3 – The Mitzva of Getting Rid of Ĥametz

1. The Mitzvot Associated with Getting Rid of Ĥametz

It is a positive Torah commandment to eliminate all ĥametz from our possession before Pesaĥ, as it is written, “Yet on the first day you must remove the se’or from your homes” (Shemot 12:15). The oral tradition teaches that we are to clear out the ĥametz by midday of the fourteenth of Nisan, Erev Pesaĥ. This ruling is supported by the verse, “You shall not slaughter the blood of My sacrifice over ĥametz” (ibid. 34:25), which is interpreted to mean that one may not slaughter the Paschal sacrifice while there is still ĥametz in his possession, and the time for slaughtering the Paschal sacrifice begins at midday on the fourteenth of Nisan (see Pesaĥim 4b; MT, Laws of Ĥametz 2:1). Men and women are equally obligated in this mitzva, as they are concerning all of the mitzvot of Pesaĥ.

Whoever did not remove the ĥametz from his home by midday of the fourteenth of Nisan is in violation – every single moment that he delays – of the positive commandment of removing the ĥametz (MB 443:1). Furthermore, from the moment the Pesaĥ holiday begins, he is in violation of two prohibitions: bal yimatzei, as it is written, “Seven days there shall be no se’or found in your homes” (Shemot 12:19), and bal yera’eh, as the Torah declares, “Matzot shall be eaten seven days; and no ĥametz of yours shall be seen, and no se’or of yours shall be seen within all your borders” (ibid. 13:7). Thus, by fulfilling the mitzva of getting rid of the ĥametz we are saved from two prohibitions: bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei – that ĥametz should be neither seen nor found in our possession.[1]

The mitzva of removing the ĥametz is the first in a series of mitzvot connected with Pesaĥ. As noted, ĥametz on Pesaĥ is a metaphor for the evil inclination, and one has to clear out the ĥametz from the house in order to experience the sanctity of the Pesaĥ sacrifice and the eating of the matza properly. Therefore, the first of the preparations for Pesaĥ is removal of the ĥametz.


[1]. Let us summarize the opinions regarding the times of the onset of the ĥametz prohibitions. The removal and destruction of the ĥametz must be done by midday of the fourteenth (perhaps according to Ha-ma’or the mitzva begins at midday, but according to the rest of the Rishonim, on the Torah level the removal and destruction of the ĥametz must be completed by midday). There is a dispute regarding the starting times of the other mitzvot connected to ĥametz. Regarding the prohibition of eating ĥametz, R. Yehuda maintains that the prohibition begins at midday of the fourteenth, and R. Shimon maintains that the prohibition of eating ĥametz, on the biblical level, begins at the onset of the Pesaĥ festival. Most Rishonim adopt the view of R. Yehuda that the eating prohibition begins at midday of the fourteenth, but there are those who adopt the view of R. Shimon that the eating prohibition begins at the start of the holiday. Regarding the prohibitions of bal yeira’eh and bal yimatzei, most Rishonim are of the opinion that these prohibitions begin at the onset of the Pesaĥ festival, while a minority hold that these prohibitions begin at midday of the fourteenth.

Additionally, note that one who participated in the Paschal sacrifice (korban Pesaĥ) while he still had at least a kezayit of ĥametz in his possession, violated a Torah prohibition, as it says: You shall not slaughter the blood of My sacrifice over ĥametz (Shemot 34:25). If he was warned about this and still did it on purpose, he incurs the penalty of lashes (MT, Laws of Korban Pesaĥ 1:5).

2. The Prohibition against Ĥametz One Owns

The prohibition against ĥametz on Pesaĥ is unique in that it is not only forbidden to eat it, but it is forbidden even to keep; whoever keeps it in his home violates the two prohibitions of bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei.[2]

The Torah’s language, “no ĥametz of yours shall be seen, and no se’or of yours shall be seen within all your borders” (Shemot 13:7), shows that there is no prohibition against a Jew having a gentile’s ĥametz or ownerless ĥametz in his domain. It says “of yours” – you are not allowed to see ĥametz that belongs to you specifically, implying that the ĥametz of gentiles and ĥametz that is ownerless are permissible.

Therefore, if a gentile lives in a Jew’s courtyard, even if the Jew owns the courtyard and the gentile works for the Jew, the Jew does not have to clear out the gentile’s ĥametz. Similarly, if a gentile deposited ĥametz in a Jew’s house for safekeeping before Pesaĥ, the Jew need not clear it out, as long as he is not responsible for the ĥametz. However, he must erect a partition at least ten tefaĥim (handbreadths) high in front of the ĥametz, to make certain that he does not forget and eat of it (SA 440:2). Alternatively, he may lock it up and hide the key, or close it in a cabinet and tape the doors shut, so that if someone should come to open them, he will be reminded of the prohibition against ĥametz.

Similarly, a Jew may let a gentile enter his home on Pesaĥ, carrying his ĥametz with him. It is forbidden, though, for the Jew to eat with the gentile at the same table, lest the Jew forget and eat of the gentile’s ĥametz. Even if he puts something on the table to remind himself not to take ĥametz from the gentile, there is still concern that a crumb of ĥametz may get mixed into the Jew’s food. However, if the gentile eats at the table first, a Jew may clean the table thoroughly of all the ĥametz crumbs and then eat matza there (SA 440:3; MB ad loc. 18).


[2]. R. Zevin explains in Mo’adim Be-halakha (chapter on ĥametz and matza) that there is a dispute about the parameters of these negative commandments. According to Rosh (Pesaĥim 1:9), any ĥametz that can possibly be seen, even if in reality it is not seen, would cause a person to violate bal yeira’eh. It turns out then, that anyone who is in possession of at least an olive-sized piece of ĥametz violates two prohibitions: bal yeira’eh and bal yimatzei. However, according to Kessef Mishneh (on MT, Laws of Ĥametz and Matza 1:3), one who keeps any type of ĥametz in his possession violates bal yimatzei, but he would only violate bal yeira’eh if he actually sees the ĥametz. See also Bedikat Ĥametz U-vi’uro ch. 1 n. 16.

3. Ĥametz That Has Been Guaranteed by a Jew and the Status of Stocks

We have learned that one violates the prohibitions of bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei only by possessing ĥametz that is the property of a Jew, as it is written, “no ĥametz of yours shall be seen” (Shemot 13:7). Yet, at first glance, there is a difficulty here, for it is written, “there shall be no se’or found in your homes” (ibid. 12:19), implying that it is forbidden to have ĥametz in a Jewish home under any circumstances. The Sages explained that, indeed, if the ĥametz belongs to a gentile, and the Jew has not undertaken the responsibility of its safekeeping and guaranteeing its return, then it is not forbidden to have it in the Jew’s domain, as it is written, “and no ĥametz of yours shall be seen.” If, however, the Jew accepted responsibility for the item, then it is considered like his own, and the prohibition applies. This is what the Torah intended when commanding: “there shall be no se’or found in your homes” (Pesaĥim 5b).

Therefore, if a Jew guaranteed the return of ĥametz that was deposited with him, it becomes like his, and he is not allowed to keep it in his home or courtyard, but must return it to the gentile or clear it out. In a situation where he cannot return it to the gentile and clearing it out will cause him a loss, he should sell the ĥametz together with the place it is stored, to a different gentile (SA 440:1; MB ad loc. 4). However, if the Jew undertook the protection of a gentile’s ĥametz that remains in the gentile’s possession, then the Jew does not violate any prohibition (MB 440:7).[3] Thus an insurance company owned by a Jew may insure gentiles’ ĥametz, because it remains in their possession (She’arim Metzuyanim Be-halakha 114:29).

Furthermore, if a Jew deposited ĥametz with a fellow Jew for safekeeping, each of them is under obligation to clear it out – the depositor, since he owns the ĥametz, and the recipient of the deposit, since by undertaking to safeguard it he becomes like an owner (SA 440:4). Even if he did not undertake its safekeeping, he is required to clear it out.[4]

If one bought stock in a company that owns ĥametz, and Pesaĥ arrived, if he has the authority to express his view about how to manage the company’s affairs – what to sell and what to buy – then it is considered as if he owns the ĥametz, and he violates bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei on account of it. But if he is not authorized to express an opinion, then he is like everyone who invests in stocks – the company owes him a percentage of its value, but its property is not considered his, and he does not violate any prohibitions on account of its ĥametz holdings. Accordingly, those who invest money in mutual funds or pension funds do not violate any ĥametz prohibitions, even though the managers of the funds may invest part of the money in a company that owns ĥametz, since this ĥametz is not considered the property of the investor (She’arim Metzuyanim Be-halakha 114:28).[5]


[3].The Rishonim disagree about these laws. According to Ri, the ĥametz is considered to be in a person’s possession only if he accepted the responsibilities of a paid custodian. According to Behag, however, he is considered the owner of the ĥametz – and thus in violation of the halakha – even if he only accepted the responsibilities of an unpaid custodian. SA rules in accordance with Ri and cites Behag as “others say.” MB (8) states that it is preferable to follow the opinion of Behag. According to Rambam, even if one did not accept any responsibility for the ĥametz, if the gentile is powerful and will forcibly extract compensation for the Jew destroying the ĥametz, the ĥametz is considered owned by the Jew, and he would be considered in violation. According to Raavad, he is not in violation, but the predominant view is that of Rambam. In all these cases, if the ĥametz remained over Pesaĥ, one may eat it be-di’avad, since the prohibition of using ĥametz that existed on Pesaĥ is only rabbinic, and in an uncertain situation we are lenient.

[4]. Regarding a Jew who deposited his ĥametz with another person, SA 440:4 rules in accordance with R. Yona that even if the custodian accepts responsibility over the ĥametz, since the ĥametz still belongs to the owner, it is the owner’s responsibility to destroy it. This is the opinion of other poskim as well. According to Ramban and Ran, since the ĥametz is not in the owner’s possession and the custodian accepted responsibility for it, the owner of the ĥametz does not transgress any prohibition. As for the custodian, SA 443:2 states that if the owner of the ĥametz did not come to collect it before Pesaĥ, the custodian should preferably sell the ĥametz to a gentile in order to preserve its value. If he did not do so, the custodian is obligated to destroy the ĥametz. MB ad loc. (14) explains that according to Baĥ and MA, the reason for this obligation is that every Jew is responsible for his fellow Jew (“kol Yisrael areivim zeh la-zeh”). Gra’s opinion on the matter is that even if the custodian did not accept responsibility for the ĥametz, he still has a Torah obligation to destroy it, as it is forbidden to harbor a Jew’s ĥametz in one’s home. This is also the opinion of Tziyun Le-nefesh Ĥaya (“Tzlaĥ”) and Beit Meir.

[5]. There are those who are stringent in this matter and sell their shares of ĥametz-owning companies and companies that insure ĥametz, and many ĥametz-sale documents contain a clause that includes these types of situations (see Piskei Teshuvot 440:1).

4. How One Fulfills the Mitzva of Removing the Ĥametz

We clear the ĥametz out of our homes in two ways: in thought and in deed, that is, spiritually and in practice. The removal in thought is done through nullification (bitul) of the ĥametz, declaring it ownerless and considered as mere dust. We do this nullification because we violate the prohibitions of bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei only with ĥametz that belongs to us and that we consider valuable. One who nullifies his ĥametz and considers it to be as dust does not violate any prohibitions on its account. Similarly, if he declares it ownerless, he commits no violation on its account.

In addition to bitul, we also get rid of our ĥametz in fact. The evening of the fourteenth, we search the entire house for ĥametz, and on the day of the fourteenth we eliminate it from our homes.

Although each method independently is sufficient to fulfill the requirements of Torah law, the Sages required that we remove the ĥametz using both methods, to be on the safe side. Thus, we annul the ĥametz orally and physically clear it out of the house.[6]

On the one hand, the Sages did not want to rely on the nullification alone, lest some Jews not annul the ĥametz wholeheartedly and subsequently keep it in their homes to eat after Pesaĥ. Since they had not annulled the ĥametz wholeheartedly, they would violate the prohibitions of bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei by keeping it at home (Rashi, Pesaĥim 2a). Moreover, they were concerned lest, if ĥametz remained in the house, people might eat it by mistake. Therefore they also required removing it from the house physically (Tosafot ad loc.).

Similarly, the Sages did not want to rely on the search alone, lest some Jews not succeed in finding all of the ĥametz in their homes, but then find it on Pesaĥ. In that event, there is a chance that they might wait briefly before burning it – because they would feel badly for a moment about losing their ĥametz – and, in that moment, they would violate the prohibitions of bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei. By nullifying the ĥametz before Pesaĥ, however, they would not violate the prohibitions, even if they hesitated a little before burning the ĥametz (MB 434:6).[7]


[6].According to the majority of poskim, on the Torah level one method of destroying the ĥametz is sufficient: either by nullifying the ĥametz or by searching for and destroying the ĥametz. The Sages decreed that one must use both methods, as I wrote above (1:1), in the name of Ran and as cited in Beit Yosef §432. However, it seems that according to Tur, the Torah’s primary method is bitul, and the Sages added that one must also search for and destroy all ĥametz, because of the reasons presented above.

[7]. To expand on this topic: According to Rema in 434:5 in the name of Tur, if one thoroughly checks his house and yet still an olive-sized piece of ĥametz remains, he violates the prohibition of bal yeira’eh and bal yimatzei. (This is why, according to Rema, the main and most important “removal” of ĥametz in the Torah’s eyes is mental nullification.) However, according to many other poskim, including Rambam and Rosh, anyone who checks his house properly, even if he does not succeed in finding every last bit of ĥametz, does not violate any prohibitions for unintentionally having ĥametz in his house, since he did a proper and thorough check. Only if one finds ĥametz in his house on Pesaĥ and intentionally leaves it in his house because he wants the ĥametz, would he violate any prohibition. Moreover, according to Taz, even Tur is of this opinion, as I have written above.

5. The Essence of the Mitzva

A fundamental question arose concerning the essence of the mitzva of removing the ĥametz: is the mitzva essentially to eliminate the ĥametz actively or is the main principle that no ĥametz remains in a Jew’s possession?

According to the view accepted by most Rishonim (Maharik, Ramban, and others), the mitzva is primarily that one’s domain be free of ĥametz. One who has ĥametz must clear it out, and one who has no ĥametz in his domain has already fulfilled the mitzva.

However, some Rishonim (Ran, Tosafot) imply that only someone who has ĥametz becomes obliged to fulfill the mitzva, and he fulfills it by clearing the ĥametz out of his house. One who has no ĥametz is exempt from the mitzva. Yet even according to this approach, we do not find that the Rishonim recommended acquiring ĥametz in order to fulfill the mitzva of removing the ĥametz. Nevertheless, there are Aĥaronim who wrote that it is appropriate for one who has no ĥametz in his possession before Pesaĥ to go beyond the letter of the law and buy some ĥametz, so that he may fulfill the mitzva of removing the ĥametz according to those who hold that one must actively remove ĥametz.[8]

In practice, Jews are a holy people and strive to perform the mitzvot in the most praiseworthy fashion, including making sure that they have ĥametz on the fourteenth of Nisan, which they use to fulfill the mitzva of removing the ĥametz in a way that satisfies all views. Moreover, they are so scrupulous as to remove the ĥametz specifically by burning it, for, according to many poskim, burning is the preferred way to destroy the ĥametz (see below 5:4).


[8]. Minĥat Ĥinukh §9 discusses the different sides of the issue at length and notes that according to Rashi, Rambam, and Sefer Ha-ĥinukh, the mitzva is passive (this is also the opinion of Maharik in §174 and Ramban at the beginning of Pesaĥim). According to Tosafot and Ran, however, the mitzva is an active one, and so according to this opinion, one who has no ĥametz in his possession should purchase ĥametz in order to fulfill the mitzva of destroying it. R. Ĥayim Soloveitchik offered a novel interpretation, namely, that this dispute hinges upon the dispute between the Sages and R. Yehuda regarding the method of destroying the ĥametz: according to R. Yehuda, the mitzva is specifically to burn the ĥametz, whereas according to the Sages, any act of destruction works. Those who follow R. Yehuda’s opinion, therefore, would hold that one must do a positive action to fulfill the mitzva of destroying the ĥametz; and this needs further study. See also Piskei Teshuvot 445:6 which mentions several Aĥaronim, among them the authors of Ĥelkat Yo’av and Mekor Ĥayim, and Maharash Engel, who maintain that there is a mitzva for every person to own ĥametz in order to destroy it; conversely, SAH (436:21), Divrei Ĥayim (1:9), Ĥavot Ya’ir (§4), and Avnei Nezer (OĤ 318) maintain that there is no mitzva to obtain ĥametz in order to destroy it. As mentioned, the custom is to actively destroy some ĥametz to fulfill this mitzva according to all opinions. Indeed, MB (445:10) states that it is proper to leave a kezayit of ĥametz in order to destroy it actively and fulfill the mitzva of destroying the ĥametz.

The reason we have written that one needs a kezayit of ĥametz to fulfill this mitzva is that according to many poskim only an olive’s bulk must be destroyed (see MB 442:33). Even according to those who adopt the stringent view that less than a kezayit must be destroyed, this is probably because of the concern that one may come to eat it and violate the prohibition of eating ĥametz, which applies even to a piece smaller than an olive. According to the overwhelming majority of poskim, however, there is no Torah prohibition of bal yeira’eh and bal yimatzei on a piece of ĥametz smaller than an olive (see Dagul Mei-rvava §442, Ĥakham Zvi §86, and Sha’agat Aryeh §81). This is significant since most authorities believe that the mitzva to destroy the ĥametz is connected to the prohibition of bal yeira’eh and bal yimatzei, not the prohibition of eating the ĥametz. See also Sidur Pesaĥ Ke-hilkhato 15:4, which states that one should not pour lighter fluid on the ĥametz itself at the time of burning; rather, he should pour it onto the wood, so that the ĥametz is destroyed by fire itself and not ruined by the lighter fluid. Hilkhot Ĥag Be-ĥag 8:10 n. 17 explains that there is no reason to be stringent about this, since the main point of the burning is to turn the ĥametz into ashes, regardless of whether or not the taste of the ĥametz is ruined.

6. When the Prohibitions of Eating and Benefiting from Ĥametz Begin

The mitzva of getting rid of the ĥametz must be carried out by midday of the fourteenth of Nisan. Every instant that a Jew keeps his ĥametz after that time he is in violation of the positive commandment to remove the ĥametz. Beginning at midday, the Torah prohibition against eating and gaining benefit from ĥametz begins as well (MT, Laws of Ĥametz and Matza 1:8; see also section 1 of the present chapter).

As discussed above (2:2), in order to distance one further from possibly violating commandments, the Sages added to the prohibitions and forbade gaining benefit from ĥametz for an additional hour. They also forbade eating ĥametz for two extra hours, since on a cloudy day people are likely to err by as much as two hours.

These times are calculated by dividing the day into twelve equal parts, each of which is called “a seasonal hour” (“sha’ah zmanit”). It is forbidden to eat ĥametz from the beginning of the fifth hour; it is forbidden to gain any benefit from the ĥametz from the beginning of the sixth hour; and the Torah prohibition against eating and benefiting from ĥametz begins from the beginning of the seventh hour.

Thus, in practice, it is permissible to eat ĥametz throughout the first four hours of the fourteenth day of Nisan. During the fifth hour, it is forbidden to eat ĥametz by rabbinic decree, but it is still permissible to benefit from the ĥametz – for example, one may feed it to an animal or sell it to a gentile. From the beginning of the sixth hour of the day, it is forbidden by rabbinic decree to gain benefit from the ĥametz. From the time that it is forbidden for a Jew to gain benefit from the ĥametz it is considered as if it does not belong to him, so that he is no longer able to sell it to a gentile or to nullify it. The only way to get rid of it then is to burn it, crumble it and throw it into the sea, or scatter it to the wind (SA 443:1).

However, the poskim disagree about when the day begins. Magen Avraham maintains that it begins at dawn, that is, from when the first light becomes visible in the east. The Vilna Gaon (Gra) maintains that it begins at sunrise, that is, from the time when the sun itself becomes visible in the east. The difference between dawn and sunrise is more than an hour; thus, for every halakha contingent on the hours of the day, calendars list two times. The earlier one in the morning is based on the approach of Magen Avraham, and the later one accords with the approach of Gra. This is true concerning the recitation of the morning Shema, which must be done by the end of the first three hours of the day, and it is also true of the Shaĥarit prayer, whose set time is until the end of the fourth hour (for more detail, see Peninei Halakha: Prayer 11:10 n. 14).

In practice, since the final times for eating and benefiting from ĥametz are of rabbinic origin, as are the sale and bitul of ĥametz, the halakha follows the more lenient view, since in cases of doubt on matters of rabbinic origin the halakha follows the lenient view. Nevertheless, it is better to be stringent when possible (MB 443:8).[9]


[9]. A question arises regarding one who is in Israel and owns ĥametz in America, and he wants to sell his ĥametz. The issue is whether the end of the fifth hour (until when the ĥametz can be sold) is determined according to the location of the person or the location of the ĥametz, a discrepancy in this case of around seven hours after the end of the time for nullification (and selling) in Israel. According to most poskim, we follow the location of the person, although there are some who maintain that one should follow the location of the ĥametz. Preferably, one should follow the earlier time, but if this is not possible, we follow the location of the person. This is the view of Igrot Moshe OĤ  4:94-95. See also the Piskei Teshuvot 443:1 which summarizes the opinions.

The first opinion is quoted in the name of MA, even though the author himself was unsure. Hilkhot Ĥag Be-ĥag ch. 8 n. 4 summarizes the topic of the Jewish time calculations. See also Rema 443:1 and MB ad loc. 9, stating that according to Terumat Ha-deshen this particular issue is assessed using fixed hours, not seasonal hours, and in a situation of large losses, it is permissible to rely on this opinion. In Hilkhot Ĥag Be-ĥag 8:4 in the notes, the author explains what to do in extenuating circumstances where a person forgot to sell or nullify his ĥametz by the end of the fifth hour.

7. The Procedure for Getting Rid of Ĥametz

As we have learned, we clear the ĥametz out of our homes both in deed and in thought. The process of removal consists of four stages: search (bedika), nullification (bitul), elimination (bi’ur), and nullification once again. The process begins with the bedika on the evening of the fourteenth. The search is aimed at ensuring that we have no more ĥametz in our home other than the ĥametz that we are keeping to eat and to destroy. Immediately after the search, we nullify the ĥametz for the first time; this is the removal in thought. The next morning we physically destroy the remaining ĥametz in our possession in deed. It is customary to destroy it by burning it. After the burning, one again declares null any ĥametz in his possession.

There are two more possible ways of disposing of ĥametz: selling it to a gentile and declaring it ownerless. As noted, one violates bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei only for ĥametz in his possession, and it is only ĥametz that is in his possession that he is commanded to eliminate. Thus, if he sells the ĥametz to a gentile or declares it ownerless, he does not violate any prohibition on its account.

Thus, search, disposal, and nullification are actions directed against the ĥametz with the aim of eliminating it. In contrast, declaring the ĥametz ownerless and selling are not directed against the ĥametz to destroy it, but rather their aim is to remove the ĥametz from our possession so that we do not violate the ĥametz prohibitions. With the search, the disposal, and the nullification, we wage war against the ĥametz, whereas by selling it or declaring it ownerless, we evade the responsibility it places upon us. These are all ways to remove the ĥametz.

Now that we have learned the principles of the mitzva of removing the ĥametz, in the coming halakhot we will explain the laws of removal of ĥametz in detail. We will begin with the halakhot of the search for ĥametz, with which we begin our campaign against ĥametz. We will then continue on to the halakhot of nullifying and destroying ĥametz. Then we will address the laws of selling ĥametz to a gentile for one who wishes to preserve the value of his ĥametz and free himself from the need to destroy it.