Halakhot of Pesah
(According to Sephardim and Eidot HaMizrach)

BY: Rabbi M Shamah


I. The Month of Nissan
Although in counting years we begin with Rosh Hashanah, the first of Tishre, the Torah counts months from Nissan, to highlight the great events of Pesah. Since most of Nissan's days are festive occasions (the first twelve days commemorating the Mishkan's dedication followed by Pesah), tahanun supplications (ana) are omitted from prayers the entire month. The two Psalms in the latter sections of shahrit that allude to a `day of distress' (Yaancha and Tefila Ledavid) are also omitted when ana is omitted.
When one sees two blossoming fruit trees during Nissan, Bircat Ha Ilanot is recited. This beracha is recited only once each year. Women also recite it. It may be recited on Shabbat or Yom Tob. Nissan is the proper time for this beracha, but it may be recited afterwards. It is not recited subsequent to the blossoming stage, when the fruit are growing.
Eulogies are not permitted during Nissan. When necessary, a short appreciation of the departed with moral instruction is permitted. The declaration of Siduk Hadin during the shiva mourning period is omitted.
II. Searching for Hametz
As the Torah prohibits possession of hametz on Pesah, it is mandatory to check one's home and remove all hametz before Pesah. Notwithstanding the fact that the home was thoroughly cleansed of Hametz beforehand, on the night before Pesah we perform bedikat hametz, a search for hametz, in all places where it might be found. When Pesah falls on Saturday night, the search is done the Thursday night before.
Before beginning the search, we recite the beracha Al Bi'ur Hametz which covers the entire process of getting rid of hametz, completed the following morning; no beracha is recited upon getting rid of hametz in the morning. After the beracha, one must be careful not to speak until at least beginning the search, in accordance with the principle of not interrupting between beracha and the act for which the beracha was recited. It is proper to refrain from digressions and extraneous talk throughout the search so that it be done correctly. In addition to homes, places of business and cars require checking if hametz is normally brought into them. The search is performed by the light of a single-wick candle (a multi-wick one is dangerous) or a flashlight. A candle is symbolic and traditional but a flashlight is safer and more effective, therefore preferred. A widespread custom is to use a candle for the first moments of the search and switch to a flashlight. The beracha is recited even if one uses only a flashlight.
As the home is usually thoroughly cleansed from hametz before the bedikah, it is customary but not mandatory to place pieces of hametz where the searcher will surely find them so that he will have hametz to burn. Immediately after the search at night, the owner should recite Bitul Hametz, an annulment/renouncement of hametz in his possession. As most people will continue owning and benefitting from hametz until the morning, this first bitul is directed only to hametz which the owner does not know about.
One should understand what he is saying. If one does not understand the traditional Aramaic words of bitul (found at the beginning of the Hagaddah or Mahzor), he should recite it in English. Translations are readily available.
If one embarks on a journey within 30 days before Pesah and no one remains at home to do bedikah at the designated time, it should be done before leaving without reciting the beracha. When one closes his home prior to the evening of bedikat hametz and intends to be away the entire holiday, such as when a family goes to a hotel, if he sells any and all hametz in his home, he does not have to search it. He searches his hotel room and makes bitul for any hametz that may remain in his possession. The same applies to a second home that remains closed for the duration of the holiday. One who plans to leave the day of Erev Pesah, since he is still at home at the time of bedikat hametz is required to perform it. One who was planning to be away all Pesah and sold the hametz in his home without making bedikah and unexpectedly returned must search for and gather the sold hametz that was not put away and place it in a closed off or out-of-the-way location.
III. Erev Pesah
It is forbidden to eat hametz after the fourth hour of the day beginning from dawn. These hours are calculated according to a system whereby dawn to dusk is divided into twelve hours regardless of the actual length of that particular day (shaot zemaniyot/proportional hours). The time will vary slightly each year according to the solar date on which Pesah occurs, but generally it is about 8:45 a.m. E.S.T. Consult the specific schedule for that year for exact times.
Benefit from hametz, which includes selling it, is forbidden after the fifth hour, generally about 10:00 a.m. E.S.T. It is preferable to completely get rid of all hametz without having to sell. However, selling is permitted even if the hametz remains in the overall confines of one's home, providing the hametz' specific location is also sold or leased to the non-Jew. As this transaction must be done legally, it is advisable for one who sells hametz that is going to remain in the overall confines of his home to do so through a rabbi. Hametz being sold should be gathered together, covered and placed where no member of the household would forget and inadvertently partake of it.
The destruction of any remaining hametz should be done before the end of the fifth hour. It may be accomplished either by burning, shredding, dissolving, etc. It is customary and preferable to destroy hametz through burning. When Erev Pesah falls on Shabbat, the burning of hametz takes place on Friday. Hametz in a garbage receptacle placed by the street curb in front of one's home is hefker and not in one's possession even if the sanitation department did not remove it by the end of the fifth hour. It is preferable that the hametz not be in one's private receptacle but in a carton that will be discarded with the hametz. After getting rid of all hametz, one recites Bitul Hametz again. This second bitul, unlike the one of the night before, is comprehensive, including all hametz one owns. Selling hametz to a non-Jew should be done before this bitul, as hametz being sold is not being annulled or renounced.
Matzoh should not be eaten Erev Pesah even in the morning so as to eat the matzoh of the Seder with greater desire and appetite. This applies only to matzoh with which one may fulfill his obligation in the evening, not egg matzoh which is called "rich" matzoh and is unsuitable for fulfilling the misvah.
Cake made with matzoh meal, as it is baked the way bread or matzoh is, should also not be eaten Erev Pesah. Although the matzoh meal was mixed with `enriching' items, the mixing was done after the matzoh received its identity, not at the original kneading, as is the case with egg matzoh. On the other hand, fried or cooked matzoh products, such as i'jeh masso, are permitted Erev Pesah.
One should not eat a filling meal of any food in the later afternoon as it may lessen one's appetite for the evening's matzoh. There is a custom for first-born males to fast Erev Pesah as a sign of appreciation for the Almighty's miracle smiting the Egyptian firstborn. This fast is overridden if the first born participates in a seudat mitzvah (festive meal attached to a mitzvah) including the completion of a section of the Talmud even though he himself has not learned that section.
IV. Hametz
The Torah forbids eating, deriving benefit from, or owning hametz during Pesah.
Hametz results when any of the five grains (wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt), after harvesting, makes contact with water and fermentation takes place. Mixtures including hametz are also prohibited as are edible extracts and alcoholic fermentation of hametz. Bread, cereal, cake, cookies, crackers, pastas and spaghetti from the five grains are pure hametz.
Rice, soy, corn (maize), potatos, fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry, fish and dairy products are permitted when in their pure form. If processed, one must be careful that the product does not include or did not absorb from a hametz derivative.
Hametz derivatives unfit for human or animal consumption are not considered food and are permitted on Pesah. Included in this category are virtually all deodorants, soaps, cleansers and cleaning agents, polishes, toothpastes, lipsticks, most cosmetics and medicines (all ill-tasting liquids, tablets and capsules), etc.
Hametz mixed into non-hametz substances during Pesah is not annulled in the manner that issur is annulled all year long, such as one in sixty. Perhaps more than any other, it is this halakha that requires an extra measure of care with food throughout Pesah. Hametz that was mixed with non-hametz and became annulled before Pesah remains annulled during Pesah. This principle applies even if inclusion of the hametz ingredient was not known before Pesah. Thus, foods prepared before Pesah that are known to be kosher all year long, that do not have hametz as an ingredient, even were they to have a minor amount of hametz mixed in and annulled before Pesah, are acceptable during Pesah. Such foods do not necessarily require special supervision. Included in this category are canned, frozen and most dried fruits and vegetables, fruit juices, sugar, salt, plain tea, plain potato chips, pure coffees, pure chocolates, pure vegetable oils, tomato sauce, milk, butter and plain dairy products. Based on this halacha, many homemakers bake, cook and purchase as much as possible of their Pesah needs before the onset of the holiday.
If hametz gets mixed into food even during Pesah, and gives a negative taste into the food, that food is permitted. Thus if Pesah food was mistakenly cooked in clean non-Pesah utensils that weren't used for 24 hours, the food is permitted. This is based on the Talmudic assumption that whatever is absorbed in the walls of utensils gives a spoiled taste after 24 hours. Ashkenazim eating by Sephardim during Pesah need not be concerned that the vessels in which foods were prepared were also used for rice and legumes, which most Ashkenazim do not eat during Pesah. The Ashkenazic custom to be strict on these items is an extreme cautionary measure and does not carry over to vessels. One who finds hametz in his possession during Hol Hamoed should burn it immediately; on Yom Tov, he should cover it until after Yom Tov, at which time he should burn it. There is no beracha on these cases of burning.
Hametz beayin (not a mixture) which was in the possession of a Jew during Pesah is prohibited even after Pesah.
V. Matzoh
There is a Biblical commandment to eat matzoh (unleavened bread) on the first night of Pesah. Our ancestors did not have time to allow their dough to leaven before baking as they were chased out of Egypt. Also, matzoh is the "bread of affliction", recalling the slavery.
Matzoh is made from flour of one of the five types of grains that can become hametz, kneaded with water and baked before it has a chance to begin leavening.
For this misvah one should obtain matzoh that has been under supervision from the grain harvest. Each person should eat at least the kazayit hamosi, but preferably all matzoh required at the seder, from such matzoh. If not available, matzoh under supervision from the grinding is sufficient. All commercial Pesah matzoh in New York is supervised at least from the time of grinding.
Matzoh, once baked, may be dipped in water. An elderly or ill person may eat the masah of misvah in such a manner. Egg matzoh is permitted to be eaten during Pesah. Indeed, matzoh which was kneaded with fruit juice and not water, which is the standard procedure for making egg matzoh, does not become hametz even if the dough was left unbaked for a lengthy period of time. (The acid does not permit activation of the leavening enzyme in the dough.) However, egg matzoh is not "poor man's bread" and cannot be used to fulfill the obligations of the seder.
The beracha on regular matzoh during all of Pesah is hamosi even if one is eating a small amount as a cracker. During Pesah, matzoh is our bread. Even when regular matzoh is fried or cooked during Pesah, such as in i'jeh masso or kibbeh masso, its beracha is hamosi. All year long we recite mezonot on regular matzoh except when one is kobeya' seuda, as matzoh is normally a snack food in the category of a cracker. The beracha Al Achilat Masah is added to hamosi only at the Seder. Egg matzoh, even during Pesah, is mezonot (except if one is kobeya' seuda).
VI. Utensils for Use on Passover
Pesah requires special utensils to ensure that even a little hametz not enter our food.
Glassware does not absorb and merely requires washing to be kosher for Pesah. This includes Duralex, Pyrex, Corningware, Corelle and colored glass.
Absorption by utensils from food takes place in the presence of heat, thus utensils primarily used for foods and liquids that are not hot (salad bowls, refrigerator trays, etc.) can be used on Pesah after thoroughly washing clean. The same applies to tabletops and counters.
Utensils used with heat but known not to be used for hametz all year long are acceptable for Pesah, such as teapots, hot water urns and decanters.
The requirement for koshering utensils is according to its use. As the utensil absorbed so will it emit what it absorbed. Hametz pots and pans, flatware, blenders, etc. made of metal, wood, rubber, stone, bone or plastic (which includes melmac and tupperware), can be made usable for Pesah by hagalah.
Hagalah is total submersion of the item being koshered into a large pot of boiling water for several seconds. If the item cannot fit completely into a large pot, it may be submersed portion by portion. The utensils must be cleaned before immersion. If one is to make hagalah, it is preferable to do so before Pesah. However, it can be made during Hol Hamoed if the hametz utensil being cleaned was not used for 24 hours, based on the principle that whatever is absorbed in a utensil's walls emits a spoiled taste after 24 hours.
When hagalah is made on items that had not been used for 24 hours in a pot that also had not been used for 24 hours, it doesn't matter if the items or pot are dairy or meat, or if the pot is hametz or kosher for Pesah. Metals used directly on the fire with hametz require liboon, (placement on fire until red hot).
Utensils usually used for cold substances that on occasion were used for hot hametz, such as metal cold-liquid drinking cups, are treated according to their usual use and merely require thorough washing (after 24 hours from hametz use). Although the vessel on occasion absorbed hametz, after 24 hours whatever was absorbed is spoiled; thus there is no possibility of a Torah infraction and the rabbis did not decree a prohibition when the usage with heat was not according to the vessel's standard usage.
Hametz earthenware utensils cannot be made usable for Passover. Glazed chinaware is very different from classic earthenware and many authorities permit koshering such utensils through hagalah or pouring boiling water on them. An Orthodox rabbi should be consulted regarding the specific type of chinaware in question.
Porcelain, enamel and steel sinks are koshered by pouring boiling water all around their receptacle portion. Ovens and their racks should be cleaned for Pesah as follows:
after thoroughly cleaning with a scouring agent, leave unused for 24 hours; then heat at maximum for an hour. Self-cleaning ovens merely need to be run through a self-cleaning cycle. In the case of microwave ovens, after cleaning, insert a microwave-safe utensil full of water and microwave at maximum for several minutes, until the oven fills with steam.
Dishwashers are koshered by their normal use - boiling water and soap. Tablecloths are koshered by washing in soap and water.
VII. The Seder
KADESH After arranging the items on the Seder Table correctly, the head of household recites kiddush. Everyone should be standing and attentive. Kiddush is recited after set hakochavim (in New York, about 35 minutes after sunset). Each person should have his or her own cup containing at least 3 ounces (reviit) of wine and drink at least the majority of the cup. Red wine is preferable but grape juice may be used. This is the first of the four Seder cups. The above regulations apply to all four cups. The beracha of hagefen is recited on the first and third cups only. The drinking of the four cups and the eating of the matzot are done while reclining to the left. A lefthanded person also reclines to the left.
URHAS Each person washes his or her hands for the wet vegetables going to be eaten next. A beracha is not recited on this washing of hands.
KARPAS Less than a kazayit of a green vegetable (celery is our custom) is eaten after dipping it in salt water. [Less than a kazayit to avoid a centuries-old unresolved question: should one who eats a measure that requires beracha aharona of Bore Nefashot recite that beracha if he plans to shortly afterwards recite hamosi eventually followed by Bircat Hamazon? We try to avoid omitting a required beracha but not to recite an unrequired beracha.] We recite Boreh Pri Ha-adamah on the karpas vegetable. It is our custom to have intention that this beracha cover the adamah of the maror, which will be eaten later. Although the maror will be eaten after hamosi, it is necessarily eaten alone and perhaps not "covered" by hamosi.
YAHAS The middle matzoh is broken, by hand, into two pieces. The smaller piece is replaced between the two whole matzot while the larger piece is set aside for Afikoman. Each individual takes a turn carrying this "afikoman" matzoh, wrapped in a cloth holder, over one's shoulder reciting Misharotam... as a symbolic re-enactment of the Exodus.
MAGID One raises the matzoh and recites Ha Lahma Anya. The tray is removed for children to question, the second cup of wine is poured, Ma Nishtana is recited, the tray returned, and the matzot uncovered. The Haggadah is read with great joy. Questions are asked, explanations are given. The relating by fathers to sons of the Exodus from Egypt and the Almighty's miracles is the central theme of the Seder. Those who do not understand Hebrew must perform this misvah in a language they understand. English translations are readily available.
ROHSA One should wash his or her hands and recite the beracha Al Netilat Yadayim to prepare for Hamosi.
MOSI MASAH The head of household raises all 3 matzot (the two whole and one broken) and recites the beracha of hamosi and, releasing the bottom whole matzoh, the beracha of Al Achilat Masah. Reclining to their left, all eat at least one kazayit (approximately one ounce). It is preferable to eat two kazaytim, one for Mosi and one for Masah. At least one kazayit should be eaten within a four minute period to be considered a single eating.
MARROR Kazayit maror (bitter herbs) is dipped in haroset (a date, nut and wine mixture), the beracha Al Achilat Maror is recited, and the maror is eaten without reclining. Romaine Lettuce is the preferred vegetable for maror but great care must be taken that it first be thoroughly checked and cleaned of any tiny insects that are often found in it. Escarole or endives are acceptable and generally easier to check.
KORECH A sandwich containing one kazayit each of matzoh and maror is dipped in haroset and eaten in a reclining position after reciting the explanation of this custom, Zecher Lamikdash etc. Those for whom it is difficult to have kazayit matzoh and maror may eat smaller measures for korech.
SHULHAN ORECH The egg and shankbone are eaten followed by the meal. On the egg we recite Zecher LeKorban Hagiga. Nothing is recited on the shankbone. To distinguish from the Pesah sacrifice brought in the days of the Beit Hamikdash which was only broiled, the shankbone should also be cooked. It is important not to be totally satiated during the meal in order to leave room for the afikoman, which must be eaten "with appetite".
SAFON After the meal a piece of the middle matzoh is distributed to each person, to which additional matzoh is added to make a kazayit. This should be eaten reclining before midnight. BARECH The third cup of wine is poured and Birkat Hamazon is recited.
HALLEL Hagefen is recited on the third cup (with intention to also cover the fourth cup), and it is drunk reclining. The remainder of Hallel is recited without a beracha beforehand, followed by Nishmat and the concluding beracha of Hallel. The fourth cup is drunk, reclining, followed by beracha aharona.
NIRSA It is customary to sing songs and continue discussion of the Exodus and other miracles that the Almighty wrought until one falls asleep.
VIII. Measurements
The measure for a kazayit matzoh is widely accepted in our community as one ounce of weight. However, the original measure of a kazayit (an olive) is basically a volume one, widely interpreted as 1/2 the volume of an average egg. (The "olive", although widely cited by the rabbis of old, was supplanted by the egg for actual measurements.) Eggs used for determining this measure must be those of the present time and locale. The weight measure we use today was derived from the volume; rabbis of the past calculated the volume and then weighed it for the convenience of the public.
A question has arisen with the one ounce of weight measure. An average-to-large size egg of today displaces approximately two fluid ounces. The cubic volume of one fluid ounce can be completely filled with less than 2/3 of an ounce (weight) of matzoh. Thus, when eating the mosi-masah, where it is preferable to eat two kazaytim, one who is unable to eat two ounces may eat 1.33 ounces for two kazaytim. Of course, as stated earlier, bediabad one kazayit is sufficient. The measure for a reviit wine is (just under) three fluid ounces. This is based on the Talmudic standard that a reveit is the displacement of 1.5 eggs and on the fact that an average egg displaces approximately two fluid ounces.
A kazayit karpas or maror is of slightly lesser weight than a kazayit matzoh as vegetables have a lower density of mass and thus a lower weight for the standard volume of half an egg's displacement.
IX. Prayers
Each day of Pesah before arbit and during shahrit, we recite Psalm 107 which deals with various situations from which the psalmist was redeemed. The Pesah redemption is closely identified with all redemptions of the Almighty.
Yaale Veyavo is recited in each amida. If it was omitted during Hol Hamoed one repeats the amida. During Yom Tov it depends if mention of Pesah was made independently of it or not. Yaale Veyavo is also recited in Bircat Hamazon during Pesah.
After the amida of arbit the first two nights, complete Hallel is recited with berachot.
Hallel is recited after the amida of shahrit each day. On the first two days the berachot before and after are recited; on the latter days not. One explanation for the difference with Succot when we recite Hallel each day with berachot is that the latter days of Pesah commemorate the drowning of the Egyptians at the Red Sea. The Midrash describes it as if the Almighty said to the heavenly angels: "My creatures (the Egyptians) are drowning and you are singing?" So we tone down the Hallel recital by skipping parts (thus not saying the berachot).
Specified Pesah selections are read from the Torah each morning. The minimum number of aliyot on Yom Tov is five plus maftir. The number of aliyot on Hol Hamoed is four. Even on Hol Hamoed two Sifrei Torah are taken out each day. Musaf prayer is recited daily.
We begin reciting Morid Hatal during Musaf of the first day and Barechenu during the first weekday arbit of Hol Hamoed.
Tefillin are not donned during the days of Pesah.