Halakhot of Kashrut Part 2 - Tevilat Keilim

  • Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon
Tevilat Keilim (Immersing New Utensils)
Based on a shiur by Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon
Translated by David Silverberg
     The topic addressed in this shiur is a very practical one, relevant to every person both in his own household and when he visits someone who perhaps does not observe the laws of tevilat keilim, in which case simply drinking a cup of water becomes problematic.
The Source of the Obligation
     Towards the end of Sefer Bamidbar (chapter 31), the Torah tells of Benei Yisrael's war against Midyan, after which it presents the following laws: "Gold and silver, copper, iron, tin, and lead – any article that is passed through fire – these you shall pass through fire and they shall be clean, except that they must be cleansed with purification water.  And anything that is not passed through fire you must pass through water" (31:22-23).  The Torah here describes the principle of "kashering," the process by which utensils that had been used for non-kosher food can be made usable for kosher cooking.  The procedure follows the general rule of "ke-bol'o kakh polto" – a utensil expunges food particles it had absorbed in the same manner in which it had initially absorbed them.  But the Torah adds another law, as well: "except that they must be cleansed in purification water."
     The mishna says in Masekhet Avoda Zara (75b), "One who purchases a usable utensil from the gentiles: that which is normally immersed – he must immerse; [that which is normally] exposed directly to fire – he must expose directly to fire."  The mishna addresses only the issue of kashering, but the Gemara adds, "We have learned: They all require immersion in forty se'a [of water].  From where do we know this?  Rava said: The verse says, 'any article that can withstand fire – these you shall pass through fire and they shall be clean' – the verse adds another purification."
     A simple reading of the verses would perhaps indicate that only used utensils purchased from gentiles require tevila, since the Torah in these verses clearly speaks of utensils that had been used and thus require kashering.  From where do we know that one must immerse unused utensils, as well?  Rashi tries to deduce this requirement to immerse new utensils from the clause "anything that is not passed through fire you must pass through water."  According to Rashi, these utensils "that are not passed through fire" are new, unused utensils.  The Ramban disputes Rashi's interpretation and explains that this clause refers to utensils used only with cold water.  He therefore derives the obligation to immerse new utensils from the fact that after kashering, a utensil is considered brand new.  In effect, then, the Torah indeed speaks of new, unused utensils.
     Later, the Gemara presents several laws relevant to tevilat keilim, to which we will refer later in the shiur.  First, the Gemara establishes that the obligation pertains only to "kelei se'uda" – eating utensils.  Tevila is not required when purchasing other utensils, such as scissors used to cut clothing.  Secondly, the tevila obligation takes effect only when one acquires ownership over the given utensil, as was the case after the war against Midyan, when Benei Yisrael seized the Midyanites' spoils.  One need not immerse a utensil he borrows from a gentile.  Additionally, the mitzva applies only to metal utensils; utensils made from wood, earthenware or stone do not require tevila (not even mi-de'rabbanan). Rav Ashi adds, however, that glass utensils resemble metal utensils.  Just as one can fix a broken metal utensil by melting it down and then remolding it, a similar process can be used to fix broken glass.  The tevila obligation therefore applies to glass utensils just as it applies to metal.
     Does tevilat keilim constitute a Torah obligation, or did it originate from rabbinic enactment?
     The fact that, as we have seen, the Gemara extracts the obligation from an explicit verse would appear to indicate that we deal with a Torah obligation.  This indeed emerges from the comments of most Rishonim – Rashi, Rabbenu Tam, Rashba and others.
     The Rambam, however, in Hilkhot Ma'akhalot Asurot (17:5), classifies tevilat keilim as an obligation "mi-divrei sofrim."  The Ritva writes that the Rambam considers tevilat keilim a rabbinically ordained obligation.  This depends, however, on how precisely we understand the term "divrei sofrim" employed by the Rambam here and in other contexts.  Indeed, the Rashba writes in his responsa that the Rambam considers tevilat keilim a Torah obligation.
     The Ramban, in his commentary to the Chumash, writes that "his heart thinks" that this obligation is de-rabbanan, and the Gemara cites the verse as an asmakhta (an allusion in the text to a law established by Chazal).  However, in his chiddushim to Masekhet Avoda Zara the Ramban writes that tevilat keilim constitutes a Torah obligation.
     In any event, the majority view among the Rishonim is that the mitzva of tevilat keilim originates from the Torah, and this is the position taken by most Acharonim, including the Vilna Gaon, Chatam Sofer, Chokhmat Adam, Ben Ish Chai, Noda Bi-yehuda, and others.
The Nature of the Obligation
     The question arises as to whether the Torah forbade the use of a new utensil before tevila, or if it merely imposed a mitzva and obligation to immerse the utensil, and one who neglects to do so simply violates a mitzva asei – without affecting the utensil's status.  The Rid and Maharach Or Zarua maintain that one may use a utensil that has not undergone immersion, as neglecting to perform tevila merely violates a mitzva asei, rather than rendering the utensil forbidden for use.  Most other Rishonim, however, indicate that there indeed exists a prohibition against using such a utensil.  This is the position of the Rambam in Hilkhot Ma'akhalot Asurot (17:3) and the Rama in Shulchan Arukh (Y.D. 120:8).
     Assuming such a prohibition exists, does it originate from the Torah or from rabbinic enactment?  The Or Zarua considers this halakha a Torah prohibition, whereas most Rishonim maintain that it stems from a decree of Chazal.  This latter position is adopted by the Bei'ur Halakha, Yabia Omer and other authorities.
     In conclusion, then, Halakha considers the mitzva of tevilat keilim a Torah obligation, but the prohibition against using a utensil before tevila is de-rabbanan.  Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, however, noted that this applies only if the individual neglected temporarily to immerse his utensil.  If, however, he decided to use the utensil on a permanent basis without tevila, he violates a Torah prohibition.
"Kelei Se'uda"
     From where did Chazal derive the halakha limiting the obligation to "kelei se'uda" – utensils used with food?  Rashi explains that the Torah speaks only of utensils customarily passed through fire – namely, utensils used for cooking and the like.  The Rashba, by contrast, explains that the in the same parasha the Torah discusses the laws of kashering, which obviously apply only to utensils used with food, and therefore the obligation of tevilat keilim likewise pertains only to these utensils.
     As we saw, the Gemara in Masekhet Avoda Zara equated glassware with metal utensils with respect to the obligation of tevilat keilim.  A different Gemara, however, in Masekhet Shabbat (15b), draws an equation between glassware and earthenware with regard to the laws of tum'a and tahara.  The Rishonim discuss the relationship between these two passages, focusing mainly on the question of the status of glassware regarding hag'ala (kashering through immersion in boiling water).
     Must one perform tevila on glass utensils mi-de'orayta or mi-de'rabbanan?
     The straightforward reading of the Gemara implies that this obligation is rabbinic in origin, as it requires immersing glassware only due to its resemblance to metal utensils.  One may, however, explain the Gemara differently.  Chazal perhaps understood from the Torah that the criterion for the tevilat keilim obligation is the possibility of fixing the given utensil if it breaks.  Accordingly, glassware would be included in the Torah obligation. 
     The Acharonim are in disagreement regarding this point.  The Ma'amar Mordekhai and Mekor Chayim write that glassware requires tevila mi-de'orayta, whereas according to the Peri Chadash, this obligation is mi-de'rabbanan, and the Acharonim have generally adopted this second position (Tehila Le-David, Peri Megadim, Chokhmat Adam, Ben Ish Chai and others).  Nevertheless, despite this conclusion, we recite a berakha over the immersion of glass utensils just as we do for metal utensils.  The poskim write that if one has both glassware and metal utensils to immerse, he should preferably first immerse the metal, which requires tevila according to Torah law, before immersing the glassware, which requires tevila mi-de'rabbanan.
     Plastic utensils, too, can be melted down and restored to their original form.  Presumably, then, their status with respect to the obligation of tevilat keilim depends on the different approaches we saw as to the requirement of glassware.  Rav Ovadya Yosef writes in Yabia Omer that plastic utensils do not require tevila because Chazal issued their decree only with regard to glassware.  Rav Moshe Feinstein and Rav Eliezer Waldenberg concur.  Rav Ovadya adds, however, that one who is stringent in this regard and immerses plastic utensils is deserving of blessing.  The Minchat Yitzchak rules that Halakha requires immersing these utensils without a berakha.
     The Acharonim debate the status of utensils with a glass glazing.  It would appear that they require tevila without a berakha.
"Chatzitza" – Obstructions
     Before tevila, the utensil must be perfectly clean and all stickers must be removed.  If, however, one performed tevila without removing the stickers, then if he intends to remove these stickers, they constitute a "chatzitza" (obstruction) and a new tevila is required.  If the person does not specifically intend to remove the stickers, then be-di'avad the tevila is valid.
     Needless to say, the water must come in contact with the entire utensil.  To this end, one may wet his hands before the tevila so that he need not let go of the utensil inside the mikveh, since the water on the hands connects the utensil to the water in the mikveh.
     When one purchases a non-kosher utensil from a gentile, he must first kasher it before tevila.  If he reverses the order, the Acharonim argue as to whether he must repeat the tevila after kashering; in such a situation, one should preferably repeat the tevila without a berakha.
A Guest
     The Yerushalmi establishes in Masekhet Avoda Zara that a utensil borrowed from a gentile does not require tevila.  The Yerushalmi explains that the obligation of tevila stems from the fact that the utensil assumes a status of "kedushat Yisrael" (the sanctity of Am Yisrael) when it enters the Jew's possession, akin to the process of conversion.  The obligation therefore applies only when a Jew acquires ownership over the utensil, and not when he merely borrows it from a gentile.
     For this same reason, food prepared in utensils that had not undergone tevila undoubtedly remains kosher, since we deal here only with the utensil's sanctification, rather than an intrinsic prohibition in the physical object.  The Rama explicitly mentions this halakha in Yoreh Dei'a (120:16).
     The Shulchan Arukh rules (Y.D. 120:8), "One who borrows or leases a utensil from a gentile – it does not require immersion.  But if a Jew purchased it from a gentile and lent it to his friend, it requires immersion, for it had already become obligated in the first one's possession."  Accordingly, when a person eats in the home of another Jew, the utensils he uses require tevila, despite the fact that he does not acquire ownership over the utensil.  Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, Y.D. 3:22), however, notes that when one eats food that does not need a utensil, such as fruit from a fruit bowl, he may take the food out of the utensil and eat it, even if the utensil had not undergone tevila.
     The Beit-Avi (Alef, p. 116) discusses the issue of visiting the home of someone who does not observe the laws of tevila, and claims that a guest may use a utensil that had not undergone tevila.  He explains that unlike a borrower, who assumes a degree of responsibility over the utensil, a guest has no connection to the utensil whatsoever, and this situation is thus more lenient than that of a borrower.  The Seridei Eish writes that when it comes to a utensil that one simply removes the food from it to eat, one may use it even without tevila.  He addresses the case of canned foods manufactured by gentiles, and he concludes that since the cans are used only to remove the food from them, they do not require tevila.  Many other poskim, however, questioned this ruling and suggested other reasons to permit eating from these cans, such as the fact that they do not have the formal status of a "keli" (utensil).  This factor applies as well to disposable containers, which likewise do not require tevila.
     Practically speaking, since the prohibition against using utensils before tevila is, as we saw, rabbinic in origin, and several possible reasons for leniency exist, one may rely on the lenient ruling, especially given the interest in maintaining peaceful relations with non-observant family and friends.  Needless to say, one should preferably use utensils whose tevila requirement is uncertain.
Electric Appliances
     Electric appliances pose a significant problem with respect to tevilat keilim, given that they generally would not "survive" the tevila.  The Acharonim suggest several different ways of dealing with this problem.
     The Chokhmat Adam writes that if one has a very large pot that he cannot immerse, he can puncture it to render it unusable, and then have it repaired.  On the basis of this ruling, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach recommended disabling some part of the electric appliance and then reassembling it, in order to solve the problem of tevila.  This must be done into the utensil itself, and not to its electric cord.
     The second solution flows from the Shulchan Arukh's discussion of using utensils that have not undergone tevila on Shabbat.  Since tevilat keilim is forbidden on Shabbat, the Shulchan Arukh rules that one may give the utensil to a gentile and then borrow it from him; as we saw, a utensil borrowed from a gentile does not require tevila.  Similarly, perhaps, one may give his utensil to a gentile and then keep it in his home and use it as a borrowed utensil.
     But does this solution work as a permanent arrangement?  The Acharonim tended to rely on this method even as a permanent arrangement; this solution appears in the Darkhei Teshuva, Rabbi Akiva Eiger, the Ben Ish Chai, and other sources.
     We find a third possible solution in the Chelkat Yaakov (1:126), who claims that since these appliances can operate only while attached to an electric outlet, we may consider them "mechubar la-karka" (attached to the ground) and thus exempt from tevila.
     Practically, one may rely on the last two solutions mentioned and thus use them after giving them to a gentile.
     Rav Moshe Feinstein adds that only the part of the appliance that comes in contact with food requires immersion.  Therefore, when it is possible to immerse the part that comes in contact with the food without ruining the appliance, one may do so and then use the given appliance.