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Pesach - Bedikat Chametz

How extensive does the search for chametz have to be?

According to the Shulchan Aruch, one must perform an exhaustive search of the entire house on the night before Pesach - including any and every place where chametz may have been brought [Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 433:3]. Based upon this criteria, many hours should be set aside to perform a halachic bedikat chametz. 

But, with some exception, that is not the common practice. Rather, most people perform the search for chametz in a relatively short amount of time. If so, how do they fulfill the obligation to search for chametz? 

According to Shaarei Teshuva [Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 433 s.v. "v'chol adam"] since the house has already undergone such an extensive pre-Pesach cleaning, by the time the night of bedikat chametz arrives, those rooms may be halachically considered as "a place into which no chametz has been brought." [see further: Chochmat Shlomo 433:1 and Kinyan Torah 2:122].


The 10 Pieces of Bread

In the Shulchan Aruch, Orech Chaim 432:2, Rema notes that “The practice is to put pieces of chametz in a place where the one searching will find them so that his beracha will not be for naught.   If he did not place [the pieces], however, this does not withhold [the fulfillment of the obligation], for everyone's intention in the beracha is to destroy [chametz] if it is discovered.” Added the Ari, z”l we specifically use two pieces of bread for this purpose.

However, the Vilna Gaon offers, what he calls "irrefutable proof" that one need not place pieces of chametz before the search - since the Shulchan Aruch rules that if one failed to perform bedikat chametz before Pesach, he must search with a beracha during chol ha-mo'ed.   Needless to say, one does not place pieces of chametz before searching on Pesach itself!  

The Mishna Berura [Shulchan Aruch, ibid. note 13] rules that, strictly speaking, one need not place pieces of chametz, but "it is not worthwhile to do away with the custom of Israel."   In the Sha'ar Ha-tziyun [ibid. note 12], he adds that nowadays, when we thoroughly clean the house ahead of time, according to the Emek Halacha one must place pieces of chametz even according to the strict letter of the law, and not merely by force of custom. 

Of course, one should ensure that this practice yields the desired benefit and not the opposite.   Some people place the pieces of chametz right in the middle of the room, and the one conducting the search simply collects all the pieces from all the rooms and thereby completes the bedika.   This obviously undermines the entire bedika, transforming it into a ceremony of collecting pieces [see Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 111:8].  

One final note - as a safeguard, it is best to use smaller pieces of bread (less than a kezayit) so that if one of them is not found, the bittul declaration will suffice to avoid violating the prohibition of chametz on Pesach!


What do you do if you're going away?

Anyone who owns chametz is required to dispose of it before Pesach begins. This can be accomplished by destroying it [biur chametz],   selling it, or giving it away to a non-Jew.

But the Rabbis also obligated each person to search for chametz on the night before Pesach (or this year on Sunday night, April 21st) [Orech Chayim 436:3, Mishna Berura ibid., notes 27 and 32]. Therefore, even if one sold one's entire house to a non-Jew, one is not free from the personal obligation to search for chametz.

A solution to this problem is to set aside one room in the house, even a small one, and not sell it to a non-Jew along with the rest of the house. That room should be cleaned for Pesach and thoroughly searched for chametz on the night before Pesach, with the proper blessing recited for the bedikah [Responsa Shevet HaLevi 4:44]. Some authorities even permit a person to rent the room where he/she will be staying for Pesach and search for chametz there, instead [M'harsham 3:291], but many oppose this latter approach.

When doing even a minimal bedikah is difficult, there are authorities who permit selling one’s entire house to a non-Jew, but ideally such a sale should occur on the 13th of Nisan, a day earlier than the normal sale and before the regular time of bedikat chametz [Chatam Sofer Orach Chaim 131, Mishna Halachot 4:67, Nitei Gavriel Hilchot Pesach 1:28(1)]

Please note, if a person leaves home before the night when the search for chametz is supposed to occur, all of the regular procedures should still be followed on the night before one leaves (searching at night, the candle or flashlight, etc.), however, the blessing is not recited


Bedikat Chametz at a Hotel

The obligation to perform bedikat chametz on the 14th day of Nisan in incumbent upon any person who owns or rents a place of residence. However, if a person will be leaving their home before Pesach (but within 30 days of the holiday), that bedikah should take place on the evening before one leaves, but without a bracha.

But what if a person leaves home before Pesach and moves into a hotel for the Pesach holiday? Does bedikat chametz have to be performed in a hotel room?

According to the Shulchan Aruch [Orech Chaim 437:1], a person who rents a room, even on the 14th of Nisan (erev Pesach) has an obligation to do bedikat chametz in that room. Based upon this, a person renting a hotel room is also obligated to do bedikat chametz in the room with a bracha (even though he may have also done a bedikah in the house he left before Pesach) [Chovat HaDar p. 121; see also Chag B'Chag by Rabbi Moshe Karp who makes the same ruling in the name of Rav Elyashiv]. However, if the person is only renting the hotel room after the evening of the 14th, and the owner of the hotel (if Jewish) did not perform a bedikah, the hotel guest must perform a bedikah but without a bracha.

There is a dissenting opinion, which suggests that since the hotel management has complete access to the room, a hotel room should be considered the same as a rented room discussed in the Shulchan Aruch, and therefore does not require bedikah [Kinyan Torah vol. 1 responsa 120]. 

A related issue is the question of dormitory students, whether or not they must perform bedikat chametz. The difference between a dormitory student and a renter, or even a hotel guest, is that students typically eat their meals in a communal dining room, and therefore are not fully independent tenants. As a result, a bracha should not be recited when searching through a dorm room [Chovat HaDar p.122].

Tue, May 21 2024 13 Iyyar 5784