SALT - 21 Tammuz 5776 - July 27, 2016

  • Rav David Silverberg

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This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of my grandfather
Rav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l, whose yahrzeit is
Thursday 22 Tamuz, July 28
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            We read in Parashat Matot of the instructions given to the Israelite soldiers upon their return from battle against Midyan concerning the utensils which they had seized as spoils of war.  Specifically, they were told by Elazar, the kohen gadol, that utensils which had been used with non-kosher food must first be purged of the taste of non-kosher food before they may be used.  In this context, Elazar also instructs, “akh be-mei nida yitchata” (31:23), which appears to refer to the requirement to have the para aduma waters sprinkled on the utensils to purify them.  As these utensils had come in contact with human corpses over the course of battle, they became tamei (ritually impure), and the para aduma waters are needed to restore their status of purity.

            The Gemara, however, in Masekhet Avoda Zara (75b), interprets this phrase as a reference to what is commonly called “tevilat keilim” – the requirement to immerse in a mikveh food utensils acquired from a non-Jew.  Irrespective of whether the utensil had ever been used with non-kosher food, the fact that it was owned by a gentile necessitates its immersion in a mikveh upon its acquisition by a Jew.  The implication of the Gemara is that this requirement constitutes a Torah obligation, though according to many Rishonim, the Gemara made this inference as an asmakhta (allusion to a rabbinic enactment in the Biblical text), and in truth this requirement was enacted by Chazal.

            The Tur (Y.D. 120) cites the ruling of the Semak that the immersion of a utensil obtained from a gentile must be performed in a body of water consisting of at least forty se’a (approximately 330 liters) of water, regardless of what kind of body of water it is.  When it comes to purifying an impure utensil, one must immerse the utensil in either a mikveh consisting of forty se’a of water, or in a ma’ayan (natural body of water) consisting of any amount of water (as long as there is enough water for the utensil to be submerged).  The obligation of tevilat keilim, however, in the view of the Semak, differs in this regard, and requires a quantity of forty se’a even if the immersion takes place in a ma’ayan.

            The Tur dismisses this ruling, arguing that the laws of tevilat keilim are modeled after the laws of purification.  Therefore, since a ma’ayan is capable of purifying regardless of the quantity of water it contains, one may likewise fulfill the requirement of tevilat keilim by immersing a utensil in a ma’ayan even if it does not contain forty se’a of water.

            As noted by the Perisha, a slight discrepancy exists between different editions of the Tur, one which directly affects the way we understand his objection to the Semak’s ruling.  In some editions, the Tur writes that the laws of tevilat keilim are modeled after “tevilat temei’a” – “the immersion of an impure woman.”  As the Beit Yosef explains, this refers to the immersion of a nidda after the cessation of her menstrual flow.  According to this version of the text, the Tur refers here to the fact that the Gemara inferred the obligation of tevilat keilim from the verse, “akh be-mei nidda yitchata,” which the Gemara explains to mean that a utensil must be immersed in a manner similar to the immersion of a nidda.  The Tur thus establishes that just as a nidda may immerse in a ma’ayan that does not contain forty se’a of water, similarly, one may fulfill the requirement of tevilat keilim by immersing the utensil in this kind of ma’ayan.  The Beit Yosef proceeds to question this reasoning of the Tur, noting that in discussing the laws of nidda (Y.D. 201), the Tur cites the ruling of his father, the Rosh – whose rulings he generally follows – that a nidda’s immersion requires forty se’a of water even if it is done in a ma’ayan.  Therefore, even if we accept the premise that the requirement of tevilat keilim is modeled after the immersion of a nidda, forty se’a would be required even if the immersion is done in a ma’ayan instead of a mikveh.  Indeed, based on this contention, the Beit Yosef rules in Shulchan Arukh that forty se’a is required for tevilat keilim regardless of whether it is done in a mikveh or in a natural body of water.

            In other editions, however, the Tur claims that the law of tevilat keilim is modeled after “tevilat tum’a” – “the immersion of impurity.”  The Perisha explains that according to this version of the text, the Tur refers to the immersion of impure utensils, and it is upon this immersion that tevilat keilim is modeled.  Meaning, just as a utensil which had become impure must be immersed to return to its state of purity, similarly, a utensil obtained from a gentile must be immersed to be deemed suitable for use by Jews.  Therefore, the Tur understandably disputed the Semak’s ruling, and maintained that a ma’ayan may be used for tevilat keilim even if it does not contain forty se’a, just as such a ma’ayan may be used for the purification of impure utensils.  (See also Taz, Y.D. 120:2).

            In any event, the Shulchan Arukh, as mentioned, ruled that forty se’a of water are required for tevilat keilim even if the immersion is done in a natural body of water.  It should be noted, however, that in the case of a running stream or river, the immersion may be done in a place without forty se’a of water, as long as all the water in the stream amounts to forty se’a (see Shakh, Y.D. 201:2).