Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Preparing for Pesach

Preparing for Pesach takes a lot of time, energy and a ton of planning. Before I get into the preparations I have already completed and those I still need to do, I'm going to post a short glossary of terms that are very necessary as Pesach has its own list of restrictions that do not apply the rest of the year.


Pesach: Passover

Leavened: causing to rise, especially by fermentation.

Chametz: leavened (or fermented) wheat, rye, oats, spelt and barley. These grains leaven within 18 minutes when mixed with water. Chametz may not be eaten, remain in the possession of, or have a benefit derived from it during Pesach.

Kitniot: Leguminous vegetables like beans, rice, and corn. Though these are technically not chametz, many rabbinical authorities restrict their use during Pesach (one may not eat them but you may derive a benefit from them). The thought behind this restriction is that these items may be confused for items that ARE chametz by one who is watching. Generally these additional restrictions are limited to Ashkenazi Jews (those of European decent). Other Jews (Sephardic, Yemenite, etc) are generally not bound by this custom.

Matzah: Unleavened bread that has been prepared under careful supervision so as not to exceed the 18 minute limit. Matzah is a primary bread substitute during Pesach.

Kashering: the process of making from un-kosher to kosher.

Kosher: the English, meaning it conforms to the dietary laws.


Now that we have some of the basics covered... here's how my preparations have gone: SLOW! Many begin preparing for Pesach right after Purim. I was a little behind this year and only began my prep about 2 weeks ago.

It did not help that part of my prep time has been consumed with four children and myself being sick with some kind of stomach virus. Yuck.

So, during Pesach we are to remove all chametz from our homes and our possession... every, tiny, speck. This leads to step one of Pesach preparations: Spring Cleaning on steroids. I do not use that phrase lightly. Every nook and cranny must be reached and cleaned to remove all trace of chametz. Even rooms where you "know" there is no chamtez ("But I've never eaten a PB&J in my bedroom closet!") must be cleaned to a whole new definition of clean. You may never have eaten a PB&J sandwich in your closet but you MAY have dripped crumbs on your shirt and they MAY have fallen off when you went into your closet to get a change of clothes. Furniture must be moved, floors must be swept, scrubbed, vacuumed, cabinets must be emptied and wiped down, baseboards must be cleaned... the list is almost endless.

Next we try to use up the chamtez that we have in the house. In my home, this is nearly impossible because I stock up on food. My pantry overflows with pasta and crackers and oats. So, rather than trying to rush through all the chametz, I stop buying it a few weeks before Pesach. Then we eat normally (I cannot handle eating pasta 5 days a week just to use it all up). We take the permitted approach of packing up our chametz just before Pesach. Once it is packed up and sealed and stored, we sell our chametz to a non-Jew. After Pesach we can buy it back and return it to the pantry to be used again. Usually this is arranged through the synagogue. The Rabbi will arrange for someone to buy the chametz of the congregants, write up the contract of sale and then transfer ownership of the chametz from the Jew to the non-Jew. Some people will donate all the chametz left just before Pesach. One day I would love to do this but when you are on a budget, you cannot always give away what amounts to hundreds of dollars of food. So temporarily selling our chametz is an allowed option.

Next we put away all the items that cannot or do not need to be kashered for Pesach (see next paragraph). This would be our everyday dishes, utensils, etc. We do this because the next step is getting everything kashered and once kashered we do not want any trace of chametz to be transferred. It is at this point that I also line my cleaned cabinets with paper so that I can put out my Pesach dishes and utensils. The paper is to create a barrier, between that which has held chametz and that which cannot hold chametz. Some do not have a set of Pesach dishes and instead use disposable (paper) products during Pesach. The environmentalist in me cannot agree with this option. That is just too much waste for me. But it is an option.

Now to prepare the kitchen and pantry for the preparation of foods without chametz. Anything that has been used for chamtez cannot be used during Pesach or has to be kashered so that it can be used for Pesach. The kashering process can range from simple (a self-cleaning oven is easy) to difficult (immersing pots and pans into boiling water for a period of time to remove all traces of chametz). Many forgo this by having a special set of Pesach pots, pans, dishes, utensils, etc. Some do not have the room for all those extra items. As I do, now, have storage space, I am still working on getting a set of Pesach only equipment. It is tempting to go to the store and buy brand new pots, pans, cooking utensils, etc... but my bank account just will not accommodate (where's that money tree located again?). So every year I get something, just what I can afford. One or two items and over a couple of years I will have all I need. Until then... I kasher. Some things cannot be kashered and, thus, cannot be used during Pesach.

Once the items have been properly kashered (depending on what they are), they are put away in the shelf lined cabinets and ready for Pesach use (or in the case of large appliances they stay where they are LOL).

That is just a summary of some of the preparations that go into getting ready for Pesach. I haven't even touched on the shopping for matzahs or food that can be eaten during Pesach (and many items require a special "Kosher for Passover" certification). It can be very complicated but once you are used to it, it becomes second nature and many a Jewish wife has the entire list memorized.

Hopefully I will have another installment of Kosher for Passover tomorrow.



  1. do you have to kasher your oven and fridge like you do the dishes? How is this done if so?

    1. A fridge just needs to be completely cleaned and scrubbed and all the chametz removed.

      The oven is kashered easily through the self-cleaning oven feature. First it is cleaned carefully to remove the much. Then I set the self-cleaning to run. Once that is done it is wiped clean of any residue that came off during the cleaning process. It sits for 24 hours and then the self-cleaning feature is set to run again. After that the oven is ready.

      All parts of the range that comes in contact with food must be completely cleaned. I have an electric stove so once the top, sides, and under the heating elements are scrubbed clean, I then set all the burners on high for 5 minutes. Once they are turned off a small amount of boiling water is poured over the surface of the stove top.

      Different movements have different thoughts on what is "acceptable" for kashering. When in doubt, consult your rabbi. Our movement publishes a Pesach Guide that is approved by our Rabbinical Assembly on what and how to kasher everything that needs kashering.