Return to the Guide to Passover for Interfaith Families
Before Passover begins, many Jews have already begun their holiday observance in a flurry of preparations. Preparing for Passover includes both a literal house cleaning and a ritual one.
There are two major food rules that are part of the observance of Passover – 1) do eat matzah, and 2) don’t eat or possess any leavened food products made out of certain grains – these foods are called chametz in Hebrew. In order to get rid of all the chametz in the home, in the days before the holiday begins, traditional Jews remove any foods that are leavened or fermented, like bread, vinegar or beer, or that contain any ingredients that could be made into something fermented, like flour. By searching for and removing all the chametz, such as bread, pasta and crackers, traditional Jews ready their kitchens for the Passover foods they will eat at the seder and the rest of the week of Passover.
Some families try not to have any chametz at all in their possession. One way to do this is to plan ahead and eat up all the leavened food before the cleaning begins, or to donate sealed-up packages of chametz to food banks.
There is a custom of selling your chametz to someone who is not Jewish. Since food is expensive and Passover is only one week long, in the past—and some still today—traditionally observant Jewish families sell any unused portions of leavened products to neighbors who aren’t Jewish, and then buy them back after the holiday. They may then gather all of these food products and seal them away in some part of the home that becomes off-limits during Passover. Once sold, the chametz isn’t technically in their possession, even though they are actually storing it in sealed-up boxes in the basement, and even though they sold the food for some tiny amount of pocket change. Some congregations use the legal fiction of the chametz “sale” as an excuse to give money to tzedakah (charity): they deputize their rabbi to sell the food for them, and give him or her a check to be their agent. The rabbi sells the leavened food to people of other faith traditions and donates the agent money to charity.
After the chametz is out of the house and all household cleaning is done, shortly before the holiday begins, some Jews perform a ritual called bidikat chametz, the “Search for Leavened Foods.” This is a fun ritual especially for families with young children. Here’s how it works: The evening before the first seder, one person hides 10 bread crumbs throughout the house and then the family searches for them by candle light, using a feather to scoop them into a paper cone or envelope. The next morning, you take them outside and burn the whole thing (feather and all). If you want to try it, there’s a really user-friendly and humorous resource here.
The Guide to Passover for Interfaith Families is also available in a beautiful PDF