“And this day will be for you as a memorial and you will celebrate it as a festival for G-d. Throughout your generations you shall keep it a feast for an everlasting statute. Seven days you will eat only matzah, but on the first day you shall have put away your Chametz (leaven) from your houses…” (Exodus 12:14-15)
The Torah teaches that by the beginning of the holiday of Passover, no Chametz should be left in one’s house. To fulfill this directive, the house (and other spaces where one spends significant time, i.e. one’s office or car) is thoroughly cleaned. Many begin their Passover cleaning immediately after Purim, thus giving themselves a month to prepare. The following is a guide to the special actions taken to eliminate chametz from one’s possession:
What is Chametz?
Chametz is defined as leaven and is any product in which wheat, oat, barley, spelt or rye come in contact with water for 18 minutes or longer (without kneading or manipulating).
Kitniyot – Legumes – During the holiday of Passover, Ashekenazim (Jews of Western and Eastern European ancestry) follow the Rabbinic decree to not eat kitniyot, foods such as rice, corn, soy beans, string beans, peas, lentils, peanuts, mustard, sesame seeds and poppy seeds.
Why? – Kitniyot products are often stored together with chametz grains and it is difficult to insure that there is no chametz mixed with the products. Also, when kitniyot are ground into flour, the untrained eye could mistakenly think that this it is real flour and, therefore, accidentally come to use prohibited flour.
In the house – While the decree prohibits one to eat products containing Kitniyot, they do not need to be removed from one’s possession, as does chametz.
Peanut oil and other derivatives — a commonly noted Passover item on the supermarket shelf is peanut oil. There is a difference of opinion about using kitniyot-based oils. Please check with your local rabbi as to whether or not you may use these products.
Please note that while many Sephardim are permitted to eat kitniyot, the food must be thoroughly checked that it is not mixed with chametz.
Getting Rid of Chametz
Cleaning the House
The home and place of business are thoroughly cleaned in an effort to get rid of chametz, which one is forbidden to possess.
It is important to thoroughly clean the kitchen and dining room areas, where food is generally eaten. Be sure to brush or vacuum out crumbs from drawers and cabinets.
In living rooms and other rooms where food, especially snacks, is eaten, be sure to vacuum carpets and couches.
“Turning the House Over” – Perhaps you have heard this phrase uttered by a friend, or you remember your grandmother using such language. “Turning the House Over” means changing the kitchen from Chametz to Pesachdik (ready for Passover) and vice versa after the holiday.
- During Passover, one may not use dishes, silverware or pots and pans that are regularly used with chametz foods. It is customary to have separate sets of dishes, cutlery and cookingware for Passover.
- For those who are just beginning to observe the Passover laws or who are on a strict budget, paper, plasticware and aluminum are easy and affordable.
- The non-Passover dishes, cutlery and cookware should be stored away so that they will not mistakenly be used. One may either box them and put them in another room, or tape the cabinet closed.
- Appliances used for chametz should be removed from the counters and not used during Passover.
- Because counters and table tops often come in direct contact with chametz during the year, one should cover them. A tablecloth is sufficient for the table and foil, plastic sheeting or contact paper (being cautious that it is removable without damage) to cover counters.
The Removal of Chametz
Any item which contains wheat, wheat, oat, barley, spelt or rye should be consumed before Passover, given away, thrown out or sold (see below).
Any item that does not contain chametz, but is not specifically labeled Kosher for Passover, should be stored in a cabinet and the cabinet should be taped closed.
During the holiday, one should only eat food specifically marked Kosher for Passover. While a product may not appear to contain chametz, according to Jewish law it may still be chametz since the US FDA does not require any ingredient under 2% to be listed on the label. There are also some production techniques that use chametz based oils in packaging or canning products, which would not be listed on the labels.
Selling the leftover Chametz
- In cases of significant monetary loss, it is customary to sell certain types of chametz to a non-Jew, for instance unopened economy size boxes of cereal or bottles of scotch.*
- * For details on selling chametz, please see the “Passover Writings” section.
Bedikat Chametz – The Final Search for Chametz.
The evening before the Seder,* a final search for chametz is conducted using a candle or flashlight and a feather to make sure that the house has been cleared of chametz. Any chametz found should be put in a small bag to be disposed of in the morning.
* When the first Seder is Saturday night, Bedikat Chametz is performed on Thursday night.
- While the house is cleaned, chametz may still be set aside for breakfast, lunch and the Shabbat meals (challah). Any chametz set aside should be eaten in a restricted area so that the chametz is not spread through the house.
- The morning after Bedikat Chametz, no chametz may be eaten after the fourth hour after sunrise.
- Please note that all chametz must be eaten by the fourth hour of daylight.
When the search for Chametz is complete, a declaration is made stating that any overlooked chametz is null and void of ownership. The text for this declaration can be found in most prayer books.
The following blessing is said before the search begins:
Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu Melech Ha-olam, asher kideshanu b’mitzvotav v’tzeevanu al Bee’oor chametz.
Blessed are you L-rd, our G-d, Ruler of the world, who sanctified us through His commandments and commanded us concerning the removal of chametz.
Burning of Chametz
- Before the end of the fourth hour of daylight, all remaining chametz (except that set aside for Friday and the Shabbat meals), found during the search or left over from breakfast, is burned. A second, and more comprehensive, declaration is then* made stating that any chametz that one owns or possesses is null and void and ownerless. The text of the second nullification may be found in most prayer books.
- *When Passover begins after Shabbat: Although chametz may be purchased and eaten all day Friday, the custom is to sell and burn all chametz on Friday morning before the end of the fourth hour since burning it later may lead to confusion in subsequent years. The comprehensive declaration nullifying ownership of the chametz is made on Shabbat morning.
- Because the removal of chametz is taking place a day earlier than usual, one should be certain on the day of the Seder (Saturday), not to eat any chametz after the fourth hour of daylight.
Prohibition of Eating Matzah
- One may not eat matzah the entire day before the Seder in order to increase the pleasure of eating matzah at the Seder.