The Laws of Bedikat Chametz

  • Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon

The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash


 The Laws of Bedikat Chametz

By Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon

Translated by David Silverberg

 

 

The opening mishna of Pesachim (2a) states, "On the night of the fourteenth of Nissan, one searches for chametz by candlelight."  Rashi provides the following reason for this halakha: "In order that he not be in violation of 'bal yeira'eh' and 'bal yimatzei' [the prohibition against possessing chametz on Pesach]." 

 

            Tosafot, however, challenge Rashi's explanation.  As far as Torah law is concerned, "bittul," the formal renunciation of one's chametz, suffices to avoid violating the prohibition of "bal yeira'eh."  Tosafot therefore explained bedikat chametz as an obligation de-rabbanan, instituted by Chazal out of the concern that one might find a piece of chametz and eat it on Pesach.  They instituted this measure specifically regarding chametz, as opposed to all other forbidden foods, because we eat chametz throughout the year, thus giving rise to a greater risk of forgetting the prohibition and eating the chametz. 

 

            The Ran (in addition to the Maharam Chalava and Rabbenu David) suggests that as far as Torah law is concerned, one can either perform bittul or check for chametz.  Thus, a person who did not renounce his chametz must, according to Torah law, search for chametz.  If one searched and did not find chametz, one does not violate the prohibition against possessing chametz even if it turns out that there was chametz that one did not find in his search.  If, however, one decides to perform bittul, then one has no obligation to search for chametz.  But Chazal did not want us to rely on bittul alone, since one may not renounce his ownership of the chametz wholeheartedly, in which case the bittul is ineffective.  (We should perhaps explain Rashi's view in similar fashion, that bedikat chametz in fact constitutes a rabbinic requirement, instituted by Chazal in order to avoid such a situation of a halfhearted bittul, which would result in a violation of "bal yeira'eh" and "bal yeimatzei.")

 

            Practically, since in any event we perform bittul, bedikat chametz is required only on the level of de-rabbanan, instituted either out of concern that one might come to eat bread during Pesach (Tosafot), or in case one does not perform bittul wholeheartedly (Ran).[1]

 

The Time for the Search

 

            The mishna explicitly states that the bedika must take place on the night before the seder – the night of the 14th of Nissan.  The Ra'avad (on the Rif, beginning of Pesachim) points out that in presenting this halakha, the mishna described the night of the fourteenth as "or le-arba'a asar" – literally, "the light of the fourteenth."  On this basis, the Ra'avad concludes that although bedikat chametz may be performed throughout the night, one should optimally conduct the search at the beginning of the night, when some daylight still remains.  Other Rishonim adopted this view, as well, which has been accepted as halakha.

 

            The question, however, remains: when exactly should one perform bedikat chametz?  The poskim debate this issue.  The Bach and Magen Avraham (beginning of 431), as well as the Vilna Gaon (cited in Ma'aseh Rav), maintained that one should search after sunset, just shortly before nightfall.  This view is based on the version of the Ra'avad cited by several Rishonim (Rabbenu Manoach 2:3; Rabbenu Yerucham 5:1).  By contrast, the Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav, Chayei Adam and Mishna Berura (431:1) call for beginning the search immediately at nightfall, not before.  This also appears to be the implication of the version of the Ra'avad found in our texts, as well as the straightforward reading of the Rambam (2:3) and Shulchan Arukh (431:1), who wrote that one should conduct the search "at the beginning of the night."  If, however, one searched earlier, he has nevertheless fulfilled the obligation, so long as he searched at a time appropriate for searching by candlelight.

 

The Nature of the Search

 

            Can one rely on his having cleaned and checked the rooms beforehand?

 

            The Yerushalmi (1:1) discusses the question of whether the courtyards in Yerushalayim required bedika.  Although chametz is eaten in these areas, they are nevertheless checked for notar – leftover sacrificial food which may not be eaten and must be burned.  The Yerushalmi rules that these courtyards required bedika "so as not to differentiate between one search and the next."  On this basis, the Mordekhai (beginning of Pesachim) writes that even if one cleaned the house beforehand, he must check it again "so as not to differentiate…"  The Mordekhai adds that although one must clean the rooms before the search, he may not rely on this cleaning and must search, lest he find chametz in the holes in the ground.

 

            The Mordekhai thus bases his position on two reasons: the interest in maintaining a single, consistent standard of searching, and the concern for chametz in holes that were not properly cleaned.

 

            The Terumat Ha-Deshen (133) writes that in light of the Mordekhai's comments, we should discourage the practice of many to clean the house beforehand and not conduct a proper search on the night of fourteenth.  Instead, he observes, many people simply put out small pieces of bread in several rooms and stop searching once they have found those pieces.  The Terumat Ha-deshen writes that although this satisfies the first reason given by the Mordekhai (for he does, after all, conduct a search on the night of fourteenth), it nevertheless fails to satisfy the second reason (as we must be concerned about chametz in holes).  The Shulchan Arukh (end of 433) rules accordingly.  The Rema (end of 433) adds that we nevertheless clean before the night of the 14th, in order to make the search easier.  The Mishna Berura (46) likewise observes the common practice to clean all the rooms on the night of the 13th (clearly one may do so earlier, as well, so long as he ensures that no chametz is brought into the rooms after they are cleaned).

 

            What does the halakha say if one cleaned thoroughly, even in holes and the like?

 

            The Magen Avraham (20) writes that one must nevertheless conduct the search as usual, since he did not search by candlelight.  The Sha'arei Teshuva (end of 433), however, cites the following comments of the Maharish:

 

Therefore, many people are lenient and check casually without searching properly in holes and cracks, since first they sweep, wash and scour everything very well, and even if they wash and scour through a non-Jew, it stands to reason that they are trusted, for they are meticulous regarding cleanliness so as not to undermine themselves [= their reputation].

 

Certainly, then, when we thoroughly clean by ourselves, or by hiring other Jews, we may rely on this leniency.  This is also the view of the Chida (in "Machazik Berakha") and the Maharsham (in "Da'at Torah") citing the "Da'at Kedoshim" (of Buczacz).[2]

 

            Nevertheless, the poskim have generally ruled that one should not rely on this position but rather perform a proper search on the night of the 14th (Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav, Chayei Adam, Mishna Berura – 45). 

 

For What Must One Search?

 

a) Crumbs less than a ke-zayit:

 

            The Gemara (Pesachim 45b) establishes that one must concern himself with the dough in the cracks of a dough-trough; it must be destroyed even if it amounts to less than a ke-zayit, given the possibility that it will combine with other dough into a ke-zayit.

 

            Earlier in Pesachim (6b), the Gemara writes that bedikat chametz does not require searching for crumbs, because, after all, "lo chashivi" – we do not accord any significance to them.  This would imply that we need not search for crumbs smaller than a ke-zayit, seemingly contradicting the aforementioned halakha concerning the dough-trough.

 

            We find several different approaches to resolve this contradiction:

 

A.        The Maharam Chalava (6b) explains that small pieces of dough can easily stick together.  Crumbs, however, cannot combine, and therefore we need not concern ourselves with small crumbs.  The Meiri (45b), Magen Avraham (460:2) and Vilna Gaon (11) follow this approach, as well.

B.        The Gemara on 45b perhaps deals with bi'ur – the obligation to destroy one's chametz, rather than bedika.  One need not search for crumbs smaller than a ke-zayit, but if he finds them, he must destroy them.

C.        The Gemara on 6b perhaps speaks of a case where one has not performed bittul, whereas on 45b the Gemara refers to a situation after the institution of bittul.  (Further elaboration on this point lies beyond the scope of our discussion.)

 

According to all these explanations, one need not search the house for crumbs smaller than a ke-zayit.  The Chayei Adam, however (119:6), writes that one must nevertheless search for them due to the concern that one may come to eat them.  Although he ascribes this view to the Ri'az, our version of the Ri'az (Shiltei Gibborim, Pesachim, 14a in the Rif) writes only that one must destroy these small crumbs, not that one is required to search for them.

 

            The Shulchan Arukh writes (442:6-7): "The custom is to scrape the walls and chairs with which chametz had come in contact, and they [who follow this practice] have a basis on which to rely."  The Mishna Berura (28) explains: "Meaning, one should not mock this practice, considering it foolish and an unnecessary stringency."  In the Sha'ar Ha-tziyun (52), he gives the following reason: "The point is that Yisrael are sacred and have the practice of conducting themselves stringently even with regard to tiny particles."  (This does not, however, apply to chametz on the ground or in the cracks of the floor and the like, as this chametz is considered already destroyed – Mishna Berura, Chazon Ish – 122:8.)

 

According to this, it would seem that one must spend several hours searching for chametz and look for each and every crumb.  Generally, we find two extremes in this regard.  Some indeed spend several long hours on bedikat chametz, whereas others have the practice of performing a merely symbolic search.

 

            In practice, it would seem that, on the one hand, there is room to be lenient and not require searching for crumbs less than a ke-zayit, since we wash and clean the house thoroughly beforehand, and in any event the search for these crumbs constitutes a stringency and is not strictly required.  On the other hand, one should conduct a serious search, rather than a symbolic, casual bedika, for two reasons.  Firstly, one may often find chametz in certain forgotten places where crumbs tend to fall, and during the bedika one should think about where he may have forgotten to clean the chametz (e.g. coat pockets, vacuum cleaner bags, etc.).  Secondly, since we recite a berakha over this bedika, it must indeed be performed as a real search, rather than a symbolic "tour" of the home.

 

            Therefore, one should go through every room of the house and seriously think where there might be chametz, and which areas were perhaps not thoroughly cleaned.  Furthermore, one must check those places where one was likely to have brought chametz after it had been cleaned.

 

b) Books:

 

The work "Ma'aseh Rav" writes (in the name of Vilna Gaon) that one must check all books he uses during meals.  This ruling appears very difficult to understand, since undoubtedly any crumbs in books do not amount to a ke-zayit, and the Vilna Gaon himself, as we have seen, rules leniently regarding small crumbs.  Furthermore, we have no reason for concern that one may eat these crumbs.  Indeed, in a different version of the "Ma'aseh Rav," it says that one need not check his books, and this would seem to be the more reasonable ruling.  (Bentchers, however, which one actually keeps on the table, as well as books on the weekly parasha kept at the table, are generally not used on Pesach.)

 

c) Closets:

 

            Strictly speaking, closets require bedika.  However, Rav Shlomo Kluger (cited in Otzar Ha-Halakhot vol. 1, 433, note 163) writes that if they are thoroughly checked before Pesach, then we consider them as places to which chametz is not brought, thus exempting them from bedika.  We may therefore be lenient with regard to closets of which we are sure that children did not open.  (A similar view appears in the Maharsham's "Da'at Torah.")

 

d) Clothing:

 

            Laundry qualifies as the destruction of the chametz in clothing, and thus one need not check laundered clothing (Rav Elyashiv).  Other garments, however, such as coats, must have their pockets checked.  (If one checked them earlier – one may rely on that checking.)

 

e) Cars:

 

            Cars should be searched without a berakha (it should preferably be checked immediately after the berakha recited for the bedika in the house), as we are unsure as to whether the bedika obligation applies even to mobile areas.

 

The Procedure for the Bedika

 

            One recites the berakha, "al bi'ur chametz," rather than "al bedikat chametz," since the bedika is ultimately geared towards the bi'ur (Rosh, Pesachim 7a; Tur).  The Bach explains that the term "bi'ur" includes the search, as well, as implied by the verse, "b'iarti ha-kodesh min ha-bayit" – "I have removed all the sacred portions from the home."

 

            If one forgot to recite the berakha, one may recite it so long as one has yet to complete the search (Kolbo, cited in Bet Yosef 432; Rema - 432:1).  The Magen Avraham and Taz allow one to recite the berakha even after the search, until one burns the chametz.  The Bach, however, rules that one cannot recite the berakha after the search.  The Mishna Berura (432:2) writes that someone in this situation who wishes to recite the berakha has authorities on whom to rely, but implies that he should preferably not recite the berakha (or recite it without God's Name).[3]

 

            One may not speak at all in between the recitation of the berakha and the start of the search, even in matters related to the search (unless he has no choice).  If, however, he did speak then about matters concerning the bedika, he need not recite a new berakha.  If one speaks after the berakha about matters unrelated to the bedika, he must recite a new berakha (432:1, Mishna Berura).  After beginning the search, one may not speak in matters unrelated to the bedika.  If he did engage in such speech, he nevertheless does not recite a new berakha.  One may (even le-chatkhila) speak during the search about matters concerning the search.

 

            The Rosh (Pesachim 1:10; Responsa, 14) writes that if the head of the household cannot personally search all areas of the house, he may have others assist him.  The Shulchan Arukh (432:2) rules accordingly.  They should have in mind to fulfill their obligation of the berakha through the recitation of the head of the household.

 

            Who may help the ba'al ha-bayit perform the search?  The Gemara in Pesachim (4b) establishes that women and children may be entrusted with the task of searching for chametz, and the Rambam rules accordingly (2:17).  Although the Yerushalmi implies that women may not perform the search, Tosafot (Pesachim 4b) and most Rishonim hold that they may (Rabbenu David, Maharam Chalava, Ritva; Rashba and Ran – Chullin 10b).

 

            The exceptions are the Kolbo (74), who does not allow women to perform the search (and interprets the Gemara in Pesachim to mean only that they may instruct others to search), and the Maharil, who holds that they may search only be-di'eved.

 

            In practice, some Acharonim write that women should preferably not perform the search, but are trusted be-di'eved (Magen Avraham, end of 437; Mishna Berura, 437:18).  By contrast, the Vilna Gaon (436:2) and Peri Chadash (437) permit women to search even le-chatkhila.  The same applies to children with sufficient intelligence to search.  The Arukh Ha-shulchan writes that women nowadays are more meticulous in searching than men are.

 

            To what does the berakha "al bi'ur chametz" refer – the search, or the destruction of chametz?  The answer likely depends on the two explanations brought earlier as to why we mention "bi'ur" in the berakha, rather than "bedika."  The practical ramification of this question arises in a case where one searched but did not find any chametz.  Do we consider his berakha a berakha le-vatala (wasted berakha) since, as it turns out, he searched in vain?  If we hold that the berakha refers to the destruction of the chametz, then if he found no chametz, we might indeed consider his berakha a berakha le-vatala, since he did not find anything to destroy.  If, however, the berakha relates to the search itself, then clearly there is no obligation to find chametz, but only to conduct a search.

 

            The Rishonim debate this point.  The Mordekhai (beginning of Pesachim) cites the Sefer Ha-Pardes (this appears also in Machzor Vitri, beginning of Hilkhot Pesach, and Siddur Rashi, Hilkhot Pesach), who says that the berakha relates to the discovery and destruction of chametz.  (He therefore rules that one should begin searching without a berakha and then recite the berakha when he finds the first piece of chametz.)  The Meiri and Kolbo write that on this basis, a practice had evolved to put out pieces of chametz before the search.  They, however, disagree and claim that the berakha relates to the search itself, and one therefore need not place pieces of chametz beforehand.

 

            The Beit Yosef (432) writes that the practice in his time was not to place pieces of chametz, but the Rema writes (432:2):

 

The practice is to put pieces of chametz in a place where the one searching will find them, so that his berakha will not be for naught.  If he did not place [the pieces], however, this does not withhold [the fulfillment of the obligation], for everyone's intention in the berakha is to destroy [chametz] if it is discovered.

 

            Meaning, one should preferably follow the stringent ruling of the Sefer Ha-pardes, but one fulfills the obligation even without putting out the pieces.

 

            The Vilna Gaon brings what he calls "irrefutable proof" to the fact that one need not place pieces of chametz before the search.  It is clear from the Gemara and Shulchan Arukh that one who failed to perform bedikat chametz before Pesach must search with a berakha during chol ha-mo'ed.  Needless to say, one does not place pieces of chametz before searching on Pesach itself!  The Gaon brings another proof from birkat ha-mapil, which one recites even though one cannot be sure that he will fall asleep.  (For a fuller discussion about this final point, see my article in "Alon Shevut" 139, "Birkat Ha-mapil.")

 

            The Mishna Berura (13) rules that, strictly speaking, one need not place pieces of chametz, but "it is not worthwhile to do away with the custom of Israel."  In the Sha'ar Ha-tziyun (12), he adds that nowadays, when we thoroughly clean the house ahead of time, according to the Emek Halakha one must place pieces of chametz even according to the strict letter of the law, and not merely by force of custom.  (This point would obviously depend on our earlier discussion; it might be that if the home was thoroughly cleaned, even without a candle, this satisfies the requirement of bedika altogether.) 

 

The Mishna Berura (13) adds that one should use hard, chametz food items for this purpose, so that they do not leave crumbs.  (To avoid this problem, one may place the chametz in bags or use noodles and the like.)  He also brings the custom based on the Arizal to place specifically ten pieces of chametz, but one must ensure not to lose any pieces.  (It is therefore recommended that the person who puts out the pieces should write down where he placed them.)

 

            One must ensure that this practice yields the desired benefit, and not the opposite.  Some people place the pieces of chametz right in the middle of the room, and the one conducting the search simply collects all the pieces from all the rooms and thereby completes the bedika.  This obviously undermines the entire bedika, transforming it into a ceremony of collecting pieces.  This point is made by the Kitzur Shulchan Arukh (111:8).  The pieces must be somewhat concealed (though they obviously should not be hidden in places where bedikat chametz is not required), thus giving the searcher further incentive to conduct a proper search.

 

            The pieces should be smaller than a ke-zayit, so that if one of them is not found, the bittul declaration will suffice to avoid the violation.

 

            One must search by candlelight.  However, most poskim maintain that burning metal has the status of fire.  (In fact, Rav Chayim Ozer Grodzensky would make a point of using a bulb for the berakha of "borei me'orei ha-eish," to show that he considers it actual fire.  When it comes to havdala, however, the Sefaradim rule stringently in this regard – see Yabia Omer.)  Therefore, since one can search more effectively with a flashlight, one may use a flashlight for bedikat chametz (Yabia Omer, vol. 4, O.C. 40).  It might be preferable to first search with a candle in places that allow for it, and then add (or switch to) a flashlight.  Some claim that one should turn off the lights during the bedika.  Certainly, however, it is recommended to leave a light on at least in a nearby room, as this helps facilitate the search (Mo'adim U-zmanim).

 

            Upon completing the bedika, one should collect all the chametz into a single bag or the like to ensure that it does not disperse.

 

The Procedure for Bittul

 

            At night, after the search, one must renounce all chametz that he did not see.  This is done preferably in Aramaic, but one who does not understand Aramaic may recite the bittul in any language.  (One preferably uses Aramaic so that other people and angels will not understand, as the bittul involves a degree of degradation towards the bread – Magen Avraham and Ba'er Heitev, 5.)  It is of utmost importance that one understand the text of the bittul.

 

            One does not recite a berakha over the bittul.  The Beit Yosef gives two reasons.  First, the berakha over the search includes the bittul, as well; second, we do not recite berakhot over "devarim she-ba-lev" - that which we perform in our minds.

 

            One must recite the bittul once again on Erev Pesach, only this time one recites, "… that I have seen and that I have not seen."  The primary bittul is performed at night, but we repeat it by day because we still eat chametz in the interim, and only when we finish may we renounce even the chametz of which we are aware (Tur, citing the Rosh).

 

            One should not declare the daytime bittul until after he burns his chametz, in order that he burn chametz that he owns.  This applies only according to the view that the mitzva requires specifically burning the chametz (Pesachim 12b).  According to this position, one should actually burn the chametz rather than simply rendering it inedible with oil and the like.  If one declared the bittul before burning the chametz, he has nevertheless satisfied the obligation be-di'eved.  According to Rav Yaakov Emden (Mor U-ketzi'a 434), one may do so even le-chatekhila.

 

            One may eat chametz on Erev Pesach until the end of the fourth hour of the day, and may destroy the chametz until the beginning of the sixth hour.[4]

 

One Who Travels for Pesach

 

            Within thirty days of Pesach (= after Purim), one searches without a berakha or instructs someone to check on his behalf on the night of the 14th (with a berakha – Magen Avraham 432:6, Mishna Berura 10; preferably, he should recite the berakha over the search of his own home, and then immediately go search his friend's house).

 

            Although one may, as mentioned, appoint an agent to perform the bedika (though in general, "mitzva bo yoter mi-bi-shelucho"), one should make the bittul declaration personally.[5]  One may perform the bittul anywhere, even far away from his home.  He may do so as usual on the night of the 14th, with his parent – or with whomever he stays – or when he searches his current location.

 

            If one leaves earlier than thirty days before Pesach (i.e. before Purim), and has no intention of returning until after Pesach, he does not have to search.  If he does intend on returning, then if he returns at the last minute, he must search ahead of time.  If he returns some time before Pesach, then he searches when he returns (the same applies to someone who leaves within thirty days).

 

            Common practice is not to search a room that one sells to a gentile for Pesach, and one should not object to this practice (Mishna Berura 436:32).  One who goes away for Pesach and wishes to exempt himself from searching his home altogether can sell his home to a gentile one day earlier, such that it never becomes obligated in bedikat chametz.

 

Notes:

 

[1] If one searched but did not perform bittul, and it turns out that chametz was, in fact, present in the home, then according to Tosafot, it would appear that one has violated the prohibition, since the search is purely de-rabbanan.  (This is indeed the implication of the ruling of the Tur in 431, Magen Avraham and Machatzit Ha-shekel.)  According to the Ran, by contrast, who believes that the search works according to Torah law, in such a situation one has not violated the prohibition.  (This is also the view of the Peri Chadash, Chayei Adam, Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav, and Mishna Berura - 431:1, 434:6.)

 

[2] The Vilna Gaon (in Bi'ur Ha-Gra) explained that one must search again because the original search was not performed specifically for the purpose of Pesach.  Accordingly, then, if one cleaned for the expressed purpose of Pesach preparation, then perhaps this satisfies the Gaon's criterion.  The Shulchan Arukh, however, implies that even if one checked for the purpose of Pesach, one must still search again on the night of the 14th.

 

[3] When Erev Pesach falls on Shabbat, one may not recite the berakha on Friday morning.

 

[4] One may burn the chametz even before the time at which its consumption becomes forbidden – Rema 445:1.  However, the Mo'adim U-zmanim (page 9) writes that one should burn specifically after this point so as not to be considered wasting food.  As stated, however, the Rema implies otherwise, presumably because one is not considered wasting food if the food is destined for burning in any event.

 

[5] Nevertheless, one who cannot perform the bittul personally may do so through an agent.  If one declared the bittul for someone else without his knowing, according to some views it does not take effect (Sha'arei Teshuva), whereas others maintain that such a bittul is effective (Chukat Ha-Pesach 10).