Passover begins on Monday evening April 14, but Jews around the world begin preparing for Passover many weeks ahead of time. Most observant Jews begin cleaning their homes of all leavened products, and while most Reform Jewish households do not clear their homes, there is no reason why all of us cannot prepare our spirits in advance of our Passover celebrations.
Passover begins on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan, and is the most observed Jewish holiday in the world. According to the 2000-01 National Jewish Population Survey 67% of Jews routinely hold or attend a Seder.
In addition to the Seder meal, which involves an array of festival foods, the other primary, food-related observance of Passover involves refraining from eating chametz (leavened bread). This prohibition is commanded in the Torah:
For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread, but on the first day you shall remove the leaven from your homes … you shall guard the unleavened bread, because on this very day I will take you out of the land of Egypt; you shall observe this day for your generations as an eternal decree. – Exodus 12:15-17
This commandment regarding leavened products applies not only to the consumption of bread, but to owning or deriving any benefit from any kind of leavened product in any way shape or form. Therefore, before the arrival of Passover, observant Jews remove and disown all leavening.
In ancient times (when food products were made from very simple ingredients at home), removal of all leavening was a much easier task. With the evolution of a complex food economy, Jewish law had to evolve as well. The rabbinic legal response to these new realities creatively enabled the Jewish people to fully observe this commandment without completely uprooting their lives every year.
The rabbinic solution was brilliant, and it should serve to inspire all of us to strive to think out of the box when it comes to considering ways to apply Jewish law in our everyday lives. Here is how the rabbis re-constituted the law:
The sages determined that as long as the leavened products were not owned by the Jewish household, all family members were legally clear from “being in the possession of” the prohibited products. Thus, for generations observant Jews sold their leavened products to their non-Jew neighbors through a “bill of sales”. This sale serves as a binding transfer ownership of all leavening for the defined period of Passover. After Passover has concluded, these Jewish family simply purchase the products back at a pre-set price.
For those of us who do not observe the festival with such strictness, this process may seem like folly. However, from a Reform Jewish perspective, it represents an extremely creative way of allowing the laws and values of heritage continue in a world that is constantly changing.
As we begin our preparations for Passover (in whatever form it may take in our lives), it is important for us to try to employ the values and lessons at the heart of this festival in ways that are meaningful for us today. Here are two ways to apply the prohibition against leavening which may be meaningful to your household:
Donate to the HCRJ Passover Food Drive: Rid your pantry of chametz or any other foods that you feel may help to feed the hungry.
Contribute to the Jewish Family Service Passover Assistance Program:
This fund helps those in need purchase Passover products. If you are interested in supporting this annual food assistance program visit the JFS website at: www.jfshouston.org
• Judaism 101.com