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Peninei Halakha > Pesah > 04 - Bedikat Ḥametz, the Search for Ḥametz

04 – Bedikat Ḥametz, the Search for Ḥametz

01. The Time for Bedikat Ḥametz

As we learned in the previous chapter, one who possesses ḥametz on Pesaḥ transgresses two prohibitions: “no ḥametz 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 ḥametz from his possession. According to the Torah, it is possible to dispose of the ḥametz by nullifying it verbally, because when one nullifies the ḥametz 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 ḥametz from his possession, for two reasons: First, they feared that people would nullify ḥametz insincerely, intending to benefit from it after Pesaḥ, and this would result in their transgressing the prohibition of bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei. Second, they feared that after nullifying his ḥametz, one might see an enticing piece of pastry and eat it, forgetting that it is Pesaḥ. The Sages therefore ordained that, in addition to bitul ḥametz, one must search out ḥametz in order to eliminate it from his possession.

At first glance, the appropriate time for bedikat ḥametz should be just before midday on the day of the 14th of Nisan, the deadline for removing ḥametz. However, the Sages ordained that we search for ḥametz at nightfall of the 14th, because during the day people are busy with their affairs, and if one waits until the day of the 14th to do bedikat ḥametz 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 ḥametz at nightfall of the 14th, because at night, people are usually at home and candlelight is effective at this time (SAH 431:5).

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

The obligation to search for ḥametz rests upon the male head of the household, but if it is difficult for him to do so because he is weak or does not see well, he should appoint his wife or another adult family member to search in his stead. Regarding this mitzva there is no difference between men and women, and one should choose someone reliable to perform a bedika properly and responsibly (see AHS 437:7). If the head of household is capable of performing a proper bedika but is compelled to come home late that evening, he should appoint someone to perform the bedika in his stead at the regular time at the beginning of the night. If there is no one to perform the bedika in his home at the set time, then be-di’avad he should perform the search himself when he gets home.[1]

[1]. Some have suggested that 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 (Piskei Teshuvot 431:5). 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’aḥ to search the entire house at the set 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 Ḥadash, Gra, and SAH in 431:5. Conversely, Rema and Mekor Ḥayim 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 ḥametz has arrived, so as not to delay the bedika.

02. Activities Rabbinically Forbidden before Bedikat Ḥametz

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

Once the time for bedika 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 begin studying Torah once the time for bedikat ḥametz has arrived. If one began studying Torah beforehand, some poskim rule that he may continue studying (Beit Yosef), but 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 ḥametz at its proper time (MB 431:11; Kaf Ha-ḥayim 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 ḥametz, for the search can be performed after the lesson, but canceling the lecture will result in the loss of group Torah study (SAH 431:9). After the lesson, it is good for the participants to remind each other to hurry and perform the bedikat ḥametz.

03. The Berakha

Before the bedika, one recites the berakha: “Who sanctified us with His mitzvot and commanded us concerning bi’ur ḥametz” (“asher kideshanu be-mitzvotav ve-tzivanu al bi’ur ḥametz”). Though the actual bi’ur ḥametz will not take place until the following morning with the burning and nullification of ḥametz, we recite “al bi’ur ḥametz” before the search on the night of the 14th, because bedikat ḥametz is the first step in the process of eliminating ḥametz from the home.[2]

One must not speak between the recitation of the berakha and the beginning of the bedika, and if at that point one spoke about matters unrelated to bedikat ḥametz, he disqualified that berakha and must recite another before beginning the bekida. If, however, one talks about unrelated matters after beginning the search, his berakha remains valid, for it applies to the part of the bedika that he already performed. Le-khatḥila one should not talk about unrelated matters during the bedika, so that one maintains focus on the task at hand (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 ḥametz before the 14th 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 14th onward, because such a search is adjacent to bi’ur ḥametz. Any ḥametz found on the evening of the 14th will be destroyed the next morning. If one was unable to search on the evening of the 14th, and instead searched the following day, or during Pesaḥ, he recites the berakha, because he will immediately destroy any ḥametz he finds, and it is appropriate to recite “al bi’ur ḥametz” over such a search. (Rema 436:1 and BHL ad loc.; MB 435:5).[4]

[2]. If one forgot to recite the berakha before the bedika and remembered while in the middle, as long as he has other areas to check, he may still recite the berakha. If he remembered after completing the bedika, some say that he should recite the berakha before burning the ḥametz on the day of the 14th (MA, Taz, and others; MB 432:4 is inclined to accept this view). Others maintain that the Sages instituted the berakha to be recited over the bedika and not on the burning, so if one forgot to recite the berakha by the end of the bedika, he has lost his opportunity to do so (Baḥ, SAH, and others). When there is uncertainty about whether to recite a berakha, we are lenient, so one should not recite the berakha. One should not recite a berakha on bitul ḥametz alone, as we do not recite berakhot on mere words or thoughts.

[3]. The authorities disagree about this, as noted in MB 432:7. According to Pri Ḥadash and Ḥayei Adam, walking a far distance is considered a significant interruption, and he would have to make a new berakha. Conversely, according to Ḥok Yaakov and Ma’amar Mordechai, walking is not considered a significant interruption. This is also the opinion of Kaf Ha-ḥayim 432:22. When in doubt about whether or not to make a berakha, we are lenient. If a homeowner wants to search part of his house and wants to appoint someone else to search the rest of the house on his behalf, he should make sure that the appointee hears his berakha. Be-di’avad, if the appointee did not hear the berakha but it is hard for the homeowner to search the entire house, the appointee should perform the rest of the bedika without a berakha (MB 432:11).

[4]. Indeed according to Ra’ah and Pri Ḥadash, 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 yera’eh/bal yimatzei afterward; since the Sages decreed that one who leaves his house before the night of the 14th should check before he leaves, he should also make a berakha. According to Ritva and Baḥ, he should make the berakha as long as he checks within the thirty days before Pesaḥ. But 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-heḥeyanu” 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 Pesaḥ holiday, when anyway he will recite she-heḥeyanu. SA does not even mention the idea of she-heḥeyanu on the bedika. However, some Aḥaronim suggest, as a nice custom, that one take a new fruit or new garment and recite she-heḥeyanu on it before the bedika (Kaf Ha-ḥayim 432:9).

04. Places That Must Be Searched

Any property owned by a Jew that might contain a kezayit of ḥametz 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 ḥametz 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 played in them while holding ḥametz or may have even hidden ḥametz in them. Closets that are too high for children to reach need not be searched.

One must search cars and carrying cases into which he sometimes places 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 14th (see below, section 8). 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-ḥayim 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 ḥametz. Open yards need not be searched because we can reasonably assume that animals ate any ḥametz that might have been there. However, if there are alcoves in the yard that might contain ḥametz, they must be searched, because animals may not have crawled into them to eat the ḥametz. Likewise, if one knows for certain that there was ḥametz in his yard on the night of the 14th, he must search it, because he cannot be certain that animals will eat it by midday of the 14th (MB 433:27, citing Mekor Ḥayim). 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 ḥametz, no violation has been committed. This is because such ḥametz is not in the possession of any particular Jew, and the ḥametz prohibition only applies where ḥametz 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).

05. The Candle and the Flashlight

The Sages ordained that bedikat ḥametz be performed by candlelight, because candlelight is focused and effective for searching. Therefore, they 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. During the day, sunlight makes the candle seem dimmer, so it is hard for the eye to focus on searching cracks and crevices by such weak light (Pesaḥim 8a).

One may not search for ḥametz by torchlight, i.e., with a candle that has two or more separate wicks. This is because the large flame of the torch is liable to start a fire, and the searcher will be preoccupied with making sure nothing catches fire. As a result, he will be unable to concentrate on the bedika. If one mistakenly searched by torchlight, he did not fulfill his obligation. One may not even 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, le-khatḥila one should not use a paraffin candle for bedikat ḥametz, for it, too, is hard to maneuver into narrow spaces, as it can drip and stain his belongings. Therefore, the widespread custom is to prefer wax candles, which barely drip (SA and MB 433:2).

It is technically permissible to use a flashlight for bedikat ḥametz, because the reason the Sages ordained using a candle is its focused light, and the light of a flashlight is also focused. A flashlight even 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. Some people beautify the mitzva and do not search with a flashlight because the Sages derived from Scriptural verses that the search for ḥametz should be performed with a candle (Pesaḥim 7b; see She’arim Metzuyanim Be-halakha 111:4; Yeḥaveh Da’at 1:4; Sidur Pesaḥ Ke-hilkhato 13:10).

In practice, each person may choose how to conduct the bedika – with a candle, as Jews have done for generations, or with a flashlight, whose light is better for the bedika. One may even begin with a candle, in keeping with tradition, and continue with a flashlight, which is better for searching. In places where the searcher is concerned that the candle will cause a fire, or if one does not see well by candlelight, it is preferable to search with a flashlight.

06. Must One Search for Crumbs Less than the Size of a Kezayit?

The purpose of bedikat ḥametz is to find pieces of ḥametz that are a kezayit or larger, for one only violates bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei if there is a kezayit or more of ḥametz in one place in his home. The prohibition of bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei does not apply to less than a kezayit of ḥametz. Any part of the house where people sometimes bring ḥametz must be searched. Where children are present, one must search anywhere that the children reach; however, one need not search closets or high shelves that the children cannot reach.

Some poskim are stringent, maintaining that the purpose of the search is to ensure that not a single edible crumb of ḥametz remains in one’s possession, for if even one crumb remains, somebody might mistakenly eat it on Pesaḥ and thus transgress a Torah prohibition. Even though there is no punishment for eating less than a kezayit of ḥametz, 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 ḥametz. 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, the halakha follows the lenient view because the obligation to search for ḥametz is rabbinically ordained. According to the Torah, one who mentally nullifies his ḥametz has already avoided the prohibition of ḥametz and need not search his home. It is the Sages who ordained that, in addition to the bitul, we must seek and destroy ḥametz. Whenever there is a disagreement about a rabbinic enactment, the lenient opinion is generally preferred.

All this applies to the house in general, but any place that comes into contact with food during Pesaḥ must be thoroughly cleaned, so that not even a crumb remains, for even the slightest amount of ḥametz renders food forbidden on Pesaḥ. Therefore, countertops, tables, and cabinets must be cleaned so well that not a single crumb of ḥametz remains.[5]

[5]. SAH explains in 446, Kuntrus Aḥaron 1, that according to most Rishonim, there is no need to eliminate a piece of ḥametz smaller than a kezayit. (See Berur Halakha on Pesaḥim 45a regarding dough in the cracks of a kneading tub.) MB 442:33 cites a dispute about whether one must eliminate a piece of ḥametz smaller than a kezayit: some say that since one transgresses a prohibition by eating it on Pesaḥ, he must eliminate it beforehand, and others are lenient. SHT ad loc. 52 states that the practice is to be stringent and eliminate this ḥametz but does not discuss whether one must search for crumbs smaller than a kezayit during bedikat ḥametz. However, it seems from the comments in SHT 442:60 that the main point of the bedikat ḥametz is specifically to find ḥametz that is larger than a kezayit, and indeed this is the opinion of Pri Ḥadash and many other halakhic authorities. In contrast, Ḥayei Adam (109:6) rules stringently that one must search even for small crumbs. This is also the view of Ḥazon Ish (OḤ 116:13, 17).

At first glance, it seems possible to connect this dispute to a disagreement about the purpose of bedikat ḥametz. According to Rashi, the purpose of bedikat ḥametz is to prevent one from transgressing the Torah prohibitions of bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei, which, according to almost all authorities, one does not violate with less than a kezayit of ḥametz. Sha’agat Aryeh explains that small amounts of ḥametz do not combine (“lo ḥazi 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 Ḥakham Tzvi, since there is no action involved in the violation of bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei, the principle of “aḥshevei” does not apply). On the other hand, according to Tosafot, since the purpose of bedikat ḥametz is to prevent one from eating any ḥametz that remains in his house on Pesaḥ, it would seem that one would be required to check for even small crumbs of edible ḥametz, for one who eats them violates a Torah prohibition. And since we follow both Rashi’s and Tosafot’s reasons, and Ran also writes both, perhaps one must be stringent in this matter.

However, it seems that even according to Tosafot we can say that the Sages ordained bedika in addition to bitul out of concern that one will not wholeheartedly annul the ḥametz in his heart or that he will find a piece of cake and end up eating it. This applies only to a piece that is the size of a kezayit (at least its size nowadays) which has a certain amount of significance and can conceivably stimulate appetite (and which incurs karet). 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. (And even if he does eat the 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 ḥametz. Nevertheless, perhaps one who normally eats these types of crumbs should be stringent in accordance with the ruling of Ḥazon Ish.)

See also Hilkhot Ḥag Be-ḥag ch. 6 n. 2, which discusses the two opinions in this matter and proves the lenient approach from the implication of Pesaḥim 4a that bedikat ḥametz lasts for less than an hour. And see Sidur Pesaḥ Ke-hilkhato §13 n. 39, which rules that one must check for crumbs. However, since this is a dispute about a rabbinic injunction, practice follows the lenient approach. (This is also the view of Or Le-Tziyon 1:32 and R. Elyashar’s Yevakesh Torah, ch. 9, based on the majority of poskim.) Nevertheless, one must differentiate between places that come into contact with ḥametz and the rest of the house, similar to the distinction made regarding kashering kelim and bedikat ḥametz.

07. Do Books Require Bedikat Ḥametz?

According to several Aḥaronim, one is required to search every book that one studied during the year, page by page, because a crumb of ḥametz might have fallen into one of them. These authorities maintain that the objective of bedikat ḥametz is to remove every crumb of ḥametz from one’s possession (Ḥazon Ish).

However, according to those poskim who maintain that the purpose of bedikat ḥametz is to find pieces of ḥametz 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 ḥametz between the pages of a book. In fact, even some of the stringent poskim who say that all ḥametz 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 Pesaḥ, 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 that may even cause one to waste Torah-study time. This is the accepted practice.

Nevertheless, one should not put books on the dining table during Pesaḥ unless he was careful to distance them from ḥametz throughout the year. Such books might contain a crumb of ḥametz, which could fall into some food on Pesaḥ, and any amount of ḥametz on Pesaḥ 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 clean the table well after eating, so that no crumbs remain. Even the stringent poskim maintain that one who is careful all year long to distance his books from ḥametz, and when bringing them to the dining table is careful that no crumbs of ḥametz fall into them, is not required to search his books, because they are already considered ḥametz-free.[6]

The status of a 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 bedika is required. If there are children who may have placed food on a shelf, one is required to search among the books and behind them. If the bookshelf was cleaned well before Pesaḥ, a casual search is sufficient.

[6]. The opinion of Ḥazon Ish appears in Ḥazon Ish OḤ 116:18. In practice, he would check the books he wanted to study over Pesaḥ page by page, and he sold the rest of his books to a gentile and placed a screen before them, so that he did not need to check them. Bedikat Ḥametz 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 Ḥazon Ish, since the crumbs in books are extremely small and insignificant. Responsa Or Le-Tziyon 1:32 disagrees with Ḥazon Ish and proves from Rambam that one need not be concerned with ḥametz 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 Pesaḥ.

08. Do We Rely upon the Cleaning Done before Pesaḥ?

Most Jewish families clean their homes thoroughly before Pesaḥ. Any part of the house that was cleaned well, and into which people were careful not to bring ḥametz 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 14th. 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 ḥametz 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. 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 ḥametz remaining are less than the chances of finding ḥametz remaining there after a thorough search on the night of the 14th by candlelight.

Nonetheless, even after such a thorough cleaning one must search for ḥametz with a berakha on the night of the 14th, 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 ḥametz, 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 ḥametz, 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 Pesaḥ Ke-hilkhato 13:1, which inclines toward stringency, citing Derekh Pekudekha that those who do bedikat ḥametz superficially are in violation of the rabbinic enactment, and their berakhot may be considered in vain. However, as I have written, the custom is to be lenient in this matter, as Kaf Ha-ḥayim 433:85 states. This is true even though bedikat ḥametz 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 ḥametz, as per SA 433:11 and MA 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 14th of Nisan at night. Clearly, our customary checks fulfill both aspects: firstly, a full cleaning of the house accomplishes more than a daytime bedikat ḥametz, and since we check on the night of the 14th, 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 ḥametz remains.) Since, as we have learned, bedikat ḥametz is a rabbinic decree and its main purpose is to ensure that there is not a kezayit of ḥametz in the home, it is clear that if the house has already been cleaned well, a cursory bedika is sufficient.

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

It is customary hide pieces of bread before bedikat ḥametz, 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 ḥametz, because if he does not his berakha may have been in vain. In truth, though, this is not the case, for even if no ḥametz was discovered, there is no berakha le-vatala, since the objective of the search is to ensure that there is no ḥametz in the house, and this objective is achieved even if no ḥametz is found. In addition, the berakha is not on the search alone; rather, it covers the entire process of ḥametz removal, which begins with the bedika and ends with the bi’ur and bitul of the ḥametz the following day. This is evident from the fact that the berakha is “al bi’ur ḥametz,” and not “al bedikat ḥametz.” Thus, even if one does not find ḥametz in his search, he continues the process of removing the ḥametz 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 ḥametz will remain after the search, and thus one will not forget to nullify his ḥametz. Another explanation is that these pieces will ensure that one is not negligent in his search (Ḥok 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 ḥametz that he did not find and that might remain in the house (as will be explained below in section 5:1). One must exercise extreme caution with the ḥametz that was found and the ḥametz 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 Pesaḥ and plans to return home after Pesaḥ, his performance of bedikat ḥametz depends on when he departs: if he departs within thirty days of Pesaḥ, i.e., from Purim onward, he must search his home for ḥametz before leaving. That he will certainly nullify his ḥametz has no bearing, because, as we have learned, the Sages ordained that in addition to bitul ḥametz, one must perform bedikat ḥametz, and since he is still at home within the thirty days before Pesaḥ, the mitzva of bedikat ḥametz already applies to him. Therefore, he must perform bedikat ḥametz 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 (above, 3:4).

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

However, if at the time of departure one intended to return home before or during Pesaḥ, the Sages ordained that he must perform a bedika 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 ḥametz (Pesaḥim 6a, according to Rambam). However, if one appoints a shali’aḥ to search on his behalf on the night of the 14th 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 ḥametz, he can ask a friend or relative to search on his behalf (see SA 436:1-2; MB 9; SHT 10).

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

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

Some families leave home for the entire Pesaḥ holiday, and the question arises: Can these people exempt themselves from cleaning and searching for ḥametz 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 Pesaḥ, he is not obligated to search it (Ḥok 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 Pesaḥ, it becomes incumbent upon him to perform bedikat ḥametz there. Only if he moves to another house in which he will become obligated to search for ḥametz will he be exempt from searching the house he rented or sold to the gentile (Avi Ha-ezri, SA 436:3, MA ad loc., and SAH’s understanding of Tur and Rema). In addition, it is inappropriate for one to avoid performing the mitzva of bedikat ḥametz.

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 ḥametz. Once one has fulfilled the mitzva of bedikat ḥametz 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 ḥametz contract that a rental is being transacted. In addition, the homeowner must sell the ḥametz 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 14th, because some poskim maintain that if, on the night of the 14th, the rooms are still in the homeowner’s possession, he becomes obligated to search them (Mekor Ḥayim and Ḥayei Adam). When it is difficult to rent out the house before the night of the 14th, as most rabbinical authorities execute the sale (and rental) on the morning of the 14th, 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, Ḥatam Sofer, as cited in MB 436:2).

The kelim and the stove should be cleaned of all substantial ḥametz before Pesaḥ, for if this is not done, it will be necessary to clean them after Pesaḥ in order to avoid eating ḥametz she-avar alav ha-Pesaḥ (ḥametz that remained in a Jew’s possession during Pesaḥ). However, it is not advisable to sell the kelim to a gentile, because this will necessitate immersing them in a mikveh after Pesaḥ, in keeping with the law regarding kelim bought from a gentile. To sell the ḥametz 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 Ha-ezri. The Aḥaronim 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 Pesaḥ. According to Ḥok Yaakov and Gra, even if the gentile will not actually enter the house, since the Jewish owner declared the ḥametz in it ownerless, there is no need for bedikat ḥametz. MB 436:32 seems to lean toward a strict ruling (see SHT ad loc. 31-32).

In Eretz Yisrael, where it is forbidden to sell a house to a gentile, one is permitted to rent his house. However, Mekor Ḥayim 437:4 and Ḥayei Adam 119:18 in the name of Eliya Rabba state that one who rents his house to a gentile still must conduct bedikat ḥametz. Nonetheless, it seems that if one sells all of the ḥametz in his house, even these poskim would agree that no bedika is required. This is the opinion of Ḥatam Sofer §136 and Hilkhot Ḥag Be-ḥag 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 §91 and Zekher Yehosef §138.

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

The Sages ordained searching for ḥametz on the night of the 14th of Nisan. If one did not search at this time, he is required to do so on the 14th by day, and to say a berakha over the search. If one did not search before Pesaḥ at all, he must search on Pesaḥ, with a berakha. The fact that he nullified his ḥametz before Pesaḥ 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 ḥametz during Pesaḥ and, forgetting the prohibition, eat it. If, after Pesaḥ, one suddenly realizes that he did not perform bedikat ḥametz, he must do so, in order not to violate the rabbinic prohibition of ḥametz she-avar alav ha-Pesaḥ. This search, however, requires no blessing (SA 435:1).

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 14th, and afterward he must nullify any ḥametz in his possession that may have gone undiscovered. One who checks into a hotel during Pesaḥ must inquire whether the rooms were searched for ḥametz. If they were not searched for ḥametz, but were merely cleaned in the routine manner, or if they were cleaned but then a gentile lodged there, he should perform a bedika with a berakha.

A hospital patient is required to search his room and his closet on the night of the 14th. 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.

A hotel owner is required to perform bedikat ḥametz in every room of his hotel, and if it is difficult for him to do this himself, he can hire a shali’aḥ. Regarding rooms rented to gentiles, or to Jews who do not perform bedikat ḥametz on the night of the 14th, 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 ḥametz. On the other hand, if they vacate during the holiday, he will have to search their rooms immediately and remove any ḥametz 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 Pesaḥ, and to have the hotel owner serve as an intermediary during Pesaḥ between the gentile and the guests.

13. Synagogue, Dormitory, and Yeshiva

Synagogues and batei midrash (Torah study halls) require bedikat ḥametz on the night of the 14th, because people sometimes eat ḥametz in them. This is true even of synagogues where people generally do not eat, for children sometimes enter them with ḥametz (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.[9]

Boys and girls living in a dormitory and paying for this facility have the status of tenants, and if a kezayit of ḥametz remains in their room during Pesaḥ they violate bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei. Therefore, they are obligated to search their rooms before Pesaḥ. If they will be staying there during Pesaḥ, they are required to search on the night of the 14th with a berakha. If they leave the dormitory a number of days before Pesaḥ, they are required to search on the night before they leave, without reciting a berakha.[10] The responsibility for searching the rest of the rooms and halls in the yeshiva belongs to the yeshiva administration.

One who buys or begins renting a home before Pesaḥ must search it even if he has not yet occupied it, because the previous resident may have left some ḥametz there. Since the house is in his possession, this ḥametz 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 ḥametz, he can sell or rent out the new home to a gentile and thus exempt himself from the obligation to search it (see above, section 11).

[9]. 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 ḥametz is to prevent violation of bal yera’eh, and since a synagogue does not belong to any one individual, no one would violate bal yera’eh on any ḥametz 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.

[10]. Ḥazon Ish ruled for a yeshiva student that even if he would not be in his room over Pesaḥ, it is preferable for him to check his room on the night of the 14th with a berakha. This opinion is quoted in Sidur Pesaḥ 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 cancelation or abrogation of the rental agreement. Thus, older yeshiva students are considered renters of their rooms.

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

If ḥametz is buried under less than three tefaḥim (c. 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 Pesaḥ. This is because it is possible for a dog to smell it and dig it up.

However, if the ḥametz is covered by more than three tefaḥim, 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 ḥametz is nonetheless required, because it is possible that some of the stones will be moved during Pesaḥ, and the ḥametz will no longer be covered by three tefaḥim, causing the person to violate bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei.[11] Likewise, in a case where ḥametz falls into a pit in one’s yard, if it is the sort of pit one does not generally enter, one may nullify the ḥametz without extracting and disposing of it.

Accordingly, if ḥametz 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 ḥametz. In this case, one may rely upon its bitul (SAH 333:19). If ḥametz 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, as it will not even be fit for a dog’s consumption, and it therefore need not be removed and eliminated.

A storage room where one keeps articles not in use or merchandise that he does not intend to use until after Pesaḥ need not be searched for ḥametz. It is sufficient to nullify any ḥametz that might be there. However, if one wishes to fill the storage room during the thirty days prior to Pesaḥ, he must search it first, because the obligation to prepare for Pesaḥ has already taken effect. If one did not search it beforehand, it must be thoroughly searched for ḥametz on the night of the 14th (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 ḥametz there.

[11]. The opinion of Rashi, Ran, and most poskim is that if the ḥametz is covered by more than three tefaḥim it is considered destroyed, and one would not violate bal yimatzei with this ḥametz. This is what I wrote above. However, the opinion of Smak is that if it is covered by something that is generally moved, the ḥametz 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 ḥametz if he nullified it verbally.

In a case where the ḥametz is covered by less than three tefaḥim, one would be required to remove the ḥametz, as I have written, but only if one is certain that there is ḥametz 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 ḥametz. However, if one merely suspects that there is ḥametz under the covering but is not certain, he is not required to check for the ḥametz if there is a danger of snakes and scorpions, and is only required to nullify the ḥametz 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. It seems that if the ḥametz is likely to spoil before Pesaḥ to the point that it is unfit for a dog’s consumption, or if it is already being eaten by bugs, then even if there are not three tefaḥim above it, it is not necessary to check it.

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