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A Kosher Keurig?

Rabbi Baruch Fried

Introduction

In this week’s Parsha [31:21-23] we are introduced to the
requirement of purifying utensils acquired from a non-Jew. The Gemara in Avoda Zara
75B tells us that each “kashering” must include immersion in a Kosher
Mikva. Although the process is fairly straightforward, modern application can
be quite complex.

What could be wrong…?

Over the past few years, the coffee industry has been transformed
with the advent of the Keurig. These single serve coffee packets [K-cups] and
their brewers can almost instantly provide a cup of always fresh perfectly
brewed hot coffee, in an endless variety of flavors. For the true coffee lover,
it’s the answer to most of life’s problems.

As with every new fad, the observant Jew has more on his mind. While the various agencies have successfully taken on the kashrus angle, some other areas are left to the consumer. Chief among them is the issue of tevila. The Torah mandates that a Jew’s utensils used in food preparation [provided they actually come in contact with food] must be immersed in a Kosher Mikva. The Mishna [ibid] tells us that this includes a pot used for heating water. As such it would seem that a Jewish owned Keurig brewer would require immersion prior to use.

The problem however, is that the said machines generally have a
computer chip which most technicians fear would get destroyed if immersed in
water, rendering it useless (and voiding
the warrantee). This leaves us with the difficult decision of giving up this
advantageous machine altogether, or finding some other solution.

Suggested solutions

The first thing to clarify is whether or not it really needs tevila.
The Torah only enumerates metals in the chiyuv of tevila, and the Rabbanan added glass. Plastic is customarily not toveled.
In general the Keurig [i.e. the parts that touch water] is almost entirely
plastic, with the exception of the two pins that puncture the coffee packet,
and an internal metal bowl that actually heats the water. Since, however, those
metal parts are intrinsic to the preparation and come in contact with the
water, according to most poskim the entire machine is considered to be of a
material that needs tevila.

Another consideration is that it needs electricity to function,
which requires a connection to an outlet at all times. Therefore some Poskim
suggest that we can consider it attached to the ground and thus not obligated
to be toveled.
It is very difficult to rely on this for two reasons. First, many early Poskim
are of the opinion that attaching a utensil to the ground does not absolve its chiyuv tevila.
Secondly, many Poskim think it outright ridiculous that plugging in an
appliance would be considered attaching it to the ground [see Shevet HaLevi
Vol 2, 57].

When there is no solution…

A different line of reasoning contends that since it cannot be
immersed without breaking it, that itself absolves you from doing so. There are
two ways to understand this leniency. One, since it is a positive mitzva, it is
similar to all positive mitzvos that an “Onais” [lit. Coerced] is exempt. For
instance, we find that someone whose tzitzis tear in a public domain on Shabbos
may continue wearing them for the time being because they cannot be repaired
anyway on Shabbos. However that proof is self-contradictory, for we only allow
wearing the tzitzis while he is in a public domain. As soon as a private place
is reached he must remove them, despite his inability to repair them till after
Shabbos.

A second understanding is that any utensil whose immersion will be
ineffective does not need tevila. The precedent for this is the Rema [YD 120:11]
who rules that a utensil owned by a partnership of a Jew and non-Jew is exempt
from tevila.
His source is the sefer Issur VeHeter, who explains that since it will remain
a non-Jewish utensil, tevila (which is in essence to purify it from its previous non-Jewish ownership) will always be ineffective and thus exempt. Based on this, some suggest that if the utensil will break by immersing it, it too will be exempt. However the comparison is definitely disputatious, for while in the case of Rema the tevila is ineffective, in the case of the Keurig the tevila is just fine.  It’s the machine that is ineffective.

Almost but not quite…

This does however lead us to a possible solution, and that is to
sell a share of the machine to a non-Jew, rendering him a partner and thus
gaining the heter of the Rema. Although this seems like a great idea, there are
various earlier teshuvos
discussing utensils that were too big to be toveled,
and we don’t find this solution given. The question is why? Some present day
Poskim suggest that even the Rema never meant that you may do so l’chatchila,
rather if you already bought it together with the gentile then by default you
are exempt.

Ok, so let’s go a step further and sell the whole thing to a
non-Jew, and just borrow it back indefinitely. Certainly everyone agrees that
something belonging to a non-Jew is exempt even l’chatchila? The catch there is
that by borrowing it back for that long it would seem to fall under the
category of a non-Jew’s collateral entrusted indefinitely to a Jew. In this
instance the Gemara tells us it must be toveled despite its non-Jewish ownership. In fact even
if lent for a mere 30 days the Taz already requires tevila, if only miderabanan.
[Although we do find this idea of sale to a non-Jew to exempt from tevila
in earlier sources, it is generally only used together with other factors].

A way out…

There is one solution that seems to be accepted by all poskim,
though it does seem unconventional. That would be to have the machine
dismantled or broken to an extent that it cannot be used at all without a
professional repair. At that point it is Halachically not a Kli altogether.
It would then be repaired or re-assembled by a Jewish technician, thereby
regarded to be a Jewish made utensil. A utensil made by a Jew and sold to a Jew
is certainly exempt from tevila.
Not surprisingly, “kosherizing” Keurigs has already become a business
in some Frum communities. On the other hand, since this process is quite
complicated both technically and halachically, many Rabbanim prefer the
“partnership” option mentioned above. As always, check with your Rav
for guidance.