Shabbat Parashat Vayishlach| 5771
Ask the Rabbi: Is it necessary to tovel equipment used in food production?
Question: Is it necessary to tovel equipment used in food production (e.g., restaurant, factory)? Some equipment is impossible to tovel; some equipment is too big to tovel anywhere but a natural body of water. What if the factory is far away from any mikveh other than an ocean? Must one shlep everything there?
Answer: There are several areas in which leniency can be considered, which is helpful.
The gemara (Avoda Zara 75b) says that only klei seuda (literally, utensils of a meal) require tevilla. Keeping matters simple, let us say that utensils that come in contact with food during the preparation, serving, eating, or storage of food require tevilla. Yet, the minhag is not to tovel certain “utensils” that seem to meet that definition. For one example, few people tovel refrigerator racks or the body of ovens (even when made from material that requires tevilla and food is put directly on them). The Aruch Hashulchan (YD 120:39- see similar explanation in the name of Rav S.Z. Auerbach in Tevilat Keilim (Cohen) 11:(39)) says that a kli seuda is something that is not too big and/or is made to take from place to place, as opposed to things to which food is brought. Others say that specifically utensils that were made to be connected to the ground are not obligated in tevillat keilim (see Tevillat Keilim 1:(16)). Some of the bigger equipment might be exempt from tevilla on these grounds.
The major reason for leniency is the commercial use of the utensils. The Shulchan Aruch (YD 120:8) assumes that one who bought a utensil to be used not for food is not obligated in tevilla (and therefore one who borrows it from him may use it without tevilla). The Beit Yosef (YD 120) extends this exemption to one who bought the utensil not to use but to sell, as the merchant is not obligated in tevilla. One could say the same thing is true of equipment that is used by a factory not to enable the owner to eat but to have food to sell. The question is whether one can compare one who bought a utensil to sell and will never use it himself with food to one who uses the utensil with food, just that he plans to sell the food rather than consume it. There is a machloket regarding a restaurant, which makes food to serve people at their premises to make money. The Minchat Yitzchak (I, 46) says that this is also considered for commercial purposes and exempt according to a sufficient number of poskim. Rav M. Feinstein and Rav S.Z. Auerbach are among those who say that since it is used for eating, it is a kli seuda even in the commercial setting (see Tevillat Keilim, pp. 89-90), and this opinion seems to be the more accepted one. The case of a factory is somewhat more lenient, as no one uses the utensil in connection with a meal. Rather the Jew prepares and sells the food, after which he loses all connection. In this case, the Chelkat Yaakov (YD 42) permits the matter based on the Tuv Taam V’Da’at, who himself was willing to be lenient only when most of the food is produced for non-Jews.
A final point of leniency relates to the difficulty to do tevilla. Tevilla is a positive mitzva. The prohibition of using a utensil without tevilla is an outcome of the failure to perform the mitzva. If it is prohibitively expensive or time-consuming to get to a mikveh, there is room to say that the positive mitzva is not expected of the person (see Rama, Orach Chayim 656:1). On the other hand, when it is unfeasible to do tevilla, the Shulchan Aruch and Rama (YD 120:16) say that one should give the utensil as a present to a non-Jew and then borrow it from him (as the mitzva applies only while the utensil is under Jewish ownership). For expensive equipment, selling it (without demanding full payment upfront) and then renting it back seems more reasonable.
We will summarize as follows. If it is difficult to tovel commercial food preparation equipment, whether due to immobility or lack of a nearby mikveh, one may rely on the opinions that they do not need tevilla or transfer them to a non-Jew’s ownership. If he wants to do tevilla anyway, he should not make a beracha.
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