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Shabbat Parashat Balak 5776

Ask the Rabbi: Doing Tevilat Keilim Before Giving Present

Rav Daniel Mann

Question: I often give glass salad bowls as presents. Is there any problem with doing tevilat keilim on them before giving them to save time for the recipient or out of concern that they will not do tevila?


Answer: On a certain level, tevilat keilim is a matter of purifying utensils we obtain from a non-Jew, but it is not classical purification but a mitzva act that models purification, i.e., putting in a mikveh (see Rambam, Ma’achalot Assurot 17:5). This can help explain some lenient halachot, such as that food placed or prepared in a non-toveled utensil is untainted after being removed (Avoda Zara 75b). However, in the context of your question, poskim seem to apply the concept to create a stringency, which we will see after additional background.

The Beit Yosef (Yoreh Deah 120) cites a halacha from the Haghot Ashri that if one buys a knife to use for cutting parchment, not food preparation, and thus does not yet need tevila, one who borrows it from him does not have to do tevila even if he does use it for food. This is because a borrower is obligated in tevila only if the owner had an existing obligation. The Beit Yosef extends this logic to one who borrows a food-related utensil from one who bought it only to sell. Since the merchant was not obligated to do tevila, neither is the one who borrowed from him. Thus, using the “impure” utensil for food is not a problem if the grounds for an obligation of tevila did not materialize.  

The Taz (YD 120:10) is not certain whether the Hagahot Ashri and/or the Beit Yosef are correct (even though the Rama, YD 120:8 brings the former as halacha). He says a borrower for food use from a merchant should, therefore, do tevila before using it. He warns, though, that word should be gotten to the eventual buyer to not to tovel it with a beracha. Later Acharonim (apparently including Rav S.Z. Auerbach, cited in Tevilat Keilim (Cohen) p. 241) understand that the buyer must do tevila even though the borrower already did it. The reason is that according to the opinions that there was no obligation to do tevila, the tevila did not work (Chelkat Binyamin 120:66; Tevilat Keilim 8:(9)). This must be based on the idea we started out with – tevilat keilim is not a matter of removing tumah, which should work even if there was no obligation, but of doing a mitzva, which usually needs to be done only after the mitzva is in force. In this case, the Taz and later Acharonim assume that not only did the borrower doing the tevila not fulfill the mitzva, but no purity was achieved. Therefore, when someone would buy and want to use it with food, he would need a new tevila. (While this is a surprising idea to me and not well known, the Taz seems to assume it.)

Therefore, the simple answer to your question is that your tevila prior to giving the present will not spare or save the recipient. Rav Cohen (ibid.) suggests having someone acquire it on behalf of the recipient, so that it will be obligated in tevila (as he will presumably use it for food), and at which point your tevila works. Rav Auerbach (ibid.) counters that since it is not clear that the recipient will use it himself, it is not yet defined as a utensil that is obligated in tevila. (It is not clear if/why the tevila will not work for the more common case that he will use it himself.)

One can suggest a different idea. You can plan to (and carry out after the tevila), use the utensils briefly, and thus the tevila will be needed for you and thus will be valid. (While this seems tacky, the whole idea of opening the package and putting the utensils in a mikveh before giving them is not exactly standard etiquette.)

In summary, there are both halachic and social issues about toveling utensils you will give as a present. If the recipient is one who might tovel himself, you, in any case, would have to discuss the matter with him (so that if your tevila works, he will not do tevila with a beracha l’vatala). In doing so, you can already ask him if it would be helpful for you to acquire it on his behalf and do the tevila for him.

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