When shopping for common kitchen items, one typically does not ask the sales clerk who manufactured them, but this information determines whether or not one must fulfill the mitzvah known ast’vee’laht kay’leem, immersing the vessels.
When a Jewish person acquires utensils or a vessel from a non-Jew (including items made by a non-Jew but sold by a Jewish merchant) that will be used for food or drink (pots, plates, cups, cutlery...any items that come in direct contact with food), the items must be completely submerged in a naturally flowing body of water or a mikveh.
This law applies to items made of metal and glass, but not those made of wood, stone or rubber. Earthenware vessels do not require immersion unless they are glazed.* (Most authorities do not require the immersion of plastic.)
The act of immersion is quite simple. The item(s) are taken to an acceptable body of water, the blessing --Ba’ruch Ah’tah Ah’doh’nai Eh’lo’hay’nu Melech ha’o’lam ah’sher kidishanu b’mitz’vo’tav v’tzee’vanu ahl t’vee’laht kay’lee(m) (Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us to dip our vessel/s) -- is recited and the vessel(s) are then completely submerged, meaning that all parts must be simultaneously touched by the water. To accomplish this properly, one must remove any labels, stickers, glue or dirt. The item must be released in the water (or held very loosely).
The source of the mitzvah of t’vee’laht kay’leem is found in Numbers 31 (21-23): “Gold, and silver, brass, iron, tin, and lead, every thing that may abide the fire, you shall make to go through the fire, and it shall be clean; nevertheless it shall be purified with the water of sprinkling; and all that cannot survive the fire you shall pass through water.” Although this command was stated with regard to items taken in the Israelites war with Midian, the law applies to all items acquired from a non-Jew.
*Items about which there is a question should be immersed without a blessing or, better still, immersed following an item for which a blessing was made.
This Treat was last posted on July 21, 2011.
NOTE: As with all Treats dealing with halacha (points of Jewish law), one should consult one's local rabbi for practical application.