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Food Laws:  Utensils and Vessels


There is no such thing in Torah law as Kosher, or Kasher.  Vessels and utensils, such as plates, pots and pans are tahor or tame' [loosely translated "pure" or "impure"], and as such may transmit tum'ah ["impurity"] if they become tame' and are not properly treated.

The tumah of objects is not limited to those items used for the preparation of food, however. The status of tahor or tame' may be imparted to any object. A classic example of this is a couch that a woman in her period or a man with a discharge sits on. Anything, in fact, that she/he sits on will become tame'.

A given object may become tame' in any one of the following ways: 1) It comes in contact with an tame' substance - for example the carcass of a tame' animal; and, by implication a piece of a carcass of a tame' animal (in other words, by saying the carcass of an tame' animal the Torah is not limiting the ability to transmit tumah to a whole carcass alone - a slice of ham is just as damaging as a dead pig), 2) It is touched by a metame' person, 3) It comes in contact with a dead person, 4) It is in the same room with a person who dies.

Given the different ways in which an item may become tame', there are different ways in which that item is to be cleansed. If an object (anything from a strip of leather to a pot) comes in contact with the carcass of an tame' animal it must be thoroughly cleansed to insure that no remnants of the animal remain on the item, then it must be washed in water. It must remain unused until evening - then it becomes tahor. If the item in question became tame' in the evening, it must remain tame' until the following evening. 

This does not apply to earthen vessels, pottery or earthen stoves. Any such article that is porous and can absorb liquids, in the manner of an earthen vessel, must be smashed (this would include sponges that should be burned or thrown away); and, its contents must be disposed of. As for planting-seed or food - if it is dry, then it remains tahor. If the tame' animal touches it and the planting-seed or food is wet, then it is tame'. It must be disposed of (Wayyiqra' 11.32-38). For an object that has become tame' through a person who is metame' that has touched it: if it is an earthen vessel, or any item like an earthen vessel, it must be broken; and if it is any other item, it must be cleansed with water (Wayyiqra' 15.12). If a vessel is in the same room with a person who dies, it must be cleansed with the ashes of the red heifer (Bemidbar 19.14-18). If an object is a spoil from war, it must both be cleansed by the waters of the red heifer and passed through fire - or, if it will be consumed or ruined by the fire, it must be cleansed by water (Bemidbar 31.19).

SUMMARY:

Item Type Method of Purification Time to Purify
Wood Washing in water (may need sanding to remove remnants of tum'ah) Nightfall
Glass Washing in running water Nightfall
Stone Water and potentially fire (if it can withstand fire). Nightfall
Metal Water and fire (if it can withstand fire). Nightfall
Earthenware ceramics  Must be destroyed. N/A
Plastic Water (if it has absorbed traces of the tame' substance it cannot be purified - this is most common with soft plastic - look for stains). Nightfall
Cloth Water Nightfall

*All vessels used for cooking and all implements used for eating must be thoroughly cleansed of hames, se'or and mahmeset for Hagh HaMassot. Any earthen vessel that cannot be appropriately cleansed for Hagh HaMassot must be broken - such as an earthen vessel, or any object like an earthen vessel. This may be a case where an item could be considered tame'; however, it is more correct to term it forbidden (as hames, se'or and mahmeset is not tame' merely forbidden during Hagh HaMassot).