Wednesday, March 31, 2004

In a comment to Out of Step Jew's post on "Books, Dust, and Chametz," George posted the URL to an article by R. Shlomo Aviner entitled, "How Not to Clean for Passover." I think it's about the right time in the week for a few reassuring words, if only to prevent (additional?) unnecessary ulcers. Here is a summary with my comments:

1. If you're going away for the entire holiday, you can "rent out" your living space and not clean at all. If you will be home the night before, however, you are still required to do bedikat chametz (the candlelit search for chametz) wherever you are. I had to do this once, and it was exceedingly strange -- searching for the pieces of bread I'd put out while ignoring all my other chametz. Rabbi Aviner suggests cleaning out a small room (e. g. the foyer), and performing the search there. (If you live in one room, I suppose you can clean a corner or other small area.) This makes considerably more sense than what I did.

2. The prohibition against owning chametz only applies to pieces of larger than a kezayit (3 cubic cm.). There is no need to clean rooms in which you don't eat, and no need to panic over the possibility of missing a few crumbs.

3. There is no need to worry about chametz in unreachable places. (This would include the spaces between the keys of your keyboard, Old Timer ;-).) Bits of chametz in corners and crevices, or stuck in the radiator, or whatever, are not only normally smaller than a kezayit, but also "unfit for consumption by a dog."

4. R. Aviner does not recommend using Passover vacation (halevai aleinu!) for "spring cleaning." Nissan is supposed to be a happy month. We were freed from bondage in Egypt, and there's no need to re-enslave ourselves.

For our part, I know that DH and I would never do this thorough a cleaning job if we didn't do it before Passover. I've never lived in one place for more than a year (except with my parents), but every time I've moved I've discovered positively revolting things in nooks and crannies that had never been cleaned. I don't even want to think about what this place would look like after six years if we didn't do one thorough cleaning job each year. Having a deadline helps.

It's also worth noting that R. Aviner is dealing with a sociological reality different from (most of?) ours. He's concerned that women will slave through their one opportunity to hand the kids over to hubby and travel with friends. Those of us in egalitarian households who don't have real "breaks" may as well clean now as any time.

5. It is important to carefully clean clothes that children will wear over the holiday and games with which they will play, since children may actually pick up small crumbs and eat them. (Apparently, "unfit for consumption by a dog" does not imply "unfit for consumption by a toddler.") Children's pockets should be checked even after the clothing is put through the wash. There is no need to clean out-of-season clothes that they won't wear.

6. R. Aviner apparently maintains that non-food products can still be considered chametz. He recommends locking problematic cleaning products in the medicine cabinet and selling it. Others include non-food products in the category of items that are "unfit for consumption by a dog."

7. It isn't necessary to clean between the pages of books, even if there may be crumbs there, unless you plan on placing the books on the kitchen or dining room table. (It's a good idea to use haggadot rather than "benchers" for birkat ha-mazon.)

8. The article includes guidelines for cleaning and kashering the kitchen. Such guidelines can be found in numerous books and websites, with minor variations (e. g. how to deal with dishwashers and microwaves). R. Aviner does not recommend cleaning anything that can be locked up or taped over and sold. He recommends cleaning the kitchen first and then moving on to rooms that are less vital.

9. Cleaning for Passover is important, and it is permissible -- even commendable -- to take on stringencies. However, if these will cause tension within the family or make the Passover season miserable, it may be better not to. Those who take on stringencies without being aware that they are stringencies (as opposed to the letter of the law) are not required to maintain them.

R. Aviner states that it is important to have a "kosher Purim" and a "happy Passover." This is probably a cliche in the frum world, but I've never heard it. Sounds good.

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