Passover is one of the major festivals of the year where the home rituals are of such significance and importance that they overshadow those done in the community. The central and transcendent ritual of this festival is the home seder (meaning “order”).
The seder and special dietary requirements of Pesach are so important that it takes weeks to prepare for the festival. Nowadays, it has become the season in which Jews do their spring cleaning. The house must be prepared for the removal of all hametz (leaven), and it is cleaned from top to bottom prior to that. Hametz means food prepared from five species of grain–wheat, barley, oats, spelt and rye–that has been allowed to leaven.
According to Ashkenazic (Eastern European) practice, rice, millet, corn, and legumes (called “kitniyot”) are also avoided because these food items could be confused with grain. In the State of Israel, Sephardic (Mediterranean) practice has been adopted by most Jews, and kitniyot are eaten. Even other food, when mixed with hametz, becomes tainted and considered “leaven.” That is why observant Jews will replace most of their household food items with food that is marked “kosher for Passover” just in case any of it has been touched by leaven. Matzah, the unleavened bread that is eaten during Pesach, can be made from any of the above-mentioned grains, but it must be watched so that it does not leaven.
After spring cleaning, the search, nullification, selling, and burning of leaven take up much of the household preparation time for Passover. When a large amount of leaven is found that a person does not want to burn, he or she has the option of selling it to a non-Jew only for the duration of the holiday (mekhirat hametz). The sale has to take a legal form, using a formal bill of sale. The party in question gives the rabbi a power of attorney, and the rabbi is then authorized to sell the leaven on their behalf. The rabbi sells it to a non-Jew and buys it back at the end of the holiday. Since the process is a formal sale, it satisfies the requirement of forbidding possession of leaven during Passover.
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