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Containers of Packaged Goods

By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator

Q. I know that metal and glass require tevillah.  So, how can I take pickles from a jar or tuna from a can if the jar or can was never toiveled?

A. The Poskim give two reasons why this is permitted.

Maharil Diskin says that although it is forbidden to put food into a container which did not have tevillah, if the food is already there, there is no requirement to empty it quickly.  The person may empty it as slowly as he desires – i.e., he can eat the food at his leisure – and when it is finally empty, he will then be able (and required) to perform tevillah.

Iggeros Moshe suggests a more sweeping reason why a person may even put other food into the container after it is emptied, and no tevillah is required.  He argues that when the consumer purchases the container filled with food, the container is halachically viewed as “packaging materials” rather than a “food utensil”; it is considered tafel (secondary) to the food which it holds and has no independent status.  If so, the consumer who decided to keep the container for food use is the one who “created” the container, such that this is a container produced by a Jew and no tevillah is required!

What if a Jewish-owned manufacturer packages food in a metal or glass container?  Do they have to toveil the containers before they fill them with food?  The logic of Maharil Diskin is obviously not relevant to the Jewish producer who has an empty bottle that he wants to fill.  But Iggeros Moshe’s line of reasoning does apply.  From the perspective of the seller, this container is “packaging material” and not obligated in tevillah.  [An additional factor for certain containers is that they are merely used for storage, and no one would eat from them or bring them to a meal; that itself is a factor to not require tevillah.]  Some take this further and say that the same leniency applies if an individual buys a platter on which to put shalach manos; the “giver” is not obligated in tevillah since for him the platter is kli sechorah (something used for business rather eating).

For this reason, some candy stores do not perform tevillah on the metal trays they use when creating platters which will be sold to consumers.  They consider the trays to be “packaging material” rather than “platters” and assume that they are not obligated in tevillah.  Consumers purchasing or receiving these trays should ask the store to clarify their policy on these matters, so they can decide if they have an obligation to toveil the tray once it is emptied.

This article first appeared in the Let’s Talk Kashrus column, Yated Ne’eman, July 7, 2023.