[image of a matzah, overlaid with a dripping gradient of the bi flag colors: blue, purple, and pink]

Sedering-in-Place: or, Passover with Extra Plagues

[image of a matzah, overlaid with a dripping gradient of the bi flag colors: blue, purple, and pink]

(Why does this belong on this blog? Because first, Jewish LGBTQIPA+ people are definitely marginalized within the larger community. and second, do you know how big the subgroup of bi Jews is? sometimes i wonder if I know any straight Jews, or bi people who aren’t Jewish and/or Pagan.)

I know a lot of folks are struggling with how they’ll do the grocery shopping they need to, or whether they can keep kosher for Passover when they live with people who don’t.

I’m going to give you the easiest ways I know of to do the full “hunting the chametz, kashering the kitchen, eating kosher for Passover, having the seder” thing. That doesn’t mean you have to do all of it!

There are MANY, MANY opinions about how strict or lenient you have to be with literally every single aspect of Passover. Ultimately, it is up to you and your rabbi. However, there are valid opinions supporting the following two steps as the minimum for your mitzvot: 

1. Go gluten-free!
a. figure out what you have that’s made with wheat, barley, rye, oats or spelt (besides matzah).
b. sell it to a goy for the duration, or give it away, or destroy it, as applicable.
c. still in your house? don’t use it, it’s not yours, it’s dead to you (until Passover’s over). some people seal it up in a separate room or a taped-shut cabinet to make sure they don’t accidentally dive in.
d. Check below to see what you might need to clean to make sure you’re not tainting your food with the ghosts of past chametz.
e. Passover’s already started and you’re only reading this now? Better late than never!

2. Sit down and seder! 
a. If it endangers your health (or someone else’s) for you to go get matzah or maror or what-have-you, you don’t have to. Do what you can.
b. attend an online seder (this is a very short list; I’ve found many that aren’t on here just by searching facebook events for “seder” or googling virtual seders.)
c. throw your own. here’s a half-hour versionhere’s a ten-minute version. I’ve used both: the first one with an infant and my partner, the second one alone with a one-year-old who was getting into everything and didn’t wanna hear it.  You can do this.

I’ve totally been the person who didn’t do anything because I couldn’t keep to the strictest opinion I could find. This is no way to live. Not only that, there’s a dang pandemic on.

Look over the list, think about your resources, and remember to put your physical and mental health first. Do what feeds your spirit. Shame is chametz: burn it, and avoid it at all costs this week.

Read on if you want more detail about why to bother getting rid of your chametz, a little of the powerful symbolism of it all, how to kasher different things in your kitchen, and some good recipe ideas.

What’s chametz?

Any food product made from wheat, barley, rye, oats or spelt. Technically, it’s only chametz if they’ve been mixed with water and swelled up – allowed to “rise”. That’s why matzah is allowed, and why it’s flat.

Here’s a fun fact: technically, flour isn’t necessarily chametz. But because the standard practice is to soak the wheat kernels with water before milling them into flour, most flour is chametz.

But chametz is also a chametzaphor! I mean, a metaphor. It symbolizes all the things that are metaphorically trapping us, exploiting us, and killing us.

“Four-fifths of the Israelites died in Egypt — according to Rashi quoting the Talmud — before they could be redeemed (Exodus 13:18). They did not merit baking unleavened bread, their attachment was still to the fulsome bread of Egypt. They did not die from famine, they died from a lack of perspective.

“Egypt gave them certainty, but it was the certainty of being slaves. They were part of the strongest power in the world, but as a subjugated people. Their physical slavery was reinforced by their psychological slavery. They felt safe, at the bottom.

“As much as we might feel redeemed and free, there is always the danger of falling back into the darkness of Egypt, of dependency, of feeling unreasonably protected.

The matzah we eat is the basic bread that we need to be free. Dayenu! It is sufficient for us.”

Feeling unreasonably protected, as in: unreasonably feeling protected. Feeling safe in harmful, traumatizing, and/or abusive situations, because they feel familiar. They’re the danger we know.

We often feel like leaving these situations would leave us unprotected, unsafe. Happiness and safety seem much scarier, because losing them seems like it would feel much worse than never having had them. The unknown seems terrifying, even when it is by definition better than what we’re experiencing. Especially, when life already feels scary and intense.

To me, the beauty of hunting out chametz, and going to great lengths to avoid it for Passover, is that it functions as a reminder to think about what’s spiritually, emotionally, psychologically killing me. And to hunt that down, and avoid it, no matter what a pain in the ass it seems to be.

And good news: there’s a LOT of chametz that you aren’t required to find and get rid of! If you can’t eat it, it’s spoiled, it’s dirty, or it’s tiny crumbs or particles, IT DOESN’T COUNT. If it’s not yours, IT DOESN’T COUNT.

There’s literally a smashed chocolate chip cookie on my bedroom floor right now, and technically, I don’t even have to pick it up. 

The entire point is to get rid of any chametz that you might accidentally eat, use, or otherwise benefit from during Passover.

Bedikat Chametz, or, the chametz (c)hunt: 

The night before Passover (in 2020, that would be Tuesday April 7), don’t eat more than a snack in the half-hour before sunset, and start right away when the sun goes down, so that you don’t get distracted. Say this blessing:

ברוך אתה ה’ אלוקינו מלך העולם אשר קידשנו במצותיו וציוונו על ביעור חמץ
Baruch atta Ado-noy Elo-hai-nu Melech ha’olam asher kid-sha-nu b’mitz-vo-sav v’tzi-vanu al bee-ur chametz.
Blessed are you our G-d master of the universe who sanctified us with these commandments and commanded us to destroy chametz.

Then grab a bowl or a bag, and look for anything made with wheat, barley, rye, oats or spelt. Collect anything you find: spilled cereal under the sofa cushions, a loose pretzel under the chair, a stale cookie that fell behind everything in the kitchen cupboard, a smashed granola bar you left in your backpack.

I‘m straight-up going to combine this with the task of collecting everything in my kitchen that I won’t be eating during Passover, and selling/giving it to my partner for the duration. I don’t have time to do that as a separate thing. I’ll probably be kashering my microwave and dishes while I do it, too.

Quick fixes: 
• Forgot to do the blessing? You can still say it while you’re hunting! (Or, arguably, even while you’re burning the stuff you found!)
• Can’t do it Tuesday night? You can also do it during the day on Tuesday or Wednesday!
• Forgot to do the hunt? You can also do it during the day on Wednesday!

Bonuses: you can try the traditions of:
• doing this right when the sun goes down,
• using the light of a candle, [although honestly, the idea behind the candle was that it would make it easier to see chametz, so really, using a flashlight would be even better. Either way, you do not need to turn the lights off, but you can if you think that makes it more fun!]
• made of beeswax if you got one,
• picking them up with a wooden spoon if you have one, [because then you can burn it]
• sweeping them into the wooden spoon with a feather if you have both, [you can burn that too!]
• putting any bits of chametz you find in a paper bag, [BURN IT ALL DOWNNNNN]
• tearing up and hiding 10 little bits of bread first if you like, [because it’s no fun to do a search and not find anything!]
• and/or wrapping those bits of bread in paper before you hide them, so no crumbs escape.

How to kasher the kitchen:
Sink:  If it’s metal, just boil a pot of water, and pour boiling water all over the sink. Boom, you’re done.

What if you have housemates who wash/soak non-kosher stuff in the sink afterward?

Supposedly, during the rest of the year, if you get separate plastic tubs for the sink, and soak meat items in one and dairy items in the other, or even just put the milk vs dairy dishes on separate

I just found “How To Clean For Passover Without Losing Your Mind” and I am totally enamored of it. You don’t need to kasher the kitchen sink or the dishwasher!

Toaster oven and toasters: clean as needed and leave on high heat for ten minutes.

Microwave oven: Clean it if it’s dirty, and microwave half a cup of water with a drop of dish soap and a wooden stick (to avoid explosions) for 90 seconds.

Oven: Clean as needed (You can even put the racks in the dishwasher.) Turn the oven to 450° Fahrenheit and leave on for 20 minutes. Avoid the self-cleaning feature as it operates on extremely high temperatures and would ruin the oven.

Keeping Kosher for Passover: 
Guess what? If you’re gluten-free, you’re already kosher for Passover! (Or so I’m told. Other than any desire for gluten-free matzah.)

If not, you might need to put some thought into what items you tend to rely on, and what else to eat for those meals.

For example, I’ve been relying heavily on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and pasta, and cookies. I have a sack of potatoes, which I can use to replace the pasta. I need more jelly anyway; but if I get it, I can throw it into yogurt, or on plain matzah (or matzah brei!) instead of bread. And I have Bon Appetit’s recipe for coconut-lime macaroons and a flourless chocolate macaroon cake. That link, btw, has 67 great Passover recipes, so I’m excited to mess around in the kitchen with the ones I have ingredients for.

I like this suggestion, which I think was from My Jewish Learning:

“Think of the week of Passover almost like a camping trip. You have to plan ahead of time for what you’ll need, and you want to bring things that are relatively easy to make, and that you’ll like eating.

“Roasted vegetables are your friends. So is roasted chicken, and fish cooked with lemon, garlic, and olive oil. Meat and potatoes are kosher for Passover without any special preparation. Omelets are delicious and easy to make.”

What about rice, corn, soybeans, stringbeans, peas, lentils, mustard, sesame and poppy seeds, aka kitinyot?

Ashkenazi Jews don’t eat them during Passover, but are still allowed to own them and derive benefit from them. So, you don’t need to hunt for, sell, or destroy them, you can use pet food made with them, etc.

Some people think that the reason for not eating kitinyot was that these grains/legumes are easily confused with the ones in chametz. (That’s what Chabad says, which makes me question whether they’ve ever actually looked at any of these items.) Some think it’s because they also swell up when cooked, and that seemed kind of like bread rising, so there were ancient questions about whether that meant they should be included. Some think that it’s because the way they were stored, back in the day, made it easy for them to be contaminated by wheat stored nearby.

Personally, I say: fuck it, why are we making this harder than it needs to be? We know the difference, we know they’re not wheat, we know they’re not being stored in barrels with rogue wheat grains, it’s fine. But you’re welcome to do whatever you and your rabbi desire here.