Pesachim 4 Searching for Chametz with an electric torch

The first Mishna of the masechta told us that the search for chametz needs to be done the night before Pesach by candlelight.

On our daf, Rav Nachman bar Yitchak explains that the reason the search was instituted the night before and not the day before Pesach is because

  1. People are usually at home at night
  2. The candlelight is good for searching at night.

The second reason might be required in order that we should not think that people who are at home during the day should be allowed to intentionally do their search then- even for them, the search needs to be done by candle and a candle is not that effective at night! (see Ritva, Meiri, Rabbeinu Yonatan and other who make this point.)

 He does not explain, however, why one cannot simply search during the day by sunlight- The assumption seems to be that searching with a candle is an intrinsic part of the mitzva.

Whether one explains like Rashi that the reason for the search is to avoid the prohibition of owning chametz on Pesach or like Tosfos that the reason for the search is due to a concern that one might come to eat chametz on Pesach that one has nullified, it stands to reason that the mitzva is goal-oriented and the main thing is that the chametz is found- how it is found should be less relevant.

As such, while we can understand that regular sunlight might not be suitable enough to achieve this purpose, any form of light which is at least as good or better for this purpose should be perfectly acceptable.

Whereas a candle might have been the most suitable item for this at the time that Chazal instituted this practise, a good quality easy to handle electric torch certainly seems to be even more suitable.

Although the Gemara (Pesachim 8a) gives various reasons why a flame-based torch (made up of more than one wick) may not be used, none of those reasons seem to apply to an electric torch which is more flexible, safe, and stable than a regular one-wick candle.

Yet there is also the possibility that whatever the reason Chazal required a candle, they instituted the mitzva specifically with a candle, and once they did that, the only way the mitzva may be fulfilled is with a candle.

Rashi, on our daf, gives us a “heads-up” and tells us that the Gemara later on actually derives the requirement to use a candle from a verse, strengthening the possibility that there might be more to this requirement than meets the eye.

Fast forward to Daf 7b, and Rav Chisda, later supported by a Beraisa, indeed derives the requirement for a candle from a string of גזירות שוות (comparisons based on similar language) which indicate that a search should be done with a נר  (candle.)

The Beraisa points out that this is not an actual proof but a זכר לדבר (a form of hint) and given that the whole requirement of the search is דרבנן (rabbinical,) it seems rather obvious that this is at the most an אסמכתא .

Nevertheless, the fact that Chazal were not satisfied simply to provide a practical reason why a candle needs to be used but chose to base the requirement on an elaborate string of דרשות, does seem to indicate that there is something deeper about this requirement above the simple reasoning that they gave.

The sugya there, however, proceeds to tells us that one may not use an אבוקה (torch made by a collection of more than one candle), sunlight, or moonlight for the search, but must use a candle, seeing as it is יפה (nice or suitable) for the search, the same reasoning given back on our daf.

This seems to shift the focus back to practical reasoning, and the Gemara in fact immediately points out that an אכסדרה  (outdoor structure/porch with lots of sunlight) or area in the house directly under an ארובה  (skylight) may indeed be searched by sunlight, a seemingly clear indication that the candle is less an intrinsic requirement of the mitzva and more a matter of utility.

The reasoning seems to be that there is usually not sufficient sunlight indoors to perform the search properly, but there is enough sunlight to render the candle ineffective – As such, the search is done at night where the superior light of a candle can be used.

In areas where the sunlight is strong enough to replace the candle, this is not necessary.

The Rishonim  (see, for example the Ran based on the Yerushalmi) are bothered by this leniency, however, given that the search is supposed to be done at night, for the two reasons mentioned earlier, so when would one ever come to do it by sunlight .

They reply that the Gemara is merely saying that for one who was unable to search at night at the optimal time, and is then required to do so in the day, sunlight is sufficient in an area that is exposed to plenty of it- in a case where the mitzva is already being performed sub-optimally and the candle does not have much effect anyway, whatever special relevance the candle has in the mitzva is outweighed by the superior impact of the sunlight.

Once we have admitted that this is already not the ideal way of doing the mitzva, the possibility again opens up that not only is the night an ideal component of the mitzva, but so is the candle itself, and that when the mitzva can be performed with a candle, even if there is an equally effective way of doing so, the candle should still be used!

Of course, even if this true, there is still room to argue that an electric light is considered to be a candle, at least for the purposes of this Mitzva, particular the original type with incandescent bulbs that actually burn (as opposed to fluorescent bulbs and modern day LED’s which do not.)

Although we have only come to study and raise the issues and not make halachik rulings, those interested in following up will note that some modern poskim seem to hold that the mitzva can indeed be fulfilled with an electric torch with a focussed light.

Some even seem to favor this as the concern for fires is lower and a more focussed search will thus result, but general practise seems to be to follow the longstanding custom of using a candle where possible, and amongst some, such as Chabad Chasidim, this is taking extreme seriously for more mystical reasons, which we have seen might indeed be at least hinted at in our sugya.

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

Pesachim 2 Bedikat Chametz and the biblical fence

The opening Mishna of Pesachim introduces the mitzva of בדיקת חמץ  (searching for Chametz) before Pesach.

The mishna tells us that אור לארבעה עשר בודקין את החמץ לאור הנר.

After much debate on this and the next daf, the Gemara concludes that אור לארבעה עשר refers to the evening of the 14’th of Nisan, and that the evening is referred to as אור  (literally light) in order to use לשון נקיה (clean language,) something I hope to discuss in tomorrow’s post.

As such, the Mishna is understood to mean that on the evening BEFORE Pesach starts, we need to search for any chametz with the light of a candle.

The reason for this search is subject to debate amongst the Rishonim.

Rashi explains that it is to avoid the prohibition of בל יראה ובל ימצא (owning chametz on pesach- see Shmos 12/19 and 13/7), and the Ran seems to understand that it is also connected to the positive mitzva of תשביתו (removing chametz from one’s possession- see Shmos 12/16.)

By searching for any remaining chametz in the house and burning it the next day, we make sure to avoid this prohibition (and fulfill the positive mitzva.)

It seems to follow that Rashi considers this to be a חיוב דאורייתא  (biblical requirement) due to the prohibition of owning chametz.

The Tosfos famously take issue with this based on a later sugya (Pesachim 6b) where Rav Yehuda rules in the name of Rav that one who has searched also needs to perform בטול חמץ  (nullify the chametz in his heart.)

Seeing as this is a requirement in any case, and מדאורייתא בבטול בעלמא סגי ליה (on a Torah level, annulment is enough to avoid the prohibition of owning chametz-Pesachim 4b), they dispute what they understand as Rashi’s claim that the search is necessary in order to avoid this prohibition. Indeed, the Gemara itself there states that בדיקת חמץ  is only a rabbinical requirement!

Instead, they explain that this a rabbinic requirement in case one sees chametz on Pesach that he has already annulled and comes to eat it- the prohibition of eating chametz carries the severe penalty of כרת and applies to all real chometz whether one owns it or not.

Whereas the Tosfos clearly saw Rashi as claiming that the search is NECESSARY in order to avoid the prohibition of owning chametz, it is possible to understand him simply as saying that the search is a legitimate and possibly preferable way of avoiding the prohibition- one can do so without it by nullification, but seeing as the search takes place first, in practise it has also removed any concern of this prohibition by the time the nullification comes along.

This is how Rishonim such as the Ran understand Rashi: The Torah requires the end result that we do not own chometz on Pesach, but Chazal determined how we get to that result, and due to the severity of the prohibition and the need to cover all bases, they required us to go through two processes- search and destroy, and nullification.

The Tosfos, on the other end, seem to hold that there was no need for Chazal to institute two methods to remove chometz from one’s possession, and that seeing as they made nullification mandatory, they must have required the “search and destroy” operation for other reasons. )It should be noted though that whereas the requirement to search is recorded in the Mishna, the requirement  to perform בטול is only recorded later in the early Amoraic period  by רב יהודה אמר רב, making this argument seem problematic unless the requirement for בטול  also goes back to the time of the Mishna and Rav was simply recording it, something that requires evidence.)

According to this view, one needs to understand why Chazal were so concerned about us coming to eat chametz that they required us to search for it and destroy it?

After all, there are many other things we are forbidden to eat or even benefit from, and Chazal made no such requirement.

The Tosfos suggest that this is because of the severe penalty prescribed for one who eats חמץ,  but are still faced with the fact that eating certain other foods such as חלב (forbidden fats) is also subject to the same כרת  punishment.

As such, they add another factor to explain this special stringency, namely the fact that chometz is something which people are not used to avoiding, given that it is permitted the rest of the year, and in addition to the severity of the penalty for doing so, this was enough reason for Chazal to set this prohibition apart from others and require search and destroy.

They also suggest that Chazal treated chometz more seriously than other prohibitions because the Torah itself did so- It is the only food subject to a ban of eating and benefitting from which is also subject to a prohibition against owning.

The simplest explanation of this idea is that  the fact that the Torah prohibited even owning chometz shows us that this prohibition is to be taken even more seriously than others- Chazal followed this queue and imposed the obligation to search and destroy in addition to nullifying it.

The Ran (דפי הריף א. ד”ה “ומה” ) is even more explicit and suggests that the reason the Torah itself forbade owning Chometz on Pesach was because people are not used to refraining from eating it the rest of the day, and combined with the severity of eating it on Pesach, the Torah took extra precautions to prevent this.

This idea is rather novel in that it would be a rare example of the Torah creating its own fence to protect another Torah commandment, something usually the mandate of Chazal.

  This is not completely without precedent- the אבות דרבי נתן  (chapter 2) understands that the Torah made a “fence” around the prohibition of forbidden sexual relations such as Niddah by prohibiting  קירבה(coming near) -sexually arousing acts such as hugging and kissing are thus forbidden on a Torah level as a restraint against sexual acts themselves.

Although the Ramban (השגת לספר המצוות לאו שנג), based on the view of רבי פדת (Shabbos 13a) understands this to be an אסמכתא  and the prohibition of “coming near” to be rabbinical in nature, the Rambam (ספר המצוות לאו שנג)  takes this literally and holds that it is a Torah prohibition punishable by lashes.

If we accept the Ran’s reasoning regarding בל יראה ובל ימצא and the Rambam’s regarding קרבה, the common denominator is clear- both eating chometz on Pesach and forbidden sexual relations are extremely serious prohibitions punishing by כרת, both are unusually hard to avoid (chometz because of habit and עריות  because of the power of the libido) and both have “satellite” biblical prohibitions to keep us far away from them!

If the Torah itself singled out these prohibitions by making its own biblical fences around them, and Chazal themselves followed with fences of their own, how careful should we all be to stay as far away as possible from them.

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

Shabbos 86 “Pesachdik” Deodorant

Does one need to ensure that deodorants and perfumes used over Pesach do not contain chametz, typically wheat-based alcohol?

In general, the rule is that any chametz that is no longer fit for a dog to drink is no longer subject to the biblical prohibitions  of eating, owning , or benefitting from Chametz on Pesach  ( see Pesachim 45b and Shulchan Aruch O.C. 442/2) , though one who is crazy enough to actually eat it might still have transgressed a  rabbinical prohibition (see machlokes there )

As no dog in its right mind would drink deodorant or perfume, it thus seems obvious that there is no concern with such things over Pesach. 

Some, however,  have suggested that as the alcohol in the deodorant could technically be separated by chemical means , it is  thus theoretically still edible, but as pretty much anything  can be separated chemically with the correct process and halocho is generally based on the current status of an item, not a hypothetical status after a major chemical process , this seems to be somewhat of a stretch.

However , there is another concept that needs to be addressed , and that is the principle  of סיכה כשתיה ( anointing is the equivalent of drinking  .)

This principle is derived in a Mishna on our daf from a passuk,  and is applied to Yom Kippur  in particular, to the point that anointing oneself on Yom-Kippur is forbidden just like drinking is .

This comparison  is only partial though, and the severe punishment of kareit (excision ) that applies to one who eats knowingly and intentional on Yom Kippur certainly does not apply to one who anoints oneself – at most , it involves a regular biblical prohibition , at least , a rabbinical one based on a verse ( אסמכתא ) 

The question is whether this principle is unique to Yom Kippur, as implied by the Mishna’s precise wording , or applicable in other areas of halocho too, with the Mishna using Yom Kippur just as the main example of such application , for whatever reason .

If this principle  does indeed apply to Chametz on Pesach too, it would seem that anointing oneself with Chametz might be equivalent to drinking it, and thus forbidden .

However, even if this is true, one would have to investigate further whether this could create a biblical or even rabbinic prohibition on using deodorant or perfume containing chametz on Pesach.

This is because the biblical  prohibitions on Pesach only apply to chametz that is still fit for a dog to eat .

Even if anointing oneself with chametz that is fit for a dog to eat is forbidden like drinking is on Pesach , and not just as part of the prohibition of benefitting from chametz, seeing as the perfume is not fit for a dog to DRINK , there might  still be no prohibition to ANNOINT with it, at least biblically .

Even if it is still forbidden rabbinically to drink such unfit chametz, it doesn’t necessarily follow that Chazal extended their ruling to the already novel principle of סיכה כשתיה .

One would have to investigate whether

–  סיכה כשתיה merely means that  anointing is the same as drinking regarding the actual prohibition itself   ,


 -whether it is a broad enough comparison to mean that if it is FIT for anointing , it is ALSO  as if it is fit for drinking .

Only if the latter is true , would we say that seeing as perfume and deodorant is fit for anointing, it is considered as if it was fit for drinking, and thus anointing with it is forbidden.

One could also argue that deodorant is not used for classic anointing at all, which is to provide  a good fragrance, soften the skin,  or other pleasure, but simply to remove bad odor, which MIGHT be  permitted even on Yom Kippur. This depends on the scope  of the prohibition on Yom Kippur, which is in turn derived from the requirement to afflict oneself.

The latter argument is not straight forward, as most modern deodorants are dual purpose and many people indeed choose them based on their preferred fragrance,  using them even  when they are not particularly sweaty or smelly.  As such, it seems to me that such deodorants may indeed be viewed halachically as perfumes, though I have not come to any conclusion on the matter.

There is much to discuss about the first חקירה   we made regarding whether the rule of סיחה     כשתיה   applies only on Yom Kippur or in all areas of halacha.

Suffice to say is that given that this is a Chiddush, and the Mishna specifically mentions Yom Kippur alone, the burden of proof should be with one who wishes to claim that Yom Kippur is merely an example of the application of a general rule.

Examining the source for the rule, one comes to  the Passuk in Tehillim  109 , where David haMelech describes the curse that befalls those who forget Hashem and oppress the poor-וַיִּלְבַּ֥שׁ קְלָלָ֗ה כְּמַ֫דּ֥וֹ וַתָּבֹ֣א כַמַּ֣יִם בְּקִרְבּ֑וֹ וְ֝כַשֶּׁ֗מֶן בְּעַצְמוֹתָֽיו: 

(and the curse will come like his garment, and it will come like water inside him and like oil in his bones”)

In the passuk, oil which soaks into one’s bones through annointing , is compared to water in one’s insides (stomach) which is absorbed through drinking, hence the basis (though admittedly by the Mishna itself only a “zecher ladavar”) for the rule.

As the context is that of suffering, and the Mitzva of Yom Kippur is also that of self-affliction, it seems clear that the comparison is being made specifically in the context of affliction, not other things.

However, the room is still open to argue that if refraining from annointing with oil and the like  is considered a  requirement of  affliction like refraining from drinking water is, then the benefit obtained on Pesach from annointing with chametz , is also equivalent to the benefit obtained from drinking chametz.

If so, even if we do not expand the rule to include also  אסורי אכילה  (things that one is forbidden to eat or drink), perhaps we would at least extend it to אסורי הנאה , like Pesach.

Although  the prohibition of benefitting only applies to edible chametz, perhaps chametz which is fit for annointing  is also considered edible regarding the definition of benefit?

In practise, it seems that there are a lot of Chiddushim (novel ideas) required to forbid using deoderant or even perfume containing chametz alcohol on Pesach, and that it is probably fine.

I wrote this as a lomdishe analysis based mainly on this daf, without taking an encyclopedic view to the concept as is required to come to a full conclusion, but a quick look at parallel sugyos and the relevant Rishonim reveals that there is indeed some disagreement as to the scope of this rule .

I  was happy to see that although the Chofetz Chaim in Biur Halocho (326/10) tends towards stringency even in regular אסורי אכילה like חלב  (forbidden fats), most contemporary poskim including Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l  (O.C 3/62) and Rav Asher Weiss  יבדל לחיים  ( I have seen quoted from his Hagada siman 24 but have not got hold of one yet) seem to  hold that there is no problem with annointing  with inedible chometz materials , each citing various distinctions that I made in this analysis!)

( These daf posts are aimed to raise points for discussion and analysis based on a chosen idea on the given daf . They are written quickly, without sufficient time to be checked thoroughly  by myself or senior Talmidei Chachomim, and not meant for psak halocho- please message me privately if you require practical guidance in the relevant area and if I cannot help you myself, I shall  bli neder try direct you or your question to someone who can.

I hope that those who read them will give their input and help me improve on them)