4 – Bedikat Ĥametz – the Search for Ĥametz

1. The Time for Bedikat Ĥametz

As we learned in the previous chapter, one who possesses ĥametz on Pesaĥ transgresses two prohibitions: “no ĥametz of yours shall be seen” (Shemot 13:7), and “there shall be no se’or found in your homes” (ibid. 12:19). In order not to violate these Torah prohibitions, one must eliminate all ĥametz from his possession. According to the Torah, it is possible to dispose of the ĥametz by nullifying it verbally, because when one nullifies the ĥametz in his possession, it becomes like dust, no longer belonging to him, and consequently, it does not cause him to transgress the prohibition of bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei.

Nonetheless, the Sages ruled that we must not rely on this nullification (bitul) alone; rather, one must also physically remove ĥametz from his possession. There are two reasons for this: firstly, they feared that people would nullify ĥametz insincerely, intending to benefit from it after Pesaĥ, and this would result in their transgressing the prohibition of bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei. Secondly, they feared that after nullifying the ĥametz, one might see an enticing piece of pastry and eat it, forgetting that it is Pesaĥ. The Sages therefore ordained that, in addition to bitul ĥametz, one must search out ĥametz in order to eliminate it from his possession.

At first glance, the appropriate time for bedikat ĥametz should be just before midday on the day of the fourteenth of Nisan, the deadline for removing ĥametz. However, the Sages ordained that we search for ĥametz at nightfall of the fourteenth, because during the day people are busy with their affairs, and if one waits until the day of the fourteenth to do bedikat ĥametz he is liable to forget it altogether. Furthermore, candlelight is especially effective for checking the cracks and crevices of the house. But during the day, candles do not illuminate well, since sunlight prevents the eye from focusing on the weaker light of the candle. Therefore, the Sages instituted bedikat ĥametz at nightfall of the fourteenth, because at night, people are usually at home and candlelight is effective at this time (SA Ha-Rav 431:5).

Since people normally pray Ma’ariv at the beginning of the night, one should do so prior to the bedika, as a more frequent mitzva takes precedence. One should then proceed quickly to bedikat ĥametz (MB 431:8). One who is accustomed to praying with a minyan later in the evening should search for ĥametz at tzeit ha-kokhavim (the appearance of three distinct stars) and then pray at his usual hour.

The obligation to search for ĥametz rests primarily upon the father. However, if he must return home late on this day, it is better that he appoint his wife or another adult family member to search in his stead at the appointed hour, when nighttime arrives. Regarding this mitzva there is no difference between men and women, and one should choose as a shali’aĥ (proxy) a person who can be trusted to carry out the search properly and responsibly (see AHS 437:7). If it is difficult to appoint a shali’aĥ, then be-di’avad one should perform the search himself later in the evening, when he gets home.[1]

[1]. Some have suggested one who wishes to engage in the search himself should appoint one of his family members to search the house at the proper time and leave one room unchecked; when he returns later that night he can search the unchecked room. He should be sure to ask them to remind him to check the room when he returns, or if he does not return, to check the room themselves (Teshuvot Ve-hanhagot 2:214). However, it seems to me that if there is someone in the house who can perform the search instead, it is better to appoint this person as a shali’aĥ to conduct the search of the entire house at the appropriate time. This issue is dependent upon a fundamental question: did the Sages decree that the bedika should be conducted specifically at the beginning of the night, or is the entire night acceptable for bedika since the candlelight is more visible at night, but in order to prevent a person from forgetting to check, they forbade working and eating before the bedika? According to most poskim, the primary time for the bedika is at the beginning of the night. This is the opinion of Taz, Pri Ĥadash, Gra, and SAH in 431:5. Conversely, Rema and Mekor Ĥayim maintain that the bedika can be done throughout the entire night. Thus according to them, one may be more lenient about postponing the bedika as long as there is someone who will remind him to check later on. I have written in accordance with the view of most poskim, and in the next section, I have written that it is proper to refrain from eating even casually once the time for bedikat ĥametz has arrived, so as not to delay the bedika.

2. Activities Rabbinically Forbidden before Bedikat Ĥametz

The Sages prohibited starting a task or a meal during the half hour before the time of bedikat ĥametz, out of concern that one might become caught up in these activities and forget to search for ĥametz. It is permitted, however, to snack on fruit or pastry, or to perform light work that can be finished quickly.

Once the time for bedikat ĥametz arrives, it is improper to start any sort of work or eat fruit, even as a quick snack, for it might impede the fulfillment of the mitzva at its proper time (BHL §431).

One should not even begin studying Torah once the time for bedikat ĥametz has arrived. If one began studying Torah beforehand, some poskim rule that he may continue studying (Beit Yosef). Nonetheless, according to many poskim, even in this situation it is best to stop studying at tzeit ha-kokhavim, in order to fulfill the mitzva of bedikat ĥametz at its proper time (MB 431:11; Kaf Ha-ĥayim ad loc. 23).

It is best not to cancel a regular, public Torah lecture at this time. Proceeding with the study will not cause participants to neglect the mitzva of bedikat ĥametz, for the search can be performed after the lesson, but canceling the lecture will result in the loss of group Torah study (SA Ha-Rav 431:9). However, the participants should remind each other after the lesson to be prompt about searching for ĥametz.

3. The Berakha

Before beginning to search for ĥametz, one recites the berakha “Who sanctified us with His mitzvot and commanded us concerning bi’ur ĥametz” (“asher kideshanu be-mitzvotav ve-tzivanu al bi’ur ĥametz”). Though the actual bi’ur ĥametz will not take place until the following morning with the burning and nullification of ĥametz, we nonetheless recite “al bi’ur ĥametz” before the search on the night of the fourteenth, because bedikat ĥametz is the first step in the process of eliminating ĥametz from the home.[2]

After the berakha, it is forbidden to talk before beginning the search. If at this point one talks about matters unrelated to bedikat ĥametz, he has abandoned that berakha and must recite another. If, however, one talks about unrelated matters after beginning the search, his berakha remains valid, for it applies to the portion of the search that was already carried out. One should preferably avoid talking about unrelated matters during the search, in order not to become distracted (SA 432:1; MB ad loc. 5, 6).

One who owns several houses must search them all. He recites the berakha before searching in the first location. He recites it only once, even if the houses are located a distance from one another.[3]

If one must travel, and therefore performed bedikat ĥametz before the fourteenth of Nisan, even though his search is valid, he does not recite the berakha. One only recites the berakha over a search performed from the night of the fourteenth onward, because such a search is adjacent to bi’ur ĥametz. Any ĥametz found on the evening of the fourteenth will be destroyed the next morning. If one was unable to search on the evening of the fourteenth, and instead searched the following day, or during Pesaĥ, he recites the berakha, because he will immediately destroy any ĥametz he finds, and it is appropriate to recite “al bi’ur ĥametz” over such a search. But if one searches before the fourteenth, he does not recite the berakha (Rema 436:1 and BHL ad loc.; MB 435:5).[4]

[2].If one forgot to make the berakha before the bedika and remembered while in the middle, as long as he has other areas to check, he may still make the berakha. However, if he remembered after the completion of the bedika, the poskim disagree about whether he can make the berakha before burning the ĥametz the following day. According to MB 432:4, we do not prevent someone from making the berakha in this situation, since the berakha is on the burning of the ĥametz; thus, as long as he has not yet burned the ĥametz, he can make the berakha. On the other hand, there are those who hold that the Sages enacted the berakha on the bedika and not on the burning, and therefore if one forgot to make the berakha by the end of the bedika, he has lost his opportunity to do so. This is the opinion of Baĥ, SAH, and others. When in doubt about whether or not to make a berakha, we are lenient, and so one should not make the berakha. One should not make a berakha on bitul ĥametz alone, since we do not make berakhot on mere words or thoughts.

[3].The authorities disagree about this, as noted in MB 432:7. According to Pri Ĥadash and Ĥayei Adam, walking a far distance is considered a significant interruption, and he would have to make a new berakha. Conversely, according to Ĥok Yaakov and Ma’amar Mordechai, walking is not considered a significant interruption. This is also the opinion of Kaf Ha-ĥayim 432:22. When in doubt about whether or not to make a berakha, we are lenient. The Aĥaronim also disagree about whether a shali’aĥ appointed to search part of a house who did not hear the owner’s berakha must make his own berakha; see SHT 432:9.

[4]. Indeed according to Ra’ah and Pri Ĥadash, one who is halakhically required to check should make a berakha, since the purpose of the bedika is to ensure that he does not violate bal yeira’eh/bal yimatzei afterward; since the Sages decreed that one who leaves his house before the night of the fourteenth should check before he leaves, he should also make a berakha. According to Ritva and Baĥ, he should make the berakha as long as he checks within the thirty days before Pesaĥ. But, as noted, Kol Bo and Rema (436:1) are of the opinion that the berakha is also on the burning that takes place the following morning. This is also the opinion of Gra, and seems to be the conclusion of MA, Taz, and others. If one is uncertain about the berakha, we are lenient, and this seems to be the opinion of BHL ad loc.
Itur states that there are those who maintain that one must also make the berakha of “she-heĥeyanu” prior to the bedika, since it is a mitzva that comes periodically, and there are those who say not to recite this berakha. Rosh rules that one should not make this berakha, since the bedika is connected to the Pesaĥ holiday, when anyway he will recite she-heĥeyanu. Shulĥan Arukh does not even mention the idea of she-heĥeyanu on the bedika. However, some Aĥaronim suggest, as a nice custom, that one take a new fruit or new garment and recite she-heĥeyanu on it before the bedika (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 432:9).

4. Places That Must Be Searched

Any property owned by a Jew that might contain a kezayit of ĥametz must be searched. Therefore, the kitchen and the dining room where people eat must be searched, and any room, storage space, or porch where people sometimes bring ĥametz must also be searched (SA 433:3-4).

Clothing closets that are not generally used during the course of a meal need not be searched. However, if there are children in the house, closets must be searched, because the children may have opened them while handling ĥametz, or may have even hidden ĥametz in them. Closets that are too high for children to reach need not be searched.

One must also search cars and carrying bags in which he sometimes puts food. Adults who generally do not put food in their pockets need not search them. However, the pockets of children must be searched. Garments that were washed and had their pockets emptied out beforehand need not be searched on the night of the fourteenth (see section 8 of the present chapter). One who does not have a home does not recite the berakha when searching his car or pockets, for the Sages instituted saying a berakha only when searching a house (Kaf Ha-ĥayim 433:91).

The stairwell of an apartment building or condominium is shared by all of the building’s occupants, and therefore they have a collective obligation to search it. In such a case, one of the occupants should be given the responsibility of performing bedikat ĥametz. Open yards need not be searched because we can reasonably assume that animals ate any ĥametz that might have been there. However, if there are alcoves in the yard that might contain ĥametz, they must be searched, because animals may not have crawled into them to eat the ĥametz. Likewise, if one knows for certain that there was ĥametz in his yard on the night of the fourteenth, he must search it, because he cannot be certain that animals will eat it by noon of the fourteenth (MB 433:27, citing Mekor Ĥayim). An enclosed porch, even if it opens into a yard, must be searched.

Ownerless public domains need not be searched, for even if they contain ĥametz, no violation has been committed. This is because such ĥametz is not in the possession of any particular Jew, and the ĥametz prohibition only applies where ĥametz is in the possession of a Jew, and not in an ownerless domain (SA 445:3; MB ad loc. 18. Garbage bins are discussed below, 5:5).

5. The Candle and the Flashlight

The Sages ordained that bedikat ĥametz be performed by candlelight, because candlelight is focused and effective for searching. During the day, the light of the sun detracts from the brightness of the candle, and it is difficult for the eye to focus on its weak light. Therefore, the Sages ordained searching at night, because at night candlelight is more brilliant and does a good job of illuminating holes and crevices, where the essence of the search is carried out.

One may not search for ĥametz by torchlight, i.e., with a candle that has two or more separate wicks. There are several reasons for this, the main one being that the large flame will cause the searcher to worry about burning something, and as a result not be able to concentrate on the search. If one erred and searched by torchlight, he did not fulfill his obligation. Additionally, one may not search by the light of an oil lamp, because the fear of spilling oil and staining his belongings will deter him from maneuvering the lamp into narrow spaces to get a good look at cracks and crevices. Likewise, one should not use a paraffin candle for bedikat ĥametz. Therefore, the widespread custom is to prefer wax candles, because they do not drip excessively (SA and MB 433:2).

In principle, it is permissible to use a flashlight for bedikat ĥametz; the Sages ordained using a candle because its light is focused, and the light of a flashlight is focused. Moreover, a flashlight has an advantage in that one need not worry about burning things or spilling wax and oil, and if it is a good flashlight, its light is stronger and more focused than a candle’s. Nonetheless, some people are strict and do not search with a flashlight because the Sages derived from Scriptural verses that the search for ĥametz should be performed with a candle (Pesaĥim 7b). Yet a flashlight can also be considered a kind of candle, for the filament is like the flame and the battery is like the oil (She’arim Metzuyanim Be-halakha 111:4).

In practice, the prevailing custom is to search by candlelight, in keeping with the practice of the Sages. However, one who wishes to search with a flashlight may do so with a berakha, and in places where the searcher is concerned that the candle will cause a fire, it is preferable to search with a flashlight (see Sidur Pesaĥ Ke-hilkhato 13:10; Yeĥaveh Da’at 1:4).

6. Must One Search for Less than a Kezayit of Ĥametz?

The purpose of bedikat ĥametz is to find pieces of ĥametz that are a kezayit or larger, for one only violates bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei if there is a kezayit or more of ĥametz in one place in his home. Therefore, any part of the house into which people sometimes bring ĥametz must be searched. In a house where children are present, one must search all of the places that children enter; however, one need not search closets or shelves that are out of the reach of children.

Some poskim take the stringent position that the purpose of the search is to ensure that not a single edible crumb of ĥametz remains in one’s possession, for if even one crumb remains, somebody might mistakenly eat it during Pesaĥ and thus transgress a Torah prohibition. Even though there is no punishment for eating less than a kezayit of ĥametz, the Torah nonetheless prohibits it. According to this position, one must search the entire house meticulously and keep an eye out for even small crumbs that might be ĥametz. Such a search in a normal house should take at least two hours. However, even according to stringent opinions, one need not search for crumbs so small that they are not recognizable as food. Likewise, there is no need to search for crumbs so filthy that they are inedible. For example, it is not necessary to inspect the cracks between floor tiles, because the crumbs there are repulsive and not fit to be eaten.

In practice, one who chooses to be stringent and search for crumbs smaller than a kezayit is praiseworthy, but the halakha follows the lenient opinion. The reason is that the obligation to search for ĥametz is rabbinically ordained. According to the Torah, one who mentally nullifies his ĥametz has already avoided the prohibition of ĥametz and need not search his home. It is the Sages who ordained that, in addition to the bitul, we must seek and destroy ĥametz. Whenever there is a disagreement about a rabbinic enactment, the lenient opinion is generally preferred.

All this applies to the house in general, but it goes without saying that any object that will come into contact with food during Pesaĥ must be thoroughly cleaned, for even the slightest amount of ĥametz renders food forbidden on Pesaĥ. Therefore, the dining table, countertops, and cabinets must all be cleaned so well that not a single crumb of ĥametz remains.[5]

[5]. SAH explains in 446, Kuntrus Aĥaron 1, that according to most Rishonim, there is no need to burn a piece of ĥametz smaller than a kezayit (see Birur Halakha 45:1 on the topic of dough in the cracks of a kneading tub). MB 442:33 cites a dispute about whether one must destroy a piece of ĥametz smaller than a kezayit: some say that since one transgresses a prohibition by eating it on Pesaĥ, he must burn it beforehand; others are more lenient and would not require him to burn it.

SHT ad loc. mentions that the practice is to be stringent and burn this ĥametz, but does not discuss whether one must search for crumbs smaller than a kezayit during bedikat ĥametz. However, it seems from the comments in 442:60 that the main point of the bedikat ĥametz is specifically to find ĥametz that is larger than a kezayit, and indeed this is the opinion of Pri Ĥadash and many other halakhic authorities. On the other hand, Ĥayei Adam (109:6) rules stringently that one must search even for small crumbs. This is also the view of Ĥazon Ish (OĤ  116:13, 17).

Ostensibly, it is possible to connect this dispute to a disagreement about the purpose of bedikat ĥametz. According to Rashi, the purpose of bedikat ĥametz is to prevent one from transgressing the Torah prohibitions of bal yeira’eh and bal yimatzei, which, according to almost all authorities, one does not violate with less than a kezayit of ĥametz. Sha’agat Aryeh explains that small amounts of ĥametz do not combine (“lo ĥazi le-itztarufei”) to cause one to transgress bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei, unlike small amounts of forbidden foods, which combine to the size of a kezayit (according to Ĥakham Zvi, since there is no action involved in the violation of bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei, the principle of “aĥshevei” does not apply).

On the other hand, according to Tosafot, since the purpose of bedikat ĥametz is to prevent one from eating any ĥametz that remains in his house on Pesaĥ, one would thus be required to check for even small crumbs of edible ĥametz (and remove them from his home). Since we follow both Rashi’s and Tosafot’s reasons, as Ran records both, perhaps one must be stringent in this matter. However, it seems that even according to Tosafot, despite the fact that one would violate a Torah prohibition by eating less than a kezayit of ĥametz, the Sages did not require one to check for such crumbs, since eating a piece of ĥametz this size does not incur a penalty of karet. Additionally, Tosafot’s concern about one finding ĥametz in his house on Pesaĥ and eating it applies mainly to a nice, substantial piece of ĥametz; regarding a small crumb of ĥametz, the concern is not as severe. Even if one were to find, say, a small crouton somewhere in his house, it is not likely that he will eat it, since it was found where food is not normally stored. Furthermore, even if he does eat this small crouton, he arguably did not intend to eat it; rather, he was cleaning, and instead of throwing the crouton in the garbage, he put it in his mouth. Such an action is not a Torah prohibition, and not something for which the Sages would mandate bedikat ĥametz. Nevertheless, perhaps one who normally eats these types of crumbs should be stringent in accordance with the ruling of Ĥazon Ish.

See also Hilkhot Ĥag Be-ĥag ch. 6 n. 2, which discusses the two opinions in this matter and proves the lenient approach from the implication of Pesaĥim 4a that bedikat ĥametz lasts for less than an hour.

See also Sidur Pesaĥ Ke-hilkhato §13 n. 39, which rules according to the stringent opinion that one must check for crumbs, and Bedikat Ĥametz U-vi’uro 2:1, which is very strict about crumbs. However, since this is a dispute about a rabbinic injunction, practice follows the lenient approach. Nevertheless, one must differentiate between places to which he brings ĥametz and the rest of the house, similar to the distinction made regarding koshering utensils and bedikat ĥametz.

7. Do Books Require Bedikat Ĥametz?

According to several Aĥaronim, one is required to search all of his books, page by page, because a crumb of ĥametz might have fallen into one of them. These authorities maintain that the objective of bedikat ĥametz is to remove every crumb of ĥametz from one’s possession, and this was the practice of Ĥazon Ish: he would check page by page the books he planned to read on Pesaĥ and then sell the rest of his books to a gentile and put a partition in front of them. In this manner, he exempted himself from the obligation to search them all.

However, according to those poskim who maintain that the purpose of bedikat ĥametz is to find pieces of ĥametz the size of a kezayit, clearly there is no need for such a thorough search of books, for it is inconceivable that there could be a kezayit of ĥametz between the pages of a book. In fact, even some of the stringent poskim who say that all ĥametz must be sought out maintain that one is not required to search for the sort of tiny crumbs one is liable to find in books, because even if one sees them on Pesaĥ, there is little concern that one will want to eat them.

Therefore, one should not search his books page by page, because this is overly stringent behavior and is even liable to result in a waste of Torah-study time. Indeed, the accepted practice is not to be stringent in this regard.

Nevertheless, one should not put books on the dining table during Pesaĥ unless he was careful to distance them from ĥametz throughout the year. Such books might contain a crumb of ĥametz, which could fall into some food on Pesaĥ, and any amount of ĥametz on Pesaĥ is forbidden, even if it is mixed with a much greater quantity of other foodstuffs. It is permissible, though, to read such books on a table at which one does not eat.

If during the year one places such books on the dining table between meals, he must be careful to clean the table well after eating, so that not a single crumb remains. Even the stringent poskim maintain that one who is careful all year long to distance his books from ĥametz, and when bringing them to the dining table is careful that no crumbs of ĥametz fall into them, is not required to search his books, because they are already considered ĥametz-free.[6]

The status of the bookcase itself depends upon the household. If there are no children, and the adults are careful not to put any food on the bookshelves, no search is required. If there are children in the house who may have placed food there, one is required to search among the books and behind them. If the bookshelf was cleaned well beforehand, a casual search is sufficient.

[6]. The opinion of Ĥazon Ish appears in Ĥazon Ish  116:18. Bedikat Ĥametz U-vi’uro 2:1 is very strict about small crumbs, but regarding the issue of checking books, states in 3:24 that the custom is not to be strict like Ĥazon Ish, since the crumbs in books are extremely small and insignificant. Responsa Or Le-Tziyon 1:32 disagrees with Ĥazon Ish and proves from Rambam that one need not be concerned with ĥametz that is smaller than a kezayit. However, as noted in the previous section, whenever there is a concern that a small crumb might mix into food, one must be stringent, and as such, one should not bring books that may have crumbs in them into contact with food on Pesaĥ.

8. Do We Rely upon the Cleaning Done before Pesaĥ?

Most Jewish families clean their homes thoroughly before Pesaĥ. Any part of the house that was cleaned well, and into which people were careful not to bring ĥametz afterward, does not require a thorough search (Sha’arei Teshuva 433:1; Da’at Torah 433:2).

However, some poskim take a stringent position in this regard and assert that the cleaning does not change a thing, for the Sages ordained searching the cracks and crevices of one’s entire home on the night of the fourteenth. Other poskim are stringent on the grounds that one cannot rely upon previous cleaning unless it was carried out at night by the light of a candle. Only in this manner, they maintain, is it possible to discern the ĥametz in the cracks and crevices.

In practice, though, the custom is to follow the lenient approach and to perform a relatively cursory search of all those places that were cleaned beforehand. This makes sense, for if a room has been cleaned well, and afterward, people were careful not to enter with ĥametz, it has the status of a place into which no ĥametz was ever brought, which in principle does not need to be searched. Although a search is not effective unless it was carried out at night by the light of a candle, a thorough cleaning is more effective than searching. For example, when one cleans a clothing closet, he takes out all of its contents and wipes off all of the shelves. After this, the chances of ĥametz remaining are less than the chances of finding ĥametz remaining there after a thorough search on the night of the fourteenth by candlelight.

Nonetheless, even after such a thorough cleaning one must search for ĥametz with a berakha on the night of the fourteenth, because the dining area certainly needs to be searched. In addition, one may have forgotten to clean a closet, drawer, or corner. Thus, when performing bedikat ĥametz, one must search the entire house and confirm that everything has indeed been cleaned well. If the one performing the search did not participate in the cleaning, he must ask those who cleaned to search with him so that he may ask them if each part of the house he inspects was properly cleaned. Alternatively, they can mark all properly cleaned places with stickers, and all such places need only be given a cursory search.[7]

However, even when performing a casual search, one must check every corner of the room, along the walls, and between the furniture, and one must open every closet and drawer that could possibly contain ĥametz, in order to assure that they are indeed clean and remain so. Searching a room in this manner should take no more than a few minutes.

[7]. See Sidur Pesaĥ Ke-hilkhato 13 (n. 1) which tends toward stringency, citing Derekh Pekudekha that those who do bedikat ĥametz superficially are in violation of the rabbinic enactment, and their berakhot may be considered in vain. See also Hilkhot Ĥag Be-ĥag 2:5 and Bedikat Ĥametz U-vi’uro 3:16. However, as I have written, the custom is to be lenient in this matter, as Kaf Ha-ĥayim 433:85 states. This is true even though bedikat ĥametz with a candle during the day is not effective, as per MB 433:1, and even though a proper house cleaning does not exempt one from conducting bedikat ĥametz, as per SA 433:11 and MA ad loc. 20. There are two reasons mentioned (concerning the ineffectiveness of checking during the day): firstly, because only at night does the candle illuminate the small cracks and crevices properly, and secondly, because the Sages decreed that the bedika be done on the fourteenth of Nisan at night. Clearly, our customary checks fulfill both aspects: firstly, a full cleaning of the house accomplishes more than a daytime bedikat ĥametz, and since we check on the night of the fourteenth, we also fulfill the second aspect of the Sages’ decree. Accordingly, one may not claim that he is exempt from the bedika after cleaning his house, or that he cannot make a berakha on the bedika, for the reasons I have just mentioned. (Moreover, see the next section, which will explain that according to most authorities there is no need to place small pieces of bread around the house for the bedika even though it is clear that no ĥametz remains.) Since, as we have learned, bedikat ĥametz is a rabbinic decree and according to many authorities one must only search for pieces of ĥametz that are larger than a kezayit, it is certainly permissible to be lenient and rely on a cursory bedika, provided that one has already cleaned his house very well.

9. Hiding Pieces of Bread and Receiving Help from Family Members

It is customary hide pieces of bread before bedikat ĥametz, so that the person performing the search will have to discover them. Some maintain that this custom is meant to ensure that the searcher finds ĥametz, because if he does not his berakha may have been in vain. In truth, though, this is not the case, for even if no ĥametz was discovered, there is no berakha le-vatala, since the objective of the search is to ensure that there is no ĥametz in the house, and this objective is achieved even if no ĥametz is found. In addition, the berakha is not on the search alone; rather, it covers the entire process of ĥametz removal, which begins with the bedika and ends with the bi’ur and bitul of the ĥametz the following day. This is evident from the fact that the berakha is “al bi’ur ĥametz,” and not “al bedikat ĥametz.” Thus, even if one does not find ĥametz in his search, he continues the process of removing the ĥametz the next morning, and hence his berakha in not in vain (Rema 432:2; MB ad loc. 13).

Nonetheless, this Jewish custom should not be discontinued. Arizal himself had a custom to scatter ten pieces of bread before his search. Some poskim explain that the reason for this practice is so that some ĥametz will remain after the search, and thus one will not forget to nullify his ĥametz. Another explanation is that these pieces will ensure that one is not negligent in his search (Ĥok Yaakov 432:14). Therefore, where the house has received a thorough cleaning, and in principle a casual search is sufficient, the pieces of bread should be put in places where they can be found without much trouble; but where the house has not been cleaned well, they should be hidden more carefully. At any rate, it is a good idea for the person who scatters them to make a list of where he hid them, so that if they are not found initially, it will still be possible to locate and remove them.

After the search, one should nullify the ĥametz that he did not find and might remain in the house (as will be explained in 5:1). One must exercise extreme caution with the ĥametz that was found and the ĥametz that he plans to eat until the following morning, making sure that they not become scattered about the house.

If it is difficult for one to search the entire house on his own, he may ask family members to help him. In this case, they should stand next to him while he recites the berakha and answer “amen.” Then they should spread out in the house to search it. If the homeowner is unable to perform the search, he should ask somebody else to search for him, and the searcher says the berakha (SA 432:2; MB ad loc. 10).

10. One Who Travels

If one travels abroad before Pesaĥ and plans to return home after Pesaĥ, his performance of bedikat ĥametz depends on when he departs: if he departs within thirty days of Pesaĥ, i.e., from Purim onward, he must search his home for ĥametz before leaving. That he will certainly nullify his ĥametz has no bearing, because, as we have learned, the Sages ordained that in addition to bitul ĥametz, one must perform bedikat ĥametz, and since he is still at home within the thirty days before Pesaĥ, the mitzva of bedikat ĥametz already applies to him. Therefore, he must perform bedikat ĥametz on his last night at home. However, he does not say a berakha over this search because it is conducted before the time the Sages ordained for searching (as explained in 3:4 above).

If one leaves home more than thirty days before Pesaĥ, i.e., before Purim, he need not perform a search before he leaves. Then, on Erev Pesaĥ, he must nullify all of the ĥametz in his possession so that he does not transgress by possessing ĥametz. When he returns home after Pesaĥ, he must physically dispose of all of the ĥametz in his home.

However, if at the time of departure one intended to return to his home before Pesaĥ, the Sages ordained that he must perform bedikat ĥametz before leaving, even if he sets out at the beginning of the year. This is because something could go wrong on his journey, preventing him from returning in time for bedikat ĥametz (Pesaĥim 6a, according to Rambam). However, if one appoints a shali’aĥ to search on his behalf on the night of the fourteenth in case he is unable to return in time, he is not required to search before his departure. Nowadays, when one can make a phone call from anywhere in the world, one need not search before setting out on a trip because even if he is unable to return in time for bedikat ĥametz, he can ask a friend or relative to search on his behalf (see Sidur Pesaĥ Ke-hilkhato 12:13).

The poskim differ over what should be done when one was supposed to perform bedikat ĥametz before traveling but forgot to do so. Some say he must return and others say he need not. Therefore, if it is very difficult for him to return, and he cannot find a shali’aĥ to perform bedikat ĥametz for him, he may rely upon his bitul ĥametz (BHL 436:1, s.v. “zakuk”). Then, after Pesaĥ, he must burn or destroy the ĥametz he nullified, because if he derives benefit from it after Pesaĥ, he demonstrates that his nullification was insincere. The same applies any time one nullifies ĥametz but does not remove it – the Sages forbid eating or deriving benefit from it after Pesaĥ (SA 448:5). The best thing to do when one forgot to search his house before traveling is to rent it to a gentile and sell him all of the ĥametz.

11. Does Renting One’s Entire House to a Gentile Exempt It from Bedikat Ĥametz?

Some families leave home for the entire Pesaĥ holiday, and the question arises: Can these people exempt themselves from cleaning and searching for ĥametz by selling or renting their entire house to a gentile?

The poskim differ on this issue. Some take the lenient position that since the house is not actually in the owner’s possession on Erev Pesaĥ, he is not obligated to search it (Ĥok Yaakov; Gra’s understanding of Tur and Rema). Many others, however, take the stringent position that since the owner lives in this house during the thirty days prior to Pesaĥ, it becomes incumbent upon him to perform bedikat ĥametz there. Only if he moves to another house in which he will become obligated to search for ĥametz will he be exempt from searching the house he rented or sold to the gentile (SA 436:3, MA ad loc., and SA Ha-Rav’s understanding of Tur and Rema). In addition, it is inappropriate for one to avoid performing the mitzva of bedikat ĥametz.

In practice, in order to satisfy all opinions, one should sell or rent his entire house except for one room, and in it he fulfills the mitzva of bedikat ĥametz. Once one has fulfilled the mitzva of bedikat ĥametz in this room, all poskim agree that there is no need to search the rooms that have been sold or rented to a gentile.

In Eretz Yisrael, it is forbidden to sell a house to a gentile (SA YD 151:8), and it must therefore be made clear in the sale of ĥametz contract that a rental is being transacted. In addition, the homeowner must sell the ĥametz in all of the rented rooms, and by doing this, he becomes exempt from searching these rooms.[8]

When possible, it is best to rent one’s house before the night of the fourteenth, because some poskim maintain that if, on the night of the fourteenth, the rooms are still in the homeowner’s possession, he becomes obligated to search them (Mekor Ĥayim and Ĥayei Adam). When it is difficult to rent out the house before the night of the fourteenth, as most rabbinical authorities execute the sale (and rental) on the morning of the fourteenth, one may rely on the lenient opinions. Since he intends to rent out these rooms, there is no longer a fear that he will violate bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei, and he therefore need not search them (Binyan Olam, Ĥatam Sofer, as cited in MB 436:2).

The utensils and the stove should be cleaned of all substantial ĥametz before Pesaĥ, for if this is not done, it will be necessary to clean them after Pesaĥ in order to avoid eating ĥametz she-avar alav ha-Pesaĥ (ĥametz that remained in a Jew’s possession during Pesaĥ). However, it is not advisable to sell the utensils to a gentile, because this will necessitate immersing them in a mikveh after Pesaĥ, in keeping with the law regarding utensils bought from a gentile. To sell the ĥametz on them, or absorbed into them, makes no sense at all, as will be explained in 6:4 below.

[8]. SA expresses the same opinion as Avi Ezri. The Aĥaronim disagreed regarding the opinion of Tur and Rema. According to MA (436:17) and SAH, one is only exempt from the bedika if the gentile will actually enter his house before Pesaĥ. According to Ĥok Yaakov and Gra, even if the gentile will not actually enter the house, since the Jewish owner declared the ĥametz in it ownerless, there is no need for bedikat ĥametz. MB 436:32 seems to lean toward a strict ruling (see SHT ad loc. 31-32).
In Israel, where it is forbidden to sell a house to a gentile, one is permitted to rent his house. However, Mekor Ĥayim 437:4 and Ĥayei Adam 119:18 in the name of Eliya Rabba state that one who rents his house to a gentile still must conduct bedikat ĥametz. Nonetheless, it seems that if one sells all of the ĥametz in his house, even these poskim would agree that no bedika is required. This is the opinion of Ĥatam Sofer §136 and Hilkhot Ĥag Be-ĥag 6:20 (pp. 103-104), Noda Bi-Yehuda, SAH, and Kitzur SA. Another benefit of renting one’s house is that it is done wholeheartedly, as is written in Beit Shlomo 2:91 and Zekher Yehosef §238.

12. Bedikat Ĥametz after the Proper Time and the Status of One Who Rents a Hotel Room

The Sages ordained searching for ĥametz on the night of the fourteenth of Nisan. If one did not search at this time, he is required to do so on the fourteenth by day, and to say a berakha over the search. If one did not search before Pesaĥ at all, he must search on Pesaĥ, with a berakha. The fact that he nullified his ĥametz before Pesaĥ does not change this, because he is still required to fulfill the Sages’ enactment, and secondly, because there is a possibility that he will come across some ĥametz during Pesaĥ and, forgetting the prohibition, eat it. If, after Pesaĥ, one suddenly realizes that he did not perform bedikat ĥametz, he must do so, in order not to violate the rabbinic prohibition of ĥametz she-avar alav ha-Pesaĥ. This search, however, requires no blessing (SA §435).

One who rents a hotel room has the status of a tenant. This is because he pays for the room, it is at his disposal, he receives a key to lock and unlock it, and strangers and hotel personnel are only allowed to enter with his permission. Therefore, he is commanded to recite a berakha and search his room on the night of the fourteenth, and afterward he must nullify any ĥametz in his possession that may have gone undiscovered. One who checks into a hotel during Pesaĥ must inquire whether the rooms were searched for ĥametz. If they were not searched for ĥametz, but were merely cleaned in the routine manner, the guest himself is obligated to search. In this case, no berakha is required.

A hospital patient is required to search his room and his closet on the night of the fourteenth. However, no berakha is said over this search, since the room is not at his disposal; at any time he can be moved to a different room, and other patients can be moved into his room.[9]

A hotel owner is required to perform bedikat ĥametz in every room of his hotel, and if it is difficult for him to do this himself, he can hire a shali’aĥ. Regarding rooms rented to gentiles, or to Jews who do not perform bedikat ĥametz on the night of the fourteenth, a problem arises. On the one hand, the rooms are rented to them, and the owner cannot force them to keep halakha and search for ĥametz. On the other hand, if they vacate during the holiday, he will have to search their rooms immediately and remove any ĥametz left behind, and he might not have time to do this. The solution, therefore, is to sell or rent all the hotel rooms to a gentile before Pesaĥ, and to have the hotel owner serve as an intermediary during Pesaĥ between the gentile and the guests.

[9]. This is what Sidur Pesaĥ Ke-hilkhato 12:8 states regarding a hotel, and this is what Torat Ha-yoledet 43:1 states regarding a hospital. See also Piskei Teshuvot 437:1-2, which brings other sources regarding this matter.

13. Synagogue, Dormitory, and Yeshiva

Synagogues and batei midrash (Torah study halls) require bedikat ĥametz on the night of the fourteenth, because people sometimes eat ĥametz in them. This is true even of synagogues where people generally do not eat, for children sometimes enter them with ĥametz (SA 433:10). However, when it comes to saying a berakha over this search, there is some uncertainty. Therefore, it is best that the person responsible for searching the beit knesset first search his own home, and when saying the berakha there, intend to include the synagogue.[10]

Boys or girls living in a dormitory and paying for this facility have the status of tenants, and if a kezayit of ĥametz remains in their room during Pesaĥ they violate bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei. Therefore, they are obligated to search their rooms before Pesaĥ, and if they will be staying there during Pesaĥ, they are required to search on the night of the fourteenth with a berakha. If they leave the dormitory a number of days before Pesaĥ, they are required to search on the night before they leave, without reciting a berakha.[11]

The responsibility for searching the rest of the rooms and halls in the yeshiva belongs to the yeshiva administration. It is also possible for them to sell the rooms to a gentile and thus exempt themselves from the obligation to search.

One who buys or begins renting a home before Pesaĥ must search it even if he has not yet occupied it, because the previous resident may have left some ĥametz there. Since the house is in his possession, this ĥametz will cause him to violate bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei. If he owns another house where he will be fulfilling the mitzva of bedikat ĥametz, he can sell or rent out the new home to a gentile and thus exempt himself from the obligation to search it (see section 11 of this chapter above).

[10]. The opinion of most poskim is that he should recite the berakha, since it is a mitzva. See MB 433:43 in the name of SAH. But AHS 433:12 states that one of the reasons for bedikat ĥametz is to prevent violation of bal yeira’eh, and since a synagogue does not belong to any one individual, no one would violate bal yeira’eh on any ĥametz that remains there. Accordingly, there is no mitzva to check the synagogue, and thus no berakha should be recited. See Maharsham 5:49. Nonetheless, if the synagogue or beit midrash belongs to one particular individual or to several partners, according to all authorities he/they must check it with a berakha. However, if the synagogue owner had already recited the berakha in his house, he need not recite another berakha in the synagogue.

[11]Ĥazon Ish states that even if yeshiva students will not be in their rooms over Pesaĥ, it is preferable for them to check their rooms on the night of the fourteenth with a berakha. This opinion is quoted in Sidur Pesaĥ Ke-hilkhato 12:9. Some authorities debate whether the yeshiva student is considered a renter, since the yeshiva administration can switch him to a new room at a whim (see Piskei Teshuvot 437:4). However, it appears that yeshiva administrations generally do not transfer older students to new rooms without prior agreement. Therefore, this is similar to a standard rental agreement where there are conditions that if breached result in the cancellation or abrogation of the rental agreement. Thus, older yeshiva students are considered renters of their rooms.

14. Ĥametz Buried under a Pile of Dirt and the Question of Searching a Storeroom

If ĥametz is buried under less than three tefaĥim (24 cm) of stones, dirt, and the like, it is not considered to have been disposed of, and it must be uncovered and disposed of before Pesaĥ. This is because it is possible for a dog to smell it and dig it up.

However, if the ĥametz is covered by more than three tefaĥim, it is considered to have been disposed of and does not cause one to transgress bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei. Therefore, it need not be dug up and disposed of. Bitul ĥametz is nonetheless required, because it is possible that some of the stones will be moved during Pesaĥ, and the ĥametz will no longer be covered by three tefaĥim, causing the person to violate bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei.[12] Likewise, in a case where ĥametz falls into a pit in one’s yard, if it is the sort of pit one does not generally enter, one may nullify the ĥametz without extracting and disposing it.

Accordingly, if ĥametz is stuck behind a wall cabinet and impossible to remove without first taking the cabinet apart or emptying it out and moving it, one need not remove the ĥametz. In this case, one may rely upon its bitul (SAH 333:19). If ĥametz is located where it can only be removed with some difficulty, one may pour bleach or soapy water on it until it is no longer fit for consumption, and hence no longer considered food (not even for an animal). Once this has been done, it need not be removed.

A storage room where one keeps articles not in use or merchandise that he does not intend to use until after Pesaĥ need not be searched for ĥametz. It is sufficient to nullify any ĥametz that might be there. However, if one wishes to fill the storage room during the thirty days prior to Pesaĥ, he must search it first, because the obligation to prepare for Pesaĥ has already taken effect. If one did not search it beforehand, it must be thoroughly searched for ĥametz on the night of the fourteenth (SA 336:1). If it is difficult to move all of the storeroom’s contents in order to carry out the search, one may sell or rent it to a gentile and thus exempt oneself from the obligation to perform bedikat ĥametz there.

[12]. I have written in accordance with the opinion of Rashi, Ran, and the majority of poskim that if the ĥametz is covered by more than three tefaĥim it is considered destroyed, and one would not violate bal yimatzei with this ĥametz. However, the opinion of Sefer Mitzvot Katan is that if it is covered by something that is generally moved, the ĥametz would indeed be considered in the owner’s possession and he would violate bal yimatzei. In such a case, he would only be exempt from destroying the ĥametz if he nullified it verbally.

In a case where the ĥametz is covered by less than three tefaĥim, one would be required to remove the ĥametz, as I have written, but only if one is certain that there is ĥametz under this particular covering. Even if there is a danger of snakes and scorpions, he still must take a shovel and remove the covering to expose and destroy the ĥametz. However, if one merely suspects that there is ĥametz under the covering but is not certain, he is not required to check for the ĥametz if there is a danger of snakes and scorpions, and is only required to nullify the ĥametz verbally. If there is no danger, though, he is required to check (SA 433:8, MB ad loc. 35). In any situation where one is required to check, he can exempt himself from checking by selling the item to a gentile.

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