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By Rabbi Dovid Cohen, Administrative Rabbinic Coordinator
Q. Why are they selling hot water urns in a seforim store, and why do they have a hechsher on them?
A. Over the years, a hechsher has come to represent Rabbinic approval of an item even if it is not actually a food. For example, there are hechsherim on retzuos for tefillin, so that customers will know that they were made according to halacha. In the case of an urn, the hechsher is usually there to represent oversight on one or more of the following – Shabbos, Yom Tov, and tevillas keilim, as we will explain.
One may not heat water on Shabbos, but you can draw hot water from a pot. With an electric urn, you would want to be sure that there is a way to remove water without having to use electricity, that taking out water doesn’t turn on (or off) a light or cause the heating coil to turn on. Some will also want to be sure that there is no issue of water being in the “level indicator” which does not really get boiled before Shabbos but will be drawn into the urn and become heated when someone takes some other water out.
Many of the above issues do not apply on Yom Tov, but a different one does. That is that on Yom Tov it is permitted to heat/cook water, and it is, therefore, natural that people will want to refill their electric urns on Yom Tov. In some models, when cold water is added, it automatically causes the heating coil to turn on. Turning on a heating coil (or causing one to do so) is not permitted on Yom Tov, and manufacturers have come up with creative ways to avoid this issue. For some, the “Yom Tov” mode keeps the coil on very low all the time so adding cold water just increases the could intensity but doesn’t turn it “on”. Others have the coil on a timer which turns it on and off independent on the water temperature. These, and other methods, are used to create an electric urn that is ready for use on Yom Tov.
Lastly, there is the issue of tevillas keilim. Items used for eating or cooking require tevillah if they are purchased from a non-Jew, but this can damage electrical appliances. There are different Rabbinic approaches how to deal with this concern, but some manufacturers want to solve the issue by having the urn be owned by the Jewish company from the moment it is created. If so, the urn wasn’t ever owned by a non-Jew and tevillah is surely not required. Accomplishing this goal involved many issues including having proper kinyanim (ways in which good are acquired), avoiding issues of uman koneh b’shvach kli, and maintaining the Jewish ownership through the distribution channels (hence, they are sold in Jewish-owned stores). The Rabbinic endorsement of the urn gives the consumer confidence that someone oversaw all these aspects.