A Concise Guide to Passover Cleaning

Apr 1, 2022

שִׁבְעַת יָמִים מַצּוֹת תֹּאכֵלוּ אַךְ בַּיּוֹם הָרִאשׁוֹן תַּשְׁבִּיתוּ שְּׂאֹר מִבָּתֵּיכֶם כִּי כָּל־אֹכֵל חָמֵץ וְנִכְרְתָה הַנֶּפֶשׁ הַהִוא מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל מִיּוֹם הָרִאשֹׁן עַד־יוֹם הַשְּׁבִעִי׃

Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the very first day you shall remove leaven from your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day to the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Yisrael.

Exodus 12:15

The Torah commands Israel to eat matzah (unleavened bread) for the seven days of the holiday of Passover. In addition, the Torah commands Israel to remove all the leaven (in Hebrew chametz) from its homes (Exodus 12:15). Not only is eating bread and other leaven on Passover prohibited (the punishment for eating bread on Passover is severe; karet, or being cut off from the nation of Israel), but even owning it is forbidden. Therefore, we must clean and search our homes in order to ensure proper fulfillment of this command. 

DISCLAIMER: Cleaning for Passover can be stressful. This article is intended as a general guide. It is not intended to be definitively authoritative. It is important to consult with a rabbinic authority for precise details. Humor is intended in some parts of this article and is recommended to be included in the arsenal of soaps, brushes, and other implements of destructions used to remove leaven.

Cleaning for Passover is the Biblical origin of spring cleaning, though the goal is not necessarily to clean the house. A house can be spotless but not kosher for Passover or, alternatively, the home can be messy but still be clean of leavened products. Clear focus on the Biblically desired goal is essential.  It is, unfortunately, easy to become obsessed during this process of preparing for Passover. It is common for Jews to repeat the mantra, “Once we were slaves in Egypt but now we are free men”, while searching for nooks and crannies that have yet to be sterilized. It is important to remember that not all dirt is chametz (leaven), and we are not the Passover sacrifice sacrificed on an altar of cleaning products. 

Jewish boy cleaning in Jerusalem (Shutterstock.com)

Cleaning for Passover is a matter of personal inclination. Some people who are quite observant in other areas may spend less time and energy cleaning for Passover, relying on their preferred halachic (Torah law) opinions. The opposite is also true. It should also be seen as a process. If the family is going through a trying or chaotic period, some people rely on halachic leniencies that they normally do not utilize. According to most Biblical commentaries, no one stayed behind in Egypt to finish Passover cleaning and the Jews were mostly sane despite staying up late to clean the camels.

The first bit of advice is to begin early, giving yourself enough time to reach your desired level of perfection. This is highly subjective. This article is being published two weeks before the holiday but this is not a reflection of the author’s personal habits in Passover cleaning.

The purpose of cleaning and searching for chametz (leaven) is to remove any of it that one may come to inadvertently eat or derive benefit from during Passover. The obligation of getting rid of chametz, therefore, does not extend to inedible chametz, or tiny crumbs or particles of chametz that are soiled or spoiled. Special care must be taken to clean areas and objects that have come into contact with food. Conversely, areas and objects that do not come into contact with food do not require intensive cleaning.

Organizing, painting, and other non-leaven associated cleaning, though desirable, can be put off to a less stressful time. Not every piece of clothing has to be laundered before the Seder

The kitchen is, of course, the focus of the pre-Passover efforts. You only need to clean cabinets and storage areas where food is stored and which you are going to use on Passover. If only dishes, utensils, paper goods or non-chametz foods are stored there, there is no need to clean. If food is stored there but you are not going to use it on Passover, seal the cabinet and rely on the sale of your chametz (see below). 

The refrigerator and freezer must be emptied and cleaned thoroughly with soap. Some people cover the shelves as an extra measure. 

Some people who do not intend to do serious amounts of cooking will tape the oven closed and rely on a small toaster oven or microwave that is set aside especially for Passover holiday use every year. 

Clean the sinks, let them sit for 24 hours and pour a kettle of boiling water into them and on their sides. Some people pour hot water mixed with bleach down the drain. Some people use an insert, or line the sinks (e.g. aluminum foil, contact paper), especially if sinks are made from materials that cannot be made kosher for Passover. Care must be taken to clean the faucets and taps.

Any utensils used during the year for food preparation may not be used during the holiday (though in some cases can be made kosher in advance). They must be stored away. 

Children are wonderful bundles of joy that can be remarkably creative at inventing unexpected hiding places for treats. Parents should do their best to find them in the usual places. Even though cars do not normally come equipped with kitchenettes, they require vacuuming and cleaning. 

 It is sufficient for tiled or covered floors to be swept and washed with a household floor cleaner. 

DEALING WITH THE LAST OF THE CHAMETZ

The night before Passover, the head of the household performs the ritual search for chametz as described in the Haggadah (book containing instructions and prayers for the Passover seder). The next morning (the eve of Passover), the last bits of chametz are burned and the formula for canceling chametz is recited. At this point, chametz can no longer be consumed until after the holiday is over.

A man throwing a bag of chametz (leavened food) into the fire in Safed (Shutterstock.com)

It is recommended that any chametz that you do not want to dispose of be ‘sold’. The sale is virtual and after the holiday, ownership reverts back to the original owner.  

NEXT YEAR IN JERUSALEM

Passover comes around every year and is part of the lifelong journey towards redemption. It is recommended that you continue to become familiar with the laws pertaining to how to keep a kosher for Passover home during the holiday as this is just a general overview. Counterintuitively, knowing the rules and their basis in depth tends to open up leniencies rather than impose stringencies. It certainly gives a feeling of security. 

And when burning the last traces of chametz, remember to throw those last bits of anger and sorrow within yourself on the fire.

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