Do we go overboard with Passover observance?
April 12, 2019
(Rabbis Without Borders via JTA)—There are two funny images I like to circulate this time every year as we approach the Passover holiday. The first is a cartoon of a truck with large text on the side reading Morty’s Passover Cleaning. On the driver’s side door is the word “chametz” inside a circle with line struck through it. Underneath the large Morty’s Passover Cleaning text on the side of the truck it reads: Orthodox $89.95, Conservative $49.95; Reform $19.95.
The second image is of a person’s office cubicle completely covered in aluminum foil—even the desk chair, computer, keyboard and mouse. Most likely this photo was taken of the scene of an office prank, but I like to circulate it with the question, “Do we go overboard when it comes to Pesach cleaning?”
Let’s look at the first photo. Is there some truth to this? I always maintain there has to be some truth to a joke for it to be funny, so let’s say that on the whole, yes, Orthodox Jews would spend more money for Passover cleaning than Conservative Jews and Conservative Jews would spend more money for Passover cleaning than Reform Jews. Perhaps this image strikes us as offensive, but we’ll unpack that in a moment.
I remember as a kid before we got granite countertops watching my mother cover all the countertops in tin foil and then redoing this process each morning of the holiday because some of the tin foil had ripped the night before, causing little sections of the white Formica counter to be revealed. This was done despite the fact that our house was completely spotless after having been thoroughly cleaned for the holiday. The thinking was that the counter is of a porous material and would have retained some of the hametz from the year, which would contaminate our Passover food.
We all spend exorbitant amounts of money on this eight-day holiday (only seven in Israel) to get special food that has been labeled kosher for Passover. We take spring cleaning to the next level, and then up a few more levels to make sure there is no hametz in our homes. We stockpile enough kosher for Passover food to feed an army, as if we’re planning to never return to a grocery store again or that the supply of matzah may run out.
Are our intentions misguided?
Most rabbis encourage congregants to fully embrace the strictures of Passover, and I certainly want everyone to observe the holiday with fervor and joy. But I question what can only be characterized as the intense OCD-like tenacity with which we tackle the minutiae of Passover observance.
After all, our ancestors in Europe weren’t buying kosher for Passover bottled water!
Rabbi Jason Miller is an educator, entrepreneur, social media expert and blogger. He is president of Access Computer Technology, a computer consulting firm based in Detroit, and is the founder-director of Kosher Michigan, a kosher certification agency.