Question: Must a person tovel electric kitchen appliances?
Short Answer: While some poskim apply certain leniencies to electric kitchen appliances, many poskim and kashrus organizations, including Rav Yisroel Belsky zt”l (from the OU) and the Star-K require t’vilah, as it often can be performed safely and without ruining the utensil.
There are many dangers associated with electrical appliances, including severe electric shock. As our kitchens become more modernized, this obviously presents a dilemma for the mitzvah of t’vilas keilim. Moreover, many appliances are ruined when submerged in water.
How is a person supposed to fulfill this mitzvah without hurting himself or ruining the appliance? The poskim have devised a few solutions to this modern problem, based on longstanding halachic principles, as detailed herein.
II. Puncture It
The Chochmas Adam (73:13) discusses toveling large barrels of wine. He first notes that these large barrels are considered utensils that require t’vilah, as opposed to fixtures that are attached to the ground and therefore do not require t’vilah. However, the Chochmas Adam notes that a person may exempt these barrels from t’vilah by puncturing a large hole in them, and then having a Jewish craftsman patch up the hole, thereby rendering the barrel “made by a Jew.” This Chochmas Adam is cited approvingly in the Pischei T’shuvah (Yoreh Dei’ah 120:1).
The Taz (120:13), however, appears to disagree, as even a large hole does not change the fact that this was fundamentally a utensil purchased from a non-Jew, which requires t’vilah. Based on this Taz, the Sheivet HaLevi (10:128) rules that making a hole in (or destroying) a utensil does not exempt the utensil from t’vilah. The Sheivet HaLevi, while wondering why the Pischei T’shuvah doesn’t even mention the Taz, concludes that perhaps no brachah is recited on the t’vilah of such a utensil, which is punctured and then rebuilt by a Jewish craftsman.
Nevertheless, many Acharonim suggest this solution for electric appliances: to take apart the appliance after purchase and then rebuild the appliance, thereby avoiding the need for t’vilah. See sefer T’vilas Keilim (Rabbi Dr. Meir Sendor, p. 12), citing Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv zt”l and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l.
III. Attached to the Wall
The above-mentioned Chochmas Adam also mentioned another possible theory to exempt electric appliances from t’vilah. Since the appliance must be plugged into the outlet on the wall in order to work, perhaps we view the utensil as “m’chubar l’karka” – attached to the ground – and thus exempt from t’vilah.
The Chelkas Yaakov (Yoreh Dei’ah 41 and 43) makes this suggestion: Since the appliance was made specifically with a plug to be attached to the outlet, no t’vilah is required. While the Chelkas Yaakov appears to adopt this leniency in his first responsum on the topic (Yoreh Dei’ah 41), he backtracks a bit in the second responsum (Yoreh Dei’ah 43). Since the appliance could be plugged into a mini-generator (which is not attached to the ground) and since the appliance most likely could be used for some other food use without electricity, t’vilah should be required.
Regardless, many other poskim reject this leniency. For example, the T’shuvos V’Hanhagos (1:450) vehemently rejects such leniency because the plug can easily be unplugged from the outlet. Similarly, the B’eir Moshe (4:100) has strong words rejecting this leniency. The sefer Reishis Darko (p. 215) likewise cites a slew of poskim who reject this leniency.
Nevertheless, the sefer T’vilas Keilim (ibid) cites Rav Elyashiv as supporting this leniency. He adds that Rav Azriel Auerbach likewise relies upon this leniency for a poor person who otherwise would suffer a financial loss if the appliance is ruined in the mikvah.
IV. Gifting Them to a Non-Jew
Another solution suggested by some poskim is to gift the appliance to a non-Jew and request permission from him to “borrow” the appliance for you to use. The sefer VaYomer Gavriel (p. 71) cites Rav Ovadia Yosef zt”l who allowed such a leniency. This is loosely based on the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 120:16), which allows gifting a utensil to a non-Jew for use on Shabbos if the owner forgot to tovel before Shabbos.
[As an aside, this leniency was similarly applied to all utensils during the first few months of COVID-19, when the mikvaos were closed for utensils. See Rav Hershel Schachter shlita, Piskei Corona #1]
V. Toughing It Out
However, despite all the above leniencies, many poskim require t’vilah on electric appliances. For example, the B’eir Moshe (4:100) rules that t’vilah is required, as the appliance can safely be immersed without being ruined.
Practically, this was the opinion of Rav Yisroel Belsky zt”l (cited by Rabbi Moshe Dovid Lebovits in an article for Kaf-K). Indeed, the Star-K, as well, advises that “most contemporary authorities” require t’vilah on electric appliances. See article by Rabbi Zvi Goldberg, available at https://www.star-k.org/articles/kashrus-kurrents/2177/getting-into-hot-water-urns-and-pump-pots-in-halacha/.
The Star-K adds: “Our experience shows that electric utensils can generally be immersed without harming them. However, for safe operation, one must ensure that all the water is removed after the immersion, and the urn is completely dried out for a few days before using it.” Finally, the Star-K notes that if the “electric utensil is a type that will be destroyed through t’vilah, for example if it incorporates a computer chip and digital display, then HaRav Moshe Heinemann shlita rules that it does not require t’vilah.” The rationale is that “one is considered anus, unable to perform the mitzvah on this utensil.”
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