Most communal rabbis find that Pesach is the time of year that generates more questions from congregants than any other. This year, amid the usual (important, but easily answered) ‘how do I kasher my oven?’, ‘may I take my regular medication?’ and ‘is product x reliable?’, three questions stood out in my mind, each for different reasons. For light Chol HaMoed reading, I thought that I would share them with the readers of Cross-Currents.
1) The Pesach Shabbos kettle (amusement value)
Two days before Pesach, someone approached me to say that she had decided to boil out her Pesach Shabbos kettle to check that it was working and to clean it ahead of Yom Tov. Having done this, she opened the lid to empty the water and discovered a piece of bread inside it. Yes, you are reading this correctly, she had actually boiled bread in her Pesach kettle.
2) The Pesach utensils (disorganisation award)
After Yom Tov, a man phoned to say that he couldn’t remember which of his Pesach utensils were designated for meat and which for dairy. This Passover-amnesia apparently applied to all his silverware, cooking pots, serving dishes and other utensils. Fortunately, he knew which set of flatware was which.
3) The bottle of whisky (best real question for this year)
On the hectic Friday before Pesach, a congregant emailed me with the following conundrum. He had a vital one-day overseas business trip planned for Chol HaMoed, which had been organised weeks before. However, his company had just asked him to transport a very expensive bottle of whisky, which was to be offered as a prize on a stand at the event he would be attending. He would not own the whisky, nor, ostensibly, derive any personal benefit from it. Would this be permitted on Pesach?
1) As this episode occurred before Pesach, the Shabbos kettle could be kashered.
2) As there was no chametz involved, the utensils could be kashered on Chol HaMoed.
3) This subject is dealt with in the Shulchan Oruch (או”ח ס’ ת”מ), in a passage that I never imagined would have any practical application. When a Jew is responsible for chametz belonging to a gentile, even when he receives no benefit, he may still transgress the prohibition of owning chametz on Pesach. The key issue is liability – a Jew is not permitted to agree to care for a gentile’s chametz over Pesach if he would be required to pay for it in the event of its loss or theft. The Shulchan Oruch records a further view (that of the Behag and the Rosh) that even if the Jew is only obliged to pay if he is negligent in caring for the chametz, he still may not act as a trustee for it. And on Pesach itself, even when there is no liability whatsoever, the Mishnah Berurah (שם סק”י) rules that ideally, one should never agree to care for a gentile’s chametz. While it is certain that the conveyor of the whisky would not be liable for theft or loss, it seems likely that his employer would hold him accountable were he to be negligent in caring for it. Anyway, since this arrangement was to be instigated on Chol HaMoed, I advised him to avoid it even where there was no liability at all.