Tevilat Keilim

The following is excerpted from Al HaMishmar (Tevet 5761), a newsletter for OU Food Service Mashgichim. It was written by Rabbi Nachum Katz, who at the time served as the OU’s Rabbinic Coordinator for Food Service Hashgacha.

The Mitzvah of tevilat keilim is alluded to in Bamidbar 31:23 where Elazar HaKohen instructs the army returning from war with Midian regarding the booty they have captured “Kol davar asher yavoh ba’aish ta’averu ba’aish v’taher”—All utensils that have been used to cook ma’achalot assurot must be purged of the flavor they have absorbed in the manner that they were used. V’taher—they are then made tahor through an added step of purification.

According to the Gemara, Avodah Zara 75b this added step of purification is accomplished through immersion in a mikvah. According to some authorities1 this is merely an asmachta—the mitzvah of tevilat keilim is of rabbinic origin. The Shulchan Aruch2 follows the opinion of the majority of Poskim who hold tevilat keilim to be a d’oraita.

This mitzvah is not to be taken lightly. It is forbidden to use the utensil before it has been toveled, even in a temporary way.3 If it is unclear if a particular utensil has been toveled it requires tevilah mi’safek. The utensil may not be used in the interim. This stringency applies equally to glass utensils4 although the requirement to tovel glass is surely rabbinic.5

As Mashgichim we must see to it that new keilim are properly toveled. The following is a summary of the halachot of tevilat keilim most relevant to the Food Service Mashgiach:

  1. When a Jew purchases klei seudah from a non-Jew they must be toveled before they may be used. Utensils jointly owned by Jewish and non-Jewish partners do not require tevilah.6 (For this reason, the mitzvah of tevilas keilim does not apply to restaurants which are co-owned by non-Jewish partners.)
  2. Metal and glass utensils7 used in direct contact with foodstuffs8 must be toveled with a bracha. Wood and plastic9 keilim do not require tevilah.
  3. Heavy stoneware or ceramic which is not glazed with glass requires no tevilah. Fine china is commonly glazed with glass; it should be toveled without a bracha. It should be noted that Corelle is actually glass. Corning ware is comprised mainly of glass.
  4. Pot covers require tevilah.
  5. Griddle and grill tops upon which foodstuffs are placed directly must be removed and toveled. Stove grates upon which pots are placed do not require tevilah. Disposable aluminum pans do not require tevilah. Some authorities require tevilah if they are sturdy enough to be reused two or three times.
  6. A utensil which is only brought into contact with the food before it is processed to an edible state (such as a grinder, mixer, or butchering knife) should be toveled without a bracha. A wooden utensil which is plated or held together with metal pieces should be toveled without a bracha. Preferably, such keilim should be toveled together with metal or glass utensils so that the bracha recited at the time of tevilah will include these keilim as well.
  7. A utensil that is purchased used may not be brought to the mikvah until it has first been kashered
  8. The utensil must be thoroughly cleaned of all glue, stickers, or markings of any kind. Consult with the OU office if you encounter stubborn rust stains or mineral deposits.
  9. The proper bracha, al tevilat kli or al tevilat keilim, must be recited over l’asiyatam prior to immersing the utensil in the mikvah.
  10. The entire utensil, including the handle, must be immersed simultaneously. This holds true for plastic and wooden handles as well. Unlike hagala, one may not immerse the utensil halfway, remove it, and then immerse the second half. Care must be taken to ensure that water fills the entire cavity of the utensil. It is often necessary to turn it so that the opening of the utensil faces upward to permit trapped air bubbles to escape.
  11. If it is necessary to hold on to the utensil during the tevilah, the matvil must wet his hand prior to taking hold of the kli. Ideally, he should wet his hand with mei mikvah putting one hand in the mikvah and keeping it there to receive the utensil from his other hand.
  12. If many keilim are being toveled, a non-Jew may assist. The Jew should recite the bracha and tovel a utensil that certainly requires tevilah (as opposed to those mentioned above #3 and #6). The non-Jew, working under the supervision of the Jew, may then immerse the remaining keilim.
  13. Many mikvaot provide a basket or milk crate to facilitate the tevilah of small items such as silverware. To ensure that the utensils in the basket do not weigh too heavily upon each other preventing the water from coming in contact with the entire surface area of each utensil, the matvil should immerse the basket and then drop the individual keilim into it one by one. Alternatively, he may fill the basket before lowering it into the water and shake the basket about within the mikvah.
  14. Electric appliances require tevilah. The entire kli must be immersed—including the fixed elements and the cord end where it is attached to the appliance even though they do not come into contact with the food. The remaining length of the cord and the plug need not be immersed. Removable electric elements and cords do not require tevilah. Experience has shown that there is no danger involved if the appliance is allowed to stand without being plugged in until its internal components are fully dried. This may take several days.

1 Rambam, Hil. Ma’achalot Asurot 17:5 as explained by the Acharonim—see Aruch HaShulchan Y.D. 120:3 & 48.

2 Shulchan Aruch 120:14.

3 Rema 120:8. Nonetheless, the food cooked in such a utensil remains permitted (Rema 120:16 based on the Yerushalmi cited in Tur and other Poskim). However, see Igrot Moshe Y.D. III:22 (end) who rules that even b’sha’as hadchak one may not eat soup or other liquids from a utensil which was not toveled.

4 Pri Megadim (M.Z.) O.C. 451:31 (end of kli cheres section).

5 Gemara Avodah Zara 75b.

6 Rema 120:11—this is the commonly accepted custom.
The Beis Meir ad loc. disagrees and it would appear that one could answer his questions by saying that the mitzvah of tevilah isn’t meant as a form of taharah/purification of the utensil. Rather, tevilah serves to show that this utensil has become uplifted and holier (nit’aleh v’nitkadesh) through its transferring into the ownership of a Jew. The mitzvah of tevilat keilim is limited to cases which are similar to that mentioned in the Torah where Jews acquired utensils from the Midyanim and cannot be extrapolated to include other dissimilar scenarios. In addition, it is reasonable that a utensil doesn’t truly become holy until it completely leaves the non-Jew’s possession.

7 Shulchan Aruch 120:1.

8 Shulchan Aruch 120:2.

9 This follows the opinion of most of the Poskim—see Tevilat Keilim page 267. There are those who require tevilah without a bracha.

10 Pitchei Teshuva 120:2 citing She’eilat Ya’avetz I:67.

11 See Kuntres Hilchot Tevilat Keilim (Rav Binyamin Forst Shlita) Section 16.

12 Shach 120:2.

13 Rema 120:5—see also Aruch HaShulchan 120:32.

14 Shulchan Aruch 120:4.

15 Igrot Moshe Y.D. III:23 and Minchat Yitzchok V:32.

16 See end of Igrot Moshe ibid.

17 Taz 120:7.

18 Beis Yosef cited in Shach 120:12.

19 Shulchan Aruch 121:2. B’dieved, if the utensil was toveled before being kashered it should be toveled a second time without a bracha. In the Madrich pages 168-170 Rav Genack Shlita argues that one should not rely on Dagul Mirivavah’s (ad loc.) opinion regarding toveiling utensils which are aino ben yomo but weren’t kashered.

20 Shulchan Aruch 120:13.

21 This is the commonly accepted practice and it follows Shulchan Aruch 120:3 and Taz 120:5.

22 R’ Akiva Eiger to Shulchan Aruch 120:3.

23 Shulchan Aruch 120:12.

24 Pitchei Teshuva 120:3 citing Chachmat Adam 73:15.

25 Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 202:6.

26 Rema 120:2 as explained by Taz 120:4 and Gra 120:7.

27 To satisfy Mateh Yonatan and Levush’s (cited in Taz 120:4) explanation of Rema 120:2.

28 Because the non-Jew has no ne’emanus (Rema 120:15).

29 Shulchan Aruch 120:15 as explained by Taz 120:17.

30 Shach 202:6.

31 This follows the opinion of most of the Poskim—see Tevilat Keilim page 205 and Igrot Moshe Y.D. I:57.

32 Rav Belsky.

OU Kosher Staff