Tevilat Keilim - Part I by Rabbi Howard Jachter


               In our last issue a point was made regarding Tevilat Keilim (immersing utensils) that requires further clarification.  Additionally, this week's Parsha contains much of the central rules concerning Tahara (purification).  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 are used with food to be immersed in a Mikvah, if they were purchased from a non-Jew.  Rishonim debate whether this is a Biblical or Rabbinic obligation (for a full list of these opinions, see Encyclopedia Talmudit 18:508-509, notes 21-24).  Rashi ("/$"9 -!:,#) 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 (ibid) on the Torah ibid suggests that Tevilat Keilim is Rabbinic in nature. The Torah, according to this approach, is speaking merely of ritual purification from )&/!; /;, and not mere immersion in a Mikvah.

               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 (39&+ %:&-(0 *&"$ 8,:$, !#9&; /:% !&"( #:$, 5;(* ;:&"% 8,:*$).  The significance of this ruling is that in 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 immersion was performed prior to kashering that utensil (see ;&25&; $"% -%#3*-0 '9% 3%: 3"&$%).  The Shulchan Aruch *&"$ 8,!:"() cites both opinions and the Shach (8,!:%) 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 the question of whether immersion is required when one is not sure if the utensil was owned by a non-Jew.  If a non-Jew owned the utensil somewhere along the distribution line, Rav Moshe Feinstein rules that Tevilah is required (but perhaps without reciting a Bracha, see /:% *&"$ #:,! !#9&;).  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 himself as a Jew, but his father is Jewish and his mother is not).

               In the Igrot Moshe (!&"( #:$), Rav Moshe provides guidance for us.  Since it is a Torah law that metal utensils must be immersed, then the rule  258  -(&/9! $!&9**;! (in a situation of doubt in a case of a Torah law one must be strict) applies and one must immerse the utensil.  However, since when in doubt a Beracha is omitted (258 "9,&; -%8-, for fear of reciting an unnecessary Beracha) no Beracha should be recited.  Rav Moshe, though, notes that if one is "in doubt" because of laziness to discover the fact of the situation (i.e. if the utensil was owned by a non-Jew), that this is not considered "a doubt" (see the :"+ *&"$ 7(:) and )"' *&"$ 7(:&).  Rav Moshe writes that one must make the effort to discover if there was non-Jewish ownership.  He also writes (!#9&; /:% *&"$ ":/) 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  ,- $59*: /9&"% 59*: (we assume that what has come into one's hands has emerged from the majority) applies (for a discussion of why the rule of ,- 8"&3 ,*/(7% 3- /(7% $/* does not apply, see Chazon Ish 37:15 and Yabia Omer 37:15; see Darkei Teshuvah 120:81 who cites a ruling that even in this case it should be immersed without a blessing because 9&" should not be followed in a case of $"9 :*: -& /;*9*0).

               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 ;*1&8 :1:"% (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 and the Orthodox Forum's "Jewish Tradition and the Non Traditional Jew" which deals extensively with this issue).  Second, the Taz (Y.D. 120:1) cites the Yerushalmi (Avodah Zorah 5:15) which states that the reason for immersing utensils is -5* :"!& /)&/!;& :- %#&* &1,12& -8$&:; *:9!-, 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 Darkei 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 a Beracha.

               Rav Moshe proceeds to discuss the halacha in a case where one is in doubt if glass utensils require Tevila.  One might think that one could be lenient, based on the rule 258 "9,&; -%8- , that one may rule lenient in case of 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 $"9 :*: -& /;*9*0, that one can resolve the doubt without relying on the default of 258 $9"10 -8&-! (see Beitza 3b).  Therefore, one should immerse even glass utensils in case of doubt, unless there is great difficulty involved in arranging for the immersion (e.g. if one lives a great distance from a Mikvah).

               Implicit in Rav Moshe's Teshuva is 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 facts 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 as 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 to this ruling.  Dayan Weiss (Teshuvot Minchat Yitzchak 3:1, 3:31, 4:19, and 9:152) rules that if one who owns shares in a corporation and he has voting rights, he is considered an owner from a halachic perspective, even if he owns only one share! Accordingly, some authorities rule that utensils from a corporation which 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 few 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 (")- "9&"), nevertheless 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 $"9 :*: -& /;*9*0.  A practical ramification of this responsum, is that one should be careful when immersing utensils, to pay careful attention to which utensils have been immersed and which have not.

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

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