– Author: Rav Jonathan Gilbert
Given that most converts lead a Jewish lifestyle for months (or even years) before their conversion, a frequently asked question is whether the utensils in their possessions prior to their conversion must later be immersed in a mikveh once they convert and must be kashered (even if they were used only for kosher foods). To determine a halachic conclusion, two questions must be dealt with: First, whether the decree of bishul akum applies to the taste absorbed by these utensils, and, second, whether they need to be submerged in a kosher mikveh (as any other utensils bought from a gentile). In the following article we will focus on the second question.
Remarkably, few early authorities dealt with our stated question, hence, there is a debate among the Acharonim concerning the proper practice. Should he or she take the utensils to the mikveh? And if so, should a beracha be recited? Is there any difference between metal utensils and those made from other materials?
Many Acharonim begin their inquiry by analyzing the reason for tevilat keilim and considering whether it applies to a convert’s utensils or not. As we have seen in the shiur, our Rabbis understood from the parsha of klei Midyan that even new utensils containing no forbidden flavors must be immersed in a mikveh. The Talmud Yerushalmi explains that this is necessary since they are being transformed from a state of impurity to the state of kedushat yisrael by virtue of being owned by a Jew. Accordingly, some Acharonim understood that the same reasoning applies to a gentile who converts since, like him, the utensils now enter an elevated status of kedusha that require tevila. Such an opinion is brought by the author of the sefer “Chadrei De’ah” (although he concludes that further research is needed since no author has stated so explicitly, perhaps because there is in fact no obligation to do so, for reasons we will develop later on this article).
Similarly, Rav Shlomo Yehuda Tabak, author of the work “Teshurat Shai,” suggests that a heretic who repents needs to submerge his utensils for the reason quoted by the Yerushalmi (elevation of status). Other Acharonim (see “Darkei Teshuva” below) quote the opinion of the Teshurat Shai and suggest that such is the law for a convert since, like the case of the heretic, he abandons a state of impurity and so he needs to elevate his utensils with him (although they were not acquired from a gentile, as with klei midyan).
Other authorities dealt with the question in a less direct manner, either trying to understand difficult passages in Torah or searching for support through other halachot. For example, Rav Itzchak Aaron Eting, the Maharia HaLevi, explained that our forefathers were not commanded to immerse their utensils at Matan Torah, despite the event being similar to a mass conversion in many ways (in fact, most of the halachic requirements for a convert today are derived from the events at Har Sinai). This is because we cannot say that our ancestors came from a state of impurity, since they already had been commanded about a few mitzvot at Mara. Furthermore, argues the author, they had already been “purified” through shirat hayam, which they sang after crossing the Yam Suf. Thus, although he does not say so explicitly, it can be inferred from this source that in general, a convert who does come from a state of impurity must perform tevilat keilim on his dishes.
A less direct source, but also quoted by the authorities that require tevilat keilim for a convert, is the Rashba, who maintains that a potential convert that goes to the mikveh before circumcision cannot be accepted as a convert even ex post facto, unless he immerses himself a second time. The Rashba explains that tevila must always be the last part of the process, since through it, the convert leaves the impurity of the gentile and enters the sanctity of Israel, “and even someone who buys new utensils from a non-Jew must immerse them for the same reason.” As mentioned, some authorities see in this comment a comparison between a convert who must go to the mikveh and his keilim (see, for example, the Avnei Nezer who makes such a comparison, or the Teshuvot V’hanagot by Rav Moshe Shternbuch that argues that a convert should wait until going to the mikveh before taking his keilim, and not do so immediately after the circumcision since, even though he already abandoned the impurity of the gentile, he has not yet acquired kedushat yisrael).
A frequently quoted piece was written by Rav Tzvi Hirsch Shapira in his Darkei Teshuva, where he argues that tevilat keilim is required for the utensils of the convert due to the reasons cited above, and he brings proof from the words of the Teshurat Shai and Chadrei Deah. But according to Rav Eliezer Waldenberg, the sources are not definitive, nor is the comment previously quoted from the Mahari Halevi. Instead, Rav Waldenberg quotes other poskim that seem to exempt the convert from the mitzva discussed. To understand such a stance, a few sources must be brought.
The Talmud states in the name of Rava Bar Avuha that the mitzvah of tevilat keilim applies only to utensils fully acquired by a Jew, in the same way it was done with klei Midyan. This, according to the Talmud, exempts borrowed utensils.
Tosafot, commenting on the sugya there, make use of this concept to further exempt keilim repaired by a non-Jewish artisan, even according to the opinion that repairing is a form of acquisition. This is due to the fact that they were not acquired in the same way as with regard to klei Midyan. The same law applies to someone who left keilim with a non-Jew as a collateral and later redeemed them.
Rav Abraham Bornstein, author of the Avnei Nezer, suggests that the same may be argued for a convert’s keilim. In order to be in the same way it was done with klei Midyan, the kli must be transferred directly from the property of the gentile to the property of the Jew, with no interruption in the middle. However, in the case of a convert, the keilim become ownerless for a fraction of a second (since the convert is considered like a newborn baby) and only then does the convert acquire back his property. Such an “interruption,” according to this opinion, is sufficient to differentiate this case from that of Midyan, and tevila is therefore no longer required.
Others, of course, question such approach. Rav Sternbuch suggests that even concerning Midyan, there was not a “hand-to-hand” acquisition. Rather, there was a collective kinyan milchama (acquisition through warfare), which proves that the method of acquisition need not be precisely equivalent, and as long as the utensils are transferred from the possession of a gentile to that of a Jew, they must be immersed. A similar approach is taken by Rav Shmuel Vozner, who argues that changing possession of the kli from that of a gentile to that of a Jew, in any form, is considered to be the same way that it was done with klei Midyan.
Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, chief Rabbi of Jerusalem for 24 years, also took a stance on the debate when trying to determine the status of the keilim captured by the Israel Defense Forces through war. As part of his argument, he quoted Rav Avraham Landa, “The Gaon of Ciechanow”, who addressed a famous question posed by the Ramban centuries earlier, regarding why the Jews were required to immerse the utensils from Midyan, but not from Og and Sichon, although they were also defeated in battle by the Israelites. Rav Landa explained that the Israelites killed all of the inhabitants of the area of Og and Sichon, leaving their property ownerless, which explains why they did not have to immerse them in a mikveh. However, concerning Midyan, the Israelites let the women and children live. They, in turn, inherited their parents’ property, which was then acquired by the Israelites. Nevertheless, Rav Frank concludes that this explanation is not necessarily correct, since it could be easily argued that the mitzvah of tevilat keilim was not yet revealed at the time of the war against Og and Sichon and that, in any event, it is hard to build a case by arguing that an interruption of ownership affects the law in such a drastic manner.
Rav Ovadia Yosef, quoting the sefer Lechem Shlomo, also questions the approach of the Avnei Nezer since, concerning Midyan as well, the Jews acquired the utensils after their property was annulled or through a kinyan milchama, which, in turn, prevented the daughters of the dead Midyanites from inheriting the utensils. If so, then in Midyan as well a direct acquisition from the non-Jewish inhabitants was lacking.
Yet, there is an additional reason why many poskim are lenient on the matter. The idea was originally quoted by the Avnei Nezer‘s son, Rav Shmuel Bornsztain, in the name of his father, suggesting that a convert, by means of his conversion, exempts his kelim from the mitzvah of tevila. Rav Shmuel cites the Gemara in tractate Temura where it is explained that an animal born to a mother that became tereifa after becoming pregnant may not be brought as a korban, but if it became tereifa and then it became pregnant, it may be brought. If so, suggests Rav Shmuel, the same must be true for a person who converts, that his keilim are elevated with him to a status of kedusha.
The same idea may be evident as well from a Mishna in tractate Beitza that states, concerning the halacha of techumin, that a person’s animal and utensils are considered to have the same status as he does when determining the boundaries from which the techum is measured. If so, argues Rav Natan Geshtetner, we have a proof that a person’s utensils “go after him”, meaning that they are considered as an extension of one’s self, and this can be applied to the mitzvah of tevila as well.
In conclusion, since we have no earlier sources that either explicitly permit or forbid the use of a convert’s utensils without tevila, contemporary authorities tend to suggest that a convert should immerse his keilim but without a beracha. Others argue that although it seems that the convert should be exempt for the reasons quoted above, it is logical to be stringent at least concerning utensils metal, which, according to most authorities, are biblically obligated in tevila, but, once again, without a beracha.
 Yerushalmi, Avoda Zara 5:15
 Chadrei De’ah, siman 120
 Teshurat Shai, siman 103
 Maharia HaLevi, siman 99
 Rashba, Yevamot 47b
 Avnei Nezer, Yoreh De’ah 99
 Teshuvot V’hanagot 1:249
 Darkei Teshuva 120:4.
 See Tzitz Eliezer, Vol. 8, 19, and 20.
 Avoda Zara 75b
 Avnei Nezer, Yoreh De’ah 99
 Teshuvot V’hanagot 1:249
 Shevet HaLevi 4:92
 Har Tzvi, Yoreh De’ah 99
 Yabia Omer 7:8
 Shem Mishmuel, Parshat Matot
 Temura 30b
 Beitza 37a
 Lehorot Natan 11:96
 Tzitz Eliezer 25:49
 Rav Yizchak Yosef, “Klalei Hagiur, Kenes Dayanim 5774”