From Parshat Acharei Mot-Kedoshim Vol.10 No.30
Date of issue: 12 Iyar 5761--May 5, 2001


Tevilat Keilim - Part II
by Rabbi Howard Jachter

This week we will discuss five common questions that arise concerning Tevila. Must converts immerse their utensils after their conversion? What is the status of Corelle dishware? Must plastic utensils be immersed? How should one immerse electric utensils? And may one use another’s utensils that have not been immersed?

Convert’s Utensils

The classic Halachic sources, the Talmud, Rishonim, and the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries, do not state that a convert is obligated to immerse his metal and glass utensils subsequent to his conversion. However, the Darkei Teshuva (120:4) cites the Teshuvot Chadrei Deah who suggests that a convert may be required to immerse those utensils. This suggestion might be implied from the passage from the Talmud Yerushalmi that we cited last week. This passage presents that a reason for Tevilat Keilim is that the utensils have entered the holiness of Jewish life. It would follow that the convert’s utensils have also entered, so to speak, the holiness of the Torah lifestyle and should therefore be immersed in the Mikva.

There are two problems with this line of reasoning. First, as a rule, we do not derive normative Halachic principles from Taamei Hamitzvot, the reasons offered for a mitzvah (see Rav Moshe Feinstein's addendum to his commentary, Dibrot Moshe, to Masechet Ketubot). Second, perhaps the obligation to immerse utensils applies only to utensils that one acquired. According to this approach, a convert is not required to immerse his utensils since he has not acquired the utensils from a non-Jew. Indeed, the Talmud (Avoda Zara 75b) Rambam (Hilchot Maachalot Assurot 17:3), and Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 120:1), writes that the obligation to immerse utensils applies to “one who acquires utensils, used in the context of eating, from a non-Jew.” This may indicate that the obligation applies only to one who acquires the utensils from a non-Jew.

On the other hand, some authorities (such as Rav Zvi Pesach Frank, Teshuvot Har Zvi Y.D. 109) rule that one who acquires utensils that a non-Jew renounced ownership to, must immerse the utensils. According to this approach, the nature of the obligation of Tevilat Keilim is that utensils that once belonged to a non-Jew and which now belong to a Jew must be immersed. Therefore, even if one did not acquire the utensil from a non-Jew they must be immersed. Nevertheless, not all authorities agree with Rav Frank’s ruling, (see Encyclopedia Talmudit 18:535).

Another consideration for not requiring a convert to immerse his utensils is based on the Talmud’s (Avoda Zara 75b) ruling that one who borrows a utensil from a non-Jew is not required to immerse that utensil. The reason, the Talmud states, is that the situation of borrowing does not parallel, the paradigmatic case of Tevilat Keilim presented by the Chumash. The paradigmatic case of Tevilat Keilim is when the Jews, as described in Parshat Matot, acquired the utensils of the Midianites that they conquered, as we discussed last week. These utensils were acquired permanently and not merely borrowed. Similarly some wish to argue (see Teshuvot Tzitz Eliezer 8:19-20) that since the convert’s situation is entirely dissimilar to the situation of acquiring the Midianites utensils, he is not required to immerse his utensils.

Halachic authorities disagree about how to rule in this situation. Rav Gedalia Felder (Nachalat Tzvi 1:198) rules that a convert is not required to immerse his utensils. Rav Eliezer Waldenberg (the author of the Tzitz Eliezer), however, rules that he should immerse the utensils without reciting a blessing. One who is faced with this question should consult his Rabbi for a Halachic ruling.

The Halachic Status of Corning ware and Corelle

Rav Aharon Felder (Oholei Yeshurun p 47) rules that Corelle dishes do not require immersion. He notes, though, that it is preferable to immerse Corelle dishes. This is explained by Rav Felder’s (Oholei Yeshurun p.87 note 80) citation of Rav Feinstein’s doubt (Safek) whether Corning ware and Corelle are considered glass (and would require Tevila) or earthenware (and would not require Tevila).

It should be noted, however, that it seems that many Rabbis are inclined to regard Corelle and Corning ware as glass and rule that Corelle and Corning ware dishes should be immersed without reciting a Beracha. Rav Pinchas Teitz (as reported by his son Rav Elazar Meir Teitz) and Rav Mordechai Willig of Yeshiva University are among the prominent Rabbanim who rule this way.

Implicit in Rav Moshe’s ruling is that contemporary earthenware dishes are not immersed. Even though in pre-war Europe the custom was to immerse earthenware dishes that had a glass coating (see Aruch Hashulchan Y.D. 120:29), the contemporary situation is different. This is because the glass coating on earthenware (china) is so thin that it is not halachically significant (see Igrot Moshe Y.D. 2:46, at the conclusion of the responsum). Rav Hershel Schachter of Yeshiva University told this author that he agrees that contemporary earthenware dishes do not require Tevila.

Plastic Utensils

Halachic authorities have discussed whether one must immerse plastic utensils. The consensus does not require Tevila, but a minority opinion urges that plastic utensils should be immersed without reciting a Beracha.

Those who believe that one should immerse plastic utensils without a blessing (see Darkei Teshuva 120:14 and Dayan Weiss, Teshuvot Minchat Yitzchak 3:76-78 and 4:114) present the following argument: The Rabbis require glass utensils to be immersed due to their similarity to metal utensils, in that both metal and glass utensils can be repaired if they are broken or shattered. The minority view argues that since plastic utensils can be repaired, they are also required to be immersed due to their similarity to metal utensils. These authorities suggest that the rabbinic enactment recorded in the Talmud should be viewed as a requirement to immerse any utensil that can be repaired if broken.

On the other hand, the majority opinion (Teshuvot Tzitz Eliezer 7:37 and 8:26, Teshuvot Chelkat Yaakov 2:163, and Teshuvot Yabia Omer 4: Y.D. 8) follows the approach of Rav David Zvi Hoffman (Teshuvot Melamed Lehoil 2:48) that the rabbinic enactment applies exclusively to glass utensils. Hence, utensils that can be repaired, such as plastic, need not be immersed, because the Rabbis obligation applies to glass. It is common practice to follow the lenient view, although some follow the strict opinion.

Electric appliances

People often question Rabbis how to immerse electric appliances due to concern that the Mikva water will damage the electric wiring. At least three approaches appear in the Halachic literature. The most lenient (and creative) approach is that of Rav Yaakov Briesch (Chelkot Yaakov 1:126) and Rav Yitzchak Isaac Liebes (Teshuvot Bait Avi 114). They argue that if the electric appliances are used only when they are plugged into an electric socket, that they need not be immersed. They argue that since the appliances are plugged into a socket, they are attached to the ground and have the status of the ground, which one is not required to be immersed (Mechubar L’karka K’karka Dami).
Rav Moshe and Dayan Weiss do not subscribe to this leniency and argue that electric appliances must be immersed (see Pitchei Teshuva Y.D. 120:1 which seems to support these rulings). However, they disagree regarding how much of the utensil must be immersed. Dayan Weiss rules that the entire utensil should be immersed. This is hardly surprising since in order for Tevila to be effective, the entire utensil must be immersed at once.

Rav Moshe (Igrot Moshe Y.D. 1-57-58) develops a very interesting approach to this issue. He notes that Halacha mandates that only utensils used for food preparation be immersed. Accordingly, Rav Moshe argues that only that part of the utensil in which food is placed should be viewed as a Kli Seuda, a utensil used with food. However, the part of the utensil that contains the electric wiring need not be immersed, since it is not a Kli Seuda. Hence, Rav Moshe rules that only the part of the utensil comes in contact with food is required to be immersed.

A Guest

A common problem is whether a guest at a home where the utensils have not been immersed is permitted to use the utensils. Undoubtedly, the food is not rendered non-Kosher by virtue of its being cooked or placed in a utensil that has not been immersed (Rama Y.D. 120:16). However, one who uses a utensil that has not been immersed is Mevatel (fails to abide by) the obligation to immerse the utensils. The question is whether a guest is obligated to immerse the utensil that his host provides him.

Many authorities including the Chatam Sofer (comments to Y.D. 120) and Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe Y.D. 3:22) rule that just as one who borrows a utensil from a Jew who does not immerse his utensils is obligated to immerse them, so too a guest is obligated to immerse the utensils he is provided. Hence, the guest is forbidden to use those utensils. However, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein (in a Shiur delivered at Yeshivat Har Etzion in 1982) cited the opinion of Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, zt"l, who ruled that a guest is not the Halachic equivalent of a Shoel, one who borrows the utensil; rather he is merely using the utensil and therefore is not obligated to immerse the utensil. According to this approach, a guest may use the utensils he is provided despite their not having been immersed.

We have discussed a number of the common questions that arise concerning Tevilat Keilim. A study of Shulchan Aruch Y.D. chapter 120 along with Rav Aharon Felder’s Oholei Yeshurun pp. 41-53 and Rabbi Alfred Cohen’s essay in the Spring 1990 issue of the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, will enhance one’s understanding of these important Halachot.

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