I wish everyone a Happy Pesach.
Kosher for Pesach?
‘Three weeks before Pesach’, a guest recently told us, ‘My grandfather put a rug in the hall with a table on which he placed all the remaining chametz (leaven) while, room by room he cleaned the house of the smallest crumb. “If anyone wants to eat chametz”, he’d say, “it’s in the hall”. Whenever people entered the house, they’d have to shake themselves out over the rug, which he’d duly removed the night before the Seder.’
We probably won’t go to quite these lengths, but halakhah, Jewish law, requires us to be strict concerning the removal of chametz from our homes. Chametz is anything consisting of or containing the leaven of the five staple grains, wheat, barley, oats, rye and spelt. This includes products in which it may be even a minor ingredient. Since the substance, and taste, of it becomes absorbed through the year in pots, plates and cutlery (just as our hearts and minds become imbued with our habits, good and bad) it is the practice to ‘change over’, to either kasher or put away our kitchenware and bring out special Pesach dishes.
I honour, respect and try to observe this deeply Jewish, halakhic path, which links the most ordinary practical tasks and disciplines of life to the deepest values and spiritual and moral ideals.
So what is ‘Kosher lePesach’?
Below are three short sections, with further links:
- What do I do? Practical guides to Pesach cleaning, shopping and cooking.
- What about being a ‘kosher’ person?
- What about the environment?
1. What do I do?
There are many guides on-line. I would refer our community to the Rabbinical Assembly Pesach 5799 guide. It advises families how to maintain a kosher-for-Pesach home in accordance with the principles of Conservative / Masorti Judaism and its understanding of Jewish Law. It can be downloaded here.
The Torah instructs us not only that we must not eat, but that we may not own, leaven over Pesach. The custom is therefore to give closed packets and tins to the homeless. Items will be collected (for the Finchley FoodBank) from the synagogue on Thursday morning 14th April. Things of value are stored in a specific cupboard, sealed over Passover, and formally sold. If you intend to do this through the synagogue please complete this ‘Sale of Chametz’ form by 9am on Thursday.
Since we may not own chametz, we also need to feed our animals non-chametz products. People may enjoy this YouTube video made by Rolo, the dog of my friend and colleague Rabbi Lawrence at Kinloss. (Mitzpah’s refections will appear in our Pesach magazine).
We have a new issue this year: what do we feed the hedgehog in the garden, or ‘when kosher becomes a prickly business’?
2. What about being a ‘Kosher person’?
To describe a person as ‘kasher’ is to say that that they have integrity and values. To be a ben adam kasher is a reputation worth striving for. Moses Isserles underlines the most important attribute in a gloss to the very first law of Pesach in Joseph Caro’s classic code of law, the Shulchan Aruch:
It is the custom to buy kosher le-Pesach flour and distribute it to the poor…
Based on the Mishnah’s insistence that nobody should sit down to the Seder without ensuring that the poorest person has all the necessaries to celebrate too, this basic practice of generosity, or rather social justice, is universal across all Jewish communities.
We each have the causes to which we are devoted. See here for our Community Pesach Appeal. These are small charities where our contributions make a significant difference in enabling people to experience freedom through the dignity of employment, through educational opportunities often absent in the developing world, and through the liberty of choosing to live in more open communities. These causes express our collective values; it is therefore important that we all contribute. Even a very modest sum is an expression of solidarity.
I am also deeply concerned about the fate of refugees here, in Israel and across the globe and will write further under the subjects of slavery and freedom, the subjects of Tuesday and Wednesday’s e-letters.
There is always the danger that we forget, in our focus on the details of Pesach cleaning, the ethical and spiritual dimensions of Zecher leyetziat Mitzrayim, being mindful of the Exodus from Egypt, the foundation story of the Jewish People. We remember persecution in order to strive for dignity for ourselves and all people. We recall injustice to teach us to fight for justice, and cruelty in order to devote ourselves to its opposite, loving-kindness and the creation of compassionate societies.
3. What about ‘environmentally kosher’?
‘Eco-kosher’ is a new, but extremely important, term. Yesterday evening, Nicky and I did our Pesach shopping at a large kosher supermarket. Everyone was very friendly; the staff were kind and helpful. Nevertheless, I felt a degree of shame.
Who paid with their labour for the products we were all trying to buy as cheaply as possible? Would Pesach be a ‘Festival of Freedom’ for them? Consider, for example the Haggadah of T’ruah the Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, and its focus on slavery in agriculture.
I tried, often in vain, to choose products with cardboard rather than plastic packaging. The Ten Plagues were God and nature’s response to Pharaoh’s arrogant claim that he owned nature: ‘The Nile is mine! I made it!’ (Ezekiel 29:10)
Post-industrial humanity is often guilty of the same mistake. The plagues this is likely to bring are unthinkable. One of my ‘wise children’ at this year’s Seder will be Greta Thunberg, for standing up, alone at first, but now with hundreds of thousands to protest our abuse of the earth, while there may still be time.
I wish everyone thoughtful and inspiring preparations