We’re used to washing our hands before making the hamotzi blessing at the beginning of a meal. However, at the Passover seder, we wash our hands twice: once before eating the karpas vegetable, and once before making the hamotzi on the matzah.

Why do we wash before eating the vegetable? As we explained in Why Dip Karpas (Vegetable) at the Seder? we do so because we are about to dip the karpas into salt water and eat it.

Washing all Year

In truth, this ritual is not limited to the Passover Seder, as the Talmud states: “Any food that is dipped into a liquid requires washing of the hands before it is eaten.”1

Since it is easy for liquids to contract impurity and conduct it to solid foods, the sages ordained that one should wash his hands before eating a food that has been dipped in liquid.

Most hold that this applies nowadays as well, similar to washing for bread.2 However, there is a minority view that this only applied in the Temple era, when people would normally eat their food in ritual purity.3 The halachah follows the former opinion.

However, in deference to the more lenient opinion, we don’t recite a blessing over this washing, lest we recite G‑d’s name in vain.4

Why Wash If I Never Wash?

Many people don’t wash their hands year-round before eating wet foods, presumably relying on the lenient opinion that this rule doesn’t apply nowadays.5 Nevertheless, when it comes to the Passover Seder, everyone washes their hands before the karpas.

Why is this so? This dipping is more significant than other dippings during the year since it is done as part of the Seder and is therefore treated with more respect and stringency.6 Additionally, since this night is all about arousing questions, the very fact that we’re doing something out of the ordinary lends itself to a question.7

Hands or Fork?

Technically, you only need to wash your hands if you will be eating the wet food with your hand (or it is a food ordinarily eaten by hand). Therefore, it is ideal to eat your karpas with your hands, thus warranting the washing that precedes it. Nevertheless, if for whatever reason you do use a fork, you still wash your hands.8

Thoughts on Redemption

At the Passover Seder, while we celebrate the Exodus from Egypt, we are cognizant of the fact that we are currently in a state of exile, and thus verbalize at the end of the Seder, “Next year in Jerusalem!” Perhaps this is why we are extra careful on this night to wash our hands, expressing our wish for the Temple to be rebuilt and the laws of purity to return to their rightful place in Jewish practice. Next year in Jerusalem!