by R. Daniel Mann
Question: I learned that due to the way we use our oven rack, it requires tevila (beyond our scope), but by now, it has baked-on residue. With hard work and chemical cleaners, I removed most of the residue, but it is not fully clean. May I do tevilat keilim now?
Answer: The laws of chatzitza (impediments to the water reaching all of the object) come up in the Shulchan Aruch regarding different tevilot – a woman (Yoreh Deah 198), netilat yadayim (Orach Chayim 161), and tevilat keilim (YD 120 & 202). The main difference is that for a woman, it is a more acute need (to prevent a severe aveira) than the latter two (a lower level positive mitzva – for hands, it is Rabbinic; for utensils, it is a machloket whether it is from the Torah).
The main rule about chatzitza (Eiruvin 4b) is that the Torah-level disqualification is when something is both stuck on a majority of the object (rov) and in a manner that the pertinent person wants it removed (makpid). It is a chatzitza on a Rabbinic level if only one of the issues exists (ibid.). You and most people prefer to remove residue on their racks (thus, the chemicals products) – all of it, unless it is impossible or highly taxing. It is a good question – when one does not remove only because it is not so feasible, is it a chatzitza?
There are several discussions about chatzitzot that are difficult to remove. One is about medically required chatzitzot, e.g., stitches, casts, post-operative bandages. The mishna states that a bandage on a wound constitutes a chatzitza (Mikvaot 9:2). On the other hand, some explain that this is because people often remove the bandage temporarily (see Sidrei Tahara 198:23; Ktav Sofer, YD 91). Despite the similarities (staying on for a while, difficult to remove), the bandage is different in both directions: a bandage is more annoying than residue; there is a plan to remove it in the future (stringent); the bandage is desired now (lenient).
Two relevant sources are focal points of discussion and distinctions: 1. There is a machloket among Tannaim whether an arrow lodged in one’s leg and is difficult to remove is a chatzitza (Tosefta, Mikvaot 7:9); 2. According to some Rishonim (see Beit Yosef, YD 198), one does not need to remove certain skin malformations, despite his desire to not have them, because removal is painful. To reconcile these sources, the Sidrei Tahara (198:26) distinguishes between foreign objects, which more naturally constitute chatzitzot, and addendums of the body itself. Others distinguish based on how safe it is to remove it (Rash on Mikvaot 10:8; Shut R. Akiva Eiger I:60). Those sources do not provide clear guidance for our case because of differences – here, the residue is foreign and difficulty is the only reason not to remove the residue; we are dealing with a utensil rather than a person.
The closest cases are the following. A woman must try to remove lice from her hair before tevila, but irremovable lice are not a chatzitza (Shulchan Aruch, YD 198:47). Like our case, she would like to remove them and just did not succeed, and yet it is considered not makpid. The Gra (ad loc. 53) is confusing, as he points out two things: it is natural, and he is not makpid. Depending on how these reasons interact, it is unclear what he would say in our case. The Rama (Yoreh Deah 202:2) says that black stains on the outside of a pot are normal and therefore not a problem. However, not all agree (Gra ad loc. 3), although maybe the stains are not too difficult to remove. The strongest source seeming to indicate that residue that remains after removal efforts is not a chatzitza is the Shulchan Aruch, YD 120:13. One must remove rust before tevilat keilim, but if, after efforts to do so a little is left, one is not makpid, and it is okay. One could argue that residue in the age of oven cleaners is less acceptable than rust before the advent of stainless steel. However, regarding a case that you do not plan to clean anymore, we have seen enough justification to posit that normal modest residue is not a chatzitza.