April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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Chometz is Not Schmutz: Common Sense Advice on How to Clean for Pesach

Right after Purim, the Pesach cleaning panic begins. Usually there is a lot more going on than scrubbing kitchens, breakfast nooks, dining rooms and the bathrooms, where chometz is always lurking. Houses are ripped apart on the hunt for stray crumbs. Chandeliers are pulled apart. Every pocket of every garment in the house is turned inside out. And thousands of dollars are spent on new kitchen towels, gadgets, placemats, dish racks and more.

Considering the penchant of Jewish people to become obsessive compulsive about Pesach cleaning, many wives feel like drained slaves by the time they get to the Seder table and wonder when they will be freed. They are cleaning up dirt, dust, and everything that you clean when spring comes rolling around… But as one haredi rabbi let the world know, there is a difference between chometz and what we normally consider dirt in our homes.

When asked where his wife was going with packed suitcases, not to be expected back for a week, another rabbi said, “It’s time for Pesach cleaning. I send her away to a resort to rest up for cooking and hire a company to clean the house.” Not enough can be said about a well-trained and intelligent husband.

Yet another rabbi gets help from some of the men in his congregation to disconnect all the “daily” kitchen appliances—the stove, refrigerator and dishwasher—and to haul up from the basement the Passover stove, refrigerator and dishwasher. “It’s easier than doing the cleaning,” he told an astonished visitor.

In some areas of the country, where the weather is steadier and temperate in March and April, an Orthodox Jewish woman keeps a foil-wrapped separate refrigerator and microwave just for Passover in one corner of her kitchen. For a month prior to Pesach she cooks all the meals ahead of time outside on a barbecue used only for Yom Tov, thereby avoiding the whole bending down on hands and knees to clean out the oven.

Then there’s the extended family option where there are actually two houses or apartments; one is cleaned from roof to basement while everyone lives in the other place until it’s time to enter the one cleaned for Pesach.

A favorite for many an older couple is to just chuck the cleaning altogether, sell the house to the rabbi for a dollar, ridding themselves of the ownership of any chometz they could have, and settling in to a kosher-for-Passover resort or even a cruise for the eight days.

While some might question these options, others have been deemed a bit excessive.

There are those who have been known to scour the floor, tile by tile, with a toothbrush dipped in kerosene before pouring boiling water over it and then covering that with plastic sheeting in case they drop a Pesachdikeh spoon on the floor. Some extremes:

Washing eggs in soap and water and boiling drinking water in case some chometz was not filtered out by the water company.

Immersing household utensils in boiling water kashers certain items for Pesach.

Leaving books outside to air them—and then you have to shake each one out, too.

Boiling sugar and filtering sugar syrup—we haven’t figured out why.

Placing small toys in a pillow case and washing them in a washing machine. That does make sense, but for Pesach?

Some women are frowned on for taking shortcuts like using paper plates instead of having four sets of dishes, in order to avoid the expense and the clean-up. They are told anything porous can have chometz hiding in it

The thing is, most women who go through the pre-Passover cleaning ritual do what their mothers did, with additional guidance offered by what their mother-in-laws did with an added dash of what their local shul’s Pesach committee says should be done. And then they decide for themselves.

An article, written in 2011 by haredi Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg says, “The pressure of pre-Pesach cleaning has reached unnecessary and overwhelming levels. The housewife often becomes overly-nervous, unable to enjoy the holiday joy of Passover and unable to perform the mitzvos and obligations of the Seder night.”

He goes on, “Every woman should be well rested, relaxed and alert at the Seder table so that she can fulfill all the Torah and rabbinic obligations and follow the haggadah with the rest of the family.”

While the purpose of pre-Passover cleaning is to remove all the chometz from the home, he writes that it need not be excessive.

The following is a check-list for pre-Passover cleaning:

If chometz is sold, then washing the pots, pans and dishes that are going to be locked away is not necessary.

If chometz is not brought into a place, that place does not have to be cleaned out or checked for chometz.

Any article not used for Passover need not be checked for chometz but should be put away and the chometz in it sold.

Crumbs larger than the size of an olive must be rendered inedible with the use of household cleaner.

Items to be koshered should not be used for 24 hours prior to koshering.

Only if there is some significant possibility that chometz got into clothes closets, chests, dressers, basements, they should be checked.

Floors should be swept and washed with a household floor cleaner.

If food cabinets will not be used on Passover they are to be locked and sealed and the contents sold with the chometz.

If the food cabinets will be used, all contents should be removed and the cabinets washed with a household cleaner and then line the cabinets.

Take food out of the refrigerator, wash the inside with a rag soaked in a household cleaner, and line the racks but leave holes for the cold air to circulate.

A kettle of boiling water should be poured around the sides of sinks and around the basin and it should be lined with an insert such as aluminum foil.

Faucet taps should just be cleaned but no koshering procedure is needed.

Marble and stainless steel counters, if used for hot chometz should be cleaned well and then completely covered or boiling water should be poured over them if it will not ruin them.

Wash tabletops with a household cleaner and then cover them.

Stoves require washing of the top and side surfaces with a strong household cleaner. The burner tops should be koshered by first cleaning them, putting them back, lighting all the burners to the maximum heat and putting on a blech while the burners are on and left for five to ten minutes. Then cover the stove-top with aluminum foil but do not block the air inlets around the burners or on the back of the stove.

Ovens should be checked for chometz but only need to be cleaned if they are to be used and a common cleaner such as Easy-off can be used. Turn the oven on to its highest temperature for about an hour. If the oven has a glass door cover the inside of it with aluminum foil. The oven racks can be koshered in the same procedure as the oven putting them as close to the heating element as possible.

Cookware and flatware that won’t be used for Passover can just be locked up and put away in a sealed place

Consult a rav for food processors or mixers.

Dish towels can be washed and used if there isn’t a separate set for Passover.

Pesach tablecloths can be ironed with the same iron used the year round.

Clothes, blankets, pockets, just need to be washed or dry cleaned. Clothes that won’t be worn during Pesach should be put away.

Siddurim, benchers, seforim, books should be checked for chometz only if there’s a chance that there could be chometz in them. If there is then sell them.

Toys should just be checked for chometz and the chometz removed.

The night before Passover, in some homes, the family goes on a chometz search checking every window and corner with a feather. In some congregations chometz can be given away or sold to the rabbi for a dollar and retrieved after the holiday. The last and most important part of Passover cleaning writes the rabbi, is “Try to make the Pesach chores easy for yourself. Don’t do unnecessary hard work. Don’t do unnecessary cleaning. You can be like a Queen and you must enjoy your Pesach!” And if you have questions, check with your local rabbi.

By Anne Phyllis Pinzow

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