Tuesday, April 20, 2010

You cleaned your what?...Why?

In a continuing effort to amaze my non-Jewish readers, I am going to discuss the most stressful event of the Jewish Year, Passover. Why is this holiday so stressful? you would think Yom Kippur would be the stressful one, not eating or drinking, 5 prayer services in 24 hours, your last chance to get in good with the higher power for the year...but no. It's the cleaning for Passover (Pesach in Hebrew) that nearly does in every Jewish woman, and many Jewish men, every year.
Let me explain what has to be done. Everything you own must be gone through, cleaned and/or gotten rid of if it contains Chametz (any of the 5 grains or their derivatives, like grain alchohol, citric acid, etc.). Pasta, unopened bags of flour, most medicines, and a whole host of other things must be used up or thrown out or possibly ritually "sold" to a non-Jew for the duration of the holiday. All your dishes, utensils, pots, pans, and appliances must be cleaned thouroughly and put away in sealed cupboards. every surface in your entire home must be wiped down with caustic cleanser (bleach works well) including under the beds, Under the Washer and dryer, under the refrigerator and stove, on top of the fridge, etc. All books taken from bookshelves and shelves wiped down (I found 6 cheerios and a ton of crumbs on our bookshelves this year). Strollers cleaned out, high chair completely cleaned, the list goes on and on. after everything you own is perfectly clean, you go into your kitchen and really get down to work. All counter tops have boiling water poured over them, all cabinets are wiped out, your sink gets really boiled and bleached, your stove and oven treated by torch to burn away any remaining chametz after cleaning them. If you can, you torch your pots to make them perfectly clean of chametz, although many people just have a Passover set of dishes, utensils, and pots. then you cover everything in heavy-duty foil (heaver than anything I've ever seen in a regular grocery store, like tin-pan heavy) until it feels like you're cooking in a space ship. Buy new dish drainers, sponges, and other kitchen accoutrements (if it's touched hot food during the year, it must be replaced for Passover) then you're ready to start cooking for Passover, which is it's own challenge. But that's another post...
Just so you can see, here is what a passover kitchen might look like (not my kitchen, but a good example)

6 comments:

Erin said...

Fascinating! I'd love to learn more about your traditions. Gives new meaning to the phrase spring cleaning!

Jane Plant said...

Why do you have to cover everything in foil? How do you cook?

the rabbi's wife said...

Erin-you can learn more about some things by clicking on the tag OJ's. Or you could ask some specific questions so I can deal with them in future posts. I always need ideas!
But Jews were the ones who invented Spring cleaning, to clarify. It was our tradition to do this from about the 1400's BC, when we left the slavery of Egypt. Non-Jews adopted this custom after the Roman expulsion (Diaspora)in 70 AD forced Jews to disperse throughout the world, probably most commonly in Europe in the dark and middle ages. Jews were less affected by plague (probably due to cleaning and religiously-sanctioned hand washing)and locals adopted some of the customs (unfortunately NOT hand washing) to try to avoid plague. Then they blamed the plague on the Jews. Nice.

the rabbi's wife said...

Jane-
You cook like normal for the most part. The burners are covered except for the gas outlet/electric burner. the oven gets "burned" with a torch and has new or designated "passover" racks.
The reason things get covered in foil is that you can't really purge the chametz out of certain surfaces (wood and plastic, primarily). So, surfaces that might have come in contact with chametz that was hot should be washed, have caustic cleaner put on them, or more ideally have boiling water poured on them, and then covered by non-permeable surfaces that are Passover specific. Some people have Passover counter tops made from linoleum or the like that they just lay down after the cleaning, but they're expensive, home specific, and don't work as well on Israeli counter tops, which are usually recessed to hold water so they can be wiped down with a squeegee instead of a sponge.
Does that make sense?

Lori's Light Extemporanea said...

Wow...I knew about a lot of this but covering all of the surfaces is a new one on me.

priest's wife said...

very interesting- and I will remember NOT to complain when I am doing my Spring cleaning! :)