At the conclusion of a meal in which we ate bread, we say the Grace after Meals, thanking G‑d for giving us sustenance. Before reciting the Grace after Meals, we rinse our fingertips. This washing is called Mayim Achronim, "final waters" (as opposed to Mayim Rishonim "first waters," which refer to the required hand washing before consuming bread).

During the course of a meal, it is highly likely that the hands became dirtied. The primary reason for Mayim Achronim is our desire to have clean hands when uttering G‑d's name in the blessing we are about to recite. This is comparable to Temple service: when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem, a priest was required to wash and purify his hands before serving in the Temple.

[Another reason for Mayim Achronim is to wash off any "Sodomite salt" (a type of fine salt used in Talmudic times) which may remain on the fingers. This particular salt posed a grave danger if it came in contact with the eyes.1 Although this concern no longer applies, because this type of salt is not common today, it is still appropriate to wash our hands before mentioning G‑d's name in the course of the Grace after Meals.2]

Here are some of the laws and customs associated with Mayim Achronim:

· Some have the custom of brushing the still-moist fingertips over the lips.

· Unlike other ritual hand washings, no specific amount of water is required; as long as the fingertips are rinsed. Some wash until the upper knuckles.

· After washing Mayim Achronim, one should refrain from talking until beginning the Grace after Meals.

· The water which was used for Mayim Achronim is removed from the table for the duration of the Grace after Meals.3

· Although many are of the opinion that women should also wash Mayim Achronim, the prevailing custom amongst Ashkenazi women is not to do so.4

Best wishes,

Rabbi Baruch D. Davidson