HILCHOS PESACH: QUESTIONS and ANSWERS
QUESTION: Is it halachically acceptable to celebrate Pesach away
after selling one's home with all of its chametz contents to a non-Jew?
DISCUSSION: Anyone who owns chametz is obligated to get rid of it
Pesach begins. This can be accomplished in one of two ways: By destroying
it,(1) or by selling it [or giving it away] to a non-Jew.(2) Either way,
one fulfills his basic obligation and does not transgress the Biblical
injunction against owning any chametz.
But there is something else to consider: The Rabbis obligated each
person to search for chametz on the night before Pesach. [If one leaves
town before that time, he is still obligated to search for chametz the
night before he leaves, although no blessing is recited for that search.]
In the opinion of many poskim, the search for chametz is obligatory
whether or not one owns his chametz by the time Pesach arrives, since once
the Rabbinic ordinance was enacted, it cannot be abrogated regardless of
the circumstances.(3) Consequently, selling the house to a non-Jew does
not free one from his personal obligation to search for chametz.
A solution(4) to this problem is to set aside one room in the house,
even a small one, and not sell it to the non-Jew along with the rest of
the house. That room should be cleaned for Pesach and thoroughly searched
for chametz on the night before Pesach, with the proper blessing recited
for the bedikah.(5) One who will have already gone out of town by the
night before Pesach should follow the same procedure on the night before
he leaves - but he may not recite a blessing on the bedikah.
QUESTION: How extensive does the search for chametz have to be? How
possible to thoroughly search a whole house in a short period of time?
DISCUSSION: Halachically speaking, an extensive and thorough search
required in any place where chametz may have been brought during the past
year.(6) Since it is almost impossible to properly check an entire house
in a short period of time, some people actually spend many hours checking
and searching their houses on the night of bedikas chametz, often devoting
a good part of the night to the bedikah.(7) But most people cannot - or do
not - spend so much time searching their homes for chametz. How, then, do
they fulfill this obligation?
Several poskim find justification (limud zechus) for the laxer
version of bedikas chametz, as the house has undergone many weeks of
meticulous pre-Pesach cleaning and scrubbing and there is no vestige of
chametz around. Once the rooms of the house have been cleaned, they may be
halachically considered as "a place into which no chametz has been
brought." While checking and searching is still required in order to
ascertain that no spot in the house was overlooked, the search need not be
as thorough and exacting as if no cleaning had been done.(8)
A better suggestion - for those who do not do a meticulous search on
the night before Pesach - is to do partial searches earlier. As soon as a
certain area in the house is cleaned, the area should be carefully checked
for chametz - either at night using a flashlight or in the daytime by
natural light. The wife or an older child can be entrusted with this
search. If the house is checked in stages, then an exhaustive search need
not be repeated on the night before Pesach in the areas that were already
checked, provided that it is certain that no new chametz was carried into
QUESTION: Is it permitted to get a haircut or do laundry on erev
after midday (chatzos)?
DISCUSSION: It is Rabbinically forbidden to do melachah, "work,"
it is needed for Yom Tov, on erev Pesach after chatzos. Two(10) basic
reasons are given for this prohibition: 1) When the Beis ha-Mikdash stood,
erev Pesach was considered a Yom Tov, since the Korban Pesach was brought
on that day. It retains the status of Yom Tov today even though the Korban
Pesach is no longer offered.(11) 2) To give everyone a chance to properly
prepare for the Seder.(12)
Certain forms of personal grooming and certain households chores
that are halachically classified as "work" are forbidden to be done on
erev Pesach after chatzos. Thus it is forbidden to get a haircut or a
shave,(13) to sew new clothing(14) or to do laundry(15) on erev Pesach
after chatzos. One must arrange his schedule so that these tasks are
completed before midday. L'chatchilah, one should even cut his nails
If, b'diavad, one could not or did not take care of these matters
before midday, some of them may still be done while others may not: sewing
or completing the sewing of new clothes may not be done at all; a haircut
and shave may be taken only at a non-Jewish barber; laundry may be done
only by a non-Jewish maid or dry cleaner.(17) Other chores, such as
ironing clothes,(18) polishing shoes, cutting nails, sewing buttons and
other minor mending,(19) may be done with no restrictions.
QUESTION: What should be done if a package containing chametz
one's home or business during Pesach?
DISCUSSION: One who knows or suspects that the package may contain
chametz may not assume ownership of the package. If he can refuse to
accept the package, he should do so. If he cannot, he should not bring it
into his house or yard and should have specific halachic intent not
to "acquire" the chametz. The package is considered "ownerless" - anyone
who wants it is free to take it.
If the package was mistakenly brought into the home or business, one
must have specific intent not to "acquire" it. One may not touch the
actual chametz.(20) If the package comes on Chol ha-Moed, the chametz
should be immediately discarded, either by burning it or by flushing it
down the toilet. If it comes on Shabbos or Yom Tov, it should be put aside
(21) and covered until it can be discarded.
While most people do not expect to receive packages containing chametz
during Pesach, one should be aware of a recent problem that applies to
almost everybody. Many packaged items are insulated by packing pellets
that protect the contents during transport. In the past, this cushioning
was made from polystyrene, but recently, some companies have begun using
biodegradable "peanuts," which are made from edible corn starch or wheat
starch. Those that are made from wheat starch may be halachically
considered "actual chametz," since they are fit for human consumption. If
a package insulated with these "peanuts" arrives on Pesach,(22) the
halachos stated above may apply. A rabbi should be consulted.(23)
While it may not always be easy to differentiate between the
different types of packing pellets, there is a definite difference in
appearance between the polystyrene and the starch ones. The polystyrene
ones come in random shapes, while the starch ones look as though they have
been extruded through the holes of a machine. Each piece is perfectly
cylindrical and is water-soluble.(24)
1 Either by eating it, burning it, flushing it down the toilet, or
throwing it in a river.
2 This is a difficult halachic procedure which can only be administered
by a rabbi.
3 See O.C. 436:3 and Mishnah Berurah 27 and 32.
4 Another possible solution [for people who are away for Pesach and are
staying at another person's home] is for the guest to "rent" from his
host - with a valid kinyan - the room in which he is staying, and search
for chametz in that room; Maharsham 3:291. But other poskim prefer not to
rely on this solution; see Shevet ha-Levi 4:44.
5 Siddur Pesach K'hilchaso 12:1.
6 O.C. 333:3.
7 Several gedolim, among them the Gaon of Vilna, the Chasam Sofer and the
Brisker Rav, were reported to have spent a good part of the night
searching their houses for chametz.
8 Sha'arei Teshuvah 433:2; Da'as Torah 433:2; Chochmas Shelomo 433:1;
Harav S.Z. Auerbach (quoted in Mevakshei Torah Ohr Efrayim, pg. 532);
Kinyan Torah 2:122; The basic idea is quoted by Sha'ar ha-Tziyun 432:12.
9 Siddur Pesach K'hilchaso 13:1.
10 See Pnei Yehoshua (Pesachim 50a) for a third reason for this
11 Mishnah Berurah 468:1. According to this reason, even when erev Pesach
falls on Shabbos it is forbidden to do work on Friday.
12 Beiur Halachah 468:1.
13 Mishnah Berurah 468:5.
14 Rama O.C. 468:2.
15 Mishnah Berurah 468:7.
16 Mishnah Berurah 468:5. Some mention that it is proper to shower/bathe
and polish shoes before chatzos as well, but this is not mentioned by the
17 Mishnah Berurah 468:7. Towels and children's clothing which became
dirty (or were discovered to be dirty) after chatzos and are going to be
needed during Yom Tov may be machine-washed even by a Jew.
18 Orchos Rabbeinu 2, pg. 56, quoting an oral ruling by the Chazon Ish.
19 Rama O.C. 468:2 and Mishnah Berurah 8. Lengthening and shortening a
hem is also permitted.
20 O.C. 446:10.
21 The chametz is severe muktzeh and may not be moved for any reason;
O.C. 446:1. Some poskim add that it may not even be moved with one's body
or foot, even though other types of severe muktzeh may be; L'horos Nasan
22 The same applies to packages which arrived before Pesach but were not
opened. Although one nullifies (mevatel) his chametz before Pesach, it is
still forbidden to knowingly keep chametz in the house unless it is put
away and sold to a non-Jew with the rest of the chametz.
23 A more lenient ruling might be based on the argument that these
pellets have been designated as packing material - not food. They have
been processed to remove their nutrients and have thus lost their "chametz
form" and may be stored on Pesach; refer to O.C. 442:3 and 9, Mishnah
Berurah 15, 41 and 42, and Chazon Ish O.C. 116:8. This is a questionable
argument and a rabbi must be consulted.
24 The technical information quoted here is based on information from
Kashrus Magazine, April 2000.
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