Both parshiyos Balak (read this week in Eretz Yisrael) and Chukas (read in chutz la’aretz) discuss relationships with non-Jews, and therefore are appropriate parshiyos to discuss the mitzvah of tevilas keilim.
Question: A Sweet Saga
Avraham Sweet, the proprietor of Candy Andy, wants to know.
“I have a gift business in which I sell glass candy bowls filled with candies, fruits, and nuts. Must I toivel these dishes before I fill them?”
In Parshas Matos, the Torah teaches: Regarding the gold and the silver; the copper, the iron, the tin and the lead: any item that was used in fire needs to be placed in fire to become kosher, yet it must also be purified in mikveh water. In addition, that which was not used in fire must pass through water” (Bamidbar 31:22-23). From these verses we derive the mitzvah of tevilas keilim — The mitzvah to immerse metal implements in a mikveh or spring prior to using them for food. The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) notes that this immersion is required even if the vessel has never been used. In other words, this mitzvah is unrelated to the requirement of koshering equipment that was used for non-kosher food or to the laws related to purifying implements that became tamei.
The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) further states that in addition to metal items intended for food use, we are also required to immerse glass dishes, because both metal and glass share a similarity – they are repairable by melting and reconstructing, or, as we would say, they are recyclable. This renders them different from vessels made of stone, bone, wood or earthenware, all of which cannot be repaired this way.
What types of dishes must be immersed?
The Gemara cites a highly instructive dialogue about the mitzvah of immersing vessels:
“Rav Nachman said in the name of Rabbah bar Avuha: ‘One can derive from the verse that one must immerse even brand new items, because used vessels that were purged in fire are as kosher as those that are brand-new, and yet they require immersion.’
Rav Sheishes then asked him: ‘If it is true that the mitzvah of immersing vessels is not because of kashrus concerns, maybe one is required to immerse even clothing shears?’
Rav Nachman responded: ‘The Torah only mentions vessels that are used for meals (klei seudah)’“ [Avodah Zarah 75b].
Rav Sheishes suggested that if immersing utensils has nothing to do with kosherizing utensils used for non-kosher, perhaps this mitzvah applies to all paraphernalia — even cameras, cellphones and clothing shears!
To this, Rav Nachman retorted that since the Torah mentions only implements used for a meal, the mitzvah of tevilas keilim applies only to utensils used for preparing and consuming food, not those intended for other purposes.
Klei seudah – appliances used for meals
Rav Nachman did not require that all food preparation utensils be immersed, only klei seudah, items used for meals. Soon, we will see how this detail affects many of the halachos of tevilas keilim. But, what exactly are considered klei seudah, and how is this different from simply saying that all food preparation utensils must be immersed?
Klei sechorah — “merchandise”
The halachic authorities note that a storekeeper is not required to immerse vessels he has for sale, since for him they are not utensils with which he intends to prepare food or eat. Later authorities coin a term “klei sechorah,” utensils used as merchandise, ruling that these items do not require immersion until they are purchased by the end user (see Taz, Yoreh Deah 120:10). Furthermore, several halachic authorities contend that not only is the storekeeper not required to immerse the utensils prior to sale, if he immerses them, it is not valid, since there is, as yet, no requirement to immerse them (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchak 8:70). This is based on a comment of the Rama implying that tevilah performed before the obligation to immerse a utensil exists, such as while it is still owned by the non-Jew, does not fulfill the mitzvah, but must be repeated after the utensil becomes the property of a Jew (Rama 9). Thus, reciting a beracha on this too-early tevilah would be a beracha levatalah.
Based on this discussion, we can now address one of our above-mentioned questions:
“I have a gift business in which I sell candy bowls filled with candies, fruits, and nuts. Must I toivel these dishes before I fill them?”
This question is a modification of a situation in which I was once involved. We received a glass candy bowl as a gift from someone with a note that the proprietor had already toiveled the bowl. I called the owner of the business to inform him that, in my opinion, not only is he not required to toivel the dish, but I suspect that the tevilah does not help. My reasoning is that, although the proprietor fills the bowls with nuts and candies, from his perspective this is merchandise that he is selling. The dish therefore qualifies as klei sechorah that one need not immerse, and immersing them does not fulfill the mitzvah. As a result, not only is the proprietor not obligated to immerse the dishes, but doing so fulfills no mitzvah, and it is a beracha levatalah for him to recite a beracha on this tevilah. Including a note that the dish was toiveled is detrimental, since the recipient will assume that he has no requirement to toivel this dish, when the end-user is required to immerse it. For these reasons, I felt it incumbent on myself to bring this to the attention of the owner of the business.
The proprietor was very appreciative. He told me that, in truth, it was a big hassle for him to toivel the dishes, but he had been assuming that halacha required him to do so before he could fill them.
Shortly after writing these words, I received the following shaylah:
“I want to ask you whether one must toivel an item that is being given away as a present. When I studied the topic, I concluded that, even if I purchase a utensil that requires tevilah, but I am planning on giving it to someone, it does not have a chiyuv tevilah until it reaches the recipient’s hands. Only then does it become kli seudah. This would also apply, for example, if someone gave a shalach manos bowl filled with candy, etc; the utensil wouldn’t require tevilah until the person receives it. What do you think?”
To which I answered:
“It seems to me that since one is purchasing the item for someone’s personal use, and not to sell, that it should have a chiyuv tevilah at this point. Only items meant to be merchandise are absolved from tevilah.”
I received the following response:
“Who says that the recipient is going to use the utensil at his table? Indeed, I had the very same shaylah tonight. My wife took a small receptacle that was holding a plant, filled it with nuts and dried fruit, and brought it to someone as a present. Who said that the recipient will use it afterwards for food? Maybe it will be a candle holder, a decorative piece, etc. It doesn’t become kli seudah until she decides what she will use it for.”
The point the correspondent is making is that it may indeed be that this item will never be a food utensil, and therefore never be required to be immersed. Only the end user determines whether the item is indeed a food utensil, and therefore until he decides what to do with it, there is no requirement to immerse it.
According to Rav Hirsch, metal vessels, which require mankind’s mining, extracting and processing, represent man’s mastery over the earth and its materials. Whereas vessels made of earthenware or wood only involve man shaping the world’s materials to fit his needs, the manufacture of metal demonstrates man’s creative abilities to utilize natural mineral resources to fashion matter into a usable form. Consuming food, on the other hand, serves man’s most basic physical nature. Use of metal food vessels then represents the intellectual aspect of man serving his physical self, which, in a sense, is the opposite of why we were created, which is to use our physical self to assist our intellect to do Hashem’s will. Specifically in this instance, the Torah requires that the items hereby produced be immersed in a mikveh before we use them to endow them with increased kedusha before they are put to food use. This demonstrates that although one may use one’s intellect for physical purposes, when doing so one must first sanctify the item to focus on the spiritual.