Customs and Traditions of Checking for Unleavened Foodstuff
By Avi Lazerson
Everyone knows that chometz (foods that contain fermented wheat or flour) are forbidden on Passover. In order to insure that we do not have any of the forbidden chometz in our possession during Passover, the custom is to make a search for these products that we must remove from our possession. The purpose of this tradition is to insure that we not have any chometz products in our possession, knowingly or unknowingly.
Forbidden foods during Passover not only include bread and pastries, but also foods made from wheat such as noodles, condiments processed foods, and drinks. Most people today realize the importance of purchasing food that has supervision for Passover. Foods that are not "kosher for Passover" must be disposed of in one of the following manners:
- By selling them to a non-Jew;
- Destroying them;
- Remove our ownership from them.
Most people take the "chometzdik" (not kosher for Passover) foods and cooking vessels and put them in a special area such as a locked closet. This closet is then rented the to a non-Jew and we sell him the chometz in it. This is generally arranged by the local rabbi and is very common. The sale is made with a contract which insures that the non-Jew will pay for the items. A provision provides that if he does not pay the complete price by the end of Passover, then the items will revert back to the original owner. This is the most common method of disposing of the chometz.
Destroying all of the chometz is a difficult and costly although there are those who certainly do rid their houses of all chometz.
The third method is by removing our ownership from the chometz. This method is not used unless under extreme circumstances (such as a person being in jail). The problem with this method is that people do not always give up possession of their material goods with a whole heart. This method requires an absolute resolution on the part of the person, and we can not attest to our heart's complete agreement with our mouth's statement.
Because of the severity of the transgression of eating or even possessing chometz, it is traditional to make a search on the night one day before Passover. This year, 2002, Passover is on Thursday, March 28, which means that the Seder is on Wednesday night, March 27. Therefore, the search for chometz will be on Tuesday night, March 26, the evening before the Seder.
Customs of the Search
Prior to the search, we take all of our chometz, together with our cooking utensils and put them in a locked area. We then put the breadstuff that we are going to have for dinner and for breakfast in a special place so that they do not get mixed with the Passover things. We do not eat matzah at this time in order that we can come to the Seder with a desire to eat the matzah. Some have the custom not to eat matzah thirty days before Passover.
At the beginning of the night, the family gathers together. Before eating or beginning any activity, the father takes a single candle, together with a feather. He recites the blessings as printed in the prayer book and all answer "amen". He begins the search using this lone candle since the light of a small lone candle is very good for searching the floor cracks and various recesses, closets, pantries, storage rooms and all places into which chometz is brought. This includes such places as childrens' clothing, school bags, under their mattresses, bookshelves and closets. Obvious places that have been cleaned for Passover, such as the stove and refrigerator should also be checked.
The father may designate children above the age of bar/bat mitzvah to aid him in the search. If a child is give a candle, the father or mother should watch him for safety reasons. The custom is not to talk about anything except that which concerns the search until the search is completed.
Many have the custom to leave pieces of bread in various corners to insure that they may find chometz. Although this is a very common practice, some are afraid that the children will play with it, so they eliminate this practice. All of the pieces of the chometz are swepted up using the feather into a bag and tied in a knot. They are saved to be burnt in the morning. The father recites the "kol chamira" that is printed in most prayer books which is a renunciation of his ownership of chometz.
In the morning of the next day, which is erev Passover, we take our chometz and burn it. Although the custom of burning is very traditional, due to the local civil laws in many areas prohibiting fires, the package of chometz may be disposed of by throwing in a garbage can, preferable not yours.
After the burning of the chometz, the recital of "kol chamira," which is found in most prayer books, is said again. This attests that all chometz that we have in our possession knowingly or unknowingly we declare ownerless, meaning that we remove our ownership from the chometz.
from the March Passover 2002 Edition of the Jewish Magazine