Why do we do this whole kashrut thing anyway?
Because we are what we eat. This is a public symbol of our embracing the idea that God’s will for us is more important than our own desires for this cheeseburger or that slice of pizza.
Disclaimer: this is a simplified summary, and should be viewed as the first word, not the last. When there is a question, ask Rabbi Dr. Freundel, and he’ll give a specific answer.
What is the basic prohibition?
It is prohibited to eat, benefit from, or possess any ḥametz (“leaven”). Ḥametz is Biblically defined as something which is (a) edible (b) larger than a kazayit (somewhere between a giant olive and a donut hole), and (c) contains flour of any of the five grains (barley, rye, oats, wheat, spelt) which has been allowed to contact water in one of several ways. Because it’s a big deal, we put a LOT of fences around it.
I thought it was harder than that? What are the fences?
- Accidental ḥametz: in general, processed or prepared foods which are not inherently ḥametz (e.g. mashed potato mix) either require special supervision, or a determination that the normal supervision excludes ḥametz entirely (e.g. extra virgin olive oil). The custom is to sell foods of this nature to avoid accidentally transgressing the rules of eating or owning ḥametz.
- A subcategory of accidental ḥametz is non-food items which are made from ḥametz ingredients (eg. oatmeal soap). These may fall into the category of being full ḥametz if they are edible to eat at all, and if so, they couldn’t be owned, benefited-from, or eaten on Pesaḥ. Even if they are not edible (and thus not ḥametz) there is a strong custom to sell items of this nature.
- Kitniyot: according to mainstream Ashkenazi custom, it is not permitted to eat beans, corn, peanuts or rice. It is permitted to own and/or benefit from kitniyot during Pesaḥ. The prohibition is on *eating* only. It’s customary (and a generally good idea) to put away (or sell) foods of this nature to avoid accidentally eating them. However, if there’s a reason not to do so, that is completely legitimate – an example is dog food made from corn and rice is usable. There are a LOT of leniencies here if there is a real need (e.g. infant formula, dietary problems/veganism, etc), so don’t be afraid to ask RDBF if you have a concern or a need.
- Long-standing customary prohibitions: there are a few of this variety, mustard being the best example, which are now prohibited because at one time their preparation or storage involved ḥametz in some way. Often these are lumped in with kitniyot, and there is a practical reason for that: the practical laws are quite similar. However, it should be remembered that kitniyot are a fixed class – nothing more can be added to them, according to the universally-accepted opinion of the Ḥayei Adam (whose opinion is why potatoes are accepted).
- Other prohibitions: many individuals have stringencies they personally take on regarding what they will or will not eat, or will or will not use. Examples of these include garlic, quinoa, cumin, gebrokts (any mixture of matzah and water), kitniyot derivatives (i.e. paper products which contain corn starch), vinegar (because the hebrew term is ḥometz), and many more. There isn’t a problem with these personal stringencies, other than that those stringencies should not be used to create divisions in the community. The prohibition against creating divisions (Lo titgodidu) is Biblical, and overweighs any personal stringency about foodstuffs.
What things are always kosher without requiring supervision on Pesaḥ?
Fresh fruit & vegetables (other than kitniot), frozen fruit & vegetables (pure), extra virgin olive oil, eggs, milk (when purchased before Pesaḥ).
Do things that aren’t food require supervision on Pesaḥ?
Not normally. Soap, for instance, is not food (except see fence #2 above). Aluminum foil is not food. Laundry detergent is not food. None of those require supervision.
What are some things which DO require special supervision on Pesaḥ?
Salt, sugar, milk (when purchased during Pesaḥ)
What about countertops?
There is a long-standing custom to cover one’s countertops. This custom is completely independent of the concept of “kashering countertops” – whether you do or do not hold that “kashering countertops” is either possible or necessary, they should be covered for the duration of Pesaḥ.
If you’re in a rental apartment and don’t expect to be there next year, aluminum foil + duct tape works like a champ (although blue painter’s tape gunks up the countertops less). Better, however, is getting some plastic sheeting and cutting it to size – this can be used for multiple years. By happenstance, Kuglers (www.kuglers.com 240.247.0271) is selling rolls of flexible, durable plastic quite inexpensively ($13-$26)this year. I got 1/4” plexiglass from Home Depot and cut it to size years ago, and it serves quite well.
What is this selling thing?
Ideally nothing should be sold. However, because there are valuable items which are acquired over longer timeframes than one year (e.g. whiskey), it is permitted to
Those items which are either (a) valuable ḥametz (e.g. whiskey, not cereal) or (b) could possibly contain ḥametz (e.g. regular spices), regardless of value, or (c) the ḥametz which was absorbed in one’s regular year-round dishes (but not the dishes themselves) should be placed in a specific designated area and then sold to to a gentile for the course of the holiday. This process is complex, and really requires rabbinic supervision – come to any weekday service from now until erev Pesaḥ and either RDBF or one of his designees will walk you through the process. This is an actual sale. That means that once you’ve sold the food located in a specific place to the gentile, it’s prohibited to get into it – removing something would be theft. Thus, don’t do the selling until you know where the ḥametz is.
NOTE: ONLY PHYSICAL OBJECTS SHOULD BE SOLD. There are occasionally suggestions of selling things which are non-tangible (e.g. stock in restaurants which deal in ḥametz products). Securities are not edible, but even if they were, sale of them is a taxable event! Conditional sales of securities are known as “options,” and are also taxable events, even if the conditions are not met, so don’t do this.
What dishes and utensils can be kashered for Pesaḥ?
- Entirely metal utensils – kasherable
- Entirely glass utensils – kasherable
- Charcoal Grill – kasherable
- Wood – often kasherable, but ask a Rabbi
- Knives or other things which are part metal part other – often, ask a Rabbi.
- Ceramics (including china and pyrex) – ask a Rabbi
- Plastic – doubtful, ask RDBF
- Urn – doubtful, ask RDBF
- Coffeepot – doubtful, ask RDBF
- Frying pans (or others which are directly on flame) – no
- K’deira blech – no.
- Dishwashers – no.
- Toasters – no
- Toaster ovens – no
- Sodastream carbonator – usable (but requires dedicated Pesaḥ bottles).
Is it a good idea to kasher dishes for Pesaḥ?
Not if you can help it. In general, it is a lot cheaper and saner to simply buy a small place setting or the like, and then keep them year-to-year.
–> This is true even if you go to family for Sedarim: you’ll likely need to be at home for Ḥol hamoëd next year anyway. <–
Where is the “Judaism with common sense” that you mentioned?
Remember: dirt is not ḥametz. Once something ceases to be recognizable as food, it ceases to be recognizable as ḥametz either. So while it’s a good thing to remove the crud from under the refrigerator, or to clean off one’s blinds, that’s not the essence of Pesaḥ preparation: those are spring cleaning.
How to Kasher a kitchen
In general terms, the order of kashering is “clean, wait 24 hours, kasher”
Get rid of stuff which isn’t kosher, and get the supplies needed to do the cleaning and koshering in the following steps (cleaning supplies, gloves, tongs, a big pot to kasher other dishes, etc). <– This might sound obvious, but it’s essential. Anything which is to be sold to the gentile should be in some designated area which is (a) labeled and (b) closed with something so that it won’t be gotten into.
Clean your fridge. You don’t actually need to kasher the fridge – it is by definition cold contact, so all you need to do is clean well with damp cloths. If you use chemicals, make sure to damp-rinse well, because you don’t want to eat them. Stains are not ḥametz!
Clean the oven. If you’ve got a self-cleaning model, you’re in luck. If not, then clean well with ez-off or something like it. USE GLOVES – those chemicals are exceptionally bad for you, so open windows and try not to get any on you – it’s like a cross between litigation and nuclear power. If the oven self-cleans, you probably need to take the racks out first (two reasons – first, they discolor, and second, they can expand in the heat and damage the oven).
Clean the stove. I’ve found barkeeper’s friend to be very effective at cleaning metal-surface stoves.
Clean the microwave – the trick here is that cleaning the microwave is exactly the same procedure as koshering it, so you’ll end up repeating this. See below for the details.
Clean the countertops. Feel free to use chemicals, but rinse them well, because you don’t want to eat them.
Clean the sink very well. If it’s a metal sink, you’ll be able to kasher it, if it’s ceramic, it won’t be kasherable. When you’re done with this, note the time. Put a piece of tape or something across the sink so that you don’t use it accidentally.
Sweep the floor.
Wait until 24 hours have passed from the time noted in step 6. One good way to do this is either to start kashering on Friday and let it lie over Shabbat. Another good way is to visit friends for a day or two. The hardest thing to avoid using is generally the sink, thus the tape mentioned in step 6.
Kashertime! First, the oven: with the racks IN, bring the oven up to its hottest temperature (generally 550 F) for about 2 hours (i.e. let it get to 550, and then wait two hours – this will take about 2.5-3 hours or so total). Put the burners on full for one hour. Sanity tip: do at most two at a time, so that the room doesn’t get too hot. Another tip: open a window so you don’t suffocate.
After step 8 has finished, if you have a metal sink, boil a VERY large pot full of water (this will take a while). When the pot is at a rolling boil, pour the water into the sink, making sure to get it all over the sides – you want to heat up the whole thing at the same time. WEAR GLOVES: boiling water is dangerous and really sucks if you get it on you. After you’re done with this step, if you’re going to be kashering any utensils or dishes, boil another pot of water.
Kasher your microwave. The process here is to take a pyrex cup (or something else which is both microwave and boiling-water safe) with a bunch of water in it, and boil the heck out of it. Generally microwaving for ~7 minutes on high will fill the thing with steam (which is what you want). Wipe the inside of the microwave out with a cloth, refill the pyrex, move it on the tray, and repeat.
Kasher your stuff – those items which are kasherable should be immersed in a pot of water at a rolling boil. USE TONGS.
Relax with a brandy (or other kosher-for-passover beverage)
Things you need to get ahead of time (perhaps during the 24 hours?):
2 sink racks & 2 drying racks (different colors!)
3 scrubbies – the kosher stores sell some which are labeled “meat/pareve/dairy” but color coding works well. Generally, blue = dairy, red= meat, and either green or yellow=pareve. Sponges are good too, but can’t be used on shabbat, thus the scrubbies.
Preparing food on Shabbat or Yom Tov
Guiding principle: as God rested from His acts of creation on the seventh day, so too do we rest from our creative acts, and thereby show our partnership with Him in this world.
All of the various prohibitions on work on Shabbat, Yom Tov, or Ḥol hamoëd are derived from the activities performed by the Israëlites as they built the portable sanctuary (mishkan) in the desert. Many of the activities which are therefore classed as “work” are not relevant to the preparation of food (e.g. “weaving”), but there are several types of activity which are relevant. Shabbat is more stringent than Yom Tov, and there are no relevant food preparation prohibitions on Ḥol hamoëd.
- Don’t fresh-grind pepper.
- Don’t squeeze lemon into water or tea (but you can squeeze lemon onto sugar which you put into tea).
- Don’t use regular sponges in washing dishes – use non-absorbent scrubbies instead.
- Food packages can be opened even if this involves tearing through printed letters. In the case of cans, the can should be fully emptied and discarded – this is due to concern about creating a new kli (vessel).
- Don’t use slotted spoons.
- Don’t carefully measure things
- Disable the light in the refrigerator – either tape the contact, or unscrew the bulb so that it does not automatically turn on when the door is opened. If there’s a light in the oven, it should either be always on or always off – make sure it isn’t activated by the door.
- The stove/oven can’t be adjusted once shabbat comes in, either directly or indirectly.
- A timer can turn an over/stove off, but not on.
- If soup is left on a burner which is on, the soup may not be stirred while it’s on the burner. Once you take it off the burner, don’t put it back on.
- Note the status of the food when shabbat comes in: if it’s already hot, then this food can cool and reheat. If not, then it may not be directly reheated (unless using a k’deira blech). <– This applies to solid food only – liquids may not be reheated according to Ashkenazi custom.
- If food is in a hot oven, once you open the door, you need to take everything out: it isn’t okay to completely close a hot oven with food in it on shabbat. <– This applies to “warming drawers” and “warming ovens” also. This is based on the concept of “insulating” (hatmana).
- Liquids may not be reheated according to Ashkenazi custom. For Sefardi custom, ask a rabbi.
- If a regular blech is used, all solid food to be reheated must have been hot when shabbat came in. If a k’deirach blech (steam tray) is used, food need not have been hot when shabbat came in.
- A crock pot (or the like) may not be stirred or adjusted while the crock is on the heat source. Remove the crock from the heat source, and then you’re free to do whatever you need to it, but you can’t then put it back on the heat source.
- As above, ovens should not be used for reheating. There are some authorities who permit this, but it is discouraged, and if you intend to do this, consult a rabbi.
- Food which is going to cook over shabbat should be 1/3 cooked before shabbat comes in, although there is a leniency if the dish includes meat.
- All of the non-cooking prohibitions of shabbat continue to be observed (separating, squeezing, etc)
- You (generally) can’t cook on day 1 for a meal on day 2. This is most relevant on the afternoon of day 1. However, in 5771, the 7th day of Pesaḥ is Friday, which means that an eruv tavshillin is required, and that specifically allows this.
Most of the yom tov complexity involves manipulating the temperature of a stove or an oven.
Gas stove: you can turn an existing flame up at any time, and turn it down if there’s food on it. You can put food on a burner for the purpose of turning it down.
If you have a true pilot light, you can turn the stove on (from the existing flame); if you have an electric starter, you can’t. In either case, a gas stove cannot be turned all the way off.
Electric stove: if the controls are digital or quantum (discrete settings), they can’t be adjusted. If they’re continuous (smooth), then treat as a gas stove.
Halogen stove: ask a rabbi, and good luck. Avoid buying one of these if you can help it – they’re also problematic to kasher, and generally don’t work with a blech.
Ovens have thermostats; you can turn an oven up when it’s already on, and down when it’s off. Most ovens have some kind of indication about when they’re cycling on and off.
Microwave ovens can’t be used on yom tov.
Charcoal Grill: light it from a pre-existing flame, and it will put itself out.