5 – Bitul and Bi’ur Ĥametz

1. Bitul Ĥametz in the Evening and Morning

As we learned (above 3:4), one fulfills the mitzva of bi’ur ĥametz (disposing of ĥametz) in two ways, in action and in thought. The process of bi’ur ĥametz involves four stages. The first two, bedika and the first bitul, are performed on the evening of the fourteenth of Nisan. The second two stages, bi’ur and the second bitul, take place the following morning. Having discussed the laws relating to bedikat ĥametz in the previous chapter, we shall now address bitul ĥametz.

After bedikat ĥametz, we immediately rid ourselves of the ĥametz by nullifying it mentally. To make this process easier, a formal declaration of nullification – bitul ĥametz – was composed. This declaration is in Aramaic, because, at the time of its formulation, most Jews understood only Aramaic. It reads (according to the Ashkenazic rite):

כל חמירא וחמיעא דאיכא ברשותי, דלא חזיתיה ודלא בערתיה, לבטיל ולהוי הפקר כעפרא דארעא.

Kol ĥamira ve-ĥami’a de-ika bi-rshuti, de-lo ĥazitei u-delo bi’artei, li-vtil u-lehavi hefker ke-afra de-ar’a.

This declaration can also be said in Hebrew:

כל חמץ ושאור שיש ברשותי, שלא ראיתיו ושלא ביערתיו, יבטל ויהא הפקר כעפר הארץ.

Kol ĥametz u-se’or she-yesh bi-rshuti, she-lo re’itiv ve-shelo bi’artiv, yivatel ve-yehei hefker ke-afar ha-aretz.

In English:

All ĥametz and leaven in my possession that I have not seen and have not eliminated shall be nullified and become ownerless, like the dust of the earth.

The Sephardic version mentions only ĥametz, which includes leaven, and only nullification, which includes renunciation of ownership (see Ĥazon Ovadia, p. 32).

Following the actual bi’ur ĥametz on the morning of the fourteenth (see below, part 3 of this chapter), we perform a second bitul ĥametz. This is because the evening bitul ĥametz applies only to ĥametz we did not find in our search, and of which we remain unaware. It cannot, however, apply to the ĥametz we still intend to eat, since such ĥametz is important to us. We likewise cannot nullify the ĥametz we found in our search, because we intend to dispose of this by burning. Moreover, applying our evening bitul ĥametz to the ĥametz we still plan to eat would reveal the insincerity of our bitul and render it ineffective.

Therefore, in the evening we nullify only the ĥametz we did not find in our search; we do not intend to include the ĥametz we set aside to be eaten or burned. The problem is that if we misplace or overlook some of this remaining ĥametz, we are liable to violate the law of bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei. To prevent this from happening, we nullify the ĥametz a second time. One must be careful to nullify the ĥametz by the end of the fifth seasonal hour of the day, for with the onset of the sixth seasonal hour it is forbidden to derive any benefit from ĥametz, and it can no longer be nullified (SA 434:2).

The wording of the morning nullification is slightly different from that of the evening. In the evening we nullify only the ĥametz that was not found during the search, while in the morning we nullify the ĥametz in its entirety. It reads:

כל חמירא וחמיעא דאיכא ברשותי, דחזיתיה ודלא חזיתיה, דבערתיה ודלא בערתיה, לבטיל ולהוי הפקר כעפרא דארעא.

Kol ĥamira ve-ĥami’a de-ika bi-rshuti, de-ĥazitei u-delo ĥazitei, de-bi’artei u-delo bi’artei, li-vtil u-lehavi hefker ke-afra de-ar’a.

This declaration can also be said in Hebrew:

כל חמץ ושאור שיש ברשותי, שראיתיו ושלא ראיתיו, שביערתיו ושלא ביערתיו, יבטל ויהא הפקר כעפר הארץ.

Kol ĥametz u-se’or she-yesh bi-rshuti, she-re’itiv ve-shelo re’itiv, she-bi’artiv ve-shelo bi’artiv, yivatel ve-yehei hefker ke-afar ha-aretz.

Or in English:

All ĥametz and leaven in my possession that I have seen and that I have not seen, that I have destroyed and that I have not destroyed, shall be nullified and become ownerless, like the dust of the earth.

2. The Significance of Bitul Ĥametz

As noted, the wording of our bitul ĥametz is in Aramaic because it was composed in an era when this was the vernacular. Yet one is free to recite it in Hebrew or any language he understands. If one utters the declaration in Aramaic without understanding its general significance as an act of bitul, thinking instead that it is an Erev Pesaĥ prayer, he has not nullified his ĥametz (MB 434:9).

The Rishonim explain the significance of the bitul (nullification) in two ways. Rashi and Ramban explain that man has the power to nullify ĥametz. This capacity is unique to the context of ĥametz, since according to the Torah ĥametz is entirely insignificant during Pesaĥ. It is forbidden to derive benefit from it, and consequently it is like the dust of the earth, lacking all importance. In one respect alone does ĥametz retain significance during Pesaĥ: if it remains in one’s house, he transgresses the law of bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei. However, if one nullifies his ĥametz before it becomes forbidden, he has fulfilled the intention of the Torah, and if such a person keeps ĥametz in his possession during Pesaĥ, he will not have violated bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei.

Tosafot explain that the bitul is effective because it renders the ĥametz ownerless (hefker), and the Sages teach that bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei apply only to ĥametz one owns, not to ownerless ĥametz.

Thus, according to the first explanation, the nullification focuses on the ĥametz itself, while according to the second explanation, the nullification is directed at the owner, who relinquishes his ownership over the ĥametz.

The Ashkenazic version of the declaration takes both explanations into account, and therefore mentions both nullification and renunciation of ownership. The Sephardic version mentions only nullification, which includes renunciation, for if something is nullified it consequently becomes ownerless.

3. Laws Regarding Bitul Ĥametz

Most Rishonim agree that, in principle, it is not necessary to recite the bitul ĥametz aloud. It is possible to nullify the ĥametz “in one’s heart,” i.e., to mentally regard his ĥametz as null and consider it as the dust of the earth. Preferably, however, one should express the bitul verbally, because this makes it clear and explicit. Moreover, some Rishonim maintain that the bitul must indeed be pronounced aloud (see SAH 434:7). All poskim agree that it is not necessary to pronounce the bitul in the presence of others. Nonetheless, some people enhance the mitzva by reciting the bitul in the presence of their family, to remind them that there is such a mitzva.[1]

The bitul must be sincere. One must agree in his mind that the ĥametz is null and void forever, and that he will not use it even after Pesaĥ. If one intends to use the ĥametz after Pesaĥ, the bitul is not effective, and he violates bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei. Likewise, even if one renounces ownership of his ĥametz and places it in a completely open domain, he must not intend to reclaim it after Pesaĥ, for if he does, his bitul is not wholehearted (MB 445:18).[2]

As mentioned above (3:4), according to the Torah, one can dispose of his ĥametz by merely nullifying it, and even if one were to keep ĥametz of great value in his possession, he may nullify it and would not transgress bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei as long as he makes a firm mental commitment that the bitul is absolute and that he will never again derive benefit from the ĥametz.

However, the Sages ordained that we not rely upon the bitul alone. Rather, one must also physically remove the ĥametz from his possession. They did this because they feared that the bitul might not be performed wholeheartedly. However, if one forgets to eliminate his ĥametz, and when Erev Pesaĥ arrives he is far from his home, he may rely on the bitul alone – but as soon as he returns home he must destroy the ĥametz. Even if he returns after Pesaĥ, he must remove the ĥametz, for if he fails to remove it, he proves that his bitul was not wholehearted (SA 448:5; MB ad loc. 25).

In principle, it is possible to nullify ĥametz through a shali’aĥs. However, preferably the owner of the ĥametz should perform the bitul himself, because some authorities maintain that only the owner of the ĥametz has the power to nullify his ĥametz (SA 434:4; MB ad loc. 15).


[1]. Bedikat Ĥametz U-vi’uro (6:4) which cites Tur §436, Ramban, Ran, and Maharam Halawa that bitul in one’s mind is sufficient. SAH (434:7 and Kuntrus Aĥaron) explains that even though these authorities believe that nonverbal nullification suffices on a Torah level, they still maintain that on a rabbinic level preferably one should nullify the ĥametz verbally. According to Ritva and Beit Yosef, based on the Yerushalmi, one must verbalize the bitul. However, SA 437:2 states: “He nullifies it in his heart and this is sufficient.” BHL 437:2 states that there are two opinions in the matter, and Gra agreed that nullification in one’s mind is sufficient. Whatever one nullifies to himself is considered hefker, as per Tosafot’s explanation that the purpose of the nullification of ĥametz is to deem it ownerless. Even though generally if one wants to declare his property ownerless he must do so in front of three others, as per rabbinic injunction, in this case the Sages deferred to the Torah standards of hefker and allowed one to make the declaration to himself.

[2]. See Bedikat Ĥametz U-vi’uro 6, n. 7, which cites Responsa R. Akiva Eger that if one verbalized the declaration to make his ĥametz ownerless, it becomes ownerless, even if he did not make the declaration wholeheartedly. Thus, anyone can claim his ĥametz, and the former owner is not able to claim that he did not mean what he said. Perhaps, according to MB in the name of SAH, although legally another individual can acquire the ĥametz, if the original owner did not nullify his ĥametz wholeheartedly, the ĥametz remains in his possession until someone else actually claims it (as opposed to becoming ownerless right away).

4. The Custom of Bi’ur Ĥametz by Burning

As we have learned, in addition to bitul ĥametz, the Sages ordained the active elimination of all ĥametz remaining after breakfast on the morning of the fourteenth, and any ĥametz that was found during bedikat ĥametz (including the ten pieces of bread that were hidden before the search). In principle, one may eliminate the ĥametz in various ways: by crumbling it and throwing it into the wind, the sea, or a river (SA 445:1); by pouring bleach or some other substance on it, rendering it unfit to be eaten by a dog, since if it is not considered ĥametz food, it need not be eliminated (SA 442:9); by placing it in an ownerless public domain before it becomes forbidden (MB 445:18); or by flushing it down the toilet, whereby it no longer remains in the house.

Nonetheless, the holy people of Israel customarily enhance the mitzva of eliminating the ĥametz via burning it. Nothing eliminates ĥametz better than fire. Furthermore, there are poskim who maintain that the mitzva to dispose of ĥametz must be fulfilled by burning.

Those who wish to enhance this mitzva further must make sure to nullify the ĥametz after burning it, since if they nullify it beforehand, the ĥametz will no longer be considered theirs, and they will lose the enhancement of bi’ur by burning. One must therefore be careful to leave enough time after burning the ĥametz to nullify it, for after the fifth hour of the day it is no longer possible to nullify ĥametz (as we learned above 3:6). Hence, as soon as a kezayit of ĥametz has been burned, the enhancement of bi’ur ĥametz by burning has been achieved, and the bitul can be recited.

Some people, when using kerosene to light the fire, are careful not to pour it directly on the ĥametz. They do this so that the fire alone destroys the ĥametz, and the kerosene does not render it unfit for consumption by a dog before it is burned.[3]


[3]. There is a dispute in Pesaĥim 27b regarding the mitzva of destroying the ĥametz: R. Yehuda says it must specifically be burned, and the Sages say it can be destroyed in any fashion. According to the majority of Rishonim, including Rambam, Rosh, Ritva, and Ran, the halakha follows the Sages; this is also the ruling of SA 445:1. A minority of authorities, including Tosafot and Sefer Mitzvot Katan, follows R. Yehuda. Baĥ and Gra add that even the Sages believe that the preferred method is burning, just that it is also possible to destroy the ĥametz in other ways. Other Aĥaronim disagree and feel that according to the Sages there is nothing special or preferable about burning, and one may destroy his ĥametz in any way.

Most Rishonim feel that even according to R. Yehuda, the mitzva to burn ĥametz only applies to ĥametz that is left over past midday of the fourteenth, when it becomes forbidden, similar to the law of notar (uneaten portions of a sacrifice left over until the morning), which must also be burned. However, before midday of the fourteenth, it is possible that even R. Yehuda would agree that one may destroy the ĥametz any way he wants; this is the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam and Maharam Halawa. On the other hand, Rashi explains that according to R. Yehuda the mitzva is to burn the ĥametz before midday. According to Rosh’s understanding of Rashi, the mitzva to burn the ĥametz only applies during the sixth hour of the day, but according to Tur’s understanding of Rashi, the mitzva to burn the ĥametz applies even prior to the sixth hour. If this opinion is correct, the mitzva to destroy the ĥametz is specifically by burning it. See Birur Halakha Pesaĥim 27b for a summary of the topic. Even though it is clear according to almost all poskim that there is no mitzva to burn the ĥametz before it becomes forbidden, Rema 434:2 and 445:1 writes that the custom is to burn the ĥametz even earlier. See Or Le-Tziyon 2:33, which explains that the stringency of burning the ĥametz is dependent upon the combination of several opinions: firstly, the authorities who follow R. Yehuda; secondly, Tur’s understanding of Rashi that the mitzva to burn the ĥametz applies even before the ĥametz becomes forbidden; and thirdly, Tosafot’s opinion that the act of nullification renders the ĥametz ownerless, as opposed to Rashi’s understanding that nullification accomplishes the mitzva of destroying the ĥametz (and thus the only way to fulfill the mitzva of destroying the ĥametz according to Tosafot is by burning it). See also Bedikat Ĥametz U-vi’uro 7:5-7 and Hilkhot Ĥag Be-ĥag 8:7-8.

It is also worth noting that, according to a simple reading, the mitzva of removing ĥametz (in Shemot 12:15) is to dispose of the ĥametz before it becomes forbidden, as most Rishonim write. Ran and Ritva also write that one fulfills this mitzva by conducting bedikat ĥametz. Rambam writes that the mitzva of removing ĥametz begins on the night of the fourteenth (MT, Laws of Ĥametz and Matza 3:1). However, Rosh maintains that the mitzva only begins once the ĥametz becomes forbidden. Hilkhot Ĥag Be-ĥag 8:8 summarizes this topic.

Sidur Pesaĥ Ke-hilkhato 15:4 states that one should be careful not to pour lighter fluid on the ĥametz itself, and see Hilkhot Ĥag Be-ĥag 8:10 n. 17, which disagrees, since the main objective is to turn the ĥametz into ashes, regardless of whether or not its taste remains intact. See above ch. 3 n. 8.

5. Ĥametz in the Garbage

On the morning of the fourteenth of Nisan the question arises: Must ĥametz that has been placed in the garbage also be destroyed?

If the garbage bin belongs to a Jew or is located on his property, he is obligated by rabbinical ordinance to remove the ĥametz before it becomes prohibited. The owner may pour bleach or some other foul substance on the ĥametz rendering it unfit for consumption by a dog.

If the garbage container is the property of the local authority and is located in the public domain, one need not destroy the ĥametz he placed in it before the ĥametz becomes prohibited. The local authority is not obligated to destroy it because it was not interested in acquiring the ĥametz to begin with. Its only aim was to remove it to a garbage dump.[4]


[4]. Igrot Moshe 3:57 states that the mere act of placing the ĥametz in the trash clearly shows that one’s intentions were to rid himself of the ĥametz. However, if the trash can belongs to him, according to Taz and MA 445:3 he has a rabbinic obligation to burn the ĥametz. However, if the trash can is in the public domain, he does not have to burn any ĥametz he placed inside the trash can. Bedikat Ĥametz U-vi’uro 3:45 adds that if the ĥametz is so filthy that clearly no person would use it for any purpose, it is considered destroyed. It also adds a novel idea in n. 130: ĥametz that is unfit for humans but suitable for dogs only must be destroyed if the ĥametz is able to cause other dough to become ĥametz. However, if the ĥametz is so filthy that it is no longer suitable to any person for any purpose, it is considered nullified and need not be destroyed (see also Piskei Teshuvot 445:7, which cites other opinions). Nevertheless, when one discards his trash into a bag, as is the modern custom, the ĥametz does not always become that dirty. Thus, if the trash can is in his domain, it is best to dispel all doubt and refrain from discarding ĥametz that is still suitable for dogs into that particular trash can in the days leading up to Pesaĥ.

6. Ĥametz Found after the Onset of the Prohibition

If one finds ĥametz in his possession after the sixth hour of the day, he must dispose of it immediately. After midday, if one forgot to nullify the ĥametz in his possession, he is obligated by Torah law to eliminate it. The most preferable form of the mitzva is to burn the ĥametz, but one may eliminate it in a number of ways, as we have learned. For example, one may crumble the ĥametz and cast it into the wind, or break up the ĥametz and flush it down the toilet.

However, if one throws his ĥametz into an ownerless public domain, he has accomplished nothing. Although one may renounce ownership of his ĥametz before it becomes prohibited and thus avoid the obligation to remove it, if one still possesses ĥametz when the prohibition takes effect, the only way he can get rid of it is by destroying it completely.

Similarly, once the prohibition has taken effect, it is no longer possible to remove ĥametz simply by pouring a foul substance like bleach on it to make it unfit to be eaten by a dog. Only before the ĥametz becomes prohibited is it possible to do so. If the ĥametz was fit for consumption when the prohibition took effect, one is obligated to dispose of it completely. Therefore, if one finds such ĥametz in his possession, he must burn it, scatter it in the wind, or crumble it into pieces and flush it down the toilet, in order to eliminate it. As stated, the best way to fulfill this mitzva is by burning the ĥametz. Moreover, even after the ĥametz has been burned, it is forbidden to derive benefit from its ashes.[5]

If one finds ĥametz on the first or last day(s) of Pesaĥ or on Shabbat of Ĥol Ha-mo’ed, he may not burn it or even carry it to the bathroom to flush it down the toilet, as ĥametz is muktzeh and may not be handled. Rather, one must cover it with a container so that nobody accidentally eats it, and it must be burned as soon as possible after the Shabbat or holiday. If the same person forgot to nullify his ĥametz before Pesaĥ, he violates two Torah prohibitions – bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei – every moment the ĥametz remains in his possession. In order for one to spare himself from these transgressions, according to many poskim he may pick up the ĥametz, break it up somewhat, and throw it into the toilet; these poskim permit violating the laws of muktzeh, which are of rabbinic origin, in order to avoid Torah prohibitions. Nonetheless, some poskim take the stringent position that he should wait until Shabbat is over before getting rid of the ĥametz (MB 446:6).

Regarding the berakha, if one finds ĥametz during Pesaĥ, even though it is a mitzva to dispose of it, he does not recite a berakha before the bi’ur, because the blessing he said before bedikat ĥametz included all ĥametz in his possession that required removal. However, if one kneads dough during Pesaĥ and it becomes ĥametz, he must say the berakha over its disposal since this ĥametz was not in his possession before Pesaĥ, at the time of his bedika, and thus the berakha he said then did not apply to it (MB 435:5).


[5]. See n. 3, where we learned that the main dispute between R. Yehuda and the Sages is about ĥametz that one finds after it has already become forbidden. According to the Rishonim who follow R. Yehuda, one has a mitzva to burn this ĥametz. Even though most poskim follow the Sages, as quoted in SA 445:1, burning the ĥametz is an acceptable method, especially according to R. Yoel Sirkis (Baĥ) and Gra, who maintain that the Sages agree that the preferable method to destroy the ĥametz is burning. This is what MB states in 445:6.

Once the ĥametz becomes forbidden, there is an obligation to destroy the ĥametz completely, as cited in SA 442:9 and MB ad loc. 40. Even declaring the ĥametz ownerless does not work at this point; it only works before the ĥametz becomes forbidden, as explained in MB 445:18. Even after the ĥametz is burned, one is forbidden to benefit from the ashes, as explained in SA 445:2. MB 445:5 states that if one throws ĥametz into an outhouse, it is considered destroyed. However, the outhouses in the times of MB were exceptionally filthy, and anything that was thrown there became so repulsive that it would no longer be usable in any capacity. Conversely, bread that has been discarded in a modern toilet is likely to emerge intact from the drainpipes, and would likely be fit for a dog; therefore, if one were to discard bread this way, he should first break up the bread into smaller crumbs. See also Bedikat Ĥametz U-vi’uro 7:24 n. 56 for more on this topic, and see 7:1-2 and the corresponding footnotes. In n. 7, the author writes that if one finds ĥametz on Pesaĥ and spoils it so that it is no longer fit for a dog, he still violates bal yeira’eh and bal yimatzei according to SAH, but according to Ĥazon Ish he is required to destroy the ĥametz, but does not violate bal yeira’eh or bal yimatzei. According Pri Megadim, he only has a rabbinic obligation to destroy the ĥametz, since by not completely destroying the ĥametz before Pesaĥ he missed the Torah-level mitzva (the opinions of SAH and Pri Megadim are cited in SHT 442:19).

Although in general any ĥametz found on Pesaĥ has already been nullified and would therefore only be rabbinically forbidden, the ĥametz must still be destroyed, as would any ĥametz that had not been nullified, since, as noted, the rabbis decreed that all ĥametz must be nullified and eliminated. SAH (435:4) adds that if one did not burn his ĥametz, he violates bal yeira’eh and bal yimatzei on the rabbinic level and is subject to the rabbinic obligation of tashbitu. See also Bedikat Ĥametz U-vi’uro 7 n. 40 for other sources. Additionally, see chapter 8, 24, which says that if one finds ĥametz on Pesaĥ, there are ways that he can avoid bal yeira’eh and bal yimatzei, although he cannot fulfill the active mitzva of tashbitu. For example, he can heave the ĥametz into the sea in a manner that the ĥametz would be impossible to retrieve. The mitzva, however, which he cannot fulfill, is to burn the ĥametz.

Regarding the time for burning the ĥametz: if one finds ĥametz in his possession after the beginning of the sixth hour of the day, he has a rabbinic obligation to burn it, and if he found ĥametz that he did not nullify, he has a biblical obligation to destroy it. If he does not, he violates bal yeira’eh and bal yimatzei as soon as the festival begins. If he nullified his ĥametz, he does not violate bal yeira’eh and bal yimatzei on the biblical level, but he still has a rabbinic obligation to burn it.