Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet answers readers’ questions in his weekly column, Ask the Rabbi.Ask the Rabbi

What’s key at Pesach time?

Dear Rabbi,

Every year we observe Pesach properly and teach our children all about the festival. My eldest was especially excited about this year’s festival. But each year, when Pesach ends, I wonder whether we’ve all gone a little mad. I do understand why we don’t eat unleavened matter and I can appreciate why we avoid kitniyot. But I can never get my head around why people spend so much money on something just for it to be kosher for Pesach.

The celebration is about the Exodus and what happened to the Jews on leaving Egypt. Does kosher for Pesach water or toothpaste or salt or washing up liquid really help us do this or is it just a moneymaking scam?

What is wrong with tap water or normal toothpaste? Even if it is made where there might be some unleavened matter, how will this impact on our remembrance of what Pesach is all about?

Surely we would be better as Jews to stop going quite as mad with our kosher for Pesach shopping and give a lot of this money to charity instead? We could feed thousands without any food, let alone kosher for Pesach food.

Corrie

Dear Corrie,

What we do in terms of covering and cleaning is because we have a responsibility to eradicate any remnant of leavened matter from our homes, which you said you do understand. That said, it need not be an obsessive sort of cleaning and people do go over the top.

ASK THE RABBI 2Your question, however, seems to deal more with the financial concern. Pesach, like any festival is invariably more expensive if only because we celebrate, which involves more meals and thus more expense. Frankly, kosher food in general tends to be more expensive, but on the whole it must be said that Pesach need not be that much more expensive than any Shabbat or Jewish festival.

There may be certain food types that are understandably more expensive, but you may well be right about the mark-up of much of it.

However, there is something of a contradiction in your statement when you argue that you understand why we don’t eat chametz but query why toothpaste must cost so much. To be sure, toothpaste goes in your mouth, so obviously needs to be kosher for Pesach.

However, if you shop around you will find that you can get kosher for Passover Colgate for virtually the same price as regular Colgate.

The same applies to dishwashing liquid, which you use for plates off which you eat. It has been proven that remnants of anything can make their way into sugar or salt, so as Jewish people really wanting to get it right on this holiday, they will look to ensure those products are also supervised.

Again, if you shop around you will find them for not much more than the regular cost.

I do, however, agree with you that sometimes the increased price is exploitation and sometimes outright absurd. The bottom line is this: The madness to which you refer is pretty much up to you. What you buy, how much you buy, etc, is all personal.

Whether you shop around for the cheaper prices is also up to you. You don’t need to let yourself get burdened by the cost at all and, yes, some exploitation does undoubtedly take place.

But we are a halachic people, not just a cultural one. So, although charity is exceptionally important (and it is worthwhile noting that notwithstanding all the aforementioned costs involved, many thousands of pounds is donated to the needy each year before Pesach), so is maintaining our traditions.

Case in point: your oldest is excited. Seeing mum so caught up in readying for Pesach is what captures their attention and generates their excitement, as you observed. That is what it is really all about. You have, by virtue of all that you did, just passed the baton onto the next generation. And you can’t put a price on that.

Why ignore Yom Hashoah siren?

Dear Rabbi,

Why do some religious Jews in Israel ignore the siren on Yom HaShoah? It seems utterly disrespectful.

Gerard

Dear Gerard,

Religious Jews, many who lost family in the Holocaust, will commemorate the Shoah usually on 9 Av – at a time when we recall other tragedies that befell our people. They do this with special added prayers.

Others, who may not know the anniversary of the passing of a loved one during the Holocaust, will mark the occasion on 10 Tevet (another Jewish fast day), while others mark it on other occasions.

The actual original Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom HaShoah) was instituted on the day coinciding with the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, but it also happens to be in the Hebrew month of Nisan, when we are not supposed to lament – hence some will avoid any proper commemoration on that day.

However, I agree there is really no excuse to not simply stop for two minutes and show respect when the siren sounds. To ignore it is antagonistic, downright ignorant and, as you say, disrespectful.