Getting Into Hot Water-Urns and Pump Pots in Halacha: Part One, Tevila and Workplace

Spring 2014

Remember when making coffee meant putting a kettle on the stovetop and waiting until it whistles?  Today, electric heating has taken over the market in order to fill the need of having hot water on-demand.

Two of the popular types of electric hot water heaters on the U.S. market are the common aluminum urn with a plastic spout, and the relatively newer ‘pump pot’, which requires that you push down on the top plunger to pump out the water.


The Torah requires that utensils used for a meal be immersed in a mikvah if they were in possession of an aino Yehudi at any time.  The Talmud1 states that mechamei chamin, hot water kettles, also require tevila. Rav Moshe Feinstein2 explains that there is a novelty in this ruling.  One can argue that a kettle requires no tevila at all. The kettle doesn’t perform any meal preparation function since heated water has not really changed; it is just water that is hot. The Talmud is teaching that hot water is considered changed; hot water is of great importance to people, as it serves a completely different function than cold.  Therefore, the kettle is regarded as a “meal utensil.”3

Responsa Shev Yaakov4 cites two reasons that some kettles of his generation (1700’s) did not have a tevila requirement.  The first reason is that the kettles were made to be attached to the fireplace, making them an extension of the house.  Since they were not movable utensils, they were free from an obligation to tovel.  The second reason is that in those days, almost no one drank hot water from those kettles.  They would use the hot water in foods which required further cooking.5  He describes a “minority of a minority” who used the kettles to make hot water for tea.

Following the opinion of the Shev Yaakov, some authorities argue that electric utensils do not require tevila since they are made to be attached to the wall; they work only when they are connected through a plug.6  However, most contemporary authorities disagree and hold that electric utensils require tevila.7

Our experience shows that electric utensils can generally be immersed without harming them. However, for safe operation one must ensure that all the water is removed after the immersion, and the urn is completely dried out for a few days before using it.

If the electric utensil is a type that will be destroyed through tevila, for example if it incorporates a computer chip and digital display, then HaRav Moshe Heinemann shlit”a rules that it does not require tevila.8 The logic behind this ruling is that there is a positive commandment to tovel utensils before use. If toveling will ruin the utensil, then one is considered onus, unable to perform the mitzvah on this utensil.9

Process of Tevila
Remove all stickers and residue from the utensil, wet your hands in the mikvah water, and recite the bracha.

Immerse the entire pot in the mikvah water right side up, so that all the air pockets are filled and it is in contact with water on all sides, both inside and outside of the vessel.

The whole vessel must be submerged at one time.  However, it is not necessary to wait until all the bubbles come out of the interior cavity (the part that is not visible and houses the wires).  If the plug is removable, it should be removed prior to immersion. Otherwise, the plug should also be immersed.10

Certified Pump Pots
Due to the difficulty in immersing pump pots and the fact that it usually voids the warranty, some Jewish manufacturers sell pump pots which they produce in a manner that frees the pot from the obligation to tovel.   These bear certifications that state, “No Tevila Required”. Various kashrus agencies and rabbis have certified these pots, indicated by a sticker on the box stating the name of the certifier.11

Certifying a pump pot poses the following halachic challenges:

  • Manufacturing Process

Let’s discuss the issue from the manufacturing side.  These items are often made in the Far East by non-Jewish companies.  How is the obligation to tovel bypassed?

There are basically two options:

  1. The Jewish company acquires the metal parts and hires the factory to put it together; or
  2. The factory leaves it unfinished and the Jewish company finishes it.

If using the first option, one needs to ensure that the parts are halachically acquired. Theoretically, the Jewish company could take possession of the metal parts and physically deliver them to the factory, in which case the Jewish company would surely own them.  But that is not practical and, in reality, the Jewish company will pay for them and have them delivered by others to the factory.  Payment alone may not be sufficient in the eyes of halacha,12 and other methods of possession are employed. The intricacies of the laws of acquisition are beyond the scope of this article, but the certification hinges on the proper execution of this acquisition.13 

Even if all the proper arrangements are made, how does the Jewish company guarantee that the pots made especially for them are the ones being delivered? Perhaps the manufacturer is substituting other pots made from his own metal?  This problem is not easily solved unless a mashgiach is present to oversee production; however, not all certified pump pots are produced in the presence of a mashgiach.

The second option mentioned above is having the Jewish company complete the creation of the vessel.  The part of the utensil which holds water should come unassembled and a Jew should assemble it, which would resolve the above issues. (Simply connecting electrical parts will not suffice.)

  • Chain of Ownership

Let us assume the pots have been produced in a halachically acceptable manner, and as they come from the manufacturer they are free from the obligation to tovel.  Until it reaches the buyer’s possession, the chain of Jewish ownership must be maintained. The certification is valid only if the Jewish manufacturer sells directly to the Jewish store which in turn sells to the Jewish customer.  It is difficult for the certifying agency to control this aspect of certification.  If there is any point where the pot is not owned by a Jew, even for a moment, then it would require tevila.14  An example might be if your aino Yehudi neighbor wants to buy a present for you.  He goes into a Jewish store and buys a pump pot which he then gives to you. In this case the certification is no longer valid and yet the label still states that it is certified.  Or, if eventually the Jewish store goes out of business and sells their entire inventory to an aino Yehudi, the certification would not be valid. Lastly, the pots are sometimes sold online and that may also raise ownership questions.15

The above concern is not theoretical. Pots labeled with a hechsher are being sold in grocery stores owned by ainam Yehudim or online, even though the hechsher is no longer valid. A possible solution would be that the label should state, “Certified when purchased directly from a store listed on the letter of certification.” Each store owner would then be given a letter of certification listing all stores which are authorized, and the letter could be updated from time to time with current information.

Consumers should ensure that the pump pot has a reliable certification which has resolved the above issues or they should tovel the pot themselves. If there is any question as to whether tevila is necessary, tevila should be performed but without reciting a bracha.

If one has purchased a pot or any utensil which requires tevila and realizes at the last minute (e.g., on Erev Shabbos) that it requires tevila, he may give it to an aino Yehudi and then borrow it back from him.  However, this solution may be employed for one day only.  After one day, it must still be toveled before use but without reciting the bracha.16

A person who buys any pump pot can avoid tevila in another fashion.  If the pot is made to be dysfunctional (e.g., a hole is drilled in it and then fixed by a Jew), it is considered as if he has created it.  Or, if the actual pot is taken apart (not just the wiring) and it requires a Jewish craftsman for reassembly, it is considered created by the Jewish craftsman.17  However, these may not be practical solutions.


Urns and pump pots are often found in a workplace setting.  A common question is whether its non-kosher usage precludes kosher usage of the item.  For example, does one need to be concerned that a co-worker positioned the spout directly into a bowl of non-kosher soup mix, or that the steam rises from the bowl and goes onto the spout?

If one witnessed a co-worker placing the spout in a bowl of non-kosher food, the urn should not be used.

In many cases, however, one does not actually witness the co-worker placing the spout in the bowl but is concerned that it is a possibility.  In those cases, one should make an assessment of this likelihood.  Therefore, if the spout is sufficiently far away from the tabletop so it would be unnecessary to bring the bowl up to the spout, one should simply wipe the outside of the spout and run a little water through it before filling a cup. If the spout is so close to the tabletop that a bowl would not fit easily without touching the spout, one should not use the urn.

Regarding the steam rising from the bowl, for various halachic reasons one need not be concerned except to wipe the outside of the spout and run a little water through it before filling a cup.18

The simple kettle has evolved and provided us with more opportunities to keep the Torah laws properly.  With careful consideration, we can enjoy another part of Hashem’s bountiful world.19

1 Avoda Zara 75b
2 Igros Moshe Y.D.  3:24
3 This is in contradistinction to a toaster, as Rav Moshe holds a toaster does not require tevilasince the bread essentially remains the same.  However, since there are dissenting opinions (see Sefer Tevilas Keilim pg 208), STAR-K policy is to tovel a toaster without a brocha.
4 Siman 31 (1742, Frankfurt-On-Main )
5 Such a situation would require tevila only as a stringency.
6 Chelkas Yaakov Y.D. 41, Beis Avi Y.D. 114
7 See for example the strong language of Shevet Halevi Y.D. 57:3 “zeh hevel u’reus ruach,” Be’er Moshe 4:100 andSefer Tevilas Keilim pg 50.
8 See Responsa Minchas Shlomo 3:68:2, Avnei Nezer O.C. 418:11 and Beis  Meir 120:11 in opinion of Ramo. Some pump pots and Keurig type coffee machines have digital displays and would be ruined through immersion. Others are not digital and are obligated in tevila.
9 Besides for the positive command, there is also a prohibition against using a utensil without tevila (Be’ur Halacha323, Sefer Tevilas Keilim pg 102). However, this prohibition is rabbinic in nature, and when there is no positive command to tovel, the rabbis would not impose a prohibition of use. It is important to note that even in cases where one is obligated to tovel and did not do so, the food is still considered kosher.
10 See however, Igros Moshe Y.D. 1:57.
11 Certification would also ensure the pots are not smeared with non-kosher oil.
12 As an example of the issues, monies wired to the manufacturer may be considered no more than a check, which directs the bank to transfer money.
13 One must certainly be aware of the issue of uman koneh bshvach kli, the one who builds acquires a form of ownership. See Igros Moshe O.C. 3:4, who concludes that when the Jewish company pays the factory that hires the workers, it does not present a problem of uman koneh bshvach kli.  See, however, Chelkas Binyomin 120:85.
14 Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 120:11. See also Igros Moshe Y.D. 3:21.
15 It is difficult for a buyer to ascertain if the seller is Jewish. It is not unusual for commercial buyers to buy items in bulk online for resale.  If a Jew sells it online on Amazon, and he ‘commingles’ the selling and it is ‘Fulfilled by Amazon’, one can question if he retains ownership rights.
16 Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 120:16 and Taz 18, M.B. 323:35. On Shabbos or Yom Tov, one may not tovel utensils.  See M.B. 323:33.
17 Sefer Tevilas Keilim pgs. 112, 207.
18 Plastic does not become hot rapidly, and the spout may not be hot at all and will not absorb. If it does become hot, Halacha considers that steam is deflected by the heat of the spout. See Chelkas Yaakov O.C. 204.
19 Another very relevant question about urns is how to properly use them on Shabbos. With Hashem’s help, we will address that in another issue.