Thursday, 2 April 2009

Preparing for Pesach - Going Chametz Free


The Talmud (Pesachim 10a) contains a tongue-in-cheek discussion of what a person should do if, in the midst of Pesach, perhaps leaning back in the course of Seder night, one sees a loaf of bread lurking in the rafters. The discussion (sadly uncompleted) hinges on whether the Rabbis would put a person to such trouble since the said loaf is unlikely to fall down. The good news is that no party to the conversation considers the Rabbis immune to the notion that ‘enough is enough.’ The point is this - going chametz free should not be, and was never intended to be a loathsome, exhaustive burden.

It’s supposed to be hard work, a ritual endeavour in every sense, but not something to fear and certainly not something to enslave.


The Rabbis instituted a three-fold model of going chametz free.

First – the obvious bit – remove the chametz.

Then perform a bittul. This is the safety-net, it’s the guaranteed removal of any chametz we might have missed. Twice, once on Tuesday evening and then again on Wednesday morning say the magic words;

“All hametz in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have removed it or not, shall be nullified and be ownerless as the dust of the earth.”

And it is gone.


The third element is the one which attracts occasional (misplaced) ridicule. Mechirat chametz – a sale of chametz is one of the great gifts of Rabbinic culture. For those of us who collect whiskey, or would feel the financial (or ecological) pinch of having to throw out perfectly good chametzdik food, the Rabbis created a method whereby food can be sold and then repurchased and used again after Pesach. Now the Rabbis knew, as much as we know today, that this mechirah is a loophole, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable. What we rather the bearers of our tradition were blind unswerving automata? This willingness to meet us in our endeavour, treating us as humans with human needs and human strength, is the very essence of Rabbinic Judaism and every time I avail myself of this loophole I’m grateful for the boldness of my Rabbinic predecessors.

If you wish me to arrange a mechira for you please send me rabbi[at] an e-mail with your name and full address and the phrase, ‘I empower and permit Rabbi Jeremy Gordon, or any agent appointed by him, to sell all chametz possessed by me.’  I need these mails by noon on 7th April.


For more on the technical rules regarding preparing for Pesach please check the New London guide to Passover, on-line at


Shabbat shalom,


Rabbi Jeremy


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