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Thought for the Day: Immersing Electrical Appliances

I am not the fastest reader of Hebrew on the block, so I take advantage of every possible gap during the various prayer services to catch up.  Of course that also means I have less opportunities to talk during davening; oh well.  The truth is, I look for opportunities throughout the day to be more efficient.  For example, the dentist wants to me brush my teeth for a full two minutes, so I walk downstairs to start my coffee while brushing.  There's more, but we are approaching "TMI" territory.  Here's one thing that I absolutely do not do: I don't make toast while I am taking a shower.  Besides the fact that it is very frustrating to try to crisp up bread under water, it's a very, VERY bad idea to take a toaster (any electrical appliance that is plugged in to the wall, actually) with you in the shower.  You probably knew that (in fact, I'll bet you never even contemplated taking a toaster into the shower with you); but do you know why it is such a bad idea?

The answer to that question is actually relevant to a common halachic question: Do electrical appliances require immersion and if so, how?

The reason taking an electrical appliance into the shower is a bad idea is that water conducts electricity; not as well as metal, but much better than air and rubber.  You, as it turns out, also conduct electricity... especially when your skin is wet.  If you hold a toaster with you under the shower, the electricity would mostly stay in the wires, but some would travel through the water and through your body.  Your heart beat is regulated by tiny electrical impulses, so sending big electrical impulses from the toaster to compete with the tiny electrical impulses from your brain is a bad idea.  In case you aren't sure why that's a bad idea, see Thought for the Day: Avodas HaShem Is Returning to Perfection.

That's why you should not tovel a toaster while it's plugged in.  If you are paying attention, however, you'll note that toveling a toaster that is not plugged in should be ok.  In fact, you are correct, that is nothing at all wrong with immersing an electrical appliance that is not plugged in.  A problem could occur, however, when you next plug it in.  If there is any water left in the device, then electricity could flow through places it wasn't meant to flow.  That is, it will take short cuts instead of staying in it assigned circuit; hence the term short-circuit.  That can cause fires and stuff; don't do that.  However, as long as you let the appliance dry for two or three days, there should be no problem.

Devices with computer chips, however, present their own challenges.  It's the same basic problem, with a few complications.  First, there are lots of nooks an crannies to trap water in the microcircuitry.  That means it takes longer to dry.  You can mitigate the problem with a hand-held hair dryer.  Another problem, though, is that water can leave minerals after it dries which may also conduct electricity; that's a worser problem.  On more issue, those circuits use much smaller voltages (which is why they can run off battery and don't need to be plugged in), so they are much more sensitive to everything.  R' Moshe says you can just lower the part of the device that actually touches food into the mikvah, stopping short of the electronics.  R' Moshe poskens that they are actually two keilim (vessels/utensils/appliances) that are stuck together and the point of contact is covered, so that point of contact does not need immersion.

Of course, as always, CYLOR (contact your local Orthodox rabbi), though in some cases you may need to first CYLFE (contact your local frum electrician/engineer) to get the facts first.


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