Shir Ha-Ma'alot #4

Mayim Achronim - Washing after Eating
Is "Mayim Achronim" a law or a stringency? It is called an obligation in the Talmud (Berachot 53b). The Tosafot (ibid.) however writes that the reason for this washing is "salt from sodom" - a type of salt which can make one blind if it touches the eye, and since in our days this type of salt is uncommon, this custom creates no obligation to wash "Mayim Achronim." But there is another reason given for this washing: The Torah says (Vayikra 11:44), "For I am Hashem, your God – and you shall sanctify yourselves and you shall become holy..." The Talmud (ibid.) explains that "and you shall sanctify yourselves" refers to "Mayim Rishonim – washing before eating" and "you shall become holy" refers to "Mayim Achronim - washing after eating." This means that one should not bless Hashem with soiled hands. This law is not stated explicitly with regard to the blessing after eating, but with regard to all blessings, whether they are in the middle of a meal or the middle of the day (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 181, Shaar Ha-Tzion #32). Therefore, all depends on the situation. One who eats neatly without becoming soiled from the food is exempt from "Mayim Achronim." But if his hands are dirty, and it is to a degree that he would be careful to wash them for reasons of cleanliness or even because he is overly sensitive with regard to dirty hands, he may not recite the blessing without washing "Mayim Achronim." If his hands are completely clean, he is exempt according to the Halachah, although he is still required to according to the Kabbalists - the mystics (Mishnah Berurah ibid. #22). There is certainly no difference between men and women in regard to "Mayim Achronim."