This year (5780/2020), due to the coronavirus pandemic, many people are compelled to spend Pesach in their home for the first time, and are therefore purchasing new dishes for the holiday. Halacha requires that certain utensils (such as pots, pans and cutlery) acquired from a gentile must be immersed in a Mikveh before being used. However, due to the pandemic, many Mikvah’s are closed. Theoretically, it is possible to immerse new utensils in the ocean, but this is not an option for many people, especially in light of the fact that many people are quarantined and confined to their homes. What Halachic solutions are available for people facing this predicament, having new utensils with no possibility of immersing them? One option, discussed by Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, in his Minhat Shelomo (vol. 2), is to declare the new utensils "Hefker" (ownerless). A utensil requires immersion only once it comes under the legal ownership of a Jew, and thus an ownerless utensil may be used without immersion. However, in order for a declaration of "Hefker" to be Halachically effective, it must be made in the presence of three people, only one of whom may be a family member. For people confined to their homes, this could be very difficult to arrange. The Poskim ruled that in such a case, one may proclaim the utensil "Hefker" in the presence of three people via videoconference, using programs such as Skype or Zoom. According to some Poskim, even speaking to somebody without any visual contact suffices for legal matters as far as Halacha is concerned, and so there is certainly room to allow a "Hefker" declaration via videoconference. Therefore, if one has new utensils which he needs to use, and he does not have the ability to immerse them, he may pronounce the utensils ownerless in a videoconference with three people – at least two of whom are not family members – and then use the utensils. When the pandemic ends, please G-d, he should then take possession of the utensils and bring them to the Mikveh for immersion. Another option is to give the utensils as a gift to a gentile, such as a neighbor, employee or coworker, and then ask to borrow it. A utensil that is legally owned by a non-Jew does not require immersion, even if a Jew uses it, and so one may transfer ownership over his new utensils to a gentile and then ask to borrow them, in which case they may be used without immersion. When circumstances allow for immersing the utensils, he should request them back from the non-Jew and then immerse them.
By Rabbi Eli Mansour
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