Q & A with the Rabbi

OU Kosher Staff

OU Kosher Pesach Halachot

Q: What is Birchat Ha’Ilanot?
Birchat Ha’Ilanot is a special bracha that is to be recited by both men and women upon seeing blossoming fruit bearing trees each year. The bracha should be recited during the Jewish month of Nisan, however if you are delayed, you may still recite the blessing even after Nisan, as long as the fruit are not yet fully grown on the tree. Because the blessing on trees is recited in the plural, it is preferable to observe at least two flowering trees. It is best to avoid saying this bracha on Shabbat and yom tov, since this might lead to touching the blossoms. If you did not recite the bracha upon your first sighting, you may still recite the bracha later. The wording of the bracha can be found in most siddurim in the section on miscellaneous brachot.

Q: What is special about Shabbat HaGadol?
We refer to the Shabbat before Pesach as Shabbat HaGadol to remind us of the great miracle that Hashem performed for us on the last Shabbat that the Jews were in Egypt. Each family was commanded to take a sheep and prepare it to be offered as a sacrifice to Hashem. The Egyptians were very upset at this, since the lamb was a deity for them — which is exactly why it was chosen — to show the emptiness of idolatry. Although the Egyptians were upset, they were not able to stop the Jews from preparing for and carrying out this mitzvah on what was the Thursday before Pesach of that year. Therefore, it is known as Shabbat HaGadol in recognition of this miracle, and we continue to mark it as a special pre-Pesach date. It is customary on this Shabbat to attend a Shabbat HaGadol drasha to learn the halachot of Pesach, and some have the custom to read through parts of the Haggadah.

Q: What are Maot Chittim?
There is an ancient custom recorded in the Talmud to take a collection before Pesach to provide every Jew who cannot afford food with maot chittim (lit. money for wheat). All Jewish residents of the city are obligated to contribute according to their means, ensuring that everyone will have enough food on Pesach.

Q: When do we do bedikat chametz when traveling?
If you leave your home more than 30 days before Pesach and will not be returning until after Pesach, you are exempt from bedikat chametz (i.e. searching for hidden chametz). However, known chametz should be destroyed or arranged to be sold. If you leave within 30 days of Pesach, and will not be home on the night of bedikat chametz (this year, Thursday, March 29th), then you must do bedikat chametz without a bracha the last night that you are home. In addition, you must also do bedikat chametz on the regular night for bedikat chametz at the hotel where you are staying. Even if a guest at someone else’s house, you should still check your pockets
and belongings.

Q: When do we burn the chametz when traveling?
If you did bedikat chametz early, you can simply throw away or sell any chametz found after the fact. The custom is not to burn chametz except on the morning of erev Pesach when there is a prohibition to eat chametz. Even if you are traveling and have chametz with you, that chametz must be burned or disposed of before the end time of biur chametz.

Q: When do we sell the chametz when traveling?
When making the arrangements with your rabbi to sell your chametz, you should make sure to let him know if you will be away for Pesach, especially if you will be in a different time zone. For example, if you will be traveling east to Israel, the rabbi will need to execute the sale the night before Pesach.

Q: What is Ta’anit Bechorim?
There is a custom for firstborn males to fast on erev Pesach. This is to remember that Hashem protected all the Jewish firstborns on the night of Pesach during Makat Bechorot (slaying of the firstborn Egyptians). If the firstborn male is below the age of Bar Mitzvah, the custom is for his father to fast in his stead. However, the common practice today is to attend a siyum (a celebration of the completion of an area of Torah study) in lieu of fasting. Once you break your fast at the siyum, you may continue to eat the rest of the day.

Q: Are any special precautions required before eating in the workplace on Pesach?
When eating outside the home on Pesach, you should not eat with those who are eating chametz. Therefore, even if you are accustomed to eating with non-Jewish co-workers the rest of the year, on Pesach you must remain separate. Also, you should not put your lunch directly on a table or desk, but rather cover the area with a clean, kosher-for-Pesach tablecloth.

Q: What to do with chametz found on Pesach?
If you find chametz in your house on yom tov, it should not be moved. Chametz on yom tov is muktza. It should be covered and left until after yom tov. If you had sold your chametz, then on chol hamo’ed the chametz should be placed in the closet together with the chametz that was sold. If you did not sell your chametz, then the found chametz must be destroyed.

Q: What is Taanit Ba’HaB?
Ba’HaB is an acronym that stands for Monday, Thursday, Monday. Some have the custom to fast three days (Monday, Thursday and Monday) after Pesach and Sukkot to seek atonement for any excesses that they might have indulged in during the holiday. Since we are not permitted to fast during the month of Nisan, these fasts are postponed until after Rosh Chodesh Iyar. Many have the custom to recite Selichot (special prayers of forgiveness) on those days, even if they are not fasting.

Q: May a year-round, sous vide machine be used on Pesach if I am sure I only put meat, fish or vegetables inside the machine? Also, can a sous vide machine used with chametz be Kashered for Pesach?
If you used a sous vide machine with chametz, it definitely requires kashering. Even if you feel certain that your machine was only used with non-chametz items, the custom is that we do not use appliances that sat out on our chametz counters during the year without kashering them first. At some point during the year, hot chametz might have fallen against the machine, or some chametz item that you no longer recall might have been cooked in the machine. Therefore, the machine should not be used on Pesach without kashering.

Regarding kashering a sous vide machine, there are two parts to the apparatus: the water bath (pot) and the heating element. You may not kasher a utensil unless all sections are accessible and it can be scrubbed clean. Since the heating mechanism has a fan and narrow areas that are difficult to access, it should not be kashered (see Mishnah Berurah 452:31). The pot can be kashered following the regular rules of hagalah (boiling). If the pot is plastic, there are differing opinions as to whether you may kasher it for Pesach. A ceramic pot cannot be kashered.

Q: How do I kasher a barbecue grill for Pesach?
The metal grill of the barbecue requires libun gamur (burning), which can be accomplished by
placing the grill in the oven and running a self-clean cycle. We do this because the grill sits directly above the fire and is in direct contact with chametz (e.g., hamburger buns). Alternatively, you can sandwich the grill between burning coals. The walls of the barbecue might also have direct contact with chametz, so they too require libun gamur. However, this is not easily accomplished. To avoid the need for libun gamur, you can clean the barbecue and then cover the walls with two layers of heavy-duty aluminum foil. The barbecue hood should be covered the same way.

Q: How do I kasher braces for Pesach?
This question is relevant to almost everyone, since it also applies to fillings and crowns. Some have suggested that there is really no need to kasher these items, since we don’t ordinarily eat foods directly from a pot that was on the fire, but from a plate or a bowl (kli sheini). Since the chametz was already placed into a secondary utensil, the requirement to kasher is only an added stringency. Some have suggested that just as we are not concerned about the absorption of chametz into our real teeth, we need not be concerned about absorption of chametz here either. The natural process inside our mouths that breaks down food and begins the digestive process starts even after a short time; all the food in our mouths, even that which was absorbed, is destroyed by that process. The consensus of opinions is that since it is not possible to kasher our teeth for Pesach, there is no need to kasher braces, fillings and crowns either. We need only clean our teeth through brushing and flossing to the best of our ability. Some have suggested, as an added stringency, that we not eat hot chametz for a full 24 hours prior to Pesach. Others have advised that after we finish eating chametz on erev Pesach, we should take a drink of hot water, the same temperature as we would drink the rest of the year, and this would qualify as the appropriate kashering.

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