This week’s parsha discusses the mitzvah of immersing food vessels prior to using them. Before Pesach I sent out a different article on this topic. There is a small degree of overlap between that article and this one, but there is great deal of information here that I did not discuss in that article.
Last time I went to immerse some utensils, a lady immersing some aluminum items asked me to include her in my beracha. When I asked her whether she wanted me to help her recite her own beracha on the mitzvah, she responded softly that she received a psak not to recite a beracha when toiveling aluminum, although she did not know the reason. Why would she not recite the beracha?
I have a gift business in which I sell glass candy dishes filled with candies, fruits, and nuts. Must I toivel these dishes before I fill them?
In Parshas Matos, the Torah teaches: Only 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 pure [meaning “kosher”], yet it must also be purified in mikveh water. And that which was not used in fire must pass through water” (Bamidbar 31:22-23). These verses serve as the basis for teaching three different sets of laws:
- Absorbing Concepts — Koshering vessels that were previously used for non-kosher.
An item that was used directly in fire, such as a spit or grate that broiled non-kosher, is koshered only by burning it directly in fire; an item used to cook on top of a fire, such as a pot that cooked non-kosher, may be koshered via a process similar to the way it was used, etc.
- Tainted Metal – “Contaminated” Implements
The Torah here teaches that implements made of metal become tamei (spiritually impure) through contact with a tamei item (such as an animal carcass), and that immersing them in a mikveh restores them to tahor status. An item is susceptible to tumah only when the Torah informs us of this fact – if the Torah never taught that an item can become tamei, it does not, and therefore most items in the world are not susceptible to tumah. (Unfortunately, these laws have somewhat limited practical application until Moshiach comes and we again have the parah adumah. At that time, we will again be able to live according to the tahor status necessary to observe the mitzvos related to the Beis Hamikdash, terumah and maaser sheini.)
- Immersed in Holiness – “Toiveling” implements in a mikveh or spring prior to using them for food.
The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) notes that one must immerse food implements used for food prior to using them, even if the vessel has never been used. In other words, this mitzvah is separate from the requirement of koshering equipment that was used to prepare non-kosher food and to the laws related to purifying implements that became tamei.
Preparing for Pesach
In earlier generations, when people owned fewer items, readying the house for Pesach included koshering household silverware, pots, and much other equipment; this koshering process, in general, follows the same basic rules that the Torah instructs for koshering utensils that were used for non-kosher. There is extensive literature on how to kosher properly all the various types of food-preparation implements — beginning with a lengthy discussion in the Gemara, which is continued with much debate of the Rishonim, the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries on myriads of details of koshering for Pesach. As a matter of fact, to remind people how to observe these halachos correctly, the thousand-year-old piyut for Shabbos Hagadol includes an extensive halachic discussion detailing how to kosher properly all the household items, and in earlier generations this often provided the substance of the local Rav’s Drasha for Shabbos Hagadol.
Today most people own full sets of both milchig and fleishig Pesach pots and tableware, so that koshering for Pesach is usually limited to sinks, counters, stoves and possibly ovens. I am therefore going to discuss some select laws of the third mitzvah mentioned above – that of immersing vessels before use.
Materials that require tevilah
The Torah teaches that utensils owned by a non-Jew made of gold, silver, copper, iron, tin or lead that transferred to Jewish ownership require immersion in a kosher mikveh or spring. According to most authorities, this mitzvah is a Torah requirement, although there is a minority opinion that this mitzvah is required only miderabbanan (Rambam, as understood by Pri Chodosh). We will assume that the requirement to immerse gold, silver, copper, iron, tin and lead implements is Torah-ordained. (Bear in mind that although we would not use lead as an ingredient because of valid concerns about lead poisoning, this medical problem was not discovered until the nineteenth century. Therefore, we find much earlier halachic literature discussing immersion of lead or lead-lined utensils.)
There is no requirement to immerse food utensils made of wood, earthenware, ivory, bone, leather, stone or most other materials. We will soon discuss glass and plastic.
Mechiras Chometz and Tevilas Keilim
As we all know, before Pesach one is required to rid one’s house and all one’s possessions of chometz. However, some items, such as toasters, mixers, wooden kneading bowls, and flour bins are difficult, if not impossible, to clean. Shulchan Aruch and Rama (Orach Chayim 442:11) recommend giving wooden kneading bowls and flour bins and the chometz they contain as a gift to a non-Jew before Pesach, with the understanding that the gentile will return them after the holiday. Today, the standard mechiras chometz that we perform includes selling this chometz and these appliances in the sale. However, what do I do if I have metal appliances that may be full of chometz, such as mixers and toasters? If I sell such an appliance to a gentile and then purchase the appliance back from him, will I now need to immerse the appliance in a mikveh?
The halachic authorities note that someone selling his or her chometz to a gentile before Pesach should be careful not to sell utensils that require tevilas keilim. Instead, one should rent the appliances to a gentile and sell the chometz they contain (Chachmas Odom; Noda Beyudah, cited in Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 120:13). An item rented to a gentile does not require immersion when it is returned to the Jewish owner.
Cleavers versus Graters!
The Gemara (Avodah Zarah 75b) quotes Rav Sheishes as suggesting that anything purchased from a gentile, even a clothing shears, should require immersion. Rav Nachman retorted that the mitzvah of tevilas keilim applies only to klei seudah — literally, implements used for a meal, which includes both utensils used to prepare food, such as pots and knives, and those utilized to eat or drink, such as drinking cups and tableware (Avodah Zarah 75b).
Grates and Grills
One is required to immerse only those items that usually touch the food directly. Therefore, stove grates, blechs, hotplates, knife sharpeners, trivets, can openers and corkscrews do not require tevilah (see Yoreh Deah 120:4), but grills, peelers, funnels, strainers, salt shakers, pepper mills and tongs do require tevilah since they all touch food.
What about storage vessels?
Is one required to immerse a metal container or glass jar used to store foodstuffs, but that is not suitable for preparing or consuming food?
Rabbi Akiva Eiger (on 120:1, quoting Keneses Hagedolah [Beis Yosef 18]) discusses whether storage vessels require tevilah, and concludes that it is unclear whether they should be immersed. Therefore one should immerse them without reciting a beracha, because in case there is no mitzvah to immerse them, reciting a beracha al tevilas keilim before immersing them is reciting a beracha levatalah, a beracha in vain. A better solution is to immerse them at the same time that one immerses an item that definitely requires a beracha.
Klei Sechorah — “Merchandise”
The halachic authorities note that a storekeeper does not toivel vessels he is planning to sell, since for him they are not klei seudah. Later authorities therefore coined a term “klei sechorah,” utensils used as merchandise, ruling that these items do not require immersion until they are purchased by the person intending to use them (based on Taz, Yoreh Deah 120:10). Furthermore, several halachic authorities contend that the storekeeper cannot immerse the vessels prior to sale since there is as yet no requirement to immerse them (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 8:70). This is based on a statement of the Rama that implies that a tevilah performed before one is obligated to immerse a vessel, such as while it is still owned by the gentile, does not fulfill the mitzvah, and must be repeated after it becomes the property of a Jew (Rama 9).
Based on this discussion, we can now address one of our above-mentioned questions:
“I have a gift business in which I sell glass candy dishes 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. I once received a glass candy dish from someone with a note from the business, stating that the dish has already been toiveled. I called the proprietor of the business to inform him that, in my opinion, not only is he not required to toivel the dish, but I suspect that it does not help. My reasoning is that although the proprietor fills his dishes with nuts and candies, from his perspective this is still merchandise that he is selling. The dish therefore qualifies as klei sechorah which one need not immerse, and therefore 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 reciting a beracha on this immersion is a beracha levatalah for him. Including a note that the dish was toiveled is detrimental, since the recipient will assume that he has no requirement to toivel this dish, whereas, in fact, the end-user is required to immerse it. For these reasons, I felt it incumbent upon 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 the dishes.
Some Immersing Details
When immersing the utensil, one should not hold it very tightly in one’s hand, since this will prevent the part of the utensil held from being properly immersed. Instead, one should either hold the utensil somewhat loosely, or alternatively, one should dip one’s hand into the mikveh water before holding the utensil that will be immersed (Rama 120:2; see Taz and Shach).
Prior to immersing a utensil, one must remove all rust and dirt from it. If one immersed the utensil that had rust or dirt that most people would not want on the appliance, one must clean it, and then reimmerse it (Yoreh Deah 120:13).
When one is immersing an item that definitely requires tevilah, immediately prior to dipping it, he should recite a beracha, Asher kideshanu bemitzvosav vetzivanu al tevilas keili. If he immerses more than one vessel, he should conclude, instead, al tevilas keilim (Yoreh Deah 120:3). Although some authorities mention alternative texts to the beracha, I have quoted the commonly used text which follows the majority opinion.
If it is uncertain whether the item requires tevilah, one should not recite a beracha. It is preferable, if possible, to immerse it at the same time that one immerses a different utensil that definitely does require tevilah, so that both items are included in the beracha.
Can a child toivel keilim?
If a child tells you that he immersed a vessel in a kosher mikveh, may you rely on his report that this indeed happened?
The halacha is that, if an adult supervised the child immerse the vessel correctly, one may use the utensil, but one may not rely on the child attesting to his having immersed the utensil properly (Yoreh Deah 120:14; see also Gr”a ad locum and Pri Megadim, Orach Chayim, Mishbetzos Zahav 451:6). Apparently, this is not a well-known halacha, since one often finds children being used as agents to immerse utensils for their parents.
People eating from glass dishes…
The Gemara teaches that food utensils made of glass must be immersed prior to use, since glassware is similar to metalware in that, when it becomes broken, it can be melted and repaired. Most authorities understand that the Sages required one to immerse glass food utensils miderabbanan, because of the similarity between glassware and metalware, which requires immersion min haTorah. One recites a beracha prior to immersing a drinking glass just as one recites a beracha prior to immersing silverware.
Of course, this leads us to a question about plasticware, since many forms of plastic may be repaired. Does reusable plasticware require tevilah just as glassware does? Most people assume that plasticware is not included in the mitzvah of tevilas keilim, but why?
This takes us to an earlier discussion between Nineteenth Century poskim concerning a type of boneware, which, when broken or cracked, could be repaired by melting and melding it. (I personally have no experience with this material, but I imagine that one could probably melt and repair bone, just as one can repair horn by melting and melding. There is much halachic discussion about the repair of a damaged shofar by melting and melding the crack.) Rav Avraham Shaag, the rebbe of Rav Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld (later the Rav of the old Yishuv of Yerushalayim and Eretz Yisrael) concluded that just as one is required to immerse glassware because it is repairable, one is required to immerse boneware (Shu’t Ohel Avraham #24, quoted by Darkei Teshuvah). This position was disputed by Rav Dovid Zvi Hoffman, the preeminent posek of Germany in his day, who contended that, since the immersion of glassware is required only miderabbanan, one need immerse only those items which Chazal required, but a newly developed material, albeit similar to glassware, would not require immersion (Shu’t Melamed Leho’il, Yoreh Deah #49).
The authorities of the last generation and this one have debated whether plastic items require immersion prior to use. Indeed, some authorities (Shu’t Minchas Yitzchak 3:76) require the immersion of reusable plastic plates and the like, because they follow the logic of Rav Avraham Shaag, although without a beracha, out of concern that Rav Dovid Hoffman is halachically correct. Nevertheless, most authorities conclude that one is not required to immerse plasticware (Shu’t Yabia Omer 4: Yoreh Deah: 8; Tevilas Keilim page 226).
When teaching that metal implements become tamei, and that one must immerse food utensils before use, the Torah specifies the six metals that were commonly used in ancient times: gold, silver, copper, iron, tin and lead. (Bronze and brass are both alloys whose main component is copper; in bronze, the most significant minority element is tin, and in brass, it is zinc.) However, over the last two hundred years, mankind has developed the means to extract and process several other metals including platinum, chrome, aluminum, and titanium. Do these “new” metals have the same halachic status as the six mentioned in the Torah? Are platinum rings, aluminum urns and titanium airplanes susceptible to tumah? Do chrome pots and aluminum trays require tevilas keilim?
The Tiferes Yisrael, in his extensive introduction to the Order of Taharos and its laws, rules that the newly discovered metals have the same halachic status as the six mentioned explicitly by the Torah, and they are all capable of becoming tamei (Yevakeish Daas #44). It follows from his line of reasoning that one is required min haTorah to immerse food vessels made of the new types of metal, and, indeed, this is how many authorities rule (Tevilas Keilim page 225). Many authorities contend that, although one is required to immerse aluminum pots, one is not required to immerse aluminum items that are disposable. Since they are meant to be disposed of after use, they are not considered “keilim” that require immersion.
On the other hand, other poskim dispute the Tiferes Yisrael’s conclusion that all types of metal become tamei. They contend that the Torah’s choosing a lengthy way of listing six types of metal, when it could certainly have used a brief, generic term for includes all metal items, demonstrates that these are the only types of metal that become tamei, and that any newly developed metals are not susceptible to tumah (Igros Moshe; letter from Rav Yaakov Kamenetski published at end of the sefer Tevilas Keilim).
According to the latter approach, one can argue that chrome pots and aluminum implements do not require tevilas keilim. The prevalent accepted practice is to assume that they do require tevilas keilim, although some authorities consider this a sufficient doubt, and therefore advise people not to recite a beracha prior to immersing these items.
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 involve only 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 — using our physical self to assist our intellect to do Hashem’s will. Specifically in this instance, the Torah requires that these items 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 in order to focus on the spiritual.