Rabbi Asher Sabag
Former Shaliach in Chicago
Many times, families graciously open their homes and host single guys. The kashrut of the food is impeccable, but what about the dishes? Clearly, I’m referring to the din of tevilat keilim (immersing dishes and utensils in the mikvah). Sadly, this mitzvah is frequently disregarded – even by observant Jews. This omission is especially prevalent in chu”l (overseas), where there is virtually no chance that the dishes are “blue and white” (i.e., produced in Israel).
May the guests eat off the dishes, if the hosts did not tovel their dishes? What if the guests have no idea if the dishes were immersed or not? In order to answer these questions, we shall examine the source of this mitzvah.
1. Source of the mitzvah
In Parshat Matot, Bnei Yisrael are told to kasher the utensils they took from Midian. Although the p’sukim refers to non-kosher utensils which had been previously used by non-Jews, the Gemara (BT Avodah Zarah 75b) infers from the text that new dishes require taharah (literally, purification) as well:
“We learn that all of them need immersion in forty se’ah [of water]. Where do we know this from? … The pasuk says ‘Everything that comes into fire – you shall pass through fire and it will be purified.’ (Bamidbar 31:23) The pasuk adds another purification… since it says, ‘with the waters of sprinkling.’ (Ibid.) … This comes to teach [that the] water [is that] which the niddah immerses in, which is to say, forty se’ah.”
The Rishonim disagreed whether or not tevilah is a chiyuv min haTorah (a Torah-level obligation). Perhaps, the chiyuv is midirabbanan (rabbinic), which means that the pasuk in Parshat Matot is an asmachta b’alma (an allusion rather than an actual source). According to the Rambam and other Rishonim, the latter is the case, but the Rashba and others feel that the chiyuv is mid’oraita (from the Torah).
Biur HaGra (120:36) writes that most authorities maintain that tevilat keilim is d’oraita. In contrast, the Ridbaz claims that most poskim believe that tevilat keilim is dirabbanan. Although the Shulchan Aruch does not state a specific opinion one way or the other, many Achronim conclude that he holds that the chiyuv is dirabbanan.
2. Food prepared in non-immersed pots
The Gemara cites a disagreement among the Tana’im about the status of food prepared in non-immersed pots. One opinion feels that the food is permitted, but another view insists that the food may not be consumed.
Lihalachah, the Rambam and other Rishonim rule that the food is kosher b’di’eved (post factum) but should not be prepared in this way lichatchilah (to begin with).
3. Using non-immersed utensils
Intuitively, there seems to be no question that one may not use nonimmersed utensils. Otherwise, why should someone take the trouble to immerse his dishes? However, we must examine whether this prohibition is from the Torah or midivrei chachamim (rabbinic). This question applies only to those who think that tevilat keilim is from the Torah. Conceivably, there is a chiyuv d’oraita to immerse keilim but no Torah-level prohibition against using them. Rather, Chazal decreed that the dishes should not be used in order to ensure tevilat keilim.
Although the Rishonim do not expressly discuss this issue, most Achronim believe that most Rishonim maintain that the prohibition is midirabbanan – and not mid’oraita.
According to the Tosafot (BT Avodah Zarah 75b), if a Jew takes a kli (dish or utensil) from a non-Jew and lends it to a friend, the friend may not use the kli. The reason given is that the first Jew was obligated to immerse it.
The Hagahot Ashrei adds that if the first Jew acquired the kli for purposes other than eating – and, therefore, was not obligated to immerse the kli – the friend may use the kli for any purpose, even for food. After all, the owner – i.e. the first Jew – had no chiyuv tevilat keilim in this case. The Shulchan Aruch (120:8) concurs.
Yet, there is a significant difference between the Shulchan Aruch’s case and our situation. In the former case, the borrower possesses the keilim and can immerse them, should he so desire. However, a guest does not possess the dishes; he only eats out of them. Consequently, since the owner used the keilim for meal-related purposes – and, therefore, is obligated to immerse them – perhaps the guest is prohibited from eating off of them?
According to the Beit Yosef (120:8), if a Jew acquires keilim from a non-Jew for commercial purposes and then sells them to a second Jew, the latter is not obligated to immerse them (because the first Jew intended to resell them and not use them for food). Nevertheless, the Beit Yosef adds that his teacher, the Mahari Birav, disagreed and felt that the keilim do require tevilah.
Many Achronim delve into this issue. In Yechaveh Da’at (4:44), Rav Ovadiah rules – in accordance with the Beit Yosef – that a person may dine in a restaurant or hotel where the keilim were not immersed. His reasoning is that the keilim were initially purchased for commercial purposes – i.e. to earn a profit – rather than for private use and therefore do not have to be immersed. In contrast, he opines that a guest in a private home, where the keilim have not been immersed, may not eat off the dishes. After all, the keilim were purchased for private use – and specifically, for food preparation – and therefore must be immersed.
Similarly, the Igrot Moshe (Yoreh De’ah 3:22) also permits using the keilim in a restaurant. However, he states that only dry food – which can be removed from the plate, thus ensuring that the kli is not fully utilized – is permitted. But when the food is wet – such as soup – and needs a dish (or bowl), the kli may not be used. Obviously, a guest in a private house is prohibited from eating off the dishes.
In contrast, HaGaon Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l (Minchat Shlomo 2:66) says that one may be lenient and eat if the host does not specifically serve him food. If this is the case, the guest has no obligation to immerse the keilim. However, Rav Shlomo Zalman continues, the guest must remove the food from the plate with an immersed fork and spoon. But if the host specifically offers the food, the guest may not eat off the dishes because of “lifnei iver” (the prohibition against placing a stumbling block before another).
Yet, when it comes to a restaurant situation, Rav Shlomo Zalman rules that one may not be lenient because of kniya l’schorah (commercial use). Nevertheless, a restaurant patron may still eat, because he is not the one who is obligated to immerse the dishes and the restaurant would never allow him to remove the dishes from their premises. Therefore, he may eat off of the dishes.
However, I do not understand why Rav Shlomo Zalman did not cite the aforementioned lifnei iver reasoning in this case. After all, by going to the hotel or restaurant, isn’t he causing them to serve him? I asked HaGaon Rav Avigdor Neventzal this question; he replied that while a guest may eat and drink off his host’s non-immersed keilim, one should try and avoid this situation if possible. Similarly, the sefer “Tevilat Keilim” cites Rav Shlomo Zalman to the effect that, when strictly necessary, one may eat the offered food for darchei shalom (to ensure peaceful relations).
HaGaon Rav Yaakov Ariel (“Ohalah Shel Torah” – Yoreh De’ah 19) notes that the issue depends on whether or not the prohibition against using the keilim is from the Torah. If yes, the prohibition is bicheftza (it pertains to the object in question – namely, the kli itself), and therefore, the dishes may not be used. However, if the prohibition is midirabbanan, the prohibition is bigavra (it applies to the person). In other words, only the host (i.e. the object’s owner) – and not the guest – is obligated to immerse the keilim. Furthermore, if a host does not observe tevilat keilim, the guest is considered to be anus (forced). After all, the guest cannot immerse the keilim, and an anus is patur (exempt). In conclusion, Rav Ariel allows a guest to eat and drink in a house where the host does not immerse his keilim.
Finally, in “Peninei Halachah”, Rav Melamed states that most authorities forbid eating in a home where tevilat keilim is not observed. Nevertheless, he observes that there are sources in favor of leniency – especially for darchei shalom. In my humble opinion, one should follow this ruling in practice.