(This should not be relied upon for practical halacha. When a question arises a Rabbi should be consulted.)
The Mitzvah of tevilas keilim is alluded to in Bamidbar 31:23 where Elazar HaKohen instructs the army returning from war with Midyan regarding the booty they have captured. The verse states: “Kol davar asher yavoh ba’aish ta’averu ba’aish v’taher”. The verse begins by telling us that all utensils that have been used to cook non-kosher must be purged of the flavor they have absorbed in the manner that they were used. The verse then states “v’taher”, meaning that 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
This process is required for all utensils which are bought or otherwise acquired from a non-Jew, even if they are brand new. Just as a convert requires immersion, when transitioning from non-Jewish to Jewish, so too, utensils require immersion when being transferred from non-Jewish to Jewish ownership. To discuss the intricate details of tevilas keilim would be extremely difficult, therefore, in this article we will be focusing on which materials and items require tevilah in a mikvah.
Most Rishonim assume that the obligation to immerse new vessels is biblical in nature , see Sefer Tevilas Keilim page 34 for a complete list. The Piskei Harid feels that although one is required to immerse the vessels, one is allowed to use them before they were immersed. However, the majority of the poskim, including the Rama (Y.D. 120:8), feel that in addition to the obligation to immerse these utensils, there exists a prohibition not to use them before they are placed in the mikveh.
The poskim discuss the nature of this prohibition. The Ohr Zarua (Avodah Zara 293) is of the opinion that this issur is biblical in nature. Rav Shlomo Zalmen Auerbach zt”l (cited in Tevilas Keilim page 241) deduces that the Shagas Aryeh agrees with the opinion of the Ohr Zarua. However, after analyzing the works of the achronim it seems that this prohibition is merely rabbinic in nature. This is indeed the opinions of the Yeshuos Yaakov (Y.D. 120:1), Mishnna Berurah (Biur Halacha 323:7) and Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Yechave Daas 4:44 Yabia Omer vol. 2 Y.D. 9,2).
A. Metals (Including Steel and Aluminum)
When describing the obligation to purify and immerse utensils that were owned and used by non-Jews the Torah mentions only six types of metals; Gold, Silver, Copper, Iron, Tin and Lead. These items need immersion on a biblical level. The poskim discuss whether metals like aluminum or steel, which were not listed explicitly in the verse, are required to be immersed and whether the obligation is biblical or rabbinic in nature. It would seem that according to the Tiferes Yisroel (Kuntres Yevakesh Daas) the obligation is biblical. The Sefer Tevilas Keilim (page 225, footnote 113) cites the oral ruling of Rav Shmuel Wosner shlit”a, that all types of metals, including aluminum and the like, are required to be immersed m’doraysa (biblical law).
Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l (Igros Moshe Y.D. 3:22) disagrees and he feels that there is no biblical obligation to immerse any metal which was not enumerated in the verse. He explains that G-d was obviously aware of all materials that were in use and that will be in use and if He did not list it in the posuk, clearly He felt that there is no biblical obligation to immerse them in a mikvah. That being said, there is a rabbinic obligation to immerse these utensils due to it’s similarities to the metals listed in the verse (a similar ruling exists regarding glass items, as we shall discuss iy”h later on).
The Shulchan Aruch rules that glass utensils require tevilah. Since glass is similar to metal, in that it can be melted down and reformed, it requires tevilah. The Poskim disagree as to whether this obligation is rabbinic or biblical (most authorities feel that it is merely rabbinic, see Tevilas Keilim page 40 for full list), however, according to all authorities a blessing is recited.
C. Wood and Stone
The Chida (Shiurei Bracha Y.D. 120:2) writes that utensils made of wood or stone do not require immersion in the mikvah.
D. Plastic and Nylon
When analyzing whether plastic and nylon items require immersion one would assume at first glance that they do not, as the only items that require immersion are metals and glass. The only possibility to require immersion is based upon the following premise. On a biblical level only metals require tevilah, however, according to most authorities; the Rabbis extended this obligation to glass utensils as well. It may very well be possible that this extension can be advanced to obligate immersion for plastic and rubber utensils.
The Rav of Debritzin (Beer Moshe 2:53) writes that utensils made of plastic or nylon do not require tevilah in a mikveh. These items have no connection to metal or glass utensils and therefore the obligation was never extended towards these materials. The Chelkas Yaakov (Y.D. 45) adds that because these materials were not in existence during the times of the Gemara when the obligation to immerse glass was instituted (according to most authorities) we are unable to create our extend the requirement to these new materials. A similar view can be found in the Sefer Tzitz Eliezer (7:37, 8:26). This is indeed the opinions of many great poskim, including Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, Rav Eliyahu Henkin zt”l, the Chazon Ish (all cited in Sefer Tevilas Keilim page 227) and ybc”l Rav Shmuel Wosner shlit”a (cited in Chaya Halevi 4:56:3). Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l (Yabia Omer Y.D. 4:8) has a permissible view as well, he does write that if one wishes to immerse these items (without a blessing) “may he be blessed”.
It should be noted that the Minchas Yitzchak (3:76) rules that because some forms of plastic can be melted down and reformed (similar to glass) one should immerse them without a blessing. But as noted above the majority of poskim disagree with this view.
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