Question: Must caterers, kosher hotels, and restaurants tovel their utensils?
Short Answer: Many poskim require caterers, kosher hotels, and restaurants to tovel their utensils. If the utensils are not toveled, the majority of poskim do not allow a patron to eat there. Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l, though, allows a patron to eat certain foods there, as detailed herein.
I. Borrowed or Rented Utensils
A kosher caterer, hotel, or restaurant often purchases large amounts of metal or glass silverware and other meal utensils. There is no question that these utensils require t’vilah if the purchaser would use them for himself. However, these utensils are not used by the proprietor himself, but are primarily used for patrons at the hotel or restaurant. Is t’vilah required?
The Aruch HaShulchan (120:44-45) discusses a similar case where a Jewish storekeeper purchases utensils from a non-Jew for the sole purpose of lending or renting them out to borrowers. The Aruch HaShulchan cites the Beis Yosef who rules that neither the storekeeper nor the borrower is required to perform t’vilah. The storekeeper does not need to tovel the utensils because he is only using the utensils as “k’lei s’chorah” (utensils for business), while the borrower does not need to perform t’vilah because he is only borrowing the utensils.
Based on this, the Aruch HaShulchan continues, the minhag has developed that people rent utensils for parties from Jewish stores (i.e., caterers) and don’t tovel the utensils before use. While the Aruch HaShulchan does acknowledge that some poskim require t’vilah based on the fact that the renter/party-maker is liable to pay if any of the utensils break, the Aruch HaShulchan disagrees. Even if the renter/party-maker must pay the caterer for broken utensils, this does not mean that the renter/party-maker owns the utensil, but rather that he is liable for damages like a regular borrower.
This lenient ruling is followed by other late-1800s and early-1900s poskim, as well, including the Darchei T’shuvah (120:70), Tuv Tam VaDaas (5:3:23), and Sheivet Sofer (Yoreh Dei’ah 67). They add that certainly there is room to be lenient by glass utensils, as the t’vilah requirement, in general, is only d’Rabbanan.
II. The Maharil Diskin’s Doubt
The Maharil Diskin (Kuntras Acharon, 5:136) queried this very question: whether t’vilah is required for utensils that are purchased by a Jew for the sole purpose of renting or lending them out? The Maharil Diskin concludes that perhaps there is room to be lenient.
However, the Minchas Yitzchak (1:44:2) interprets the Maharil Diskin a bit differently, based on a subsequent comment by the Maharil Diskin. The Maharil Diskin notes that t’vilah is required where one person purchases utensils on Shabbos and then lends them out to a second Jew. The Minchas Yitzchak interprets this to mean that the Maharil Diskin retracted his earlier leniency and rules that t’vilah is required if a person purchases utensils for the sole purpose of renting them out for food use.
Indeed, the Levush Mordechai (Yoreh Dei’ah 83) appears to rule strictly, as well. See also Ohel Yaakov (Kashrus L’Pesach U’T’vilas Keilim, p. 325).
According to an article by Rabbi Moshe Zywcia on the OU website, OU-certified establishments require t’vilah. See: https://oukosher.org/passover/articles/immersing-ourselves-in-tevilat-keilim/.
III. Eating At Such a Hotel or Restaurant
So practically, may a patron eat at a restaurant or hotel that did not tovel their utensils?
The Minchas Shlomo (2:66:14) rules that a kosher hotel must tovel its utensils and may not rely on the leniency of the poskim who claim it is only “k’lei s’chorah” – utensils for business. Nevertheless, a patron may eat at the hotel without toveling the utensils himself because the prohibition of using non-toveled utensils is only d’Rabbanan (see Article #1), and this is viewed as a “sh’as ha’d’chak” – extreme circumstance – since the hotel owner would not allow the patron to remove the utensil from the hotel to go tovel the utensil before using it. The Minchas Yitzchak (ibid) likewise rules that a patron may eat on the non-toveled utensils.
However, the Ohel Yaakov (ibid) notes that many contemporary poskim disagree and rule that a patron may not eat in a restaurant or hotel that does not tovel their utensils because this is a classic “k’lei s’udah,” regardless of whether the owner purchased it solely for the sake of his business. Specifically, the Chazon Ish, Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l, the Riv’vos Ephraim, Rav Shmuel Wosner zt”l, Rav Nissim Karelitz zt”l, and the Eimek HaT’shuvah. Moreover, the Ohel Yaakov asked this question to the Avnei Yashfe, who responded that it is certainly preferable to be strict, but one who is lenient “has whom to rely upon.”
The T’shuvos V’Hanhagos (5:258-259) elaborates on why one should be strict on this issue. These utensils are not considered “business utensils” (“k’lei s’chorah”) that are exempt from t’vilah because they are perpetually in the proprietor’s possession. Even when the patrons are using the utensils, it is either in the building of the proprietor or under his watch. Thus, t’vilah is required. Accordingly, the patron may not eat at such a restaurant or hotel that does not tovel its utensils because doing so encourages the proprietor to violate this prohibition/mitzvah.
IV. The Igros Moshe’s Split
The Igros Moshe (Yoreh Dei’ah 3:22) has a unique opinion on this topic. He appears to agree (without discussion) that a hotel and restaurant must tovel its utensils. However, he allows a patron to eat from the non-toveled utensils, but only foods, such as dry foods, that can be eaten without the non-toveled utensils. Thus, the patron may eat a dry piece of meat with his fingers from the non-toveled plate, but may not eat soup from the non-toveled bowl (with a non-toveled spoon).
Next Week’s Topic: Must you completely let go of the utensil when you immerse it in the mikvah?