With the Passover holiday approaching, many individuals and families purchase new pots, pans, dishes, flatware and other kitchen utensils. Certain utensils require ritual immersion (tevilah, or toveling) in a mikveh before use. In light of this, the following is a refresher on the background of tevilat keilim and a primer on its practical applications.
THE ORIGINS OF TEVILAT KEILIM
The Talmud in tractate Avodah Zara (75b) cites the verse in Bamidbar (Numbers): “V’chol asher lo yavoh 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. In light of this, the following is a refresher on the background of tevilat keilim, and a primer on its practical applications.
WHICH UTENSILS MUST BE TOVELED?
The determination of tevilah depends on three things: firstly, the materials of which the utensil is made. Biblical Law requires that only objects of metal must be immersed, and a bracha recited; 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 tevilah with a brachah. Disposable metal, such as aluminum pans, however, do not fall under this rubric and do not require tevilah according to Rav Moshe Feinstein, as durability is one of the defining features of a utensil. Even if the disposable item is reused, it does not require tevilah (Iggerot Moshe, Y.D. 3:23). (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 tevilah is prohibited prior to immersion.) Rabbinically (mi-de-rabbanan), glass and Corelle must be immersed with a brachah, as tevilah is no different from any Rabbinically-mandated mitzvah for which a blessing must be pronounced. Porcelain enameled pots and utensils made from two or more materials, such as Teflon-coated frying pans require tevilah, but without a brachah (Sefer Tevilat Keilim 11:4 n.4). 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 brachah. Utensils of wood, paper, stone, plastic, heavy stoneware or unglazed ceramic do not require immersion. (See Pitchei Teshuvah, Y.D.120:2.)
Secondly, the determination of tevilah depends on the owner’s designated use for the object: a utensil purchased for non-food purposes and occasionally used to hold food (such as a screwdriver which might be used in a pinch in the absence of a fork) does not require tevilah (Aruch Hashulchan, Y.D. 120:40); likewise, utensils which cradle food contained in other utensils, such as oven racks on which pots are placed. Toasters do not require tevilah 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 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, tevilah 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 tevilah. It is for this reason that many poskim prohibit the selling of chametz utensils before Passover, as they are of the opinion that the utensils would require tevilah upon “re-purchase” after Passover. Utensils may also require a second tevilah 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 tevilah.
THE PROCESS OF TEVILAH
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 mikveh, an ocean or a river that flows year-round. (One should be aware that some men’s mikvaot are not suitable for tevilat keilim. Consult a competent authority regarding a mikveh 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 mikveh water. He then takes the utensil, recites the bracha (“… al tevilat keilim”), if required, and plunges the utensil into the water. (If he forgot to make the bracha, the tevilah 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 mikveh (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 and should be viewed merely as a primer since the topic is a complex one. As always, one should consult his experienced local Orthodox Rabbi with any questions or concerns. Wishing you a Chag Kasher V’ Same’ach. Enjoy your new utensils.
WHAT TO DO WHEN SERVED ON NON-TOVELED UTENSILS?
In a situation where the toveled status of a utensil is in question, Rav Moshe Feinstein offered the following opinion: In his Iggerot Moshe (Y.D. 3:22) he establishes that eating from a utensil that has not been toveled constitutes a Rabbinic infraction and not a Biblical one. This allows for leniency under certain circumstances. He believed that the matter would 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 vital” for the food’s consumption. A solid (e.g., a piece of chicken) can be eaten with one’s hands; in this case, the plate is merely a “civilized” appurtenance but unnecessary. A liquid such as soup, on the other hand, cannot be consumed without, at the very least, a bowl. Since the untoveled bowl is absolutely necessary, it may not be used. In his Responsa, Rav Moshe Feinstein draws no distinction between a private home and a public hotel. Darchei Teshuvah, however, offers a different argument to be lenient when one is a guest in a restaurant or hotel. (See Y.D. 120:70.) Utensils purchased, owned and used by a business entity and not an individual, were never included in the Rabbinic enactment of tevilat keilim. Many contemporary authorities, however, disagree with this leniency (OU-certified establishments do not prescribe to this leniency).