Ra’anana Community Kollel
Pesach Guide 2012 Part One
compiled by Rabbi Binyomin Lipson and Rabbi Dovid Horwitz
The Laws of Cleaning and Kashering the Home for Pesach
The Pesach Seder is without question an event that we all look forward to with great anticipation. Year after year, the Hagaddah, the matzah, the search for the afikoman, and of course, the special songs of the Seder, leave us with inspiration and a reaffirmation of the special relationship that we share with our Creator. However, for many reasons, the Pesach preparations have come to weigh heavily upon us. The festive atmosphere that permeates our homes before Succot is far from present in the month of Nissan. For many, the Pesach season brings with it stress, exhaustion, and of course, a lack of domestic tranquility. The effects of this unfortunate state of affairs are many and far-reaching. By the time we arrive at the Seder, many of us are far too tired to absorb its deep messages, and the first few days of Pesach can be spent just recovering from the preparations. However, far more tragic is the impression that we make on our children who are always ready to absorb the messages we send them. Can we honestly claim that the pre-Pesach atmosphere in our homes helps to inculcate in our children a positive feeling of connection to the season and the many mitzvot, which it brings along with it? Can we, in these times, afford not to plan with deliberation how we will utilize every opportunity to draw our children closer to Torah and mitzvot? The answers to these questions are clear to us, but the solution to the problem seems more elusive. At the Seder we relive our miraculous exodus from the land of Egypt and the formation of the Jewish nation, however it was not the Divine intention that we also relive the suffering of Egyptian bondage in the weeks preceding Pesach.
Fortunately, the solution to the problem is not as complex as it seems. In recent years many well-known Rabbinic authorities have responded to this quandary by emphasizing the need to discern the difference between the essential parts of Pesach cleaning and the tasks which are nothing more than an attempt at spring cleaning. As wonderful as it is to take care of all those “little” jobs, which have been waiting all winter, they should not be incorporated into our already busy schedules under the guise of Pesach cleaning. When we eliminate all of the unnecessary chores, we will be delighted to see that preparing for Pesach can become both manageable as well as an opportunity to nurture within ourselves and our children a great fondness of the Pesach season.
Searching for Chametz
Chazal instituted a requirement to search our homes for chametz on the night of the fourteenth of Nissan, the night before the Seder. Long ago when people lived in much smaller homes, it was possible to do a thorough cleaning and search on that very night. In today’s age, it would be nearly impossible to both clean and search for chametz on the same evening. Therefore, we start our cleaning early so that our homes are clean of all traces of chametz before even beginning the search on the night of the fourteenth. Although the likelihood of discovering chametz on the night of the fourteenth is very remote, we are still meant to check our homes via candlelight in a serious manner and not in a cursory fashion.
Where do we look?
Any place into which chametz could have been brought during the year needs to be checked before Pesach. In a house with children, this means, as we can imagine, that the entire house requires checking. Nevertheless, there are certain places such as on top of bookcases and the like where we can be sure that no chametz has reached, that do not require checking. Areas of the house like cabinets, drawers, and even whole rooms which will not be used on Pesach do not require checking as long as they are sealed off to prevent accidental entry and the chametz in them is sold.
What are we looking for?
We are looking to find all chametz deemed to be edible. This means that any piece of chametz that a person would consider food must be removed no matter how small it is. However, individual crumbs of chametz that have been on the floor or in another unclean place and are thereby rendered unfit for human consumption are of no concern with regard to the prohibition of owning chametz on Pesach. (We will see later however, that if there is a possibility that they will be eaten inadvertently on Pesach that they must certainly be removed.) However, if one has a whole keza'it (volume of a standard Israeli matchbox) of this type of spoiled chametz together in one place, it must be removed. Included in this category of edible chametz are any liquid cosmetics, perfumes and the like, which contain ethyl alcohol. Since the grain alcohol in these products could be extracted and made edible through a distilling process, they are considered, even in their present state, as actual chametz. Non-liquid cosmetics such as creams, powders and soaps do not need to be removed for Pesach even if they contain grain alcohol although the prevailing custom in Eretz Yisrael today is not to use these products. In addition, liquid cosmetics that contain non-alcohol chametz derivatives such as wheat germ do not need to be removed because the chametz they contain cannot be extracted and has been rendered completely non-edible.
In short, to properly fulfill the mitzvah of bedikat chametz we need to do the following:
1. remove all edible chametz no matter how small the amount
2. remove any kazait of non-edible chametz
3. remove all liquid cosmetics which contain grain alcohol
Obviously, all the chametz in your cupboards, drawers and refrigerator is edible and must be removed but aside from that, you probably will not find too much food in other places. Even if you have residue stuck on your chametz dishes, since it is inedible and less than a keziat it does not need to be removed. In the event that you have a whole keziat of residue in one location, it must be removed. In light of the above, there is no need to scrub all the dishes to remove any small bits of residue. As well, there is no need to scrape the cracks in the floor to remove the dirt stuck there. Along the same lines, if you will not be using your oven on Pesach, the only cleaning necessary is to remove any edible crumbs and to see that there is not a whole keziat of chametz residue stuck there. The oven does not require any additional cleaning if it is not being used on Pesach.
The Prohibition of Eating Chametz
Until now, we have discussed the requirements of the mitzvah of bedikat chametz that is necessary to avoid violating the Torah’s prohibition of owning chametz on Pesach. There is however an additional aspect of the Pesach preparations which needs to be addressed. The Torah prohibits the consumption of chametz products on Pesach. In addition to the Torah’s requirement, our sages added additional levels to the prohibition. Therefore, we must insure that the food we eat on Pesach is 100% free of any trace of chametz. Therefore, any area in the house which is used for eating or the preparing of food must be cleaned meticulously to prevent any small particles of chametz from falling into the food. We mentioned that particles of chametz smaller than a keziat that are not fit for human consumption do not have to be removed.This rule only applies to the prohibition of owning chametz, however, if chametz falls into one’s food on Pesach the entire food takes on the status of chametz. The only exception to this rule is in the case of chametz that has been rendered completely non-edible. Even if one would unintentionally eat this type of chametz on Pesach he does not transgress any prohibition. In this regard, chametz which was doused with a strong household cleaner such as ammonia, bleach, cleanser, or the like, is not at all problematic. (Window cleaner contains ammonia and is very convenient to use.) Let us go through the different types of areas that require extensive cleaning.
The clothes that you wear on Pesach should be freshly washed as crumbs can remain trapped in them and come loose on Pesach.
All the complicated toys which probably have chametz trapped inside should be put away for Pesach and the chametz in them sold. Plastic toys that are not complex can be easily cleaned by soaking in a warm, soapy bath for a short time. After this, no chametz will remain stuck to them. Ideally, toys should be kept off the table on Pesach and out of the kitchen area. Having some special toys for Pesach gives the children a lot of enjoyment and can save you a lot of trouble cleaning the dirty ones.
Books that will not be brought to the Pesach table needn’t be checked for crumbs. Due to their tiny size, any crumbs that may be found between the pages are automatically nullified. Any book that one plans on bringing to the table during Pesach, should be examined beforehand for crumbs.
Dining room / kitchen table
Tables must be cleaned of edible chametz and covered with a waterproof covering. This can be a layer of plastic under the tablecloth or on top of it.
Chairs should be cleaned thoroughly with a damp cloth to remove trapped chametz.
Sofa must be cleaned well and the crevices searched, ideally with a vacuum cleaner.
Floors should be swept thoroughly and washed. Extensive cleaning is not necessary.
Kashering and Cleaning the Kitchen
There are two basic levels of cleaning in the kitchen:
Areas which do not come into direct contact with food but that you touch while you are preparing or eating food (telephone, doorknobs, light switches, cabinets, refrigerator, etc.) These must be cleaned perfectly so that no chametz can be transferred from them to your food. Window cleaner is ideal for use on most of them.
Surfaces which will come into contact with food (pots, pans, silverware, sink, oven, etc.) These must not only be cleaned perfectly, but also purged of any chametz which has been absorbed in them during the year. As the laws concerning the kashering of these utensils are complex, it is best to have replacement utensils for Pesach whenever possible. In cases like the oven and the sink which are not as easily replaced we will explain how to ready them for Pesach use.
All shelves should be removed and cleaned with warm, soapy water to remove all food particles, and the inside should be wiped clean. The freezer must be defrosted and thoroughly cleaned of all food residue. The rubber gasket around the lip of the doors often traps a large amount of food during the year and must be cleaned. Peel it back with your fingers and you will be amazed how much actual chametz you find. After you’ve removed what you can, go over the whole thing with a cleanser soaked rag to render any remaining chametz inedible. Some have a custom to cover the shelves with paper, cardboard, foil, plastic mats, or the like. This covering doesn’t need to be waterproof as long as you don’t plan to put hot dishes or pots into the fridge on Pesach. If your shelves are wire (i.e. not solid glass or plastic) make sure your coverings don’t disrupt the air circulation in the fridge. Food that is not approved for Pesach, which has been sold along with your chametz, can be left in a designated part of the fridge or freezer as long as it is marked to prevent accidental use on Pesach.
Without question it is ideal to have a separate oven just for Pesach which has never been used for Chametz. There are many different types of portable ovens available nowadays which are large enough to accommodate all of one's Pesach cooking needs. In light of the fact that you will only be using it for a week out the year, the life span of a Pesach oven makes the initial cost very reasonable. Nevertheless, according to many opinions an oven may be kashered for Pesach.
If you have a self-cleaning oven, all you need to do is run it through the self-cleaning cycle and clean well any areas where pieces of food may be trapped and not burnt by the heat of the oven. As well, the outside of the oven should be cleaned to insure that no chametz remains there. If there are any interior parts in the oven which are not made of metal or glass, such as plastics or porcelain, they should be covered during use with aluminum foil, as these materials cannot be kashered. The above applies to ovens with a self-cleaning cycle only.
There is another type of oven around today called a continuous-cleaning oven. If you have this type or a regular oven and you need to use it on Pesach, the oven should be cleaned thoroughly with an oven cleaner and all dirt and tangible rust should be removed. The oven should then be heated to its highest temperature for an hour. It should be determined whether the hottest temperature is achieved during baking or broiling mode. This method of kashering is not effective for oven trays and racks that may have come into direct contact with chametz over the year. One should either purchase new ones or cover them well with strong aluminum foil.
Those models lined with stainless steel can be kashered for Pesach by simply heating a bowl of water inside until a thick steam fills the oven. This should be done only after the oven has been thoroughly cleaned and not used for chametz for twenty-four hours. For models lined with other materials such as plastic the above procedure should be followed and the entire interior of the oven should be covered with cardboard, plastic, contact paper or the like, leaving space for the fan to function. In addition, cooking in these ovens should only be done only in a closed container. It is preferable to use this method for all microwave ovens, even those with a stainless steel interior.
The burners from where the fire comes out should be cleaned well but do not require any kashering. The enamel surface upon which they sit should be cleaned well and covered with aluminum foil. The grates upon which the pots rest should, after cleaning, be replaced on the covered surface. Finally, The burners should be covered with a piece of sheet metal, (a shabbat blech will also suffice) or a double layer of foil and ignited to their full heat for approximately fifteen minutes. It is recommended to heat the burners separately or at most two at a time. For electric ranges, five minutes on full heat is sufficient. Extreme caution should be exercised during this process as the burners and the foil becomes extremely hot. On most stoves, there is a hinged cover that can be folded down over the burners and is kept up during use. Since it absorbs chametz during the year and will inevitably come in contact with the Pesach pots while cooking on the fire, this cover must be either removed (on many Israeli models it is easily lifted off its hinges) or covered completely with aluminum foil. If there are cabinets directly above the stove top, one should line the underside of the cabinet with aluminum foil, so that the steam that rises from the pots should not come into contact with the cabinet itself.
Stainless steel and real stone countertops (in Israel called granite) can be kashered for Pesach with boiling water. The counter should be cleaned well with cleanser or the like and dried. Next, boiling water should be poured onto all the surfaces. The ideal way to do this is to use an electric kettle. On most models the switch can be held down to keep the water boiling while pouring. Use an oven mitt to protect your hand from the hot steam. For proper kashering it should be assured that all areas of the counter have come in direct contact with boiling water. If there are seams in the countertops that are filled in with another material, these should be covered with foil, plastic or the like, as they cannot be kashered. Many countertops in Israel are made of a pinkish stone called shayish, oreven caesar. These materials, which are actually a combination of stone and epoxy, cannot be kashered and must be covered with a waterproof covering. Thick foil is often used for this purpose. (Be careful the edges are very sharp!) The edges can be taped down with a strong tape and if done properly will last the duration of Pesach. It is preferable for the foil to cover the walls behind the countertop in order that the hot pots of food should not come into contact with the wall that may have absorved chametz during the year.
Stainless steel sinks can be kashered in the same way as stainless steel contertops. The seams near the drain should be covered if they cannot be cleaned properly. Other sinks, which are not metal cannot be kashered, therefore a sink insert should be used. These are available with a hole for the sink-strainer to fit into. Ideally, the insert shouldn’t sit directly on the sink. It can be raised slightly by a small piece of wood. Thick pieces of styrofoam commonly used in packing can be cut to size and are ideal for this. In all sinks the sink-strainer which was used during the year should not be used for Pesach and should be removed to prevent water back up in the sink. A new strainer should be bought for Pesach and can be stored and reused year after year. Also it is a good idea to pour a strong cleanser like bleach down the drain to render any chametz stuck there completely inedible. To prevent complications, dishes on Pesach should not be washed in water that is hot to the touch. The faucets of all kitchen sinks should be cleaned well and kashered by pouring boiling water on them. If the faucets are plastic, they cannot be kashered and should be kept turned to the side as much as possible.
Cabinets should be washed well inside and out (don’t forget the underside) with a window cleaner to nullify any chametz particles which are stuck there. The prevailing custom is to cover the surfaces that will be used on Pesach with paper or the like.
It is strongly suggested that one purchase special utensils which are kept only for Pesach use. If this is not possible a competent Rabbi should be consulted as to how to kasher the various kitchen utensils.
Cups should be cleaned well with silver polish, and boiling water should be poured over them.
Any object which is placed directly on the table on Pesach should be kashered. Therefore, if the candlesticks are placed directly on the table, they should be cleaned with polish and boiling water should be poured on them. If they will be placed on a tray, the tray should instead be kashered or covered with foil.
All processed food products must have approval for use on Pesach regardless of the ingredients listed.
Next Part will discuss the laws of Erev Pesach and Seder Night. Stay Tuned!