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By: Rabbi D. Levy

Is it permissible to grow long fingernails?

Sefer Hassidim (siman 58) writes that one should not grow long fingernails, as this would allow dirt to collect underneath the nail, and if that dirt covers part of the skin, it could constitute a hatzitza (barrier) that disqualifies netilat yadayim.  Furthermore, the Kaf Hahhayim (9), citing the Etz Hahayim (31:2), writes that whereas the part of nail that covers the flesh is pure and spiritually beneficial, evil spirits reside in the part that extends past the fingertip, and it should therefore be cut. The consequence of allowing the nails to grow beyond the skin of the finger is severe. According to the Likute Meir,allowing one’s nails to grow long can cause memory impairment.

  1. Is there a particular sequence in which one should cut his fingernails?

The Rama (260:1), citing Abudraham, writes that one should cut the fingernails of the left hand first, in the following sequence: ring finger, index finger, pinky, middle finger and thumb. One should then cut the nails on his right hand, in the following sequence: index, ring, thumb, middle and pinky. The Arizal (as cited by Magen Avraham 260:1) did not make a point of cutting nails in this sequence, and, as the Hida relates, the Arizal felt very strongly that one may cut his nails in any sequence. Hacham Bension Abba Shaul followed the view of the Arizal, whereas the Mishnah Berurah (260:8) maintained that it is proper to follow the sequence outlined by the Rama.

3)   Is it permissible to cut one’s fingernails and toenails on the same day?

The Magen Avraham (260) and Mishnah Berurah cite the view that toenails should be cut on Thursday, and fingernails on Friday; they should not be cut on the same day. The Hida (Mahazik Berachah, letter 4), however, writes that the Arizal would cut both his fingernails and his toenails on Friday. When one is required to immerse in a mikveh, all the nails may be cut, according to all opinions, as long nails could constitute a hatzitza.

(See Rabbi Yosef Yitzhak Lerner’s Sefer Shemirat Haguf Vehanefesh, 68:2).

4)   When is the preferred time to cut fingernails?

The Shulhan Aruch (Orah Hayim 260:1) writes that it is a mitzvah to cut one’s fingernails on Friday. The Magen Avraham says that one should cut his nails only on Friday or Erev Yom Tov. The Orhot Hayim (Spinker Rebbe, 285:4) writes that one who cuts his fingernails and reads the weekly Torah portion shenayim mikra ve’ehad targum (twice in the original Hebrew and once with translation) before midday on Erev Shabbat is guaranteed not to commit a grievous sin throughout the coming week.

According to the strict halachah, nail cutting is entirely permissible at any time during the day or night. Nevertheless, the Arizal ensured not to cut nails at night or after midday, as this would strengthen the evil spirits.

5)   Must one wash his hands after cutting his fingernails?

One should perform netilat yadayim without a blessing after cutting his nails in order to remove the evil spirits that reside beneath the nails (Shulhan Aruch 4:18), and this should be done immediately after the cutting (Mishnah Berurah 4:38,39). One should preferably wash the entire hand, or at least until the knuckles. It is not necessary to wash each hand three times as we do in the morning (Shemirat Haguf Vehanefesh). This obligation applies even after biting one’s fingernails, and after cutting one’s toenails. If one cuts somebody else’s nails, the one whose nails were cut must wash, whereas the one who did the cutting does not have to wash (Kaf Hahayim, 92). The sages warn that a scholar who does not wash his hands after nail cutting forgets the material he learned, whereas a layman who does not wash loses his sanity.

6)   How should one dispose of the nails after cutting?

The Gemara (Mo’ed Katan 18a) comments that one who burns his fingernails after cutting them is called a hasid (pious person), and one who buries them is called a tzadik (righteous person). One who just throws them on the ground, however, is called a rasha (evil person), because a pregnant woman might walk on them and thus be at risk of miscarrying. It appears from the Zohar (Ahare Mot, p. 79) that all people, and not just pregnant women, are endangered by stepping on cut fingernails. This danger applies only when the nails are stepped on in the place where they initially fell; once they are moved, they no longer pose any danger (Perishah).

In our community, it is accepted that the best way to dispose of nails is to collect them without letting them fall onto one’s clothes or shoes (Kaf Hahayim, Ben Ish Chai), and then flush them down the toilet. Hacham Baruch Ben-Haim z.s.l. taught that it is not customary in our community to burn the nails.

7) Why do we look at our fingernails by the light of the havdalah candle?

The Shulchan Aruch (Orah Hayim 298:3) writes that it is customary to look at one’s palm and fingernails by the light of the havdalah candles to show that the light is sufficient enough to differentiate between different coins (Mishnah Berurah 298:3). In the absence of coins , we thus look at our fingers and use the light to discern between our nails and flesh . Furthermore, looking at fingernails, which constantly grow, is a favorable omen for a week of blessing (Rabbenu Yonah). The Kaf Hahayim (citing from the Mordechai, Masechet Yoma , provides an additional reason, stating that Adam Harishon was originally created with a protective nail-like covering for his entire body, which shone like fire. And thus as we recite the berachah over the creation of fire during havdalah, we look at our nails to remember the light of Adam Harishon.

8)         Is it permitted to cut fingernails on Rosh Hodesh?

It is proper to cut fingernails before Rosh Hodesh (first day of a new month) and one should not cut his or her fingernails on Rosh Hodesh itself. However, when Rosh Hodesh comes out on Friday, the Kenesset Hagedola brings down that cutting one’s nails would be honoring Shabbat, and one who upholds a mitzvah will be protected from harm. Furthermore, in months with two days of Rosh Hodesh, the restriction against cutting nails is only applicable to the second day.

9)When is it permissible to remove part of a nail on Shabbat?

If a piece of one’s nail is mostly detached and hanging and causes pain, he may remove it on Shabbat by hand, but not with a nail clipper or scissors (Shulhan Aruch 328:31). The Mishnah Berurah (se’if katan 96), citing the Peri Megadim, adds that one should remove the piece of nail carefully, ensuring not to cause any bleeding. However, if the majority of the nail is broken off, and only a small portion remains connected above the fingertip, the remaining piece of nail may not be removed on Shabbat, even if it causes pain. In this case, one may apply a bandage to the nail to reduce the discomfort.

10) May a woman wash netilat yadayim while wearing nail polish?

Generally, anything attached to the body that one normally makes a point of removing constitutes a hatzitza and disqualifies the netilat yadayim washing or immersion in a mikveh. Therefore, fully finished nail polish on the finger nails would not disqualify netilat yadayim. However, in a society where people ensure to remove nail polish once it is chipped and no longer complete, nail polish that is chipped would indeed constitute a hatzitzafor netilat yaadayim. The woman would have to either remove it or apply a fresh coat of polish before washing.