Tevilat Keilim: A Primer

In a world of proliferating products and differing kosher standards, one is frequently confronted with the awkward decision to accept or reject food or drink offered by a host(ess). Leaving aside the food item itself, there is the matter of the utensils with which the food is served: Were these Toveled (immersed) in a Mikvah (ritual bath)?

Eating on “Suspect” Dishes:

The Gemara in Avodah Zara (75b) cites the pasuk in Bamidbar: “V’chol Asher lo Yavo Ba’aish Ta’aviru Ba’mayim” – “Anything that cannot be placed in fire should be passed through water.” In context, the verse refers to the various methods by which utensils seized as spoils in the Midianite war could be rendered usable for the Jewish victors. By extension, these laws are taken to apply to all utensils purchased from non-Jews. The Rishonim debate whether or not the extension is implicit in the verse – thereby granting it the status of “Biblical law” (miD’oraisa) – or “interpretative,” a Rabbinic enactment (miD’rabbanan). While most Rishonim conclude the former – Tevilat Keilim is miD’oraisa – eating from utensils that were not immersed would only constitute a rabbinic infraction. This would permit one to eat from utensils whose immersion was doubtful, following the dictum “Safek D’rabbanan l’kula.” (See Biur Halacha in Orach Chaim 323. The Aruch HaShulchan addresses the issue of Itchazeik Isura, but we will leave it aside as it extends beyond the scope of this article.) There is debate among early Poskim regarding non-kosher utensils, but today most insist on kosherization prior to immersion of the utensil. The rationale behind the stance is that to do the reverse would be somewhat contradictory, an instance of Tovel V’Sheretz B’yado: an attempt to render the utensil “positively” useable while it retains the “negative” taint of its non-Jewish origin.

Supposing, however, that one were absolutely certain the utensils had not been properly immersed? According to Rav Moshe Feinstein, the matter would then depend on whether the food being served was a liquid or a solid, which would in turn determine whether or not the utensil proffered was “absolutely necessary” for the food’s consumption. A solid (e.g. a piece of chicken) can be eaten with one’s hands; in this case, the utensils are merely “civilized” appurtenances. They can therefore be used. A liquid such as soup, on the other hand, cannot be consumed without, at the very least, a bowl. Since the un-toveled bowl is absolutely necessary, it may not be used. (See Responsa Igrot Moshe Y.D. 3:22.)

In his Responsa, Rav Moshe Feinstein draws no distinction between a private home and a public hotel. The Darchei Teshuva, however, seems to indicate that one may be lenient when lodging at the latter. (See Y.D. 120:70.) The rationale behind this leniency is that the person who purchased the utensils – the owner – did so for business purposes, and the person using them – the customer – does not own them. The distinction is frequently employed and cited by hotel owners as justification for not toveling their dishes. Many contemporary authorities, however, disagree strongly with the leniency.

Which Utensils Must be Toveled?

The determination of tevilat keilim depends on three things: firstly, the materials of which the utensil is made. MiD’oraisa, only objects of metal must be immersed, and a bracha made; the Torah lists six types of metal requiring immersion: gold, silver, copper, iron, tin, and lead. Hybrid metals such as stainless steel, which contains large quantities of iron, also require tevila with a bracha. Disposable metal such as aluminum pans, however, do not fall under this rubric and do not require tevila, according to Rav Moshe Feinstein, as durability is one of the defining features of a utensil. Nevertheless, if the pans are re-used regularly, they are ipso facto “durable” and require tevilat keilim with a bracha. (This is commonly, and erroneously, taken to mean that one may use a utensil once or twice before Toveling. In fact, all the classic authorities agree that even a single use of a vessel requiring tevilat keilim is prohibited prior to immersion.) MiD’rabbanan, glass and Corelle must be immersed with a Bracha, as tevilat keilim is no different from any rabbinically-mandated Mitzvah for which a blessing must be pronounced. Glass-coated utensils, such as glazed chinaware, are a subject of debate among contemporary Poskim, but it has become common practice to tovel them without a Bracha. The same is true of porcelain enameled pots and utensils made from two or more materials, such as Teflon-coated frying pans. Utensils of wood, paper, stone, plastic, heavy stoneware or unglazed ceramic do not require immersion. (See Pischei Teshuva, Y.D.120:2.)

Secondly, the determination of Tevila depends on the owner’s intent: a utensil purchased for some other purpose and occasionally used to hold food (such as a screwdriver used as an emergency fork) does not require Tevila; likewise, utensils which cradle food contained in other utensils, such as oven racks on which pots are placed. Toasters do not require Tevila according to Rav Moshe Feinstein.

Utensils used to prepare food still in an inedible state, such as grinders, mixers, or butchering knives, should be toveled without a Bracha, preferably together with metal utensils, so that the bracha recited over the latter will cover the former as well. (See the Taz, Y.D. 120:7.)

Utensils that come into direct contact with food, of course, must be toveled. The category, though, is far broader than one might suppose. Besides silverware, bowls, plates and cups, it includes griddle and grill tops on which foods are placed directly, pizza cutters, peelers, rolling pins, salt-shakers, pot covers (see Rama, Y.D. 120:5), and electrical appliances, such as urns. An appliance that cannot be immersed, therefore, should not be purchased. (Practice has demonstrated that immersion generally does not harm most equipment if allowed three days to dry out.)

Finally, Tevila depends on the utensil’s provenance, as noted above: if it was manufactured by, purchased from, given as a gift by, or bought back from a non-Jew, it requires Tevila. It is for this reason that many Poskim prohibit the selling of Chametz utensils before Pesach, as they are of the opinion that the utensils would require Tevila upon “re-purchase” after Pesach. Utensils may also require a second Tevila if they were given to a non-Jew to repair. The determination would depend on the type and extent of the repair. Utensils jointly owned by a Jewish and non-Jewish partner do not require Tevila.

The Process of Tevilat Keilim:

The utensil must be free of any non-essential parts or accrued substances, such as glue residue from the manufacturer’s label. The immersion must take place in a mikvah or in an ocean or river that flows year-round. (One should be aware that some men’s mikva’ot are not suitable for Tevilat Keilim. Consult a competent authority regarding a Mikvah not designed for keilim.) All sides of the utensil, in and out, must come into contact with the water.

Anyone may perform the actual immersion, including a small child and a non-Jew, so long as a Jewish adult is present to supervise. One begins by wetting his own hand(s) with the mikvah water. He then takes the utensil, recites the bracha (“…Al Tevilat Keilim“ ), and plunges the utensil into the water. (If he forgot to make the Bracha, the Tevila is still acceptable.) If two utensils are being immersed together, they should not touch so as not to impede the flow of water in and around. Thus, if one chooses to use a basket or milk crate for small, easily lost items like silverware, he should immerse the basket and then drop the individual utensils in one by one. This prevents the utensils from jumbling together and obscuring some of the surface areas. In addition, it may often be necessary to turn the utensil so that its opening faces upward, permitting trapped air bubbles to escape.

If the utensil cannot be brought to the Mikvah (perhaps it is too heavy or too large to carry), a competent rabbinic authority should be consulted.

This article was written to touch briefly on some of the fundamental aspects of Tevilat Keilim. It should be viewed merely as a primer; the topic is a complex one. As always, one should consult his experienced local Orthodox Rabbi with any questions or concerns.