Dear Rabbi Simon,
I have noticed that when people wash their hands (ritually) before eating bread, they often remove their ring(s) beforehand (excuse the pun), either leaving them at the table or elsewhere. Why do people do this and should I do the same?
Interestingly, this is an example of a halakhic practice which is recommended for women but may not be necessary for men. The reason is based on ShA OH 161:3, that one should remove a ring before washing his hands [for bread] because the ring is an interposition, preventing the water from reaching one’s fingers in their entirety. However, as explained by the later commentators, this halakhah presumes that one removes his ring on other occasions (out of concern for sullying or damaging the ring) such as when kneading dough. Moreover, this concern is primarily pertinent to a ring with a gemstone on it, as opposed to a simple wedding band such as is worn by a married woman (or man). In practice, although many women do not knead dough or engage in similar activities which would prompt them to remove their rings (particularly an engagement ring or a wedding band), it remains conventional for women to remove their rings prior to washing their hands (for eating bread). However, as per MB 161:19, men generally need not do so, as one who wears a wedding band (for example) likely does not remove it in the course of the week (or even the year). In halakhic terms this is known as mi’ut she-eino makpid, an interposition which covers a minority of one’s hand, which one is not averse to leaving in place.
Rabbi Rashi Simon