Hakhsharat Keilim (Part 1)

  • Rav David Brofsky

Introduction to Hakhsharat Keilim:

The Torah relates that after conquering Midian, Elazar Ha-kohen commands the army,

This is the decree of the Torah which God has commanded to Moshe, only the gold and the silver, the copper the tin and the lead, everything which comes into the fire you shall pass through the fire, but it must (also) be purified by the water of sprinkling, and everything which does not come into the fire you shall pass through the water (Bemidbar 31:21-23).

In other words, utensils taken from Midian must undergo two processes - hakhshara ("everything which comes into the fire you shall pass through fire"), and tevila ("purified by the water of sprinkling").

In this week's shiur, I would like to address the following questions.

  1. Why must we "kasher" utensils, and what is the relationship between the process of hakhshara and the process of tevila?
  2. What are the principles and halakhot of hakhsharat keilim?

Why must we kasher utensils?

In our first shiur, we addressed the issue of "ta'am ke-ikkar," i.e., the taste is akin to the substance. We noted that the tanaim, as well as the rishonim, debate whether the taste of a prohibited substance, without the presence of the substance itself, is prohibited mi-de'oraita or mi-derabanan.

Those who maintain that "ta'am" is considered "ke-ikkar" mi-de'oraita cite the above parasha as a proof (Pesachim 46b). Why would the Torah insist that the utensils be kashered if not for the concern that they may impart taste to the food cooked in them? If so, then the process of "hakhsharat keilim" is clearly, on a minimal level, an attempt to extract or destroy the prohibited taste absorbed in the walls of the utensils. What emerges, according to this opinion, is that the Torah commanded the Jewish people to subject the utensils taken from Midian to two distinct processes: hakhshara, which extracts or destroys the prohibited substance, and tevila, which ritually cleanses the utensil.

Seemingly, those who maintain that "ta'am ke-ikkar" is only of rabbinic origin will find difficulty in explaining the need for kashering utensils! What is the value in extracting or destroying that which is halakhically insignificant?

The Ra'ah (Bedek Ha-Bayit bayit 4 sha'ar 1) cites the Ramban, who apparently also grappled with this issue, as viewing the requirement to kasher utensils as a "ma'ala she-asu be-keilim," a unique stringency, similar to the requirement to tovel (immerse) utensils. If so, then the Torah actually required that utensils taken from Midian be subjected to two SIMILAR processes, hakhshara and tevila. What, therefore, is the difference between them? One may suggest that through the somewhat symbolic act of hakhshara, which extracts or destroys that which is absorbed in the walls of the utensil - despite its halakhic insignificance - one severs the utensil from its past associations. Afterwards, one immerses the utensil in a mikveh, sanctifying it and permitting its future use.  

This question of whether hakhsharat keilim should be viewed as a process of extracting or destroying prohibited food in order to prevent its consumption, or as an act more similar to tevilat keilim - part of a process of spiritual purification of the utensil - may help us to explain a number of halakhic disputes.

The rishonim debate whether hakhsharat keilim should be included in the list of the 613 mitzvot. Most rishonim, who do not include this halakha, most likely view the process of kashering utensils as not much different from removing bugs from vegetables, which is clearly no more than a means of avoiding the consumption of prohibited substances and therefore would not warrant an additional, independent mitzva. A few rishonim, including the Semak (198) and the Tosafist R. Yosef Mi-orleans, however, seem to count hakhsharat keilim as a mitzvat aseh. It would seem that according to their opinions, one must attribute to hakhsharat keilim more that the mere removal of issur in order to count it as a mitzva.

Similarly, unlike tevilat keilim, no berakha is recited on hakhsharat keilim. Some (Issur Ve-heter 58:104) suggest that since one is merely preventing the consumption of a prohibited substance, there is no need for a berakha. This is clearly the simplest understanding.

However, some offer alternative explanations, such as the Orchot Chayyim (Chametz U-matzah 95) who suggests that a berakha is not required since one can just as easily use new utensils. Seemingly, the very search for a reason other than the above explanation may imply that fundamentally hakhsharat keilim DOES warrant a berakha (as it is not just a means of purging the utensil from prohibited substances), and does not receive one for a completely separate reason.

A debate between the Biblical commentators may also shed light on our question. The commentators note that the Torah refers to utensils which have "come into fire," which must be passed through fire, and those which "have not come into fire," which must be passed through water. What type of contact with prohibited substances is the Torah referring to, and what are the methods of kashering these utensils?

Some commentators explain that the Torah is referring to two separate modes of absorption of issur. If the utensil absorbed a prohibited substance over the fire, the utensil must be kashered over the fire, i.e., through what is commonly known as "libbun." If, however, the utensil absorbed issur in a different manner, i.e., through cooking in a liquid, the utensil must be immersed in boiling water, i.e., hagala. If so, the Torah specifies two different methods of kashering utensils.

Others (see Ramban) explain that any utensil that has absorbed issur through contact with heat must be kashered through contact with heat. However, there may be different levels of absorption and hence of hakhshara. A utensil that absorbed issur while directly exposed to fire must undergo "libbun," while a utensil which absorbed issur without direct exposure to fire, must undergo "hagala." The first verse, then, is referring to the several types of hakhshara (not just one), and may be expressing the principle of "ke-bol'o kakh polto" – the way is which a utensil absorbed a prohibited substance is the way which the utensil will expel that substance. If so, one may ask, what is the second verse referring to? Some explain that the Torah is merely stating that a utensil that did not absorb prohibited taste, but rather came into contact with a prohibited substance without any heat, must be "passed through water," i.e., must be washed. This explanation seems rather odd. Isn't it obvious? Must the Torah command us to wash our dishes?

One might suggest that we might have thought that this utensil must also undergo a process of hakhshara, and the Torah is telling is that washing is sufficient. Yet, one may wonder, why would I have thought that? Seemingly, such a "hava amina" must assume that hakhsharat keilim is NOT merely extracting or destroying the prohibited taste, for here, the taste was never absorbed! Accordingly, I may have viewed the process of hakhsharat keilim as similar to tevilat keilim, which applies to all utensils. The Torah's conclusion, however, remains unclear. Is our "hava amina" rejected, or merely modified?

Alternatively, one may suggest that merely washing a utensil is ALSO considered a form of hakhsharat keilim. This seems to be the explanation of the Ramban. If so, then clearly hakhsharat keilim is NOT just a process of extracting or destroying issur, but rather an attempt to demonstratively separate the utensil from its past, even by a token act of washing it, before sanctifying it for its future use.

In any case, we certainly adopt the principle of "ta'am ke-ikkar," whether mi-derabanan or mi-de'oraita, and therefore the question remains, is hakhsharat keilim just a process of extraction/destruction of issur, or something more?

I would like to raise one final question. The gemara (Avoda Zara 76a) explains that the taste expelled from a utensil which is "eino ben yomo" - i.e., a day has passed since its last contact with the substance - no longer enhances the food cooked in this utensil (i.e., it is "noten ta'am lifgam"), and its use is NOT prohibited by the Torah. In other words, the Torah only prohibited the use of a utensil which is "ben yomo" dating from its previous contact with the substance. Similarly, the Torah only insisted upon kashering utensils within a day of contact with prohibited foods.

The gemara relates, however, that even after a day has passed one is prohibited mi-derabanan from using this utensil and it must be kashered, lest one mistakenly come to use a "ben yomo" utensil. 

Is there a difference between the hakhshara of a utensil which is a "ben yomo" and of a utensil which is "eino ben yomo"?

One might suggest that the hakhshara of a utensil which is "eino ben yomo" simply mimics the hakhshara of a utensil which is "ben yomo." Alternatively, we may suggest that while the hakhshara of a "ben yomo" is intended to extract or destroy the absorbed prohibited taste, the hakhshara of an "eino ben yomo" is merely intended as a demonstrative act, a "matir," intended to sanction the use of a utensil which mi-de'oraita is permitted anyway.

The rishonim debate whether a utensil that is generally used for cooking but is occasionally used over a fire requires libbun or hagala. Is the form of hakhshara determined by "rov tashmisho" or "mi'ut tashmisho," i.e., the majority or minority use?

Seemingly, if one assumes that taste absorbed over the fire can only be "neutralized" through libbun, then how could one possibly maintain that we adopt the more lenient method of hakhshara based on "mi'ut tashmisho"? Some suggest (the acharonim cite the opinion of the Rama Mi-pano) that these rishonim are clearly only referring to a utensil which is "eino ben yomo," as a "ben yomo" utensil must certainly undergo the more stringent method of kashering.

This may answer our question regarding how the more lenient method of hakhshara may be sufficient for a utensil which has absorbed issur over the fire, but we may still wonder, why should the standard of hakhshara differ between a "ben yomo" and an "eino ben yomo" utensil?

We may suggest that while the hakhshara of a "ben yomo" is intended to neutralize that which has been absorbed, the hakhshara of an "eino ben yomo" is merely a demonstrative act, a "matir," meant to permit the utensil that was prohibited mi-derabanan. This act is determined by the majority use of the utensil, and one is not required to be concerned with the minority use.

Rav Yosef Karo (451:5) adopts the more lenient opinion, while the Rema rules in accordance with the more stringent opinion.

Materials Which May or May Not be Kashered:

In order to determine the proper method of kashering a utensil, one must first determine whether the utensil is made of a material that may be kashered. The Torah lists gold, silver, copper, tin and lead as materials suitable for kashering. Elsewhere, the Torah relates that a utensil made of clay (cheres) may NOT be kashered and therefore, after coming in contact with korbanot, must be destroyed.

The gemara, based on this verse, assumes that earthenware (cheres), and similarly china and porcelain, may not be kashered through hagala, as it may never fully expel the taste of the issur. Furthermore, the gemara states that earthenware may not be kashered by libbun, lest one perform it improperly due to concern that the vessel may break under the strain. (It may, however, be returned to the oven and subjected to the same degree of heat and pressure at which it was originally produced, essentially recreating it.)

The rishonim debate whether certain materials not listed in the Torah may or may not be kashered. One the one hand, the Shulchan Arukh rules that wood, stone, and of course metal may be kashered. On the other hand, contemporary authorities disagree concerning synthetic material such as plastic, nylon and even formica. Some distinguish between kashering for Pesach and kashering to remove other prohibited substances. One should consult a rabbinic authority regarding these materials.

The authorities also disagree regarding glass. Some rishonim (Tosafot Avoda Zara 33b, Ran Pesachim 9a and the Ra'avya), based on a mishna in Avot De-Rabbi Natan (41:6), rule that glass does not absorb and therefore need only be rinsed. The Ra'ah (cited by the Ritva Pesachim 39b) maintains that glass is similar to metals and may theoretically be kashered, as long as one is not fearful that it may be destroyed in the process of hagala. Still others (Rabbeinu Yechiel of Paris cited by the Mordekhai Pesachim 3:574) and the Smag view glass as similar to earthenware and maintain that it may not be kashered.

Rav Yosef Karo (Shulchan Arukh 451:26) maintains that glass doesn't require any form of hakhshara and may be rinsed and used, even for Pesach. The Rema, on the other hand, rules that one should be stringent and not kasher glass for Pesach.

The acharonim debate the scope of this stringency. While many (see Bi'ur Ha-gra and Arukh Ha-Shulchan) explain that the Rema rules in accordance with the opinion that equates glass with earthenware, the acharonim debate whether the Rema's stringent opinion applies exclusively to Pesach, or to other prohibitions as well. Contemporary authorities also debate this question. While Rav Moshe Feinstein zt"l (see Halachos of Pesach, Rabbi Shimon Eider p. 139) ruled that normally we do not assume that glass can absorb prohibited substances, others assume that the Rema's ruling applies to all issurim. Some (See Seridei Eish 2:36 and Minchat Yitzchak (1:86)) even adopt a compromise position, suggesting that glass may be kashered from all prohibited substances except for chametz.


For further research, Rabbi Howard Jachter wrote an excellent overview of this question in the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society (Number XXVI).

Chag KASHER ve-same'ach.

To be continued.