Netilat Yadayim: At What Point is it Recited?

The Shulhan Aruch (Orah Haim 6:2) states that there is a custom to wait until arriving to the synagogue before reciting the blessing of Netilat Yadayim and the remainder of the Birkot Hashahar, but that the custom in Spain was not so. Indeed, the prevalent Ashkenazic custom is for the Shaliah Tzibbur to recite these blessings publicly and for the congregants to respond “Amen”. The rationale behind this Ashkenazic practice is the same as that of the repetition of the Amida, which is to fulfill the obligation of the congregants to recite these blessings should they not be proficient in reciting them. Even though most people are now proficient in reciting these morning blessings, the custom remained. The Sephardic custom, however, is to recite the blessings privately athome before going to the synagogue or at the synagogue before the Hazanstarts the prayer, but privately.

If one wakes up and needs to relieve oneself, one should first wash one’s hand with a vessel three times in an alternating fashion, without a blessing. [In fact one is not permitted to recite the blessing since one is considered “revolting” as long as one has not relieved oneself.] One should then proceed to relieve oneself and when one is finished, one should wash again three times in an alternating fashion and recite the blessing of “Al Netilat Yadayim”, followed by “Asher Yatzar”.  The Shulhan Aruch (ibid:3) says that one can then recite the remainder of the blessings afterwards before the prayer, starting from “Elokai Neshama”. This is the order cited in the Siddur Bet Oved.

Nevertheless, the Arizal’s opinion, quoted in the Ben Ish Hai (Parashat Vayeshev, § 2), and that of the HIDA (Kesher Gudal) is that Elokai Neshamashould be recited immediately after Asher Yatzar. Their logic is that a blessing should always begin with the words “Baruch Ata Hashem”, and since Elokai Neshama does  not, it is appended to the preceding blessing of Asher Yatzar, which does begin with those words. The Shulhan Aruch (ibid:3) on the other hand says that a blessing of praise, such as Elokai Neshama, does not need to begin with “Baruch Ata Hashem”, and as such, may be recited independently of Asher Yatzar.  That said, the Sephardic custom is to recite Elokai Neshamaimmediately after Asher Yatzar, and one can recite the remainder of the blessings afterwards.

If one woke up and did not need to relieve oneself, one could wash and recite “Al Netilat Yadayim” right away, followed by Elokai Neshama.

In regards to one who remained awake the entire night, the Kaf HaHaim (O.H. 46:49) writes that one may start reciting all the Birkot Hashahar as of Hatzot(Halachic midnight). Nonetheless, the Moroccan custom is to wait until right before the morning prayer before reciting them.

Summary:  When one wakes up, one should wash one’s hands in the prescribed manner, then proceed to relieve oneself. When finished one should then wash again and immediately recite “Al Netilat Yadayim”, “Asher Yatzar” and “Elokai Neshama”. One can then recite the remaining Birkot Hashahar at that point, or closer to the prayer, if one wishes. 

      when to say netilat yadayim