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Offbeat Israel: Kitchen Appliances Visit the Mikveh

Of all the characteristics Israelis have been blessed with, electrical safety is not one of them. Bare wires are a common sight. Earthing appliances is seen as a quaint indulgence a bit like wearing ties — popular abroad but not part of the culture here. And oy, the love affair with splitter sockets.

One doubts there’s any country in the world with as high a number of many five-way electrical splitter sockets as Israel. Everywhere you go, home, office or restaurant, the current runs around the place via splitter socket upon splitter socket. It’s easy to wonder whether the whole country is plugged in to a single socket in Jerusalem through an elaborate arrangement of splitters and extensions chords.

In the last few years, a couple of factors have come together to make things even more dicey — a trend for kitchen gadgetry and increasingly strict religious standards in the Orthodox world.

According to Jewish law, some kitchenware, crockery and silverware items need to be toiveled on acquisition. This means that they need immersing in a mikveh, a ritual bath. Different rabbis take different views on what items need toiveling, with some saying pretty much everything and others taking a minimalistic approach.

In recent years rabbis have been inundated with questions about various electrical appliances used in the kitchen. Do kettles and toasters need toiveling? A Panini maker? What about a bread-baking machine?

The late Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, widely-considered the foremost religious authority of the last hundred years, gave careful thought to the issue of toasters and decided they do not need toiveling. But according to the Orthodox Union, a hot water urn merits no such dispensation.

Utensils that come into direct contact with food, of course, must be Toiveled. The category, though, is far broader than one might suppose. Besides silverware, bowls, plates and cups, it includes … electrical appliances, such as urns. An appliance that cannot be immersed, therefore, should not be purchased.

The OU advice then adds in brackets :

Practice has demonstrated that immersion generally does not harm most equipment if allowed three days to dry out.

The trend of toiveling electrical items is apparently so big in Israel that in a move reminiscent of McDonalds’ famous decision to put a “hot” warning on coffee cups to cover its back legally, electrical firms are starting to warn against dangerous toiveling. Check out the picture of the mains-connected base unit for this kettle made by Gold Line — it says: “Do not toivel in water.”

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