THIS GUIDE IS PARTLY BASED ON A SHORT PAMPHLET PUBLISHED IN 1974 BY MY LATE GRANDFATHER, HARAV YOSEF TZVI HALEVI DUNNER Z”L (1913-2006), PRESIDING RABBI AND AV BEIT DIN OF THE UNION OF ORTHODOX HEBREW CONGREGATIONS IN LONDON, ENGLAND.
CURIOUSLY, BEARING IN MIND THE SUBJECT MATTER OF THIS PAMPHLET, MY GRANDFATHER ACTUALLY PASSED AWAY ON EREV PESACH, AFTER OVER SEVENTY YEARS IN THE RABBINATE, ORIGINALLY IN GERMANY AND THEN, FROM 1938 UNTIL THE END OF HIS LIFE, IN ENGLAND.
PLEASE NOTE: ALL TIMES ARE BASED ON ZMANIM IN LOS ANGELES
The problems that arise when Erev Pesach falls on Shabbat are hardly new. Already in Talmudic times, it was the great Hillel’s expertise in this particular area of Jewish law that gained him the position of Nasi (President of the Sanhedrin) in preference to all the other scholars of his day. At the same time, the problems caused by Erev Pesach falling on Shabbat are by no means as complex as may first appear. With careful planning, the difference between a year where this occurs and other years when it does not can add an exciting new dimension to the celebration of the festival.
In particular, the children in each family should use the opportunity of learning about and explaining the reason why each action is taking place. And each and every one of us should inject both joy and meaning into the ceremonies and laws that relate to preparing to Pesach, so that the celebration of the festival makes a lasting impact on every Jewish home. Pesach is after all the supreme “home” festival, and the strength of traditional Jewish family life in our homes is the primary guarantee of our continued existence as a faith and as a people.
The basic problem is very simple to describe. The day before Pesach could easily be described as the busiest day in the Jewish calendar year. On this day – in an ordinary year – the last of the chametz (leaven) must be eaten, and the remainder burnt. The house is meticulously cleaned, with all traces of chametz removed. The full changeover from chametz to Pesach utensils takes place. And although we can still have bread for breakfast, by lunchtime it is only non-chametz food that may be eaten. After lunch comes the cooking and preparation for the Seder, the laying of the table and the arrival of the guests, all of adds a tremendous atmosphere of preparation for the exciting moment when we all sit down to Seder after nightfall.
But what happens when, as is the case this year, Erev Pesach falls on Shabbat? The prohibition against “work” on Shabbat is very strict, so for example, to burn chametz in the morning is absolutely out of the question, as lighting a fire or burning anything is prohibited, and even cleaning and tidying the house is severely restricted. No cooking may be done, nor are we allowed to make any preparations for the following day (which begins at nightfall), even to the extent of laying the Seder table.
Meanwhile, the Shabbat meals on Friday night and on Saturday must include lechem mishneh – two loaves of bread – over which we have to say the appropriate blessing. How is it possible to have two chametz meals on Shabbat, to dispose of any chametz that remains, to effect the changeover from chametz to Pesach utensils, and to prepare the Seder, without coming into conflict either with the laws of Shabbat or with those of Erev Pesach and Pesach?
Halachic solutions exist to all of these problems, and in this short guide I will try and set them out as clearly as possible. But first, a word of warning. No such publication, however comprehensive, can ever hope to adequately cover every single question that may arise. If you are in any doubt at all, please email your questions to me or ask your own community rabbi. Secondly, the arrangements recommended here are the ones that I think are most practical and least complicated. But they may not necessarily be the only correct way of addressing the problems, and perhaps you will need further guidance to walk you through other options so that you can find a solution that matches your individual circumstances.
The sequence of events described below begins on the Thursday before Pesach (this year March 25th). It is assumed that by this time, as in any ordinary year, stocks of chametz products will have been run down, and your home will have been thoroughly checked through and cleaned, and that only food sufficient for the last few days before Pesach remains.
For the sake of convenience, a summary of the relevant arrangements is given at the end, but in order to understand them fully, here is a more detailed description.
THURSDAY, MARCH 25 – FAST OF THE FIRSTBORN SONS
The “fast of the firstborn sons” (ta’anit bechorim) usually takes place on Erev Pesach, but as this year that means it would occur on Shabbat, and fasting is forbidden on Shabbat (except for Yom Kippur), the fast is brought forward. Moreover, as we do not favor fasting on Friday either, we observe ta’anit bechorim on Thursday instead. The Siyum celebration – which is done at the conclusion of studying a volume of the Talmud – the mechanism by which a firstborn son is released from fasting, will therefore take place after the morning service on Thursday (our community will be broadcasting a live Siyum on Zoom at 7:40am PST).
By Thursday you should already have made arrangements to sell your chametz (Mechirat Chametz). The sale of chametz involves a contract drawn up with a non-Jewish person to purchase items containing chametz, the disposal of which would entail financial loss, as they would need to be replaced after Pesach. It is usually done through the selection of your own community rabbi as your agent to sell your chametz. (For details on how to appoint me as your chametz sale agent, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org).
On Thursday one must have already cleaned and koshered the inside of any ovens in your kitchen, so that they are ready for Pesach. After this is done, the ovens may of course no longer be used for chametz cooking or baking. One should also obtain a supply of paper plates and cups and plastic cutlery to use for any chametz meals until chametz is forbidden.
The “search for chametz” (Bedikat Chametz) which is traditionally performed by means of a candle and a feather, usually takes place on the evening of the day before Pesach. But as this falls on Friday night, when handling a candle is forbidden, the ceremony is instead held on Thursday evening, after nightfall. The blessing recited over the search, and the declaration made afterwards annulling the chametz which has not be noticed, can be found at the beginning of any Haggadah, or on Page 654 in the ArtScroll RCA Siddur.
FRIDAY, MARCH 26 – “PSEUDO” EREV PESACH
For all practical purposes, Friday may be considered Erev Pesach, and you should plan the day accordingly. If this has not already been done, after breakfast, the kitchen should be prepared for Pesach: the top of the cooker must be fully koshered and covered. Working surfaces should be thoroughly cleaned, koshered and covered.
A small area should be set aside in the kitchen, completely separate from the rest, where the chametz food and crockery etc. for Friday lunch, and the challot for Shabbat can be left. Apart from this, all other chametz utensils should be cleaned and stored away, and replaced by Pesach utensils. Any food not containing chametz, but which is not supervised for Pesach, should be similarly stored away.
The “burning of chametz” (Bi’ur Chametz) should take place before 11:45am PST as is normally done on Erev Pesach. However, the declaration (Kol Chamira) annulling any chametz inadvertently left over is omitted, as a quantity of chametz still has to be used, and some may be left over. Instead, it is said after breakfast on Shabbat.
As no preparations for the Seder may be made on Shabbat, if at all possible it is a good idea to prepare and lay the table for Seder on Friday, to avoid having to wait for the table to be set after Shabbat goes out. Care should be taken that no chametz is brought near to where the Seder table has been set; so, for example, the Seder table could be set in the dining room, and all the meals on Friday until Shabbat afternoon can be eaten in the kitchen.
Shabbat meals must be cooked on Friday, and should consist only of foods permitted for Pesach. The cooking should be done in Pesach utensils. However, two challot should be reserved for use on Friday night and two for Shabbat morning. If it is unlikely that normal sized challot will be finished by those eating, small ones or rolls should be used instead. It is recommended that these are the only items of actual chametz used for Shabbat meals.
When making the Hamotzi blessing on Friday night and Shabbat morning, I would suggest that the challot be placed on a small side table, totally separate from the other food. The challa should be finished, and you must take great care to ensure that no crumbs remain on your hands or clothes once you have eaten your piece of challa, and only then move to the main table for the rest of the meal.
The meals on Friday night and Shabbat morning, which have been prepared in Pesach utensils, can be served most easily on paper plates. This avoids the problem of transferring food for a Pesach saucepan to a chametz plate (which would have to be done by means of an intermediate vessel) and also lessens the possibility of mixing Pesach and chametz dishes. Paper cups and plastic cutlery are also recommended, as these are easily disposable, making life much easier.
Don’t forget to light a 24-hour candle before Shabbat to use for fire and to light your yomtov candles once Shabbat goes out.
SHABBAT, MARCH 27 – EREV PESACH
The morning service on Shabbat Erev Pesach is held much earlier than usual, in order to enable people to return home, make kiddush, and have breakfast before the Hafsakah (the latest time for eating chametz) at 10:31am PST. For breakfast, after the challot have been eaten, I would suggest a light dairy meal (all Kosher for Pesach) and fruit.
Immediately after breakfast, shake out the tablecloth and stored it away with the other chametz utensils. Any bread or other chametz unavoidably left over from the meal should be flushed away or given to a non-Jew. If this cannot be done, the chametz should be covered with a vessel and burnt on Monday night. Paper plates and cups and plastic cutlery which have been used should be thrown away.
The Kol Chamira declaration which was omitted at the burning on Friday should be said (found at the beginning of any Haggadah, or on Page 654 in the ArtScroll RCA Siddur). By saying it, we finally renounce our ownership over any chametz which we have inadvertently failed to remove. It should be recited by 11:45am PST.
By lunchtime on Shabbat the whole house should have been converted to the full Pesach routine and a meat lunch can be enjoyed in a relaxed atmosphere. This meal counts as Seudat Shlishit (the third meal required on Shabbat) even though no Hamotzi blessing is made on bread, neither chametz nor matzo. That is because there is another restriction – matzo cannot be eaten, otherwise it would lose its novelty at the Seder. There are those who try and eat two meals before the Hafsaka early in the morning, after coming home from shul, but according to most opinions a second meal with “bread” is not required on Erev Pesach that falls on Shabbat, as long as a satisfying meat meal is eaten at lunchtime.
Yom Tov candles should not be lit until 7:49pm PST, when Shabbat ends. At that stage time for the Seder will have finally arrived. Once again, the family sits around the table, the children’s faces will be shining with eager anticipation. The age-old story of our deliverance from Egypt is recounted anew, and again we are told that we must think as if we ourselves were personally involved in that redemption.
May all the effort we put into preparing for Pesach this year be amply rewarded by the satisfaction we receive from it during the upcoming festival.
May we all be imbued with a sense of renewal, especially at this time of the year, when God miraculously renews nature’s cycle.
And may we be inspired with an even greater love for our traditions, loyalty to our faith, and a devoted commitment to the ideals and values which Judaism has given to the world, which have ensured our survival, and which brought us from slavery to freedom so many thousands of years ago — a freedom that continues to be an inspiration for all of humanity.
THURSDAY, MARCH 25 – FAST OF THE FIRSTBORN SONS
FRIDAY, MARCH 26 – “PSEUDO” EREV PESACH
SHABBAT, MARCH 27 – EREV PESACH