New York - Halachic Analysis: 'Tovling' For Electric Food Appliances and Other Vessels
New York - Few couples think about it when they first become engaged. Their thoughts are focused more on the Simchah, the wedding plans and preparations. They do not focus on the tedious hours of unpacking, unwrapping, removal of glue, packing in a box, the drive, and then the Mitzvah – the immersing of the vessels in the Mikvah, natural lake or ocean. Nor do they think about the repacking, the drive back, the cleaning and drying off of the vessels.
Where do we find Tovelling in the Torah? The nation of Israel was returning from battle with the Midianites. In the battle, they captured booty. Some of the booty, of course, was an ancient type of Farberware. Elazar HaKohen instructed the triumphant soldiers in the laws of Kashering dishes (See Bamidbar 31:23). The verse states “Kol davar asher yavoh ba’aish ta’averu ba’aish..”—All utensils that cooks in fire must be purged in fire. The Gemorah in Avodah Zarah (75b) notes the use of an extra word at the end of the verse – v’taher – purified. Most Poskim view this Gemorah as more than a biblical allusion – but as a full fledged requirement of an additional purifying process – namely Tevillah.
Use of the vessel before Tevilah is forbidden – even if it is used only once. We rule that the obligation to Tovel dishes is biblical in origin. Therefore, if we are unsure whether something that requires immersion biblically was immersed or not – we do so again, but without a bracha. The requirement to Tovel metal vessels is biblical – glass is only rabbinic. Wood vessels and plastic do not require immersion at all. Stoneware does not need to be Tovelled either.
Used vessels should first be koshered and then Tovelled. If they were tovelled before being koshered they should be tovelled again but without a bracha.
When immersing and holding onto the vessel in the water, immerse your fingertips in the water first so that your fingers will not be considered a Chatzizah.
What about electric food appliances? The toasters, grills, gridirons, and all those new-fangled devices that purport to make your job easier? Most Poskim hold that they do need to be immersed. But what if they have a warning label – “DO NOT IMMERSE IN WATER?”
Even still. Often if you let the item sit and dry out for a few days the device will still work. A few caveats, however. The life span of the device will definitely shorten if you do immerse it and let it dry. Plus, returning it would constitute a violation of the Torah laws of theft – so make sure that the item is not returned after one does immerse it in the Mikvah.
Is there an alternative solution? As a matter of fact, there is. It involves the rationale for the immersion in the first place.
The Jewish nation is commanded in the Torah to maintain a state of purity in order to function best in the role that Hashem had ordained for them – coming close to HaKadosh Boruch Hu. They are an entire nation of priests – so to speak. Because of this role, vessels that were previously owned by those who do not function in this role, must be immersed in a Mikvah in order to purify them.
And herein lies the answer to our electrical item dilemma. If the item under discussion was taken apart by the Jewish owner to the point where it would no longer function, and then reassembled, then it would be considered as if it was built by a Jew and would not require Tevilah.
How much of the item must be taken apart? As a young man I once heard a relative of Rav Moshe Feinstein discussing the possibility of merely cutting the power cable to the item and splicing it together again. Unfortunately, there are two problems with this approach.
The first problem is that spliced power cords are rather dangerous. Most people do not do it properly and things can come apart and create a fire hazard or lead to shock. It is best to avoid this.
The second problem is that some of our leading Psokim have ruled that the solution does not work. Rav Shlom Zalman Auerbach zatzal ruled (See Minchas Shlomo Volume III Siman 66:4) that a cord that is outside of the actual body of the unit may not be considered part of the unit itself regarding issues of Tumah and Tahara. Rav Auerbach zatzal, is not opposed to the opinion of making the item no longer a functioning item. He therefore recommends removing a wire that is actullay found within the unit itself. If it is in the casing of the device then it would certainly be considered as if the Jew had fashioned the vessel, and one would be exempted from using it.
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