For the Pharisees and all of the Jews do not eat unless [merely for ceremonial reasons] they wash their hands [diligently up to the elbow] with clenched fist, adhering [carefully and faithfully] to the tradition of [practices and customs handed down to them by] their forefathers [to be observed].
([For] The Pharisees and all the Jews never eat before washing their hands ·in the way required [L with a fist; C the meaning of the idiom is uncertain; it could mean “with a handful of water,” “with cupped hand,” “up to the wrist” or something else] by ·their unwritten laws [L the traditions of the elders].
And now Jesus was approached by the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem. They had noticed that his disciples ate their meals with “common” hands—meaning that they had not gone through a ceremonial washing. (The Pharisees, and indeed all the Jews, will never eat unless they have washed their hands in a particular way, following a traditional rule. And they will not eat anything bought in the market until they have first performed their “sprinkling”. And there are many other things which they consider important, concerned with the washing of cups, jugs and basins.) So the Pharisees and the scribes put this question to Jesus, “Why do your disciples refuse to follow the ancient tradition, and eat their bread with ‘common’ hands?”
The Pharisees, along with some religion scholars who had come from Jerusalem, gathered around him. They noticed that some of his disciples weren’t being careful with ritual washings before meals. The Pharisees—Jews in general, in fact—would never eat a meal without going through the motions of a ritual hand-washing, with an especially vigorous scrubbing if they had just come from the market (to say nothing of the scourings they’d give jugs and pots and pans).
[For the Perushim, and indeed this was the Jewish minhag, do not eat without doing netilat yadayim (ritual of the washing of the hands) and also observing the Masoret HaZekenim (the Torah Shebal peh, Oral Torah, see Ga 1:14).
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