Bar-Ilan University

The Faculty of Jewish Studies

The Office of the Campus Rabbi


Daf Parashat Hashavua

(Study Sheet on the Weekly Torah Portion)

Basic Jewish Studies Unit


Laws and Customs of Passover

Naftali Stern

Unit of Basic Jewish Studies

A. The Prohibition of Chametz (leavened bread) on Passover

Five types of grain: Wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and rye, result in chametz if brought into contact with water after being harvested, or if their flour was kneaded with water and the dough was not baked within eighteen minutes, the resultant end product is Chametz.

The following are the prohibitions concerning chametz:

1. It may not be eaten during Passover.

2. It is forbidden to sell Chametz or any product which contains chametz to a gentile during Passover, or to otherwise profit from them in any way.

3. The prohibition of chametz is more stringent than other prohibitions such as non-kosher food, in that the Torah prohibited not only its consumption but also its very presence during Passover in the house of a Jew. Anyone who keeps chametz in his possession on Passover or who owns chametz transgresses two negative commandments and one positive command:

1. 'It shall not be seen' (Bal Yeraeh) as it says: "No leavened bread shall be seen with you nor any leaven be seen in all your borders" (Exodus 13:7).

2. 'It shall not be found' (Bal Yimatzei), as it says: "no leaven shall be found in your houses for seven days" (Exodus 12:19).

3. The positive commandment of "you shall remove leaven from your houses" (Exodus 12:15) was likewise transgressed.

B. Eliminating Chametz and its Destruction Before Passover (Bitul Chametz, Biur Chametz)

According to the letter of the law, it would be sufficient to eliminate chametz by "negating" its significance in our minds and renouncing our ownership over all our chametz on the eve of Passover, before its prohibitions come into effect. By doing so we can avoid the prohibitions of chametz "not being seen" and "not being present". That is to say, even though the chametz is still physically present, it is no longer legally "ours". In fact, we carry out this kind of mental elimination after checking our entire house for the presence of chametz on the night before Passover and again the next morning before burning chametz, when we recite the formula (in Hebrew or Aramaic): "All chametz and leaven in my possession which I have not seen and not destroyed is to be considered worthwhile like the dust of the earth".

Why is it not sufficient to cancel the chametz legally? Why do we actually search for it and destroy it physically? The Rabbis gave two explanations. First, because chametz is found in the home the whole year long and we are so accustomed to using it, that if it were present in our homes on Passover we might, out of habit, forget the prohibition and eat it. Secondly, there is reason to believe that a man will not truly render all his chametz worthless in his mind and relenquish his ownership over it, especially when a large financial loss is involved. Therefore, our sages determined that each person must search his house and his property for chametz and destroy it completely, and not merely render it null and void. In practice, we do both.

C. The Search for Chametz (Bedikat Chametz)

1. On the eve of the 14th of Nissan each person must check to see if he has chametz in his home, in his place of business, his car, his storage areas and in any other location to which he might have brought chametz. Inside the home the search must be thorough: closets, refrigerators, bookcases, the tops of kitchen cabinets and room closets, cupboards, children's schoolbags, the pockets of clothes; in short, anywhere that chametz is found.

2. The search is done by the light of a candle having only one wick. One should not use a torch or candle with more than one wick because these cannot be brought into small areas; if one fears the outbreak of fire in the house, he might not search as well as is required.

3. One should not search by the electric light of the room since this does not provide enough light to check corners, holes, and crevices. However, if he has no candle it is permissible to search using a flashlight and the appropriate blessing may be recited in this case. In a car, an electric utility room or any place where flammable materials are present and there is doubt that he will search thoroughly because of the danger of fire, he should indeed use a flashlight rather than a candle.

4. Before beginning the search one should recite the blessing: "Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us in His commandments and commanded us concerning the destruction of chametz". The blessing refers to the destruction (biur) of the chametz and not to the search (bedikah) because the search is merely a prerequisite to the destruction. One should not pause or speak between the blessing and the search, nor should one speak during the search itself except for matters relating to the search until it is completed.

5. Students (both men and women) living in dormitories or rented apartments who will travel to their homes before the night of the 14th of Nissan should search their rooms on the evening before they leave without reciting the blessing and burn whatever chametz they have found the next morning. Then, on the eve of the 14th of Nissan they should verbally render worthless any chametz that might have remained in their rooms.

D. The Sale of Chametz (Mechirat Chametz)

Whatever chametz a person found during the search must be totally eliminated from his possession. If he possesses chametz which has great financial value (such as whiskies and perfumes based on grain alcohols), it is customary to sell it, in the form of a true and complete transaction, to a non-Jew before Passover. Because of the difficulties involved in removing this chametz from the household and transferring it physically to the non-Jew, the Sages of Israel decreed that the chametz should be sold along with the place in which it is stored. After Passover the storage place and its contents are bought back from the non-Jew. Chametz which has remained in the possession of a Jew during Passover and was not sold to a non-Jew is forbidden from any use at all even after Passover. This law is called "chametz that remained during Passover" (chametz she'avar alav hapesach).

The sale of chametz is an involved procedure; therefore our sages came up with a document (shtar harsha'ah) by which the signatories empower the Rabbi (or local rabbinate) to sell their chametz for them along with the places in which it is stored and to buy it back on their behalf after Passover. In Israel, the local rabbinate becomes an agent to sell and buy back the chametz for all the residents in any given location.

E. Legumes (Kitniot)

Ashkenazic Jews adhere to a strict custom not to eat any varieties of legumes on Passover such as rice, millet, corn, baked beans, etc. Even though these varieties are not chametz and therefore by Torah law there is no reason to prohibit their consumption, they were treated as forbidden for the following reasons:

1. Sometimes small amounts of the five varieties of grain are mixed in with rice and the like is difficult to check carefully and to insure that no chametz whatsoever is present.

2. Legumes are often ground up (such as humus from chick peas) and the result looks very much like flour. One who sees such products being eaten on Passover may mistakenly think they are chametz and as a result he may come to treat the prohibition of chametz on Passover lightly.

The prohibition on legumes was accepted in the Ashkenazic communities with almost no exemption, and was not enforced historically, only in times of severe need. However, in the Sephardic communities the custom to prohibit the eating of legumes was not accepted. Even so, there are those among the Sephardim who refrain from eating rice on Passover because it of the problem cited above (1). Others refrain from other legumes as well. Each community should observe its local customs.

F. "Kashering" Eating and Cooking Utensils for Passover

Utensils which were used during the year to cook chametz are forbidden for use on Passover, because the chametz which was absorbed in the utensils is secreted from the utensils during the cooking process intoPassover foods, thereby making them chametz - which is forbidden. Even though the amounts of chametz absorbed and secreted are minimal, the law is that any chametz whatsoever is forbidden on Passover and any food into which even the smallest amount of chametz has fallen is forbidden.

If one must use these utensils they can be made kosher for Passover ("Kashered"). We abide by a basic rule: "as it absorbs - so it secretes" (k'bol'o kach polto) which means that the chametz must be removed from a utensil in the same way it was absorbed. The details of these laws are numerous and complicated: Some utensils need to be heated by fire to a high temperature (libun) in order to become kosher. Others require immersion in boiling water (hag'alah) which is beneficial for utensils which absorbed chametz in liquids (by cooking). Sometimes, as in the case of counter-tops, it is sufficient to pour boiling water upon them. Still other utensils, such as earthenware, china, or pottery, cannot be made kosher for Passover. Due to the large number and complexity of these laws the proper thing to do is to go to any one of numerous central locations where kashering of utensils is carried out under the supervision of the local rabbinate, or to ask a Rabbinic authority how to deal with each type of utensil. Ovens, burner-taps, kitchen sinks, and work surfaces where food is prepared, must also be made kosher for Passover. A Rabbi should be consulted for instruction on how to do so in each case.

G. The Fast of the First Born Sons (Ta'anit Bechorim)

It is customary for firstborn sons to fast on the eve of Passover. However the custom is to be lenient concerning this fast and firstborn sons are encouraged to participate in a meal (seudat mitzvah) which celebrates the completion (siyum) of the study of a tractate of the Talmud, and therefore overrides the custom to fast. Those who do fast recite the aneinu prayer at minhah in the silent amidah. It is not recited in the reader's repetition of the amidah prayer (chazarat hashatz) even if a quorum (minyan) of ten persons who are fasting is present.

H.‎‎ The Seder Plate (Ka'arat Haseder)

On the Seder night we place many special foods whose purpose is to commemorate the historical events of Passover on a special vessel called the Seder Plate. These include the matzot, which recall the unleavened bread our ancestors ate when they left Egypt, the maror (bitter herbs), which remind us of the hard labor which our ancestors endured in the Egyptian slavery, the zeroa (shankbone), usually a grilled wing of a fowl, which symbolizes the Passover sacrifice first offered in Egypt and later in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, the charoset (a mixture of ground fruits, spices and wine), to recall the mortar our ancestors made in Egypt, a boiled egg (beitzah) to symbolize the chagigah (celebratory) sacrifice which was also brought in the Temple, and karpas which can be one of a number of vegetables. The order in which these foods are arranged on the plate and are eaten is specified in every Haggadah for Passover.

I. Matzah

Eating matzah on the first night of Passover is a commandment in the Torah, as it says: "At night you shall eat matzot" (Exodus 12:18). The minimal quantity which must be eaten during the seder is called "kezayit" (literally, 'like an olive') which is a measure of volume, about 29 cubic centimeters, which equals approximately 15 grams. Using machine made matzot, this is equivalent to approximately 2/3 of a matzah.

During the other days of Passover there is no absolute obligation to eat matzah (though several authorities are of the opinion that there is a fulfillment of a mitzvah if one eats matzah on the other days of Passover).

The matzah must be baked from one of the five types of grain which can become chametz. The prevalent custom is to use wheat. The matzah eaten on the seder night is called "matzah of commandment" (matzat mitzvah), and particularly fastidious people take special care to bake it on the eve of Passover (the 14th of Nissan) in the afternoon, so that the baking of the matzah symbolically takes the place of the Passover sacrifice, which was slaughtered on the afternoon of the 14th of Nissan. On the eve of Passover from the beginning of the tenth hour of the day (around 4P.M.) it is forbidden to eat matzah so that the matzah eaten at the Seder will be eaten with a hearty appetite. In practice, many refrain from eating matzah from the beginning (rosh chodesh) of the month of Nissan so that the matzah on the Seder night will be something special.

J. "Guarded Matzah"(Matzah Shmura)

All the matzot baked for Passover are made from flour that was guarded or watched, based on the verse "you shall observe the [feast of] unleavened bread" (Exodus 12:17), which the Rabbis took to mean that the matzah must be observed to make sure that the dough does not leaven (become chametz). Most halachic authorities hold that watching must begin when the wheat is ground into flour, and ends after the baking. Matzah produced in this way fulfills the obligation of the Passover commandment, and this is the accepted law among Jews all over the world. All matzot which are kosher for Passover are baked from "watched" flour. However there are others who believe that matzah eaten on Passover night must be observed even longer, from the time the wheat is harvested in the field and until the time of baking. This kind of matzah is today called "matzah shemurah". While it is obligatory to use it for the matzah mitzvah of the Seder night, there are those who use only matzah shemura during the entire Passover.

K. Machine-Made and Hand-Made Matzah

Throughout history matzot were baked by hand in a process which began by kneading the dough and ended with the baking. Around one hundred fifty years ago a machine was invented for the production of matzot. The rabbis then were divided in their opinions about machine-made matzot: some permitted them, others prohibited them. Those who prohibited machine-made matzot were concerned, among other things, that crumbs of dough would get caught in between the many small parts of the machine, and this dough, having remained untouched more than 18 minutes, would become chametz. These specks of chametz would then be mixed with the matzot being baked.

However, the majority of rabbinical authorities allowed the machine-made matzot and this ruling was generally accepted, on the condition that the machine be kept clean at all times during the baking process. One way to ensure this is to clean the machine every eighteen minutes with a fan which blows away any crumbs of dough which remain in the cracks. Another method is to stop the assembly line, take the machine apart, and clean it thoroughly. Despite the acceptibility of eating machine-made matzot, many people still try to eat only hand-made matzot, especially for the "matzat mitzvah" of the Seder night.

L. "Soaked Matzah" (Matzah Shruyah)

Some communities do not eat any matzah which has been soaked or dipped in water or any other liquid during the whole week of Passover. They do not bake with matzah meal (matzah crumbs) but eat matzah only when it is dry. The reason for this practice has puzzled many, since once the matzah is baked properly in an oven it is no longer possible for it to become chametz, even if soaked in water for a long time. The reason given by those who observe the custom is that perhaps some bit of flour which was not sufficiently baked adhered to the matzah and might become chametz. This is a remote possibility which is discounted by most authorities; nevertheless, some of those who observe the custom are careful not to eat even from utensils in which matzah has been soaked.

M. Afikoman

When the Temple still stood, the Passover sacrifice was eaten at the end of the meal on Seder night. Since the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash, we have no sacrifices and so we eat a kezayit of matzah to remind us of the Passover sacrifice. This last matzah is called "Afikoman". In fact, two amounts should be eaten - one in remembrance of the Passover sacrifice and the second for the matzah which was eaten with it. After eating the Afikoman no food drink is to be taken until the morning, just as was done in the Bet Hamikdash after eating the sacrifice. In this way the taste of the matzah will remain with us. The prohibition against drinking includes wine and all other, even non-alcoholic, beverages. Water is permitted as it does not cancel out the taste of the matzah and some authorities also permit tea or coffee after the afikoman when they are necessary in order to remain awake and alert until the end of the Haggadah. Some also stay up to recite the Song of Songs and to study throughout the night, the laws of Passover.

N. The Four Cups of Wine (Arba Kossot)

Our Sages decreed that every participant at the Seder must drink four cups of wine. Even the children are given four cups of wine and encouraged to drink as much as they can. Children may be given grape juice rather than wine in order to fulfill this obligation. The four cups are to be drunk in the order presented in the Haggadah: The first cup - at kiddush; the second - upon the blessing of the recital of the haggadah; the third - following the grace after meals (Birkat Hamazon), and the fourth - upon completing the Hallel prayer.

Everyone should endeavor to observe this commandment. Even those who do not enjoy wine or for whom drinking wine is a hardship should make the effort to drink the required four cups. In extreme cases grape juice may be substituted for wine in order to observe the commandment.

The minimum amount for each cup is a liquid measurement called a revi'it which is equal to 86 cubic centimeters which equals 86 grams. Eighty six in gematria (letter-number equivalency code) equals the Hebrew word koss which means glass or cup. Some authorities hold that 150 cubic centimeters is the proper amount and then the gematria equivalent is koss hagun (a generous cup).

Ideally, one should drink the entire cup each time. However if this is difficult, one should drink somewhat more than half the cup of wine at each of the four specified times.

When the fourth cup of wine is poured it is customary to fill one additional cup which is placed on the table. This cup is called the "cup of Elijah the Prophet" (koss shel Eliyahu) and hints at the future redemption of Israel, of which Elijah will be the forerunner, while we take the time to recount the first redemption of Israel from Egypt so many years ago. This cup is not drunk.

O. Bitter Herbs (Maror)

The Torah commanded us to eat matzah and bitter herbs (maror) along with the Passover sacrifice on the first night: "They shall eat it with matzot and bitter herbs" (Numbers 9:11). After the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash our sages decreed that we should eat a kezayit of maror by itself and another kezayit together with matzah. The combination of matzah and maror is called "Korech" (sandwich). In the Mishnah (in Pesahim 2b) five species of maror are listed in the order of preference. The first choice is Romaine lettuce (chassa) and only if that is not available should horseradish (tamcha - chrayn) be used. In Israel, where Romaine lettuce is in plentiful supply, the commandment should be observed using lettuce exclusively, either the leaves or the stalk. One should examine each leaf of lettuce very carefully, in the bright sunlight, for the presence of small worms whose color is similar to that of the lettuce itself. Eating these worms, even unintentionally, is strictly forbidden. Endives are also a preferred type of maror.

P. Reclining (Hassava)

Eating matzah, korech and afikoman, and drinking the four cups must be done while reclining on a couch or armchair on which cushions are placed in the fashion of royalty. Maimonides wrote: "A man should behave as if he himself had just been freed from the slavery of Egypt, therefore when he eats on this night he must eat and drink while he is reclining in the manner of a free man" (Hilchot Chametz Umatzah 7, 6-7). One reclines on his left side, with his head and most of his body leaning sideways. It is not enough simply to lean his head to the side. While in Ashkenazic communities women were customarily exempted from this obligation, in the Sephardic communities many women fulfill it. There is no obligation to recline when the Haggadah is recited, nor when the meal is eaten; however, anyone who does recline at those times is deemed worthy of praise.














The Seder Meal. From a Haggadah Written by Meir Yaffeh in Germany in the 15th Century.



Q. Mimunah

On the night following the seventh (last) day of Passover (motzei chag sheni) and on the morrow (isru chag) the Jews of North Africa celebrate the holiday called "Mimunah" (a description of the holiday can be found in the book by H.Z. Hirschberg, Me'eretz Mavo Hashemesh, p. 80f.).

The earliest record we have of this holiday comes from the 18th century (see: Yissachar Ben-Ami, "Chag Hamimunah", in Yahadut Morocco, Jerusalem, 1979, p.146, note 34).

As to the source of the name various explanations have been offered:

A. Mimunah = ma'aminim (believers). The People of Israel believe in the future redemption (ge'ulah) according to what our sages taught: "In Nissan they (Israel) were redeemed (from Egypt) and in Nissan they will be redeemed in the future" (Rosh Hashanah 11b). Since most of the month of Nissan is over by this time, the Mimunah joyously affirms the belief that they will still be redeemed in Nissan.

B. Some think that on the day after Passover, Rabbi Maimon, the father of Maimonides, died and the Mimunah holiday is in his memory.

C. Yitzchak Einhorn in his study of the book of charms and incantations Mar'eh Hayeladim by Rabbi Raphael Ohanah (Jerusalem, 1905), claims that the Mimunah was a celebration in honor of Maimon, king of the demons, and that the Mimunah feast is held in order to pacify him (for further information see: Tarbiz, 41, pp. 211-213).

It is clear, in any case, that these and the many other reasons given are no more than interpretations of the name. In point of fact the reason for the Mimunah is unknown, as noted by Rabbi Ya'akov Moshe Toledano: "The reason is not known to us" (Ner Hama'arav, Jerusalem, 1911, p. 215).

In its original form the Mimunah holiday was a family celebration, the door of the house being left open to welcome the arrival of relatives and friends. The rabbis in each generation spoke out against celebrating the Mimunah in the streets lest it become an occasion for vulgar dancing and immodesty (see for example: Harav David Ovadiah, Kehillat Tzafro, part 3, p.286).
We wish you a happy and kosher Passover!

Drinking the First Cup of Wine and Washing Hands at the Seder.

From the Barcelona Haggadah of the 14th century.



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