Selected Halachos Relating to Pesach
By Rabbi Doniel Neustadt
The following is a discussion of Halachic topics related to the Parsha of the week.
For final rulings, consult your Rav.
THE SEARCH FOR CHOMETZ
Should ten pieces of chometz be hidden throughout the house before the search for chometz takes place?
The poskim differ in their views regarding this practice. There are four basic approaches:
- The Rama (1) states that the custom is to hide pieces of chometz around the house before the search takes place. Since it often happens that no chometz is found during the course of the search, the blessing over the bedikah could possibly be a berachah l'vatallah. To avoid this eventuality, one would be required to hide some chometz before the bedikah begins.
- Although l'chatchilah pieces of chometz should be hidden, The Rama himself holds that if they were not, the blessing would nonetheless be valid, for the mitzvah is to search for chometz, even in the event that one does not find any.
- Many poskim (2) hold that one need not be concerned about a berachah l'vatallah at all and one need not hide any chometz before the bedikah.
- Some poskim (3) hold that the practice of hiding chometz should be abandoned. They are concerned that some pieces may be lost or overlooked, with the result that chometz will remain in the house over Pesach.
Mishnah Berurah agrees with the poskim who are not concerned
about the possibility of a beracha l'vatalah. He nevertheless
states that it is not proper to discontinue a long-standing
Jewish custom (4). Indeed, the majority of homes today observe
this time-honored practice (5).
Nowadays, there is an additional reason for maintaining this
custom. The halachah demands that the home be thoroughly
searched during bedikas chometz Any place into which chometz
may have been brought during the year must be checked. In many
homes, however, the search has become merely ritualistic, taking
but a few minutes with no serious search conducted. One reason
why the bedikah has become perfunctory is that today, homes are
thoroughly cleaned and scrubbed for days or even weeks before
the search takes place. Consequently, most people assume that no
chometz will be found and are satisfied with going through the
motions. Although there is a possible justification (limud
zechus) for people who conduct such a perfunctory bedikah (6),
many other poskim do not agree with this leniency and require
that a proper bedikah be conducted.
In order to satisfy the views of all poskim, it is
recommended (7) that one hide chometz around the house before the
bedikah. Since the searcher is aware that there definitely is
some chometz to be found, he will necessarily have to conduct a
proper bedikah. Therefore:
- Unless one has a custom to the contrary, ten (8) pieces of bread should be hidden in various places around the house before the bedikah begins.
- Care must be taken that the pieces are wrapped well so that no crumbs will escape. Only hard pieces should be used. The exact location of the pieces should be recorded and carefully checked. Upon concluding the search the pieces must be properly discarded (9).
- Each piece should be smaller than 1 fl. oz (10).
- The custom has become that the pieces are hidden by household members who are not going to be searching the house (11). However, the searcher himself may also hide the pieces (12).
- Some poskim (13) rule that a person who is leaving home for Pesach and therefore conducts his bedikah in advance of the 14th of Nissan without a blessing (14), need not hide pieces of chometz.
TA'ANIS OF THE BECHORIM
Who is considered a bechor in regard to ta'anis
bechorim on erev Pesach?
Concerning ta'anis bechorim, any first born male who
is over thirty days old, whether first-born to his father or to
his mother, is considered a bechor. A first-born of a kohen or a
levi is considered like any other bechor in regard to ta'anis
The status of a bechor born by cesarean section (16), or of a
first-born non-Jew who converts (17), is a matter of disagreement
among the poskim. It is therefore recommended that these
bechorim participate in a seudas mitzvah and thereby satisfy all
Must the bechorim attending the siyum actually hear
the Talmudical tractate being completed? Must the bechorim
partake of the food at the siyum?
It has become customary for the bechorim to exempt
themselves from fasting by participating in a siyum and eating
what is served: The bechorim gather around the person who is
concluding the tractate and listen as the tractate is completed.
Food is then served and eaten by the participants (19).
If a bechor did not hear the tractate being completed, or if he
did not understand what was said at the siyum, or if he is an a
mourner during the first seven days after a relative's death who
may not learn Torah, some poskim rule that it is as if he did
not participate in the siyum and he therefore may not eat (20).
Other poskim are more lenient (21). Some poskim recommend that
such a person participate in the siyum by sharing the expense or
by preparing the food, etc (22).
The same difference of opinion applies to one who hears the
tractate being completed but does not partake of the food being
served. Some poskim rule that a minimum of approximately 2 fl.
oz. of food or drink (23) must be consumed at the siyum meal in
order for a bechor to exempt himself from fasting. If that
minimum amount is not eaten, then it is considered as if the
bechor has not participated in the siyum (24). Other poskim are
more lenient and rule that eating at the siyum is not mandatory
at all. As long as one heard the tractate being completed, one
may eat at any time thereafter (25).
An analysis of the above discussion yields the following
conclusion: There is a basic dispute among contemporary poskim
as to which element of the siyum is the one which releases the
bechor from his obligation to fast. Some reason that the main
element is the completion of the tractate itself. Consequently,
actually hearing and understanding what is being said is
mandatory; partaking of the food is secondary. The other view
holds that participation in the siyum is the element that
releases the bechor from the fast. Consequently, the primary
consideration is to join in the meal. Listening to and
understanding what is being said is not mandatory.
It follows, therefore, that one can safely rely on either of
the above two opinions. One cannot, however, rely on a
combination of both views, since they contradict each other in
their basic understanding of what a siyum accomplishes. One who
did not hear or understand the actual siyum, must partake of the
siyum meal. One who is unable to partake of the meal, must hear
and understand what is being said. But one who did neither--who
did not hear or understand nor partake of the meal--has not
exempted himself from the fast.
Obviously, in order to fulfill the requirements of all the
poskim, one should l'chatchilah listen and understand the
proceedings, and partake of the siyum meal.
1 O.C. 432:2.
2 Gra, Chayei Adam and Chok Yaakov quoting the Ra'avad.
3 Taz, quoted by Sha'ar ha-Tziyun 432:11.
4 There are also additional reasons--especially according to
Kabbalah--for this ancient custom.
5 Chok Yaakov, Shulchan Aruch Harav, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch and
Aruch ha-Shulchan all note this custom.
6 See Sha'arei Teshuvah O.C. 433:11 (also quoted by Kaf
ha-Chayim) who says that the masses do not conduct a through
check since they rely on the cleaning process done before the
bedikah. In his view, this may be relied upon even if a
professional non-Jew did the cleaning. See Chochmas Shelomo
(433:11) and Da'as Torah (433:2) for similar rulings.
7 Ruling of Harav S.Y. Elyashiv (quoted in Seder ha-Aruch, vol.
3, pg. 27-28). See also Chok Yaakov 232:14 and Machazik Berachah
232 who advance a similar idea.
8 This is the custom, based on the Arizal, quoted by the Mishnah
9 Mishnah Berurah 232:13-14.
10 Sha'arei Teshuvah 432:7. Together, though, all the pieces
should total at least one ounce--see Orchos Rabbeinu, Pesach 5
quoting Harav Y.Y. Kanievsky.
11 See Chok Yaakov 232:14.
12 Harav S.Y. Elyashiv (quoted in Seder ha-Aruch, ibid.). This
was the also the custom of Harav Y.Y. Kanievsky (Orchos
Rabbeinu, Pesach 5) and Harav Y. Teitelbaum (Hagadah Divrei Yoel
13 Minchas Yitzchak 8:35. See Kinyan Torah 2:82 who disagrees.
14 As ruled in O.C. 436:1.
15 Mishnah Berurah 470:2
16 See Chok Yaakov 470:2; Kaf ha-Chayim 470:3.
17 Shevet ha-Levi 8:117.
18 Harav Y.S. Elyashiv (Seder ha-Aruch, vol. 3, pg. 44).
19 Mishnah Berurah 470:10.
20 Ben Ish Chai (1:96-25); Chazon Ovadiah, pg. 99; Harav S.Y.
Elyashiv (Siddur Pesach K'hilchaso, pg. 168)
21 Minchas Yitzchak (9:45); Harav M. Shternbuch in Teshuvos
v'Hanhagos (1:300) quoting Harav Y.Y. Kanievsky who says that it
is customary to be lenient in this matter, provided that the
participant is sincerely "happy" with the siyum taking place.
See also the lenient ruling of Harav Y.Y. Fisher concerning a
mourner (Pnei Baruch, pg. 463). Harav M. Feinstein is also
quoted as being lenient (Moadei Yeshurun, pg. 132).
22 Minchas Yitzchak, ibid.
23 A koseves for solids or melo lugmov for liquids--otherwise
it is not considered as if he broke his fast (see O.C. 568:1) at
the time of the siyum
24 Minchas Yitzchak, ibid, Chazon Ovadiah, pg. 99; Teshuvos
25 Harav S.Y. Elyashiv, ibid; Teshuvos Devar Yehoshua 2:81.
Weekly-Halacha, Copyright © 1997 by Rabbi Neustadt, Dr. Jeffrey Gross and
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Rabbi Neustadt is the principal of Yavne
Teachers' College in Cleveland, Ohio. He is also the Magid Shiur of a daily
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