This year, OU Pesach Guide editors Rabbis Nachum Rabinowitz and Moshe Zywica had the opportunity to engage in a broad-ranging discussion with OU Kosher’s longtime Posek, Rav Hershel Schachter shlit”a, on Pesach-related topics.
Moreinu Harav Schachter has served as a posek for the OU Kashrus Department for more than 30 years, instructing us in our daily execution of kashrus principles and enabling the OU to provide the food products that will grace so many of Klal Yisrael’s Pesach tables.
We hope the insights gleaned from this interview will serve to illuminate your yom tov.
RR: To what extent are we obligated to maintain the customs (minhagim) of our ancestors? For example: generally, the minhag to avoid kitniyos is considered obligatory to Ashkenazim, but something like avoiding gebrochts (which is viewed as a chumra), is not; why is this?
RS: Generally, a halachically binding vow is something that is articulated verbally. However, when one repeatedly observes a good deed or a halachic stringency, it is considered like a vow unless one was careful to stipulate otherwise. There are also stringencies that communities or families adopted that are incumbent on members of that community or family to maintain, similar to a vow.
Kitniyos was adopted as an obligatory custom by Ashkenazic communities. Gebrochts was adopted as a stringency by various individuals, communities, and families. Depending on the nature of that undertaking by one’s ancestors or community leaders, one may or may not be obligated to maintain that tradition.
If, however, stringencies were adopted only by individuals without the intent to obligate all community or family members, those would not be binding on community or family members and their offspring. Under extenuating circumstances (shaas haDechak) one may dispense with otherwise obligatory customs.
RR: To what extent do we need to clean our homes in areas where chametz is not brought?
RS: The minhag is to completely clean the home, even to scrape the floors. However, halachically one only needs to clean those areas where chametz may be found. For small crumbs that may be found in hard-to-reach places, it is sufficient to nullify them after burning the chametz. Certainly, where there is great difficulty, no cleaning is necessary except where chametz is brought in the home.
RR: Do we need to research the potential chametz found in prescribed medications in tablet and capsule format?
RS: Medications that are tasteless can be taken on Pesach (these are considered inedible even for canines). One need not research the potential of kitniyos or chametz.
RZ: Should we recite Hallel in shul after Maariv on the night of the Seder?
RS: The Shulchan Aruch and the Vilna Goan both posit that one should say Hallel. The Rama writes that the minhag of Ashkenazim is not to say Hallel in shul. Where this will not conflict with the shul’s established practice, it is admirable to say Hallel with a minyan and with a bracha.
RZ: Should all the attendees at the Seder (including women) recite Kiddush at the Seder?
RS: The attendees at the Seder (men and women) need not recite Kiddush and can fulfill their obligation by listening to the one who recites Kiddush. It is preferable for one person to recite Kiddush and be motzi all others.
RS: Women may answer Amen to Havdala but should not answer Amen to the bracha Meorei HaEsh or to Shehechiyanu.
RZ: How does the Rav recommend we interact with family members at the Seder?
RS: The Bnei Yissaschar writes that the purpose of the Seder is to gain an understanding of Hashem. This means that through telling the story of Yetzias Mitzrayim one should strengthen the awareness of the 13 Principles of Faith. He further notes that one of the Baalei Tosfos, who lived in England and whose family was not fluent in Hebrew, recited the Haggadah in English. Those who utilize the Seder to repeat vertlach and gematrios are missing this fundamental point. The Seder is the time to engage each family member on their level and in their language, utilizing the Haggadah to expand our awareness of Hakadosh Boruch Hu.
RZ: Is the Rav careful to finish the Afikomen before chatzos? RS: I am careful to finish the Afikomen and Hallel before chatzos.
RZ: Should we recline during the Shulchan Aruch meal?
RS: One should recline throughout the Seder including the eating of the meal.
RZ: When eating Korech (the sandwich of matzah and maror) do we recite “Ken Asa Hillel” before or after Korech?
RS: One should recite Ken Asa Hillel after eating Korech. One should not speak between the brachos of matzah and maror and the completion of those mitzvos, including Korech.