Question: Must you completely let go of the utensil when you immerse it in the mikvah?
Short Answer: Ideally, you should completely let go of the utensil during the immersion, and if you do not, a second immersion should be performed, but without a brachah. However, if your hands were previously wet from the waters of the mikvah, a second immersion is not necessary.
I. Mishnah in Mikva’os
The Mishnah (Mikva’os 8:5) cites a machlokes between the Tanna Kamma and Rabbi Shimon. The Tanna Kamma states that both a person and utensils remain impure if a person is holding onto them when they are being immersed in the mikvah. However, if the hand (that is holding onto them) is wet, then the person or utensil becomes tahor via the immersion. Rabbi Shimon, however, disagrees and holds that it is sufficient to make the person or utensil tahor by holding it “y’rafeh” (loosely).
As is common, we pasken like the Tanna Kamma, the majority opinion.
II. Two Interpretations
There are two ways to interpret the above-mentioned machlokes.
The first interpretation understands the opinion of the Tanna Kamma, that even if the person or utensil is merely held loosely by a person when being immersed, they are still tamei. The reason is because we are concerned that if we allow such a t’vilah, one will come to immerse a person or a utensil with another person holding on tightly. The only way for the person or utensil to become tahor is by letting go completely or by previously wetting the hand that is holding the person or utensil. Rabbi Shimon disagrees and even allows for loosely holding (by a dry hand) onto the person or utensil.
The Rambam (Hilchos Mikva’os 2:11), as explained by the Kesef Mishneh, interprets the mishnah in this manner. Thus, since we pasken like the Tanna Kamma, according to the Rambam, unless the person’s hand was previously wet, he may not hold onto a utensil when performing t’vilas keilim. In other words, he must completely let go of the utensil when immersing it. See also the sefer VaYomer Gavriel (p. 56-57).
The second interpretation understands the opinion of the Tanna Kamma, that certainly loose holding of the person or utensil does not impede the taharah process. The Tanna Kamma is merely adding that previously wetting your hand even allows you to hold tightly onto the person or utensil that is being immersed. Rabbi Shimon disagrees and is more stringent; he only allows loosely holding of the person or utensil. A tightly held person or utensil during immersion will never become tahor, regardless of whether the hand holding them was previously wet or not.
This is the opinion of the Rashba (cited in the Beis Yosef, Yoreh Dei’ah 198:28). Indeed, the Rashba (see Bach, ibid) cites numerous proofs against the Rambam from various Toseftos and Gemaros, which allow a person to tovel with loose jewelry or an eved to tovel with a loose chain around his neck. Thus, according to the Rashba, a person may loosely hold onto a utensil when immersing it in the mikvah.
III. Whom Do We Follow?
The Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Dei’ah 120:2) rules leniently that the utensil may be held loosely during immersion. This is like the second interpretation, the Rashba.
The Shach (6) wonders why the Shulchan Aruch does not even cite the strict opinion of the Rambam, that you must completely let go of the utensil. The Shach concludes “tzarich iyun,” but many Acharonim (see Pischei T’shuvah, ibid) understand that the Shach is ruling like the Rambam.
Further, the Bach (Yoreh Dei’ah 198:28) disputes the Rashba’s proofs against the Rambam. There is a difference between loosely fitting clothes and loosely holding a utensil. By loosely fitting clothes, a person – who certainly wants to perform the correct act – will be careful not to wear tightly fitted clothes when going to the mikvah. However, no matter how good the intentions of a person, a person is always nervous about dropping a utensil in the mikvah and thus may inadvertently hold it too tightly when immersing it.
The Aruch HaShulchan (Yoreh Dei’ah 120:21) notes that numerous Acharonim try to debunk this Shach. First, the P’ri Chadash (8) argues that the mishnah in Mikva’os – and the Rambam’s strict interpretation of it – are only discussing t’vilah d’Oraisa, i.e., impure utensils. However, the Aruch HaShulchan disagrees, as even t’vilas keilim is d’Oraisa. Second, the Pischei T’shuvah (5) cites the Tiferes L’Moshe who distinguishes between an impure utensil or person, which could lead to severe prohibitions, such as eating t’rumah t’mei’ah or living with a nidah, if the t’vilah is not performed properly. This contrasts with t’vilas keilim, where the food itself is permitted even if the utensil is not properly toveled. However, the Aruch HaShulchan dislikes this distinction, as the Shulchan Aruch also ignores the opinion of the Rambam concerning t’vilas nidah. Despite defending the Shach, ultimately the Aruch HaShulchan concludes that the Shulchan Aruch simply adopts the opinion of the Rashba.
IV. Practically Speaking
The sefer Reishis Darko (p. 178) cites the Sidrei Taharah who rules stringently not to allow a person toveling to wear loosely fitted jewelry, as it is hard to provide adequate guidelines as to “loose” versus “tight” ornaments. Similarly, he cites the Aruch HaShulchan (20) and the Chelkas Baruch (21) who both conclude that the same stringency should be applied to t’vilas keilim. Ideally, one should completely let go of the utensil during immersion; and if not, the utensil should ideally be immersed a second time.
V. Wet Hands
There is one additional point that needs to be addressed. The Shulchan Aruch (ibid), based on the opinion of the Tanna Kama in the mishnah in Mikva’os, did allow holding onto the utensil during immersion when the person’s hands were previously wet. The Shulchan Aruch appears to permit even if the hands are wet from non-mikvah waters, as the water on his hands takes the status of the mikvah waters when immersed with the utensil.
The Rama (ibid), however, disagrees and requires that the person’s hands be wet from the mikvah waters in order for this leniency to take effect. [The full discussion of this machlokes is outside the scope of this article, but see the Taz].
This leniency, though, has very little practical import, as the Reishis Darko (ibid) notes that both the Aruch HaShulchan and the Chelkas Baruch side with the Shach (Yoreh Dei’ah 198:36) that this leniency should not be followed l’chatchilah. The Ohel Yaakov (Kashrus Pesach U’T’vilas Keilim, p. 266), however, cites the Or Yitzchak (1:19) who relies on this leniency l’chatchilah.
Next Week’s Topic: What should a person do if he toveled a utensil but forgot to make the brachah?