Hi everyone. I know that many of us are concerned about Pesach this year, physically and emotionally. I’ve gathered some resources I’ve seen on the internet that might be helpful for navigating this Pesach.
Kosher Le Pesach Food
This year there is a lot of concern about kosher le Pesach food. These concerns have two layers: 1. Worry about not finding kosher le Pesach products because supermarkets will be sold out, due to people buying food in bulk 2. After Pesach, not being able to re-stock one’s home with food, because the supermarkets might be sold out.
Towards that end, the CRC and London Beit Din have provided Pesach guides with lists of food products that do not require special Kosher Le Pesach certification. Please note: Products may require a “normal” kosher certification even when they do not require a special “Kosher le Pesach” stamp. It is also important to note that these guides are talking about unused packages and containers. Food which has already been opened before Pesach should not be used on Pesach.
Many religious Jews sell their hametz to a non-Jew for Pesach in order to avoid the prohibition of owning hametz on Pesach, without having to throw out half their pantry. The sold hametz is sealed off and placed out of sight; it is then bought back by the Jews after Pesach, after which they can continue to eat it as normal. However, many who engage in this practice will not sell “hametz gamur”—absolute hametz, and will generally avoid stocking up on hametz before Pesach. This year however, some people want to stock up on food—including hametz—before Pesach, because they are concerned about food shortages. Here are some Orthodox rulings on this topic:
In a special Q & A session about Coronavirus, Rabbi Herschel Schachter permitted the selling of hametz gamur this year, even for those who do not generally have the custom to do so, because of concerns about food shortages after Pesach.
Rabbi Yoni Rosensweig wrote that in light of this year’s situation: “many want to know whether they can hoard chametz this year in order to sell it before Pesach, in order to buy it after. The answer is yes, you may. Thank God, it seems that there won’t actually be a food shortage (I don’t want this post to cause a panic), but if you’re worried – you may do this.”
Rabbi Elyakim Levanon ruled that this year, because of the Coronavirus situation, “Anybody who is concerned about obtaining hametz products after Pesach, can buy hametz products before Pesach, and make sure to sell them before Pesach”-including hametz gamur.
Rabbi Zeev Weitman, head rabbi of Alon Shvut, allows selling hametz gamur this year because of the Coronavirus situation.
For Ashkenazim, Pesach food concerns have an added layer: Kitniyot. First of all, it is important to note that even during a “normal” Passover, there are opinions which allow one to eat food that contains a small amount of Kitniyot derivatives, or even that contains a small amount of Kitniyot itself, provided that the Kitniyot cannot be identified by sight or taste.
Additionally, it is permissible to own Kitniyot on Pesach. They do not need to be sold.
In Israel, many products that say “Kosher for Pesach for those Who Eat Kitniyot” are actually foods that have a small amount of Kitniyot or Kitniyot derivatives.
Some rabbis are saying that this year, due to the extenuating circumstances, Ashkenazim may rely on the opinions that allow eating food that contains small amounts of Kitniyot or Kitniyot derivatives.
Examples of such rulings include:
Rabbi Shlomo Brody has an overview of different Kitniyot opinions, including leniencies to buy products labelled as “Kosher Le Pesach for Those Who Eat Kitniyot” where either a) the products have Kitniyot, but Kitniyot are not an important ingredient, and cannot be seen or tasted b) the products do not have definite Kitniyot at all, but have either ingredients that may be considered Kitniyot or that are derived from Kitniyot, such as: Canola, grapeseed, or cottonseed oil; lecithin.
Sharona Halickman has a guide to different opinions considering different types of Kitniyot and Kitniyot derivatives as it pertains to Pesach shopping in Israel.
Rabbi Zeev Weitman rules that this year, those who generally are careful to buy products that have a “Kosher Le Pesach Kitniyot Free” certification may buy products that have a “Kosher Le Pesach For Those Who Eat Kitniyot” certification, if no Kitniyot are listed as main ingredients in the ingredient list. Similarly, those who generally refrain from eating food that contains lecithin or Canola oil on Pesach may be lenient this year if there is a need to do so.
Rabbi Aryeh Klapper recently gave a class on the topic of “Kitniyot in the Times of Potato Famine” that might be of interest to those thinking about Kitniyot in the times of Coronavirus.
This year, many people will be alone on Seder night. Especially in a time when outings and social interactions are already limited, this can be extremely difficult. Especially for those outside of Israel who will be having a 3-day Chag/Shabbat experience, the isolation could have detrimental effects on a person’s emotional and mental well-being.
First of all, it is important to know that it’s ok to ask for help. Whether that is asking a friend or family to call to check in before/after (or perhaps during) chag, or asking someone to drop off food if they can, etc. Second of all, it’s important to remember to check in: There is most likely at least one person in your life who could use a pre-Pesach phone call or an offer to be Zoomed into Seder.
Zoom Seder and Other Technological Options
It is the mainstream Orthodox approach to forbid operating electricity on Shabbat and on Chag. Here I am presenting rulings by Orthodox rabbis that have allowed us to make exceptions to that mainstream approach this year, because of the unique public health situation.
A ruling by prominent Sefardi rabbis in Israel allows for Zoom Seders with elderly relatives who need it, provided that Zoom is turned on before the start of Chag and left on for Seder. They seem to be basing themselves off of the following: 1) There is a Sefardi tradition to allow technology on Chag. Even for Ashkenazim not operating technology on Chag is only a rabbinic prohibition, leaving more room to be lenient under certain conditions (This applies to electricity on Chag – not on Shabbat). 2) Zoom will be turned on before Chag, so assuming everything works as intended, there will be no need to operate technology on Chag itself. 3) Although using a computer would generally be considered “weekday activities”, it’s ok in this case because it’s being used for a mitzvah 4) It is very clear that this ruling is a unique emergency measure that is not meant to be used in other circumstances once the Coronavirus concerns have passed. 5) There is a special need to prevent the elderly from being sad and depressed during this time.
Rabbi Yoni Rosensweig points out that although some people are isolated for Seder every year, we don’t usually say that is a valid reason to permit use of technology on Chag. He says that “Using Zoom to live-stream the Seder should be allowed under certain circumstances. But there was a significant worry that even if everything was set up from before Chag, using Zoom would infringe upon the sanctity of the day. Not a small point…On the flip side, leniencies certainly exist for the sick and the elderly on an individual basis, even before these Corona-afflicted times. There is nothing new with the general idea of being lenient for those in need.” The tricky part is identifying what constitutes “real need” and what does not. He adds that the elderly are particularly at risk of Depression due to the Coronavirus situation, and concludes that lenient rulings may be given, but only on a case-by-case basis. In a separate Facebook post, he states that in order to qualify as “need” when it comes to this issue, circumstances do not necessarily need to be as severe as “pikuach nefesh” – a situation where one’s life would literally be in danger.
Rabbi Hershel Schachter ruled that: If someone is told by a doctor to remain in isolation over Pesach, and there is a known psychological condition where isolation brings the risk of suicide, then family “must reach out to this person over Yom Tov to speak on the phone or use the internet by leaving a connection open from before Yom Tov. Rav Moshe Feinstein has decided that, in certain circumstances, psychological danger is considered life threatening. Rabbi Soloveitchik went further and noted…that even if there is a concern that someone will lose his or her mind even if their life is not in danger, that too is considered a case of Pikuach Nefashos.”. However, if there is no pikuach nefesh issue, then the family should not use electricity on Chag to connect with the person. With regards to Seder, Rabbi Schachter leaves room for a phone Seder under certain circumstances, but forbids a Zoom Seder: “If a person were to leave the phone on before before Yom Tov and conduct a Pesach Seder from their home so that others can follow along…there may be reason to be lenient under great and pressing circumstances. However, to leave a computer screen on and to have people watch and connect over the internet is a greater concern of violating Shabbos and Yom Tov since it creates images and pictures when the people move.”
Rabbi Yosef Tzvi Rimon dismisses the possibility of a Zoom Seder over Chag. He presents a moral objection: If one is truly refraining from touching the computer on Chag, then if Zoom malfunctions or the screen deactivates, etc., the Seder will stop or won’t happen at all -causing a worse emotional impact than if one never tried a Zoom Seder to begin with. Instead, he makes the following suggestion: 1. 1-2 hours before sunset, the entire family should have a Zoom meetup, all dressed up in their Pesach clothes 2. During this meetup, they should sing Pesach songs and exchange divrei Torah and thoughts about the Seder. The kids can sing the Ma Nishtana. 4. Then shortly before sunset, everyone hangs up and lights candles. 5. After Chag is over, the entire family should have a post-Chag meetup.
Rabbi Yissochor Katz ruled that “Due to considerations of pikuach nefesh, it is absolutely permitted, where there is the potential that extreme isolation could perhaps lead to physical or mental danger, to set up a Zoom feed so that one can experience a Pesach seder with others virtually and not feel alone. The bar for pikuach nefesh is extremely low; even a whiff of a threat to someone’s physiological or psychological well-being is enough to justify the use of (preset) electronic technology to create an inclusive seder…The parameters of the heter must be honored and the heter must be applied only if there indeed is the possibility of sakanah. If staying off Zoom will merely cause inconvenience, then it is not allowed.” He also delineates halachic requirements in how a Zoom Seder would be carried out, including: 1. Turning on Zoom before Chag for the first Seder 2. Activating Zoom with a shinui on second night for the second Seder 3. Making sure the computer screen does not go off.
Some people may choose to have Seder alone, with one or two friends or roommates, or in a nuclear family unit. Such Seders can be extremely stressful. They can also be extremely meaningful, allowing time for exploration and introspection. Below are some guides for those who are planning a small or solo Seder experience:
The Minimalist’s Guide to Passover Seder (This includes logistical advice on which pots/pans/foods you might need if trying to do the Seder for yourself +/- a few guests, without going overboard on food prep)
Rabbi Haim Ovadia’s quick guide to lenient Passover cleaning (useful for anybody who plans on cooking for Seder night)
How to Run Your Own Seder
For many people who usually spend Seder as guests, this might be their first time running a Seder. Although it can seem intimidating, the important thing to remember is that even if the Seder isn’t “perfect”, it’s still valid. You ate matzah and maror and remembered the Pesach sacrifice and story of the Jewish people being freed from Egypt. It’s ok if you messed up that paragraph, or forgot to sing that song. Also: The people you think of as “perfect” Seder leaders also had a first time leading Seder, and they also were intimidated, and maybe they also forgot to sing Had Gadya. So take a deep breath before, and afterwards, give yourself a pat on the back. Here are some guides on running a Seder:
Interactive Virtual Haggadah (Good way to review and go over the material before Seder night)
Wishing a happy and healthy Pesach to one and all.