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Shabbat Parashat Shemot | 5770

Ask the Rabbi: Toveling utensils before use when it has been obtained from a non-Jew



Question:I believe that it is a p’sik reishei (an unintentional but certain result) that a can opener will touch the food while opening the can. Therefore, it would seem to be required to tovel (immerse) the opener before use when it has been obtained from a non-Jew. Yet, I have not heard of people doing this. What is the correct practice?
 
Answer: Rav Sheshet (in Avoda Zara 75b) seems to have posited that the idea of toveling utensils (keilim) has to do with the fact that they were used and may contain traces of forbidden foods. However, the gemara concludes that even new keilim must be tovelled. In response to the question, then, why shearing scissors do not require tevilla, the gemara explains that only klei seuda (utensils of meals) require tevilla.
The question is: what is special about such keilim? You seem to understand that the issue is that such keilim come in contact with food. Rashi, however, says that the way we can tell the Torah is describing klei seuda is that it talks, in the interconnected topic of kashering keilim, about utensils that come in contact with fire, which, he says, is common specifically for food preparation (or serving) keilim. The Pri Chadash (Yoreh Deah 120:1) questions the veracity of the claim, as he says that there are plenty of utensils that have nothing to do with food and are used with fire. He therefore, prefers the Rashba’s (Torat Habayit 4:4) explanation that since the same section discusses kashering utensils for kashrut reasons, it refers to keilim with which the possibility of transfer of taste between food and keilim makes a halachic difference. This logical approach encourages the suggestion that you make: that the contact with the food, which could potentially have caused kashrut problems (even though in a specific case everything is cold and there will be no transfer), is what obligates one in tevilla.
If we were to look at the matter on that semi-pragmatic level, then one could talk along the lines that you used. If there will definitely be contact between the kli and the food, then we should say that tevilla is required. However, the poskim take a different approach. Whatever the exact reason for understanding from the p’sukim that we are discussing klei seuda, the issue is what is considered in that category. It is true that it has to be a utensil that is used directly in relation to the food. Thus, a tripod (or its modern-day equivalent) that only holds up the pot that contains the food does not require tevilla (Shulchan Aruch, YD 120:4). A pot cover is considered a kli seuda because the steam that emanates and continues to interact with the food touches the cover (Rama, ad loc.:5). However it is not the touching itself that is the issue, but whether the kli is considered to be used directly in relation to the food.
One of the cases that illustrates this distinction is your question. A can opener is not intended to interact with food but with cans, albeit usually ones that hold food (similar to the tripod above). The fact that there is incidental contact between the can opener and the food while opening is not significant enough to help define the can opener as a kli whose job is to come in contact with food. Therefore, a can opener does not require tevilla even if there is a p’sik reishei (Hilchot Tevilla (Cohen) 11:171).
Another case in point, this one going in the direction of stringency, is that of a tray upon which one always places aluminum foil or cookie sheets before putting on the food. In this case, one would view it as the tray is being used to hold the food as it is being baked, just as we would view it if there were not a lining separating between the two of them (ibid. 1:4, based on Rav S.Z. Orbach). Only if the separation would be significant enough to be considered a separate entity, as opposed to a lining, would we say that the tray is not made for holding the food and would it be exempt from tevilla (ibid.). While this explanation is not unanimously held, we believe it to be correct.
 
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This week’s Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in loving memory of
R' Meir ben
Yechezkel Shraga 
Brachfeld

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