Question:

Is it necessary to wash one's hands prior to the daily prayers? And how about before studying Torah?

Answer:

During the course of the day, chances are that our hands have touched areas of our bodies that are normally covered. After touching such areas, after using the restroom, or after scratching hair, we are required to wash hands before reciting prayers—this applies to all three of the daily prayers.

If you have used the bathroom or are aware of the fact that your hands have wandered to any of the aforementioned areas, then you must wash your hands before prayer even if it requires some effort, even if you must go a distance of eighteen minutes to find water. If you have not used a restroom since you've last washed your hands, and you don't recall touching any covered area or scratching your head, then you should still wash your hands—but only if water is readily available.

If water is unavailable, then you should simply wipe your hands on a cloth or any other available substance.

The pre-prayer hand washing does not require a washing cup, nor is any blessing recited afterwards. The only requirement is that the water cover the entire hand until the wrist.

Before studying Torah one should also wipe his hands—this is sufficient even if water is readily available.

Yours truly,

Rabbi Menachem Posner