a new bracha rishonah is not recited.)


Although this is the basic halacha, a traveler is different. A person who eats while he is traveling is not effected by change of location. For example, if he sucks on a candy, drinks water, eats ice cream or nosh, his bracha rishonah remains in effect until he decides not to eat any more. This is true even if he no longer sees the place he started eating. The reason why this is true is because he never established a location for his eating session. (Sh.A. 178:4 and M.B.)

This same rule will apply even if one recited the bracha rishonah in one’s home immediately before leaving the house. Even though technically he is not yet a traveler, nevertheless, since he did not establish a fixed location for this eating session, he is considered a traveler even before leaving the house. However, if he recites a bracha intending to stay in the house for a little while and then go out, he is not considered a traveler and when leaving the house will have to recite a new bracha rishonah. (Shu”t Igros Moshe O.C. II, chap. 57)


If one recited a bracha and started eating in a traveling car, this eating session is not considered to be in a fixed location, and he still has the status of a traveler. Therefore, even if he leaves the car and goes into a store, if he wishes to continue eating when he returns to the car, a new bracha is not required. (Mishnah Berurah 178:42 and Sha’ar HaTziyun 38, Sefer V’Zos HaBracha pg. 62, Sefer V’Sein Bracha pg. 148)


If a person decides to eat in a picnic area or rest stop that is not closed in by fences, walls or the like, moving from one place to another is not considered changing locations, as long as one can still see the original place where he recited the bracha. However, if he can no longer see where he started eating, either because of the distance or there is something blocking his view, it is as if he changed locations and a new bracha rishonah is required. (M.B. 178:42)

There is a method by which one can avoid having to recite a new bracha rishonah if he relocates to a place from which the original place cannot be seen. That is, to have in mind when reciting the bracha rishonah that he intends to change locations. Once he does so, his bracha rermains in effect until he decides to stop eating. (Sefer V’Zos HaBracha pg. 57)

This scenario of eating at a picnic area or rest stop is different from that of a traveler, since a traveler never had in mind to establish a place for his eating session, therefore he has no place and does not need to have in mind to continue elsewhere. On the other hand, one who stops to eat in a rest stop is no longer considered a traveler and has established a place for his eating session.

Where the picnic area or rest stop is enclosed by a fence or wall, one can go anywhere in the enclosed area and his bracha will remain in effect. This is true even if he can no longer see his original location. (M.B. 25)


When Yosef sent his brothers back to Eretz Canaan in order to bring Yaakov Avinu to live in Mitzrayim, he instructed them (Bereishis 45:24), “al tirgazu baderech.” The Kli Yakar explains that the word “tirgazu” here is the same as in the possuk (Shemos 15:14), “sham’u amim yirgazun,” – “nations heard; they were afraid.” Thus, our possuk means, “do not be afraid on the way.” Yosef was telling them that if they learn Torah while traveling, they do not have to fear highwaymen and they need not be concerned that they will get lost. This is because the Torah guides and protects those that learn it.

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