And now, once again, it is time for our all-too-infrequent consideration of trends and whispers in the Jewish community as seen through the rarified light of actual Halachic analysis. Is it Frum, or is it Krum? As always, there can be no middle ground.
This Week’s Entry: Putting out 10 pieces of bread before Bedikat Chametz. This past week I, along with every other Jew in America, was so blessed as to have had bestowed upon me “The OU Guide to Passover” (link). In the course of reading about Bedikat Chametz (p. 23), I was intrigued by the following give-and-take between the author and himself:
MUST ONE PUT OUT 10 PIECES OF BREAD?
The Ari z”l established the custom of placing 10 pieces of non-crumbly bread around the house to be “found” during the bedika. If it is not feasible to divide the chametz into 10 pieces, fewer pieces may be used. Irrespective of the number of pieces, it is imperative that some chametz pieces be laid out prior to the bedika.
Our discussion will be limited to the second half of the final sentence. Perhaps another time we will have an opportunity to discuss the Frum world’s stubborn misuse of the word “irrespective,” or how anyone could find it “not feasible” to divide the same amount of bread into 10 pieces as opposed to some other unidentified number.
Discussion: In the major Halachic canon, this discussion begins with the Rama:
שולחן ערוך אורח חיים סימן תלב
הגה: ונוהגים להניח פתיתי חמץ במקום שימצאם הבודק, כדי שלא יהא ברכתו לבטלה (מהר”י ברי”ן). ומיהו אם לא נתן לא עכב, דדעת כל אדם עם הברכה לבער אם נמצא. כל בו
If the Rama (link) discusses this Minhag, why does the OU attribute it to the Gra (link), who came much later? The Gra’s innovation was simply that exactly ten pieces be used, but this nuance is not clear from the OU’s presentation. In any event, the Rama is abundantly clear that it is not “imperative” that one put out pieces of bread. To the Mishna Berura, then:
משנה ברורה סימן תלב ס”ק יג
ומיהו וכו’ – חולק על זה, דאין כאן חשש ברכה לבטלה, דכן הוא המצוה – לבדוק החמץ, ולחפש אחריו, שמא ימצא; ואם לא ימצא, אין בכך כלום! והט”ז כתב עוד, דהברכה קאי על מה שיבער למחר בודאי, מה שישייר מאכילתו, אלא שמהיום מתחיל על ידי הבדיקה, וכנ”ל בסימן תל”א. וכן הסכימו אחרונים לדינא. ועיין בחק יעקב, שכתב דמכל מקום, אין כדאי לבטל מנהג של ישראל, ועיין שם שנתן טעמים להמנהג. וגם האר”י ז”ל כתב מנהג זה ושיניח יו”ד פתיתים, אכן יש ליזהר הרבה שלא יאבד אחד מן הפתיתין, ועיין בשערי תשובה
The Sha’arei Teshuva cited at the end makes the important caveat that the pieces that are put out should be less than a k’zayit, which would have been an important point for the OU to have made. But in any event, while the Mishna Berura begrudgingly accepts the Minhag (it is hard to picture him jumping for joy as he writes that “אין כדאי לבטל מנהג של ישראל”), he sure doesn’t come anywhere close to saying that it is “imperative.”
The OU is not alone in promoting this latter-day Minhag to the status of absolute Halacha. In the back of “The Complete ArtScroll Pesach Machzor,” we are taught the following (p. 1126):
It is customary to put out [ten] pieces of chametz where they will be found during the search so that the berachah should not have been recited in vain in case no chametz is found.
Dangling modifier aside, there is an inherent inequality between the beginning and end of that quote. It’s just customary, so don’t worry – unless you’d like to run the likely risk of making a berachah l’vatalah. Of course, the Mishna Berura, which they selectively ignored, says just the opposite – that there is no risk of having recited a berachah l’vatalah either way. But without that information, you can decide whether you would like to adapt this Minhag yourself or encounter the serious possibility of having made a berachah l’vatalah. Choose wisely.
Verdict: Frum. However, while this is certainly a well-established Minhag, it is far from “imperative,” and there is no risk of having made a berachah l’vatalah either way. This discussion animates me because it illustrates two negative tendencies that I have observed in the Orthodox community. One is the hamstringing of those less textually adroit in our community into making decisions that the educated few know are not objectively correct. Assuming the folks at the OU can read a Rama, and the people at ArtScroll can read a Mishna Berura, there is no legitimate reason to have misled so many people who cannot do either of those things. (Although by citing the Gra instead of the Rama, the OU also limited the number of people who would find the Rama anyway.) The other tendency is the canonization of Minhag into absolute Halacha. As a teacher, I emphasize Shalshelet Hamesorah, the integrity of the Halachic process; but we cloud this process when a Minhag specifically noted as optional by the Rama becomes misattributed to the Gra and then labeled as “imperative.” In an honest Halachic system, the Gra did not have carte blanche to unilaterally devise mandatory Minhagim for the rest of the Jewish nation. How could something 300 years old be “imperative” anyway? What of all the generations before that which never heard of this Minhag?
I’ve been thinking this year that hiding colored pieces of paper would accomplish the purpose of ensuring that the Bedika was thorough while mitigating the problems of shedding chametz throughout the home or of lost pieces turning into chametz. Furthermore, the Rama’s Minhag presumed that the searcher would not merely look for the hidden pieces (something else the OU could have mentioned), but people’s tendency to do exactly that creates an actual beracha l’vatalah in many homes every year. Colored pieces of paper could potentially create the same problem, except for the fact that it is so obvious that colored pieces of paper are not chametz that a reasonable person would more likely remember that these pieces are merely a way to ensure that the search overall is successful, as opposed to being the very object of the search. With pieces of bread, as many have observed before me, that very real confusion exists. A similar game: hide pieces of a Kosher for Pesach chocolate bar. The pieces that are found can be eaten by the searcher; the ones that are not found can be eaten by the hiders.
But please, for the record, a note to anyone writing a Halachic work who may come across this post: do not call these ideas anything more than quaint suggestions. They are not imperative, and ignoring them will not lead to anyone making a beracha l’vatalah, or to mixed dancing. These are just my own little ideas, for anyone who wants them, take it or leave it. ואני ואת נפשי הצלתי.