Bedikat and Bi'ur Chametz

  • Rav David Brofsky

the laws of THE FESTIVALS


In memory of Yakov Yehuda ben Pinchas Wallach
and Miriam Wallach bat Tzvi Donner




by Rav David Brofsky


  Shiur #7- Bedikat and Bi'ur Chametz




Last week, we discussed the prohibition of owning chametz, bal yera'eh u-val yimatzei, and the obligation to rid one's self of chametz before Pesach. This week, we will discuss the search for chametz (bedikat chametz), performed on the evening of the 14th of Nissan, and its subsequent nullification (bittul).


Bedikat Chametz


The first mishna of Pesachim teaches that one should search one's house for chametz on the night of the 14th of Nissan. The Rishonim debate the origin of this halacha, whether it is mi-de'oraita or mi-derabbanan, as well as its halachic purpose.


The gemara (Pesachim 4a) states that the obligation of bedikat chametz must be mi-derabbanan since one fulfills his biblical obligation through bittul. This passage implies that had one not performed bittul chametz, there might be a biblical obligation to search one's home, despite the fact that one would presumably be unaware of the existence of chametz in his home until he searches. Therefore, before we discuss the reasons for the enactment of bedikat chametz, we must first ask the following question: if one did not nullify one's chametz, would one still violate bal yera'eh u-val yimatzei if the chametz's existence is unknown?


Tosafot (21a, s.v. ve-i) assert that one does not violate bal yera'eh u-val yimatzei for chametz she-eino yadu'a, that is, chametz whose existence is unknown. Tosafot must understand that bedikat chametz fulfills a different function aside from removing the prohibition of bal yera'eh u-val yimatzei. Rashi (6a, s.v. afilu) apparently agrees.


Other Rishonim, however assume that one does violate bal yera'eh u-val yimatzei for chametz she-einu yadu'a. However, they disagree as to whether and how bedikat chametz helps.


The Ran (Pesachim 1a, s.v. ela) explains that the Torah recognizes probability ("samkha Torah al ha-chazakot"), and therefore only after one has searched his house thoroughly can he safely assume that he does not own any more chametz. Seemingly, if one missed some chametz during the search, he would be considered a shogeg, one who inadvertently violates a commandment.


Others explain that bedikat chametz plays an even stronger role. Rabbeinu David (2a, s.v. ela), for example, explains that "the Torah was not given to angels," and therefore one is certainly not responsible for chametz found after a thorough search. 


The Tur (433) disagrees and insists that if one finds chametz in one's home after searching he retroactively violates bal yera'eh u-val yimatzei. The Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav (433:12, and in his Kunteras Acharon 433:5) disagrees and argues that after performing bedikat chametz, one no longer violates bal yera'eh u-val yimatzei and is considered to be an ones.


Reasons for Bedikat Chametz


What is the reason for bedikat chametz?


Rashi (2a, s.v. bodkin) explains that one must perform bedikat chametz in order to avoid violating the prohibition of owning chametz, bal yera'eh u-val yimatzei. Many Rishonim find this interpretation difficult because of the gemara cited above, which explains that nullifying the chametz is sufficient. Assuming that one already nullified his chametz, what purpose does the bedikah fulfill?


The Ran (1a, s.v. bodkin) explains that Rashi refers to the function of bedikat chametz on a biblical level. Mi-de'oraita, he explains, one can avoid the prohibition of bal yera'eh u-val yimatzei in one of two ways: bittul or bedikah. Therefore, Rashi explains that through searching one's house for chametz, one avoids, mi-de'oraita, the prohibition of owning chametz on Pesach. Mi-derabbanan, however, the Rabbis insisted that one perform both a bedikah and bittul.


Others suggest that although mi-de’oraita one may avoid the prohibition of bal yera'eh u-val yimatzei through bittul chametz, one is still obligated to physically remove chametz from his home. This process, known as bi'ur chametz, begins by searching one’s home for chametz. Indeed, the blessing recited on bedikat chametz is not "al bedikat chametz," but rather, "al bi'ur chametz." Rabbeinu David (3a, s.v. bodkin), for example, explains that although one could fulfill the mitzva of tashbitu through bittul, as we discussed previously, the Rabbis insisted that one should fulfill it through the physical removal of chametz as well. The Maharam Chalava (3a, s.v. or) also writes that one fulfills the biblical commandment of tashbitu through bedikat chametz. In fact, he even interprets the Targum's translation of "tashbitu," "tevatlun," as referring to "bittul from one's house," and not, as Rashi explains, to mental negation of the chametz.


Tosafot (2a, s.v. or) offer a third explanation. He explains that although one can avoid the prohibition of owning chametz through bittul, the Rabbis insisted that one also search and remove chametz from his house in order that he should not come to eat chametz on Pesach. Tosafot question why chametz should be different from other prohibited foods, which one is not obligation to remove from one's home lest one come to eat it. They suggest that unlike other prohibited foods, one is accustomed to eating chametz during the year, and therefore the chances of inadvertently eating chametz on Pesach are higher. Tosafot add that the Torah already demonstrates great stringency regarding chametz. The Acharonim debate whether this comment is meant to explain why chametz should be different from other prohibited foods or whether Tosafot is offering another explanation for bedikat chametz: the Rabbis followed the Torah's lead in demanding that one remove chametz from one's house.


R. David Ben Zimra (1479-1573) questions why one must search for and remove chametz from one's home and provides and interesting explanation:


I rely [in my explanation] on what the Rabbis taught in their teachings that chametz on Pesach is an allusion to the yetzer ha-ra, and that is the leavening in the dough, and therefore a person must be completely rid themselves of it and search it out from all the recesses of his mind; even a minute amount is not insignificant.


The Radbaz concludes that the laws of chametz are similar to, and even more severe than, the laws of avoda zara (relating to objects of pagan worship). He therefore understands the laws of chametz in a broader context: chametz represents the yetzer ha-ra, and therefore one must relentlessly work to remove it from one's midst.


The Extent and Manner of Bedikat Chametz


            One of the most common questions regarding bedikat chametz relates to the extent to which one must search for every bit of chametz. The gemara (Pesachim 45b) states that one must be concerned with dough in the cracks of a dough-trough, as the pieces may combine to the size of a kezayit. This passage seemingly implies that one must search for even the smallest pieces of chametz. However, the gemara earlier (6b), questioning why even one who already did bedikat chametz must recite the bittul, explains that the bittul is not recited for the crumbs; one is not concerned about crumbs, since they are "lo chashivi," not important, and one does not even need to nullify them. This passage seems to imply that crumbs are insignificant and one need not nullify, or possibly even search, for them. The question thus remains: must one search for even the smallest crumbs?


            Some (see Maharam Chalava 6b, for example) claim that while small pieces of dough in the dough-trough might stick together and combine to form a kezayit of dough, crumbs cannot, and therefore one need not search for crumbs. The Magen Avraham (460:1), as well as the Vilna Gaon (460:11), concur.


Others (Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav 442:28, Chayei Adam 119:6), however, write that although one would not need to nullify these crumbs, one must search for and destroy them, lest someone come to eat them. 


The Shulchan Arukh (442:6-7) writes:


The custom is to scrape the walls and chairs with which chametz had come in contact, and they [who follow this practice] have a basis on which to rely.


The Mishna Berura (Sha'ar Ha-Tziyun 52) cites the Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav (442:30), who writes that "the Jewish People are sacred and have the practice of conducting themselves stringently even with regard to crumbs." The Shulchan Arukh Ha-Rav, however, cited by the Mishna Berura (442:33), concludes that this does not apply to crumbs which have become dirty (i.e., on the floor), as no one will come to eat them.



In most homes, it is common to begin cleaning well before Pesach and then to perform a superficial search on the night of bedikat chametz, relying upon the earlier cleaning of the house.


The Mordekhai (Pesachim 535), based upon a Yerushalmi (1:1), writes that even if one cleaned his home thoroughly before Pesach, one should still perform a proper bedikat chametz in order not to differentiate between one bedikat chametz and another. The Terumat Ha-Deshen (133) cites this Mordekhai and concludes that those who hide pieces of chametz before the search and end their bedikat chametz upon finding the pieces are acting incorrectly, as they did not perform a thorough search of the home.


The Shulchan Arukh (433:11) rules that even if one cleaned his house thoroughly before Pesach, he should still perform the bedikat chametz.


Interestingly, the Sha'arei Teshuva (433) cites the Maharish, who describes how many people perform their bedikat chametz::


Therefore, many people are lenient and check casually without searching properly in holes and cracks, since first they sweep, wash, and scour everything very well, and even if they wash and scour through a non-Jew, it stands to reason that they are trusted, for they are meticulous regarding cleanliness so as not to undermine themselves [their reputation].


Although many are accustomed to rely upon this view, many posekim still insist that one should carry out a proper and thorough search of one's home on the night of the 14th of Nissan.


The Traveler and One Who Sells One's Home Before Pesach


            There is a common question which arises regarding bedikat chametz: Must someone who leaves his home before the evening of the 14th of Nissan, such as a student returning home for Pesach or a family leaving their home for the festival, search his home for chametz?


            The Talmud discusses whether one who will not be in his house on the eve of the 14th of Nissan must still perform bedikat chametz. The gemara (4a) discusses one who rents his house to another Jew on the morning of the 14th of Nissan, erev Pesach.


R. Nahman b. Isaac was asked: If one rents a house to his neighbor from the fourteenth, upon whom [rests the duty] to make the search? [Does it rest] upon the landlord, because the leaven is his; or perhaps upon the tenant, because the forbidden matter exists in his domain?… We learned it: If one rents a house to his neighbor, if the fourteenth occurs before he delivers him the keys, the landlord must make the search; while if the fourteenth occurs after he delivers the keys, the tenant must make search.


According to this passage, the evening of the 14th of Nissan determines who is responsible to perform bedikat chametz. If the renter has already taken the key, then he must perform bedikat chametz, and if not, the responsibility rests upon the owner.


Although one might infer from this gemara that one who is not home at all on the night of the 14th is exempt from bedikat chametz, the Talmud (6a) states otherwise:


One who embarks on a sea voyage or joins a departing caravan more than thirty days before Pesach need not destroy the chametz [in his house], but one who leaves less than thirty days before Pesach must remove the chametz [in his house].


This passage states that one who leaves his home within thirty days of Pesach must still search his home before he leaves. Seemingly, while this gemara teaches that one becomes obligated in bedikat chametz thirty days before Pesach, the direct responsibility for each house is determined on the night of the 14th.


            The Shulchan Arukh (436:1) rules that one who leaves his house within thirty days of Pesach must still search his house for chametz. The Acharonim debate whether one should recite the berakha upon this search, and the Rama rules that one should not recite the blessing.


Bedikat Chametz for One Who Sold His Chametz


As discussed above, one who leaves his home within thirty days of Pesach must perform bedikat chametz without a blessing the night before leaving. Some question whether selling one's home before Pesach with the chametz exempts him from the laborious task of bedikat chametz.


The Tur (436) cites the Avi Ezri, who rules that if a Jew sells his house to a non-Jew within thirty days of Pesach, even though the non-Jew will bring chametz into the house, he must still perform bedikat chametz before he leaves. The Tur disagrees, explaining that since the non-Jew enters the home, the previous owner is not responsible to search, and he certainly renounces ownership of any chametz he leaves behind in the house.


The Avi Ezri apparently views bedikat chametz as a "chovat gavra" – a personal obligation to search his house, even if he won't own it on erev Pesach. The Tur, however, understands the obligation to be a "chovat bayit" - an obligation incumbent upon the house, to be fulfilled by its owner, on erev Pesach. The Shulchan Arukh (336) rules in accordance with the Avi Ezri, while the Rama rules like the Tur. Thus, those who follow the Tur and sell their house before the 14th of Nissan do not have to perform the bedikat chametz.


            What about one who sells his house to a non-Jew on the morning of the 14th, on erev Pesach? The Mishna Berura writes (436:32):


Regarding whether one must check the rooms which one intends to sell the next day to a non-Jew with the chametz contained in them, there are different opinions among the Acharonim. The opinion of the Mekor Chaim and the Chayei Adam is that one must check these rooms, since they are currently not sold and they are in the possession of a Jew. And even if they were sold, they are still not in his possession, and the keys are still in the control of the owner. The Binyan Olam (20), however, disagrees, and his view is that that one does not require bedikah in this case, as the very fact that he is selling the next day to a non-Jew is a fulfillment of tashbitu and bi'ur, and it is no worse than chametz which he found after searching the house, which he leaves for tomorrow and he need not destroy… Similarly, in the response of the Chatam Sofer (131) he is lenient if one fulfills the mitzvah of bedikah in the other rooms… but one should be careful when he sells to explain that he is also selling all of the chametz in the rooms… Therefore even though who should not criticize one who is lenient, one who sells his house on the 13th has done even better…


The Mishna Berura records a debate regarding whether one must check those rooms which he intends to sell the next day to a non-Jew. Although preferably one who wishes to be exempt from bedikat chametz should sell one's home, or rooms, before the 14th, those who sell their home (and its chametz) on the 14th of Nissan and do not perform bedikat chametz the evening before may rely upon the view of the Binyan Olam and Chatam Sofer. Preferably, one should leave at least one room which is not sold or rented in order to fulfill the mitzvah of bedikat chametz on that room, and then sell or rent the rest of the home.


Bittul Chametz


As we explained previously, the gemara (4a) states that one fulfills his obligation, mi-de'oraita, merely through reciting the bittul chametz. The gemara adds, however, that even one who already searched his home should still recite bittul, "lest he find a tasty loaf and [set] his mind upon it." The gemara does not, however, specify which specific obligation one fulfills through reciting bittul chametz. Furthermore, the gemara never explains what the precise legal meaning of the declaration of bittul is.


Tosafot (4a, s.v. mi-de'oraita) explain that bittul is actually another word for hefker, the renunciation of one's ownership. In other words, in order to avoid violating bal yera'eh u-val yimatzei, own declares all chametz in his possession as ownerless. The Rishonim, including Tosafot, ask a number of questions on this interpretation. First, we don't find anywhere that the term "bittul" refers to "hefker." Second, the laws of bittul don't match up with the laws of hefker. For example, hefker is usually performed in front of three (Nedarim 45a), and bittul is performed alone. Furthermore, hefker cannot be performed on Shabbat, as it is a type of business transaction generally prohibited on Shabbat, but when erev Pesach falls out on Shabbat, bittul can be performed. Finally, hefker must be said aloud, while bittul may be "said" in one's heart.  While some (Ra'avia 417, for example) explain each discrepancy and maintain that bittul can be understood as a classic form of hefker, others (Ran 1a, s.v. u-mihu; Maharam Chalava 6b, s.v. amar) note that in this case, merely withdrawing from and renouncing the chametz is sufficient, and therefore its laws are different.


Rashi (4b, s.v. be-vittul) disagrees and explains that bittul, which is accomplished mentally (hashbata de-lev - negation in one's heart), is a fulfillment of the biblical commandment of tashbitu. Indeed, Targum Onkelos translates "tashbitu" as "tevatlun." How is it possible that one fulfills tashbitu through merely mentally negating chametz?


The Ramban (4b), as we noted previously, accepts the efficacy of bittul, but he writes:


There are three methods of disposing of chametz, as the Torah says that one should not see chametz in our possession. Therefore, one should burn or totally destroy chametz, and that is the best method… and if one performs bittul through speech, one has also fulfilled the commandment.


In other words, according to the Ramban, while bittul may be a valid form of tashbitu, physical destruction through burning or another method is preferable. Furthermore, the Ramban notes that in general, the prohibition of owning chametz on Pesach is difficult to understand, since legally, once the chametz becomes assur be-hana'ah, it is no longer considered to be in his possession. How can he then violate bal yera'eh u-val yimatzei? He explains:


Bittul works to remove it from the status of chametz and to consider it to be dirt, which is not edible. This mechanism is effective, based upon the words of R. Yishmael, who asserts (6b) that there are two things that, although they are not in the ownership of a person, the Torah treats them as if they are owned… which means to say that the Torah considered it to be his in order to violate these two prohibitions (i.e., bal yeira'eh u-val yimatzei) because his mind is upon it and he is interested in its preservation. Therefore, the person who aligns his thoughts with the Torah's intention and nullifies it in order that it should not be considered to have value but should rather be taken out of his possession completely, not longer violates these prohibitions…


            By negating one's relationship to chametz, one avoids violating bal yeira'eh u-val yimatzei and fulfills the mitzvah of tashbitu.


            Although the Ramban writes that one may fulfill tashbitu through bittul, hefker, or physical destruction, with physical destruction being the preferred method, the Rambam (Hilkhot Chametz U-Matza 2: 1-2), seems to differ. He writes:


There is a positive commandment to destroy (le-hashbit) chametz before the time in which it becomes prohibited to eat, as it says, "on the first day you shall put away ("tashbitu") leaven out of your houses," and we have learned that the "first" refers to the fourteenth… And what is the "hashbata" described by to Torah? One should nullify chametz in his heart and resolve in one's heart that he has no chametz in his possession at all and that all chametz in his possession is like dirt and is akin to something of no use…


The Rambam strongly implies two points. First, the manner of fulfilling tashbitu is through psychological/spiritual negation. Second, he implies that each person should actively fulfill this mitzva. If so, we might ask how bittul prevents the prohibitions of bal yere'ah and bal yimatzei. And what does this imply about the prohibitions of chametz?


As we explained in the last shiur, the Rambam apparently understands that chametz, which transcends the rules of other prohibited foods, represents a spiritual foe, and therefore must be battled through spiritual and mental negation.


Practically, bittul is recited at night, after the bedikat chametz, and once again in the morning before the end of the fifth hour. At night, one only nullifies chametz which one has not found, while in the morning, one nullifies all chametz.


            All adult men and women should recite the bittul chametz. The Shulchan Arukh (334:4) rules that own may appoint a shaliach, an agent, to nullify one's chametz. The Rema explains that the shaliach would say: "Peloni's chametz should be batel…" The Magen Avraham (9) notes that the Bach disagrees and does not permit one to appoint a shaliach for bittul chametz.


            Should married women recite the bittul chametz? The Shulchan Arukh (434:4) implies that a wife only nullifies chametz when her husband did not recite the bittul. Seemingly, this is based upon the principle that "what a woman acquires automatically comes into the ownership of her husband" (Gittin 77b).  In other words, since legally a married women's property is owned by her husband, he should be responsible to nullify the chametz. One might question, however, whether this principle is applicable nowadays, and therefore whether married women should recite their own bittul chametz. This question, however, is beyond the scope of this shiur (see R. Chaim Jachter's Gray Matter, vol. 3, p. 139).


In the next shiur, we will discuss bi'ur chametz, mekhirat chametz, and the laws of chametz she-avar alav ha-Pesach.