—Biblical Data:

Since the Israelites, like all other Oriental peoples, wore sandals instead of shoes, and as they usually went barefoot in the house, frequent washing of the feet was a necessity. Hence among the Israelites it was the first duty of the host to give his guest water for the washing of his feet (Gen. xviii. 4, xix. 2, xxiv. 32, xliii. 24; Judges xix. 21); to omit this was a sign of marked unfriendliness. It was also customary to wash the feet before meals and before going to bed (comp. Cant. v. 3); to abstain for a long time from washing them was a sign of deep mourning (II Sam. xix. 24). Though there are no extant laws for laymen in regard to washing the feet, such laws for priests are given in Ex. xxx. 19-21. There mention is made of brazen vessels, placed between the Tabernacle and the altar of burnt offering, in which the priests had to wash their hands and feet on entering the Tabernacle or before approaching the altar of burnt offerings: hence at all their priestly functions. Just as no one is allowed to approach a king or prince without due preparation, which includes the washing of the hands and feet, so the Israelite, and especially the priest, is forbidden in his unclean condition to approach Yhwh, for he who comes defiled will surely die.

E. G. H. W. N.—In Rabbinical Literature:

This was a service which the wife was expected to render her husband (Yer. Ket. v. 30a); according to Rab Huna, it was one of the personal attentions to which her husband was entitled, no matter how many maids she may have had; likewise, according to the Babylonian Talmud (Ket. 61a), besides preparing his drink and bed, the wife had to wash her husband's face and feet (comp. Maimonides, "Yad," Ishut, xxi. 3; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Eben ha-'Ezer, 80, 4). The priests were not permitted to minister unless they had performed their ablutions, among which the washing of the feet is especially mentioned (Zeb. 17b). According to Tosef., Men. i., the priests were accustomed to rub and wash their hands and feet in the basin twice, to insure the proper degree of cleanliness.

On Sabbath and on Yom ha-Kippurim, as well as on Tish'ah be-Ab, certain restrictions were placed on washing of hands, face, and feet. Yet one who on Tish'ah be-Ab came from a journey was permitted to wash his feet (see Lampronti, "Paḥad Yiẓḥaḳ" s.v.).

S. S. E. G. H.
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