The Laws of Immersion of Utensils

Immersion of an ordinary, mundane utensil intended for temporal purposes alone, elevates and designates towards eating for the sake of ‘tikkun olam’ * Metal and glass vessels require immersion, ceramic and wood vessels are exempt * If the central component of the vessel is made of metal or glass – the entire vessel must be immersed * Only a vessel that comes into contact with food when it is edible requires immersion * Regarding the need for immersion of a can or a jar whose contents of food are finished and one wants to turn it into a vessel, there are differing opinions, and one can be lenient * One can be lenient and not immerse electrical appliances; however, when possible, it is correct to be stringent, and immerse them

Immersion of Vessels that Come from a Non-Jew

It is a mitzvah for a Jew who buys or acquires a food utensil made of metal or glass from a non-Jew to immerse it in a mikveh in order to purify it, comparable to a ger (convert) who is required to immerse in a mikveh upon conversion. Vessels produced in a factory belonging to a non-Jew must also be immersed, as stated in this week’s Torah portion: “This is the rule that God commanded Moses: As far as the gold, silver, copper, iron, tin and lead are concerned… need only be immersed in a mikveh” (Numbers 31:21-23).

The Meaning of the Mitzvah

The purpose of immersion is to elevate the utensil from the level of a vessel intended for arbitrary eating – accompanied by lust and human weakness – to the level of a utensil designed to provide vitality, faith and joy to those using them, so they can connect the temporal life of this world to values ​​of netzach (eternity), and the vision of ‘tikkun olam’ (perfection of the world). Thus, the impurity in the vessel is actually the impurity of arbitrary eating intended to sustain man during his time in this world, whereas the purification is to refine man’s eating, and to connect it to the values ​​of eternity and the vision of ‘tikkun olam.’

The Requirement – Metal and Glass Utensils

The vessels that are Biblically required to be immersed are utensils made of metal, such as gold, silver, copper, iron, tin and lead, as detailed in the Torah. Our Sages added and enacted that glass vessels must also be immersed, because of the similarity between glass and metal, for just as metal can be melted and reconstructed, so too, glass vessels can be melted and reconstructed (Avodah Zarah 75b).

But utensils from other materials, such as earthenware, porcelain, ceramics, stone and wood, are exempt from immersion. Enamel and Teflon vessels which are mainly made of metal, require immersion with a bracha (blessing) even though they are coated with materials that may be exempt, since the coating is of secondary importance to the vessel.

Although plastic vessels can also be melted, similar to glass, and consequently, some poskim (Jewish law arbiters) are machmir (stringent) in regards to plastic vessels (Teshuvot Minchat Yitzchak 3:76-78), the opinion of the vast majority of the halakhic authorities is that they are exempt from immersion, for the enactment cannot be applied to glass-like vessels.

A Vessel made of Glass and Pottery

Corelle plates and the like, since their composition is hard and dense like glass, and not airy and rough as earthenware, require immersion with a blessing.

Utensils mainly composed of earthenware coated with glass, even and hard on all sides, require immersion with a blessing. If their glass coating is thin and indistinguishable, it is negligible in relation to the earthenware, and is considered as porcelain vessels that are exempt from immersion. A ceramic pot requires immersion, because its materials are metal and glass.

A Utensil Made of Metal and Plastic

A metal pot with plastic handles, and a knife with a wooden handle, require immersion. The entire utensil should be immersed, including the part made of material that does not require immersion. This is the general rule: as long as the central component of the utensil that comes into contact with food is made of metal or glass – the entire vessel requires immersion.

Which Eating Utensils Require Immersion

The utensils that require immersion are utensils that are used for eating and drinking, such as plates, glasses, cutlery, and serving dishes such as bowls, jars, and trays. Also, utensils used to make food in, such as pots and pans and their covers, frying pans, baking molds, skewers and grills. But burners or an electric plate (platta) do not require immersion, since pots are placed on them, and not food. And although occasionally people roast eggplant on the burner, and sometimes challahs are heated on the platta, since they are mainly intended for the pots, they do not require immersion. A baking pan usually used with baking paper requires immersion, since the baking paper is of secondary importance, and is not considered as a buffer between the pan and the food.

Utensils that come in contact with food but are intended for the food’s preparation in stages previous to the food becoming edible, are exempt from immersion. For example, knives intended only for slaughtering, or skin stripping, as well as vessels used to make dough. This is the general rule: all vessels that come into direct contact with food at the stage when it is edible, require immersion (S.A. 120:4-5).

Grater, Peeler and Nut Cracker

A grater, peeler, garlic and spice mortar, egg slicer, tea strainer, and a nut cracker require immersion since they come in direct contact with the food. But corkscrews and can-openers not intended to come into contact with food, are exempt from immersion. Vessels intended for storing foods in the kitchen, such as a sugar or coffee jar, require immersion, but if wrapped foods such as wrapped candies or tea bags are placed in them, they do not require immersion.

Disposable Utensils

Disposable utensils, such as aluminum baking pans, are not considered vessels, and do not require immersion. And even if one decides to use the baking pan several times, this does not alter its nature, because it is intended for one-time use, and is therefore exempt from immersion.

Food Cans and Jars

Metal cans and glass jars that are sold with foods and drinks in them, such as instant coffee in a metal can, jams in glass jars, and drinks in glass bottles – since people are accustomed to throw them out when empty, they are considered disposable utensils and do not require immersion.

However, a doubt arose as to someone who wants to continue using them. Some say they require immersion, because by deciding to use them on a regular basis, they have become actual vessels, and since they were made by a non-Jew, they require immersion (Shmirat Shabbat K’Hilchata 9:12; Oz Nidbru 7:71). Others are lenient, and are of the opinion that when the vessels were made they were intended to be disposable, and if a Jew bought them, they were exempt from immersion; since it was the Jew who turned it into a vessel by deciding to use it regularly, they are exempt from immersion (Tzitz Eliezer 8:26; Ohr L’Tzion 1:24; Rav Eliyahu). In practice, one who wants to act leniently and not immerse them is permitted, all the more so when it comes to glass vessels, whose level of obligation is based on ‘divrei Chachamim‘ (rabbinic status).

Electric Utensils that are Liable to Get Damaged

A considerable question arose about electrical appliances intended for preparing food and come into direct contact with it, such as an electric kettle, a bread toaster or a sandwich maker, where there is fear that immersion will damage them. Indeed, with simple electrical appliances there is almost no danger of damage, provided that after immersion they are left for a significant amount of time until they dry completely; however, with delicate electrical appliances, such as appliances with an electronic display, there is reasonable concern they will be damaged due to immersion.

Some poskim say that electric appliances are exempt from immersion because they are used by connecting them to a wall outlet for electricity, and we have a general rule that anything connected to the ground does not receive impurity, and therefore, there is no need for immersion. And even if the appliance is sometimes powered by batteries, we go according to the way it is operated the majority of time, i.e., connected to the ground. Other poskim added additional reasons to be lenient (Chelkat Yaacov, Y.D. 41:43; Beit Avi 1: 114; Rabbi Ben Tzion Abba Shaul; Tefilla L’Moshe, 5:25; Siach Nachum 49:5; Rabbi Genzel, Techumin 27).

Others are of the opinion that electrical appliances must be immersed (Minchat Yitzchak 2:72; Shevet HaLevi 2:57; Mishneh Hilchot 9: 162; Rav Yosef Shalom Eliyashiv ‘Kovetz Teshuvot’ 1:3).h

In Practice

In practice, those who wish to rely on the lenient opinion may do so because it seems more logical, for electrical appliances are completely different types of utensils than those we were commanded to immerse, and can be defined as a type of machine. All the more so when they cannot be immersed without being damaged, for it is impossible to make a vessel fit by means of immersion in a way that after immersion, it will be damaged. This, in addition to the fact that the prohibition against using a vessel that has not been immersed is from divrei Chachamim.

Nevertheless, since in the opinion of many poskim immersion is required, and the foundation of the mitzvah is from the Torah, when possible, it is correct to take into account the stringent opinion and immerse the appliances without reciting a blessing, or to find another solution to absolve them from immersion. Therefore, for an appliance that is highly unlikely to be damaged, such as a simple electric kettle, it is correct to immerse it and wait at least a day until it dries completely, so it will not be damaged when operated.

Suggestions for Appliances that are Liable to be Damaged

Regarding an appliance that if immersed, there is reasonable concern it will get damaged, two suggestions were proposed: 1) to give it to a Jewish handyman, to thoroughly dismantle the part that comes in contact with food to the point where it is no longer considered an appliance, and assemble it anew. Thus, the appliance will be considered as a utensil made by a Jew, which is exempt from immersion. However, when it is impossible to dismantle the part that comes in contact with food, dismantling the power cord connected to the appliance is of no benefit. 2) To give the appliance to a non-Jew as a gift, and ask to borrow it from him for an unlimited time. Since the appliance belongs to the non-Jew, and the Jew does not wish to buy it for himself, it can be used indefinitely without immersion.

Utensils Obligated to be Immersed

This is all in regards to parts that are actually connected to the electric appliance, but baking trays inserted inside an electric oven require immersion with a blessing, because they are not considered electric utensils, since they are not connected to the oven, but only placed in it, and occasionally they are also used as a utensil for serving food baked on them. The same holds true for blades of a blender and a food mixer, where the parts that come into contact with food and is made of metal or glass disassembles from the electrical part, and consequently, should be immersed alone with a blessing.

May a Minor Immerse Utensils?

A young boy or girl who has not reached the age Bar or Bat mitzvah are allowed to immerse utensils and recite a blessing before immersing them, but because they have not reached the age of obligation of mitzvot, they are not authorized to testify that the vessels were immersed according to halakha. Therefore, only if an adult attests that the vessels were properly immersed, is it permissible to use the vessels that were immersed. And if a child was sent to immerse utensils and there was no adult there to testify, the utensils he immersed should be re-immersed with a blessing. If the child is known to be reliable, the utensils should be re-immersed without a blessing (S.A. 120:14).

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew. Other interesting, informative, and thought-provoking articles by Rabbi Melamed can be found at:
http://en.yhb.org.il/

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