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Passover Cleaning Customs

In my last post, valancy expressed interest in our custom of cleaning for Passover. Before the holiday, gnomi and I, along with many other people we know, clean our apartment quite thoroughly. The best source for Jewish customs and traditions on the web is http://www.jewfaq.org, and for those who are interested, the following is quoted directly from their page on Passover (or Pesach) at http://jewfaq.org/holidaya.htm.


Probably the most significant observance related to Pesach involves the removal of chametz (leaven; sounds like "hum it's" with that Scottish ch) from our homes. This commemorates the fact that the Jews leaving Egypt were in a hurry, and did not have time to let their bread rise. It is also a symbolic way of removing the "puffiness" (arrogance, pride) from our souls.

Chametz includes anything made from the five major grains (wheat, rye, barley, oats and spelt) that has not been completely cooked within 18 minutes after coming into contact with water. Orthodox Jews of Ashkenazic background also avoid rice, corn, peanuts, and legumes (beans) as if they were chametz. All of these items are commonly used to make bread, thus use of them was prohibited to avoid any confusion. Such additional items are referred to as "kitniyot."

We may not eat chametz during Pesach; we may not even own it or derive benefit from it. We may not even feed it to our pets or cattle. All chametz, including utensils used to cook chametz, must either be disposed of or sold to a non-Jew (they can be repurchased after the holiday). Pets' diets must be changed for the holiday, or the pets must be sold to a non-Jew (like the food and utensils, the pets can be repurchased after the holiday ends). You can sell your chametz online through Chabad-Lubavitch. I have noticed that many non-Jews and non-observant Jews mock this practice of selling chametz as an artificial technicality. I assure you that this sale is very real and legally binding, and would not be valid under Jewish law if it were not. From the gentile's perspective, the purchase functions much like the buying and selling of futures on the stock market: even though he does not take physical posession of the goods, his temporary legal ownership of those goods is very real and potentially profitable.

The process of cleaning the home of all chametz in preparation for Pesach is an enormous task. To do it right, you must prepare for several weeks and spend several days scrubbing everything down, going over the edges of your stove and fridge with a toothpick and a Q-Tip, covering all surfaces that come in contact with food with foil or shelf-liner, etc., etc., etc. After the cleaning is completed, the morning before the seder, a formal search of the house for chametz is undertaken, and any remaining chametz is burned.

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You left out the part where, this year, because the seder is Saturday, the cleaning & burning must be done by Friday morning.
I did indeed, primarily because I was just interested in quoting some continuous blocks of text that would provide a basic explanation for someone who knew nothing of the customs. I figured anyone who wanted to learn more could just follow the links.

However, in the interest of a little more completeness --

From later on at that same page, under the heading When Pesach Begins on a Saturday Night: "The search for chametz, normally performed on the night before Pesach, is performed on Thursday night. " And then the FAQ refers people to the website of the Orthodox Union for even more detail.
That is so cool. *g* Sweeping out the old - i've been thinking a lot lately about ownership/possessions/multiples, and it puts me in mind of that again. note to self!
If I were only Jewish, then my kitchen would be so much cleaner! ;)
Ha!

You remind me of one my former students, whose family followed Reform Judasim. His way of rebelling was to claim that he wanted to become more Orthodox (and consequently more observant). When he found out that we owned a TiVo to record TV programs during shabbat and the yom tov holidays (because we can't watch TV during those days), he was in awe. He said, and this is an exact quote, "You have a TiVo? Wow, it must be great to be Orthodox."

His parents and I exchanged an amused glance. It felt as if he thought that when a Jew decides to become Orthodox, he or she is issued a TiVo... (We only wish!)
"Here's your head-covering, here's your yarmukle, here's a couple of nice long skirts for you, bubbe, and here's the TiVo. My Benny will help you install it at sundown."

BTW, have you seen the Zen Judaism site? Jay Lake linked to it from his blog.
I just skimmed the site; looks very funny! And apropos.
It is official - I am way too much of a slob to be an observant Jew.

Very enlightening! Thanks for the post - interesting as always.
Some observant Jews I've met have been "slobs," to use your term. The nice thing about observing Passover is that it becomes an enforced Spring cleaning...
I am quite sure - I was merely engaging in a bit of self-deprecating humor in the face of learning about a custom that clearly requires quite an impressive amount of work and knowledge.

That said, the kitchen is the only place where I will foam at the mouth if it's messy. I mean, I eat there.
Ah, yes, the famous self-deprecating humor of the hedgehog. I remember it quite well. :-)

Glad you found the post interesting. Cleaning for Passover does require a lot of work and knowledge if you want to do it at an Orthodox or Conservative level. I'm honestly not sure of the Reform movement's recommendations, but I imagine I could find them with a bit of web searching.
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