In trying to understand why the Pharisees insisted on washing their hands before eating bread (Mark 7:5). I have come across some interesting reasons but have not yet come to a conclusion about why they washed them.
It seems that they washed their hands because the hands had to be pure when touching Terumah (holy offerings that the priests could eat). This may seem simple enough but in a strange course of events, I stumbled over the fact that the scriptures themselves ‘defiled the hands’ and in fact to say something was part of the ‘canon’ meant it ‘defiled the hands’.
The physical scriptures (scrolls) used to be considered ‘holy’, so they were placed beside the Terumah , but this brought harm upon the scriptures, so they could not be considered clean anymore. Either the Terumah were unclean of the scriptures, so they ruled against the scriptures in the matter. (I imagine rats eating the food at night may have chewed on the scriptures, or pooped on them?).
The state of uncleanness on scripture was enacted to preserve the texts from this problem:
“And why did the rabbis impose uncleanness upon Scriptural books? Rabbi Mesharshiya said: Because originally Terumah foods were stored near Torah scrolls, for they argued: This is holy and that is holy. When it was seen that the books came to harm the rabbis imposed uncleanness upon them.” (Shabbath 14a)
What I am wondering is, 'Did the ruling that the scriptures were unclean originate the reason for the washing of hands before eating bread, since people would naturally touch the scripture daily? In other words, 'Did the washing of hands pertain to keeping the Terumah clean on its own right, or is there a connection to the 'unclean scriptures' so that it was also assumed that the hands were defiled because one has touched the scriptures and the whole point is that they must not make the Terumah unclean?'
I am so surprised by this dilema that I am not sure what the reason for the hand washing was.