By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for 5TJT.com
Most people make a number of purchases for Pesach – especially those that are suddenly making Pesach. So, the question is what should be done in terms of immersing these food prepping items, dishes, and silverware in light of the COVID-10 virus? The Keilim immersion pools may be infected with the virus, and have, therefore, been closed. Or it could be that those that are running the Mikvaos do not want to create crowds around it and have therefore closed them.
THE GENERAL MITZVAH
As an introduction, the Torah (BaMidbar 31:23) tells us of the obligation of immersing metal utensils whose origin was of non-Jewish ownership or manufacture. The vessels must be immersed in a Mikvah, sea, lake or river. The Mitzvah is called Tvilas Keilim. The Mitzvah is discussed in a Mishna in the tractate of Avodah Zarah (page 75b).
TEVILAS KAILIM – BIBLICAL OR RABBINIC?
There is a question as to whether the requirement, in general, to immerse dishes is Biblical or Rabbinic. The issue is whether or not the verses quoted in the Talmud are to be understood literally or whether they constitute something called an Asmachta – a Biblical allusion to a future Rabbinic enactment.
Some Rishonim (such as the Rambam) understand it as a Rabbinic requirement. Others (the Ritvah) believe that when the Gemorah utilizes the phrase “and we need this verse, because otherwise we might have thought etc..” it cannot be an Asmachta.
CONTRADICTION IN SHULCHAN ARUCH
The Shulchan Aruch in Yore Deah (120:9 and 14) implies that it is Biblical while in Orech Chaim (323:7) the implication is that it is Rabbinic.
The Biur Halacha explores the possibility of the author of the Shulchan Aruch having changed his mind and subsequently being of the opinion that it is biblically forbidden. There are three practical halachic difference as to whether it is biblical or Rabbinic:
The first is when a doubt arises.
The second is a situation where a child was the one who dipped the vessel – he is believed if the obligation is only Rabbinical but not on one where the obligation is from the Torah.
The third is in our situation when it is very difficult to do it and we need to decide upon an option.
There are essentially three options on the table:
- One can sell the items to a gentile
- One can declare the items ownerless in front of two or three people
- One can try to immerse the vessels in the ocean
What follows is an analysis of each.
SELLING THE ITEM TO A GENTILE
Selling the item to a gentile or physically giving it to him is one option when immersing the vessel is impossible otherwise. The halachos of this are discussed in Shulchan Aruch YD 120:16. The problem is that there is great debate among the rishonim whether this option works when the gentile is not actually physically picking up the item. In other words, even a document or an exchange of funds is not universally accepted by the Rishonim. It is for this reason that Rabbis who sell Chometz employ some six different methods of conducting the transaction.
DECLARING THE ITEM OWNERLESS
Declaring the item ownerless can be a problem, because when one handles it later, it could be that he or she will inadvertently acquire it, and it would require tevilah again. The Mishna Brurah 446:10 states regarding chometz that is found over Pesach that since one is burning it anyway, one may handle it by hand if it is for a short period of time. It is a good idea, however, to say out loud that one is not acquiring the Chometz. This is based on a responsa of the Rivash (401 regarding the acquisition of chometz by hand) cited in cited in Shulchan Aruch 446:1. Why is this so? Because a person’s hand acquires items for him even if he does not have in mind that he is acquiring it. Perhaps one can stipulate at the outset that one has no intention of ever acquiring it, but such stipulations at the outset are debatable. It should be known that Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l recommended that when one actually purchases the item, he should have in mind not to acquire it.
THE THIRD OPTION
The third option, which may be the best, is to get some sort of weighted basket with a cover that can be immersed in the ocean and be completely submerged in it. If this is not possible, then this author heard from one of the Gedolei HaDor that the first two options seem to be equally good. We must also take into account the possibility that the obligation is Rabbinic and we do have a pandemic on our hands. Therefore, whatever option one does choose is permitted.
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