By Rabbi Yair Hoffman


Ice fishing is described by seasoned fishermen as one of the most addictive ways to catch fish. The same cannot be said, however, about ice-toiveling. On account of the freezing-cold weather of late, ice-toiveling actually happened recently at the KolSave/Amazing Savings outdoor keilim mikveh. It is a process that involves dipping your hand in freezing-cold water. Most people would rather immerse their dishes in warmer water; the accompanying picture, however, 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 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.

The General Mitzvah

The Torah (Bamidbar 31:23) tells us of the obligation to immerse metal utensils whose origin is of non-Jewish ownership or manufacture. The vessels must be immersed in a mikveh, sea, lake, or river. The mitzvah is called tevilas keilim. The mitzvah is discussed in a Mishnah in the tractate of Avodah Zara (75b).

The Chofetz Chaim writes in his Biur Halachahh (223:7) that the reason for the obligation is to imbue within the vessel a form of holiness, a kedushah yeseirah. The Issur V’Heter explains that this parallels the decision of Klal Yisrael, who opted to enter kedushah in choosing to follow Hashem and His ways. He further adds that it parallels the path of a ger tzedek who chooses to convert to become a member of Klal Yisrael.

Biblical Or Rabbinic?

Is the requirement to immerse dishes 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 Ritva) believe that when the Gemara utilizes the phrase “and we need this verse, because otherwise we might have thought, etc.” it cannot be an asmachta.

The debate 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 the pesukim.

Rav Yisrael Livshitz (1782–1860) in his introduction to the Yachin U’Vo’az Mishnayos Seder Taharos (Yevakeish Da’as #44) is the first to mention that all metals have a biblical obligation of immersion. Rav Shmuel Vosner (cited in Sefer Tevilas Keilim chapter 11 note 113) rules in this manner as well. Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l (Igros Moshe Y.D. III #22), on the other hand, rules that it is only a 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 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.

Steel. There are four types of steel in general use: carbon steel, alloy steel, tool steel, and stainless steel (containing chromium). 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.

Aluminum. According to the Tiferes Yisrael it would be biblical, but according to Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, it is only rabbinic.

The Shulchan Aruch in Yoreh Deah (120:9 and 14) implies that the general obligation of immersing vessels is biblical, while in Orach Chaim (323:7) the implication is that it is rabbinic.

The Biur Halachah 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 applies 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 rabbinic but not where the obligation is from the Torah.

This contradiction may be important in resolving another question. 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.

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 “Nir’ah 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 Vayikra, also known as the Sifra. It is cited by the Rashba in his Toras HaBayis Hilchos Tevilah in the beginning of Sha’ar 7. The Raavad also rules that it must be immersed simultaneously. This is the conclusion of the Ben Ish Chai, too.

If we assume, however, that Rav Karo, author of the Shulchan Aruch, was debating whether it is a biblical obligation or a rabbinic one, then perhaps this lacuna can be understood better. The Tiferes Yisrael 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 Untoiveled Dishes?

There is a debate as to whether it is forbidden to eat or drink from vessels that were not toiveled and are owned by a Jew.

The Rema (Y.D. 120:8) writes that it is forbidden to use a non-toiveled vessel 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 Y.D. 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 Tevilas Keilim) held the same view as Rav Feinstein in this matter.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt’l (Minchas Shlomo Vol. II #68), cites a Shach (Y.D. 120:24) from which he derives that, when faced with no other choice, it would be permitted to use the untoiveled vessels. Dayan Weiss (Minchas Yitzchak Vol. I #44) is also lenient.

Even according to these views, however, it is unclear whether it is still permitted if plasticware is available. 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.

There is another leniency that is cited by the Munkatcher Rebbe in his Darchei Teshuvah (Y.D. 120:13, 70). He writes that it is possible that these vessels, which are not used by the owner himself, are considered part of his “business tools” and would not require immersion. Most poskim, however, have rejected this leniency.

Removing Stickers

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 Gone, WD-40, nail polish remover, or any combination thereof.

If the sticker shows a manufacturer’s name that indicates it is an expensive piece, many poskim (see Sefer Tevilas Keilim chapter V, note 2) permit the sticker to be left on. This would apply to crystal manufactured by Baccarat, Waterford, and Daum, for example. Presumably, it would not apply to the Home Depot brands.

Must First Be Kashered

If the vessel also needs to be kashered, the Shulchan Aruch rules that the kashering should happen first and then the immersion (see Shulchan Aruch 121:2). The Shach rules that if one erred and did not kasher the vessel first, it must be re-immersed without a blessing. If it is a new vessel that does not need to be kashered, then there is no need to do so first.

Implementing Effective Systems

These days, 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 kashrus 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. Tevilas keilim is an important area of Torah and halachah that should not be relegated to second-tier status.

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, are toiveled?

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 foolproof.

The Talmud (Berachos 55a) tells us: “During the time that the Beis HaMikdash existed, the Mizbeiach 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. 

The author can be reached at Read more of Rabbi Hoffman’s articles at


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