By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5tjt.com
Ice fishing is described by seasoned fisherman as one of the most addictive ways to catch fish. The same cannot be said, however, about ice-tovelling. On account of the freezing cold weather of late, ice-tovelling actually happened recently at the Kol Save/Amazing Savings outdoor Keilim Mikveh. It is a process involving undergoing dipping your hand in freezing cold water, and most people would rather immerse their dishes in warmer water. The featured picture shows just how meticulously the Five Towns/Far Rockaway community observes this Mitzvah.
“It has become an institution in the Five Towns/Far Rockaway community, and it brings together a wide range of people from all sorts of backgrounds,” remarked Chaim Solomon, who is in charge of cleaning and maintaining the Mikveh.
“I empty and clean it about three times a year, and people do get upset when they see me inside it, but it really does need to a deep cleaning like that,” he continued.
The original design was made by Rabbi Yitzchok Trieger, one of the top Mikveh designers and builders in the country. It is cleaned with chlorine free shock every week and a half in the winter, and every week or so during the summer. What follows is an overview of this important Mitzvah.
THE GENERAL MITZVAH
The Torah (BaMidbar 31:23) tells us of the obligation of immersing metal utensils whose origin was of non-Jewish ownership or manufacture. The vessels must be immersed in a Mikvah, sea, lake, or river. The Mitzvah is called Tvilas Keilim. The Mitzvah is discussed in a Mishna in the tractate of Avodah Zarah (page 75b).
The Chofetz Chaim writes in his Biur Halacha (223:7) that the reason for the obligation is to imbue within the vessel a form of holiness – a kedusha yeseira. The Issur v’Heter explains that this parallels the decision of Klal Yisroel who chose to enter Kedushah in choosing to follow Hashem and His ways. He further adds that it parallels the path chosen by a Ger Tzeddek who chooses to convert to become a member of Klal Yisroel.
TEVILAS KAILIM – BIBLICAL OR RABBINIC?
There is a question as to whether the requirement, in general, to immerse dishes is Biblical or Rabbinic. The issue is whether or not the verses quoted in the Talmud are to be understood literally or whether they constitute something called an Asmachta – a Biblical allusion to a future Rabbinic enactment.
Some Rishonim (such as the Rambam) understand it as a Rabbinic requirement. Others (the Ritvah) believe that when the Gemorah utilizes the phrase “and we need this verse, because otherwise we might have thought etc..” it cannot be an Asmachta.
The debate, of course, refers to metals – most Poskim hold that the obligation to immerse glass is certainly Rabbinic in origin. So which metals have a biblical obligation? Some Poskim hold that all metals have a Biblical obligation while others hold that it is just iron, copper, silver, gold, lead and tin since they are explicitly mentioned in Psukim.
Rav Yisroel Livshitz (1782-1860) in his introduction to the Yachin uVoaz Mishnayos Seder Taharos (Yevakaish Daas #44) is the first to mention that all metals have a Biblical obligation of immersion. Rav Shmuel Vosner (cited in Sefer Tvias Keilim chapter 11 note 113) rules in this manner as well. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe YD III #22), on the other hand, rules that it is only Rabbinic requirement to immerse vessels made of other metals. Rav Moshe understands the Rabbinic enactment of immersing glass as all-encompassing – including other materials too.
BRONZE, STEEL, AND ALUMINUM
What about bronze? Bronze, is generally a mixture of 88% copper and 12% tin – since each of them are included in the six aforementioned metals, modern bronze would also be considered a biblically mandated metal by those Poskim who feel that the metals extant in Biblical times are biblically mandated.
What about steel? There are four types of steel in general use, carbon steel, alloy steel, tool steel and stainless steel (chromium in it). Carbon steel has very little carbon in it – ranging from .3 percent to 1.5 percent. The question was once posed to Rav Elyashiv zt”l and he responded that one follows the majority.
What about aluminum? According to the Tiferes Yisroel it would be Biblical, but according to Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l it is only Rabbinic.
CONTRADICTION IN SHULCHAN ARUCH RE GENERAL OBLIGATION
The Shulchan Aruch in Yore Deah (120:9 and 14) implies that the general obligation of immersing vessels is Biblical while in Orech Chaim (323:7) the implication is that it is Rabbinic.
The Biur Halacha explores the possibility of the author of the Shulchan Aruch having changed his mind and subsequently being of the opinion that it is biblically forbidden. The practical halachic difference as to whether it is biblical or Rabbinic is when a doubt arises. Also, in a situation where a child was the one who dipped the vessel – he is believed if the obligation is only Rabbinical but not on one where the obligation is from the Torah.
This contradiction may be important in resolving another question, however. And that is regarding the issue that follows.
THE ENTIRE VESSEL AT ONCE
The entire vessel should be immersed simultaneously. No part can be sticking out. The Chochmas Adam (73:15) rules that if this was not done the immersion is ineffective and must be repeated.
WHY WAS IT OMITTED IN THE SHULCHAN ARUCH ITSELF?
But why is this important concept not found in the Shulchan Aruch itself? Is it not strange that it, seemingly, is not mentioned earlier? Also, the language of the Chochmas Adam is somewhat strange. He introduces the concept with the words, “Nirah li – it would appear to me.” This is somewhat indicative that he was the first to mention the idea.
The truth is that it is found in the Toras Kohanim – the halachic Midrash to Sefer Vayikrah also known as the Sifra. It is cited by the Rashba in his Toras HaBayis Hilchos Tevilah in the beginning of Shaar 7. The Raavad also rules that it must be immersed simultaneously. This is the conclusing of the Ben Ish Chai too.
If we assume, however, that Rav Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch, was debating back and forth as to whether it is a Biblical obligation or a Rabbinic one, then perhaps this lacuna can be understood better. Fascinatingly enough, the Tiferes Yisroel writes that for Rabbinically obligated vessels – one can do it part by part – even though we do not rule according to his view.
MAY ONE EAT FROM UNTOVELLED DISHES?
There is actually a debate as to whether it is forbidden to eat or drink from vessels that were not tovelled and are owned by a Jew.
THE STRINGENT VIEWS
The Ramah (YD 120:8) writes that it is forbidden to use a vessel that was not immersed even once. The Chazon Ish (cited in Teshuvos v’Hanhagos Vol. I 356) also forbids it. It is also clear from Rav Moshe Feinstein’s responsa (Igros Moshe YD Vol. III #22) that it is forbidden to use such vessels. Rav Feinstein writes, however, that if the food item is a solid and can technically be eaten even without the plate or bowl – then it would be permitted.
It is reported that Rav Elyashiv (Kuntrus Tvilas Keilim) was of the same view as Rav Feinstein in this matter.
THE LENIENT VIEW
Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (Minchas Shlomo Vol. II #68) cites a Shach (YD 120:24) from which he derives that it would be permitted, when faced with no other choice, to use the untovelled vessels. Dayan Weiss (Minchas Yitzchok Vol. I #44) is also lenient.
Even, according to these views, however, it is unclear whether it is still permitted if plastic cups are available. In other words, it could be that Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach’s proof from the Shach is only applicable when there is no other choice, but if it can be poured into a plastic cup at the outset – it could be that the leniency does not apply.
THE MUNKATCHER REBBE’S LENIENCY
There is another leniency that is cited by the Munkatcher Rebbe in his Darchei Teshuvah (YD 120:13, 70). He writes that it is possible that these vessels, which are not used by the owner himself, are to be considered part of his “business tools” and would not require immersion. Most Poskim, however, have rejected this leniency.
Generally speaking, all stickers should be removed from what is being immersed. This may be true of rust as well (See Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 37:10), if the owner is careful not to use rusty dishes and pots. Stickers and glue should also be removed. This can be done through the use of Goo-Off, WD-40, or nail polish remover – or any combination thereof.
Fascinatingly enough, if the sticker shows a manufacturers name that indicates it is an expensive piece, many Poskim (See Sefer Tvilas Keilim chapter V, note 2) permit the sticker to be left on. This would apply to crystal glasses manufactured by Baccarat, Waterford, and Daum. Presumably, it would not apply to the Home Depot brands.
MUST FIRST BE KASHERED
If the vessel also needs to be koshered, the Shulchan Aruch rules that the koshering should happen first and then the immersion (See Shulchan Aruch 121:2). Indeed, the Shach rules that if he erred and did not kasher the vessel first, it must be re-immersed without a blessing. Of course, if it is a new vessel that does not need to be koshered, then there is no need to do so first.
IMPLEMENTING EFFECTIVE SYSTEMS
Our society has become a commercially based one in the past two hundred years. Caterers and restaurants have become ubiquitous, and to meet the challenge of effective kashrus supervision – we need to implement effective systems. The OU is one of the leading Kashruth agencies in the country and is relied upon by the vast majority of observant Jews in implementing such systems. It is always a good thing, when possible, to adopt the standards of the OU in implementing a system wherein one can be sure that every new vessel purchased has been immersed. Tvilas Keilim is an important area of Torah and halacha that should not be relegated to second tier status.
The question is: In regard to businesses, particularly those owned by people who are not careful about these halachos, how do we ensure that all vessels, even newly purchased ones, be tovelled?
Although a system is often put into gear by the particular supervising agency of each food business – it is difficult to ensure such compliance. Most businesses make purchases on an as-needed basis rather than at specific intervals. True, a system can be arranged where purchase orders are examined by a mashgiach, but this is hardly a foolproof system.
The Talmud (Brachos 55a) tells us, “during the time that the Beis HaMikdash existed the mizbeach would atone for people. Now, however when the Beis HaMikdash no longer exists, it is the table of a person that brings atonement.” This refers to a table where all the food is kosher and all the keilim are pure and free of any tumah.
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