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Thought for the Day: Toveling Keilim on Shabbos

When you've been married as long as I have, there is a lot of non-verbal communication going on; must of which is lost on passers-by.  Take this morning, for example; I could just tell that my wife was hankering for a little halacha pop quiz.  (Sometimes I am so sensitive to her aura that I get these feeling about what she wants even before she does; and even afterward she may still not realize that that was her ratzon.  She is very lucky to have me, let me tell you.)  So I asked her, "How many strips of bacon are you allowed to eat?"  "Uh... zero...", she answered.  So far so good.  "Ok; how many bites of cheeseburger are you allowed to take?"  "I am going to still go with zero."  She's amazing, eh?  "Ok... here's a hard one, now: how many times are you allowed to use a keili before toveling it?"  "Zero, of course."

This came up in discussion of what do to about a new keili that you need to Shabbos but didn't have time to tovel before Shabbos.  For argument's sake, you do not have the option to not use the keili.  (Trust me, I can cook up a case, no matter how strict you want to be.)  What's the problem?  I'm glad you asked.  It is forbidden for a Jew to use a keili for tzorchei s'uda (cooking, serving food, eating with, etc)  that is owned by a Jew and was acquired from a goy.  Like any other halachic topic, there are lots of details, but that's the basic.  Therefore toveling a keili allows you to use something that was previously unusable.  That smacks of "tikun maneh"/fixing a utensil, which falls under the malacha of maka b'patish.  It only smacks of that because there has been no physical change.  Tikun maneh mi'di'oraisah, therefore, it is not; mi'd'rabanan, however, it is considered a tikun and so toveling keilim on Shabbos is assur.

[Off topic: There is no issur on the food that is prepared in an un-toveled utensil, however.  That means that you may, for example, drink coffee that was made in an un-toveled coffee maker.  This can happen if  you have non-frum relatives and/or friends; they of course have not toveled their coffee maker but also of course know that you can drink coffee; they usually even proudly show you the hechsher on the bag.  You shouldn't make the coffee yourself, since the issur is not only on the owner.  You also shouldn't ask your mother-in-law to make the coffee, as that is asking her to transgress.  It seems that it's ok to pour yourself the coffee, but best to consult with your own posek for any more details.]

The Shulchan Aruch (OC 323:7) gives a single eitza: give the keili to a goy as a present and then borrow it back from him.  I know, I know... you are wondering what happened to the issur d'rabanan of giving a gift on Shabbos; I know, because I was wondering that myself.  It seems the Shulchan Aruch is suggesting you avoid transgressing one issur d'rabanan by transgressing another!  Upon further investigation, however, I found that the rabinic injunction against giving gifts on Shabbos is a branch of the the issur against doing business on Shabbos, which in turn (besides preventing one from coming to write) is to prevent us from performing mundane activities on the Holy Sabbath.  The Sha'arei T'shuva explains that the hedge provided by the g'zeira around business activities does not extend to activities that are for sabbatical needs.  Hence there is not prohibition against giving a gift to a goy on Shabbos when that act it to permit to borrow that utensil back and use it to increase and/or enable oneg Shabbos.

Another eitza (not suggested by the Shulchan Aruch) would be to mafkir (make ownerless) the keili.  Once it is ownerless, of course, it is not owned by a Jew and so it may be used without being first toveled.  R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was not thrilled with that plan (it looks pretty suspicious to mafkir your own utensil, then pick it up and use it -- all the while claiming that you are sincerely making it ownerless).  None the less, he does permit it if there are no other options (can't find a goy, eh?), and R' Elyashiv thinks it is just fine, even l'chatchila.

As to why people think they can use a keili once before toveling it... I don't know; and even my wife didn't know that one!


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