Tevilat Keilim - Part II by Rabbi Howard Jachter


      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 eat off another's utensils if they have not been immersed.

Convert's Utensils

            The classic Halachic sources, the Talmud, Rishonim, the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries make no mention of a convert's obligation to immerse his metal and glass utensils subsequent to his conversion.  However, the Darkei Teshuva (021:4) cites the Teshuvot Chadrei Deah who suggests that a convert may be required to immerse those utensils.  This possibility is based on the passage from the Jerusalem Talmud that we cited last week.  This passage mentions a reason for Tevilat Keilim - because 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 Mikvah.

            There are two problems with this line of reasoning. First, as a rule, we do not derive normative halachic principles from המצות טעמי, the reasons offered for a mitzvah (see Rav Moshe Feinstein's addendum to his commentary to Masechet Ketubot - דברות משה - where he defends his ruling regarding artificial insemination).  If the nature of the obligation of Tevilat Keilim is that utensils acquired from a non-Jew must be immersed perhaps, then, a convert is not required to immerse his utensils since he has not acquired the utensils from a non-Jew.  Indeed, the legal formulation of the Talmud (Avoda Zara 57b) Rambam (Hilchot Maachalot Asurot 71:3) and Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 021:1) that "one who acquires utensils, used in the context of eating, from a non-Jew," 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. 901) rule that one who acquires utensils that a non-Jew renounced ownership to  (הפקר) must immerse the utensils.  According to this approach the nature of the obligation 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 it must be immersed.  Nevertheless, not all authorities agree with Rav Frank's ruling, (see Encyclopedia Talmudit 81:535).

            Another consideration for not requiring a convert to immerse his utensils is based on the Talmud's (A.Z. 57b) 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 is not כמעשה שהיה, like the paradigmatic case of Tevilat Keilim.  The paradigmatic case of Tevilat Keilim is when the Jews 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 8:91-02) that since the convert's situation is entirely dissimilar to the situation of acquiring the Midianites utensils, then he is not required to immerse his utensils.

            Halachic authorities disagree about how to rule in this situation.  Rav Gedalia Felder (Nachalat Tzvi 1:891) rules that a convert is not required to immerse his utensils.  Rav Eliezer Waldenberg, however, rules (aforementioned Tzitz Eliezer) that he should immerse the utensils without reciting a blessing.  One who is faced with this question should ask his Rabbi for a halachic ruling.

The Halachic Status of Corningware and Corelle

            Rav Aharon Felder (Oholei Yeshurun p 74) rules that Corelle essentially is not required to be immersed. However, it is preferable that it should be immersed.  This is explained by Rav Felder's (Oholei Yeshurun p.78 note 08) citation of Rav Feinstein's assertion that Corningware and Corelle are בספק, in doubt whether they 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 Corningware as glass and rule that Corelle and Corningware dishes should be immersed without reciting a Bracha.  Rav Pinchas Teitz (as reported by his son Rav Elazar Meir Teitz) and Rav Mordechai Willig of Yeshiva University are among the prominent Rabbonim who rule this way.

            Implicit in Rav Moshe's ruling is that contemporary earthenware dishes not be immersed.  Even though in Europe the custom was to immerse earthenware dishes that had a glass coating (see Aruch Hashulchan Y.D. 021:92), in America the situation differs.  This is because the glass coating on earthenware (china) is so thin that it is not halachically significant (see Igrot Moshe Y.D. 2:64 at the conclusion of the responsum).  Rav Hershel Schachter of Yeshiva University told this author that he also believes for this reason that our earthenware dishes need not be immersed.

Plastic Utensils

            Halachic authorities have discussed whether plastic utensils must be placed in a Mikvah prior to use.  The consensus of Rabbinic opinion is that Tevila is not required but a minority opinion urges that plastic utensils should be immersed without reciting a bracha.

            Those who believe that plastic utensils should be immersed without a blessing (see Darkei Teshuvah 021:41 and Dayan Weiss, Teshuvot Minchat Yitzchak 3:67-87 and 4:411) make the following argument:  The Rabbis require glass utensils to be immersed because of their similarity to metal utensils, in that both metal and glass utensils can be repaired after they are broken or shattered.  This minority view argues that since plastic utensils can be repaired, they are also required to be immersed.  These authorities raise the possibility that the Rabbinic enactment recorded in the Talmud should be viewed as a requirement to immerse any utensil that can be repaired if it is broken.

            On the other hand, the majority opinion (Tzitz Eliezer 7:73 and 8:62, Chelkat Yaakov 2:361, and Yabia Omer 4: Y.D. 8) follows the approach of Rav David Zvi Hoffman (Teshuvot Melamed Lehoil 2:84) that the Rabbinic enactment applies only to glass utensils.  Hence, utensils which can be repaired such as plastic need not be immersed, because the Rabbis only obligated us to immerse glass.  Common practice to follow the lenient view, although some people appear to follow the strict opinion.

Electric appliances

            A common problem is how to immerse electric appliances because of concerns that the Mikva water would damage the electric components wiring.  At least three approaches appear in the halachic literature.  The most lenient (and creative) approach is that of Rav Yaakov Briesch (Chelkot Yaakov 1:621) and Rav Yitzchak Issac Liebes (Teshuvot Beit Avi 411).  They argue that if the electric appliances are used only when they are plugged into an electric socket, that they need not be immersed.  This is because since they are plugged into a socket, they are attached to the ground and have the status of the ground, which is not required to be immersed (מחובר לקרקע נקרקע דמי).

            Rav Moshe and Dayan Weiss do not subscribe to this leniency and argue that electric appliances must be immersed (see Pitchei Teshuva Y.D. 021:1 which seems to support these rulings).  However, they disagree as to how much of the utensil should 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. 1-75-85) develops a very interesting approach to this issue.  He notes the halacha that only utensils used for food preparation need be immersed.  Accordingly, Rav Moshe argues that only that part of the utensil in which food is placed should be viewed as a כלי סעודה, a utensil used with food.  However, the part of the utensil which contains the electric wiring need not be immersed, since it is not a כלי סעודה.  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 someone's house in which the metal and glass utensils have not been immersed, is permitted to use the non-immersed utensils.  It is clear that food is not rendered non-Kosher by virtue of its being cooked or placed in a utensil that has not yet been immersed (Rema Y.D. 021:61).  However, one who uses a utensil that has not been immersed is מבטל (fails to abide by) the obligation to immerse the utensils.  The question is whether a guest is obligated to immerse the utensil given to him by his host to use.

            Many authorities including Chatam Sofer (comments to Y.D. 021) 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 given to use.  Hence, the guest is forbidden to use those utensils until they have been immersed in a Mikvah.  However, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein (in a shiur at Yeshivat Har Etzion) cited the opinion of Rav Yosef Dov Soleveitchik זצ"ל who ruled that a guest is not the halachic equivalent of a שואל, 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 that he is given to use even if they have not been immersed.

            We have discussed a number of the common questions that arise concerning Tevilat Keilim.  A study of Shulchan Aruch Y.D. chapter 021 along with Rav Aharon Felder's Oholei Yeshurun pp. 14-35 and Rabbi Alfred Cohen's essay in the Spring 0991 issue of the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society, will provide one with a grasp of these important halachot.

Milk and Meat - Part I by Rabbi Howard Jachter