The Busiest Day of the Year: The Laws of Erev Pesach
Rabbi Dovid Heber, Star-K Kashrus Administrator
Erev Pesach is one of the busiest and most unique days of the year. With every hour comes another set of halachos. Many halachic times, including the time for searching for chometz and the latest time for eating chometz, are well known. However, many halachos of Erev Pesach are often confusing and not commonly understood. The purpose of this article is to elucidate some of the lesser known laws of Erev Pesach.
Note: These halachos apply to Erev Pesach that occurs on a weekday. If Erev Pesach occurs on Shabbos, special halachos apply to both Friday (13th of Nissan) and Shabbos (Erev Pesach). See here for the Erev Pesach Shabbos article.
1. Searching for Chometz – The opening line of Meseches Pesachim states that one should search for chometz on the night of the 14th of Nissan (i.e. the night before Pesach). This should begin immediately after nightfall (50 minutes after sunset for this application).
2. Eating Chometz – One may eat chometz until the end of the “4th halachic hour” of the day. There are different opinions regarding the calculation of the length of the day and halachic hour. Ideally, one should use the following calculation: One may eat chometz until the end of 1/3 of the “day”. For this application, the “day” begins 72 minutes before sunrise and ends approximately 50 minutes after sunset (in Baltimore and New York).
3. Burning and Selling Chometz – Chometz must be disposed of by burning or selling it before the end of the “5th halachic hour” – 5/12 of the day. Kol Chamira is recited following the burning, before the end of the 5th halachic hour. One should be aware of the following:
4. Chometz in the Mail – If one receives chometz in the mail or with the newspaper on Erev Pesach (after the 5th halachic hour) or on Pesach, one should not assume ownership of the item but rather leave the chometz outside. If mail is delivered through a mail slot into one’s home, he should have the intent not to acquire the chometz (i.e. not taking legal possession) and kick it or push it outside with a stick to avoid handling it. If it is still around after Pesach, he may assume ownership at that time and use it, provided that the sender is a gentile.
5. Kashering on Erev Pesach – Ideally, all kashering should be completed by the end of the 4th halachic hour. If one forgot to kasher before this time, he may kasher the vessel until candlelighting time on Erev Pesach with the following condition: The vessel did not come into contact with anything hot (whether Kosher L’Pesach or not) within the past 24 hours. In the event the vessel came into contact with something hot within the past 24 hours, or if one requires kashering of a chometz vessel on Pesach, a rav should be consulted.
6. Finding Chometz on Erev Pesach – There is a well known halacha that states if one finds chometz on Chol Hamoed or on Erev Pesach after the 5th hour, one should immediately burn it. On Yom Tov, one should cover the chometz (because it is muktza) and burn it after Yom Tov. This halacha applies only if he did not sell his chometz to a gentile. However, if he sells chometz to a gentile the sale includes all chometz, wherever it may be found. Therefore, if one discovers pretzels in a drawer or bagel chips in a coat pocket during Pesach, he may not burn this chometz since it belongs to the gentile to whom the rav sold the chometz! Rather, he should store the item with the “locked up” chometz sold to the gentile. On Yom Tov, one should cover it and lock it up on Chol Hamoed. It may be eaten after Pesach when the chometz is repurchased.
II . Eating on Erev Pesach & Preparing For the Seder
1. One may not eat even Kosher for Passover matzoh all day Erev Pesach. This prohibition begins at dawn (72 minutes before sunrise). There are many individuals who have the custom not to eat matzoh begining from Rosh Chodesh Nissan or even Purim. A child under the age of six may eat matzoh even on Erev Pesach.
Products containing matzoh meal that are baked (e.g. matzoh meal cake) may not be eaten all day Erev Pesach. Kosher for Passover matzoh meal products that are cooked (e.g. knaidlach) may be eaten until the beginning of the 10th halachic hour of the day – three halachic hours before sunset. One who does not eat gebrochts on Pesach may only eat knaidlach and other cooked matzoh meal products until the latest time for eating chometz. He may not eat baked matzoh meal products all day.
Matzoh made with fruit juice, including Kosher for Passover egg matzohs, grape matzohs, chocolate matzohs and Passover Tam Tams, etc. may be eaten until the end of the 4th halachic hour (same as the latest time for eating chometz). The sick or elderly who cannot eat regular matzoh and have consulted with their rav may eat Pesach egg matzohs any time on Erev Pesach and Pesach. However, even such an individual can not fulfill the obligation of eating matzoh at the seder with these matzohs.
Meat, fish, salad, cheese, eggs, horseradish, fruits, vegetables, and potato starch cakes may be eaten until sunset. However, one should not fill up on these items so as to ensure a hearty appetite at the seder. He may drink wine or grape juice on Erev Pesach in quantities that will not affect his appetite at night.
2. All first born males (whether from the father or mother) must fast on Erev Pesach. A father must fast in place of his first born child who is between the ages of thirty days and bar mitzvah. The custom is to end the fast early by partaking in a siyum. First born girls do not fast, and a mother does not fast for her first born son (under bar mitzvah when the husband is a b’chor) if her husband or son attends a siyum.
3. Preparations for the seder including roasting the z’roa meat, cooking and roasting the egg, mixing the salt water, preparing the charoses, grating the horseradish, and all necessary b’dikas tolaim (checking lettuce for bugs), should preferably be done before Pesach as special restrictions apply to preparing these items on Yom Tov. If the first day of Pesach falls on Shabbos, the z’roa and baitzah must be prepared before Shabbos. Additional restrictions apply to the preparations of the other items on Shabbos.
4. If one has a difficult time drinking wine at the seder, one should mix the wine with grape juice and/or water. Ideally, this mixture should contain a minimum of 4% alcohol. Therefore, if the wine has 12% alcohol content, he should make a mixture consisting of 1/3 wine, 1/3 grape juice and 1/3 water (or 1/3 wine and 2/3 grape juice). He must be aware that many wines available have a lower alcohol content Therefore, if the wine has an 8% alcohol content he should make a mixture consisting of ½ wine, ¼ grape juice and ¼ water (or ½ wine and ½ grape juice). Wine with 6% alcohol content requires 2/3 wine and 1/3 grape juice. If one prepares these mixtures with a measuring cup, it should be done before Yom Tov. If one may become ill by drinking any wine, he may instead drink grape juice.
5. One may not say, “This meat is for Pesach,” as this may appear as if he is designating meat for the Korbon Pesach. Rather one should say, “This meat is for Yom Tov.”
III . Work after Chatzos
During the days of the בית המקדש, the קרבן פסח was brought on Erev Pesach after chatzos (midday). Therefore, various מלאכות (work activities) are prohibited during this time. Although there is no בית המקדש at the time of this writing, the prohibitions remain intact and are similar to the prohibitions of Chol Hamoed (with several exceptions). The following is a list of those מלאכות that apply to Erev Pesach after חצות:
1. During Chol Hamoed, a מעשה הדיוט, simple work, may be performed only if it is לצורך המועד, for the sake of the holiday. For example, one may fasten a hook to the wall on Chol Hamoed to hang up a picture to beautify one’s home for Yom Tov. Similarly, one may assemble an afikomen present of a tricycle on Chol Hamoed for a toddler to ride on Chol Hamoed. However, under normal circumstances one may not perform a מעשה הדיוט if it is not לצורך המועד. For example, one may not fix a broken chair that will not be used until after Pesach. Also, before Pesach one may not plan ahead and postpone a מעשה הדיוט activity for Chol Hamoed even if the activity is לצורך המועד. These halachos also apply to Erev Pesach after chatzos.
2. During Chol Hamoed, in most cases, one may not perform a מעשה אומן, a skilled task requiring a craftsman, even לצורך המועד. For example, installing siding or laying bricks are not permissible, even to beautify the home in honor of Yom Tov.
There are some major exceptions where even a מעשה אומן is permissible on Chol Hamoed. This includes לצורך אוכל נפש (e.g. repairing an oven that broke and could not be fixed before Yom Tov) to avoid major financial loss (e.g. repair a roof to avoid structural or flood damage from rain), and in certain cases לצורך הגוף (e.g. fix an only pair of eyeglasses or repair the only toilet in the house). These halachos also apply to Erev Pesach after chatzos.
However, there is one major difference between Chol Hamoed and Erev Pesach. On Chol Hamoed, one may not hire a gentile to perform the above noted skilled tasks. On Erev Pesach this is permissible לצורך המועד. For example, a major car repair (e.g. rebuilding a transmission) may be performed by a gentile on Erev Pesach, even after חצות), if it is לצורך המועד (e.g. for a Chol Hamoed trip). Under normal conditions, asking a gentile to perform such a task on Chol Hamoed is prohibited.
3. Laundry, Dry Cleaning, Haircuts & Shaving - In general, these four activities may not be performed after חצות on Erev Pesach or during Chol Hamoed. However, after חצות on Erev Pesach one may ask a gentile to perform these tasks לצורך המועד. Therefore, if one forgot to shave, get a haircut or wash/dry clean clothing he may ask a gentile to do so for him לצורך המועד (i.e. go to a gentile barber or dry cleaner). However, a gentile may not perform these tasks for a Jew on Chol Hamoed even לצורך המועד.
4. Drying clothes in a dryer and ironing clothes (except pleats) are classified as a מעשה הדיוט and are permissible on Chol Hamoed and Erev Pesach after chatzos, under the conditions mentioned above (לצורך המועד, etc.).
5. It is preferable to clip finger nails and toe nails before חצות on Erev Pesach. בדיעבד, this may be done all day. If one clips nails on Erev Pesach, he/she may clip them again on Chol Hamoed. If this was not done on Erev Pesach, the nails may not be clipped on Chol Hamoed unless it is לצורך מצוה, (e.g. טבילה).
6. Picking up serviced goods (e.g. at the tailor, shoemaker or dry cleaner) is מותר all day Erev Pesach. Regarding Chol Hamoed, a rav should be consulted.
In years when Erev Pesach occurs on Wednesday, an Eruv Tavshilin should be prepared. Some people have the custom of studying the laws and reciting the order of the קרבן פסח after Mincha on Erev Pesach.
May the next ערב וליל פסח be the busiest ever, with a new Bais HaMikdash, ונאכל שם מן הזבחים ומן הפסחים במהרה בימינו.