From Parshat Tazria- Metzora Vol.10 No.29
Date of issue: 5 Iyar 5761 -- April 28, 2001


Tevilat Keilim - Part I 
by Rabbi Howard Jachter

This week's Parsha contains much of the central rules concerning Tahara (purity). We will therefore discuss some of the laws concerning Tevilat Keilim.

The Source Of The Law - Biblical or Rabbinic.

Halacha requires metal and glass utensils that were purchased from a non-Jew that are going to be used with food to be immersed in a Mikva. Rishonim debate whether Tevilat Keilim is a Biblical or Rabbinic obligation (for a full list of these opinions, see Encyclopedia Talmudit 18:508-509, notes 21-24). Rashi Bemidbar 31:23)) asserts that Tevilat Keilim is a Biblical obligation; he explains that the metal utensils that were captured from Midyan had to be immersed. On the other hand, Ramban on the Torah (ibid) suggests that Tevilat Keilim is only a Rabbinic obligation. The Torah, according to the Rambam, is speaking of ritual purification from Tumat Met and not mere immersion in a Mikva.

The Encyclopedia Talmudit notes that most Rishonim agree that Tevilat Keilim of metal utensils is of Biblical origin. Indeed, Halachic authorities accept that it is a Biblical obligation (Aroch Hashulchan Yoreh Deah 120:4, Igrot Moshe Orach Chayim 3:4, Pitchei Teshuvah 120:14). The significance of this ruling is that in a case of doubt one must be strict regarding immersing metal utensils. For example, Rishonim disagree if the immersion of a utensil is effective in a situation where the immersion was performed prior to kashering that utensil (see Tosafot s.v. Lehagilo Avodah Zarah, 75b. The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 120:2) cites both opinions and the Shach (121:5) rules that one should immerse the utensil a second time after kashering in order to accommodate the strict opinion.

Probably the most important ramification of this issue is whether immersion is required when one is not sure if the utensil was owned by a non-Jew. Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that if a non-Jew owned the utensil somewhere along the distribution line Tevilah is required (but perhaps without reciting a Beracha, see Igrot Moshe Orach Chayim 3:21). This question is very common today and the problem is compounded by the tragic problem of improper conversions and high rate of intermarriage. Hence, it is much more difficult today to identify who is a Jew than it was thirty or forty years ago (e.g. someone may have a Jewish sounding name and identify as a Jew, but is not a Jew by Halachic standards as his father is Jewish while his mother is not). 

Rav Moshe (Igrot Moshe Orach Chaim 3:4) provides guidance. Since Torah law requires that metal utensils must be immersed, then the rule Safek Deorayta Lechumra (in a situation of doubt in a case of a Torah law one must be strict) applies and one must immerse the utensil. However, since when in doubt a Beracha is omitted Safek Berachot Lehakel) for fear of reciting an unnecessary Beracha), no Beracha should be recited. Rav Moshe, though, notes that if one is "in doubt" because of laziness to discover the fact of the situation, (i.e. if the utensil was owned by a non-Jew) this is not considered "a doubt" (see the Shach Yoreh Deah 98:9 and Taz Yoreh Deah 98:6). Rav Moshe rules that one must make the effort to discover if there was non-Jewish ownership. He also writes (Igrot Moshe Yoreh Deah 40:2) that one should not merely immerse the utensil in case of doubt without a blessing without first inquiring about non-Jewish ownership. Rav Moshe believes that one is required to investigate the facts, even regarding the question of reciting a Beracha. Rav Moshe outlines the following guidelines: Utensils that come from Japan, China, and even Europe should be immersed with a Beracha because the majority of factories are owned by non-Jews. In such a situation the rule of Kol Deparish Meruba Parish (what has come into one's hands has emerged from the majority) applies. For discussion of why the rule of Kol Karua Kemechtzeh Al Mechtzeh Dami does not apply, see Chazon Ish 37:15 and Yabia Omer 37:15; see Darchei Teshuva 120:81 who cites a ruling that even in this case it should be immersed without a blessing because Rov should not be followed in a case of Davar Sheyesh Lo Matirin.)

Rav Moshe continues and rules that utensils that are imported from Israel need not be immersed, since the factories are owned by Jews. Rav Moshe rules that even if the utensils were owned by Jews who do not observe Shabbat, Tevilah is not required. Even though a Jew who publicly desecrates Shabbat has the Halachic status of a non-Jew in certain Halachic categories, in the area of Tevilat Keilim he is regarded as a Jew. First, many Jews who are not Shabbat observers today do not have the status of non-Jews regarding certain laws, as they are considered Tinnok Shenishba (one who was raised by non-Jews or non-observant Jews, regarding whom it is easily understood why they do not observe Shabbat, see Teshuvot Binyan Tzion Hachadashot 23, the Orthodox Forum's "Jewish Tradition and the Non Traditional Jew," and this author's "Gray Matter" (pp. 78-82). Second, the Taz (Y.D. 120:1) cites the Yerushalmi (Avoda Zara 5:15) that states that the reason for immersing utensils is Lefi Shebau Mitumato Shel Hagoy Venichnesu Lekedushat Yisrael, that the utensils have emerged from the ritual impurity of a non-Jew to the holiness of a Jew. Accordingly, it seems clear that the obligation to immerse utensils applies only to the utensils owned by a non-Jew and not a Jew who has the status of a non-Jew regarding certain issues. Most Halachic authorities agree with Rav Moshe that utensils owned by a non-observant Jew do not require immersion (see Teshuvot Tzitz Eliezer 8:19-20 and Teshuvot Doveiv Meisharim 1:65; see however Darchei Teshuva 120:4 for a dissenting opinion).

Rav Moshe rules that if the metal utensils came from North America where many factories and distributors are Jewish, and one is unable to determine if they were owned by a non-Jew then one should perform the Tevila, albeit without reciting a Beracha.
Rav Moshe discusses a case where one is in doubt if glass utensils require Tevila. One might think that one could be lenient, based on the rule Derabbanan, that one may rule lenient in case of a doubt regarding Rabbinic laws. Indeed, Rav Moshe rules in accordance with the majority opinion (see Encyclopedia Talmudit 18:519) that it is only a Rabbinic requirement to immerse glass utensils (see Avoda Zara 75b). However, the rule that one may be lenient in case of doubt does not apply if the situation is a Davar Sheyesh Lo Matirin, a case where one can resolve the doubt without relying on the default of Safek Derabbanan Lekula (see Beitzah 3b). Therefore, one should immerse even glass utensils in a case of doubt, unless there is great difficulty involved in arranging for the immersion (e.g. if one lives a great distance from a Mikva).
Rav Moshe implies that Tevila with a Beracha is performed even when the utensils were owned by a corporation of which Jews own shares but whose management and major shareholders are non-Jewish. Hence, utensils that came from Asia are considered to have been owned by non-Jews, despite the fact that many Asian companies have Jewish shareholders (especially today when international investing is exceedingly common). This is consistent with Rav Moshe's ruling (Igrot Moshe Even Haezer 1:7) that one is not considered an owner of the corporation, from a Halachic perspective, unless he is a major shareholder. 

It should be noted that not all Halachic authorities agree with Rav Feinstein's ruling. Dayan Weiss (Teshuvot Minchat Yitzchak 3:1, 3:31, 4:19, and 9:152) rules that if one owns shares in a corporation and has voting rights, he is considered an owner from a Halachic perspective, even if he only owns one share! Conversely, some authorities rule that utensils from a corporation that has even one non-Jewish shareholder with voting rights should be immersed without reciting a Beracha (see the Sefer Tevilat Keilim 2:3 and Rav Felder's Yesodei Yeshurun 6:200). Rav Moshe, on the other hand, (see Oholei Yeshurun p. 41) rules that utensils manufactured by a company that is owned by Jews but has non-Jewish investors do not require Tevila if Jewish people control the company. 
We will conclude by citing a responsum of the great Rav Zvi Pesach Frank (Teshuvot Har Tzvi Y.D. 93). Rav Frank was asked about a common problem: If a minority of utensils that have not been immersed become mixed with a majority of utensils that have been immersed, must one immerse all of the utensils in the mixture? Even though the non-immersed utensils are nullified by the majority of immersed utensils (Batel Barov), Rav Frank ruled that one should immerse the utensils without a blessing (if excessive effort is not required, see Oholei Yeshurun p. 45) because it is a Davar Sheyesh Lo Matirin. A practical ramification of Rav Frank's responsum is that when immersing utensils, one should pay careful attention to which utensils he has immersed and which he has not.

Next week, God willing, we will discuss five major issues concerning Tevilat Keilim.

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