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Literally, the "Search for Chametz".

Bedikat Chametz is a procedure followed by Orthodox Jews on the night before the Jewish festival of Pesach. On this festival, not only are Jews not permitted to eat Chametz (leaven products, such as bread), we aren't allowed to have any in our posession.

In the run-up to Pesach, all religious Jews will speak to their local Rabbi and arrange for the sale of their Chametz. This is a process whereby any chametz products they may own are sold to a local non-Jew (often the caretaker of the Synagogue) for a typically very large amount. However, the non-Jew is allowed to take posession on payment of a downpayment (typically a very small amount), but until the full amount is paid, the Rabbi can buy the chametz back again. This means that for the duration of Pesach, the non-Jew owns all the chametz in the community, and the Rabbi buys it back straight after the festival. When arranging with the Rabbi, you often have to specify where in your house the chametz will be kept (eg "the garage"), as theoretically, the non-Jew could come to your house and eat it if he wants!

Back to Bedikat Chametz. Even though we have cleaned our houses, and sold our residual chametz, religious Jews still go through a nominal search for Chametz. The search usually takes place immediately after nightfall on the evening before Pesach, although this is different if Pesach starts on a saturday night (see below).

Before the search, one member of the family hides a number of small pieces of bread (5 or 10), wrapped up in paper towels, around the house. This is for two reasons.

  • Knowing there is bread around the house, encourages the person(s) doing the searching to look more thoroughly.
  • We are about to make a Bracha (blessing), and a "Wasted Blessing" is a serious issue in Judaism. So, by hiding pieces of bread, we are guaranteed to find one, hence the blessing isn't wasted.

Of course, the person who hides them doesn't partake in the search itself, and must keep track of where they were!

The father then makes the blessing.

Barukh atah Adonai Eloheinu melekh ha-olam, asher kidshanu b'mitzvohtav v'tzi-vanu al Biur Chametz.
Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has set us apart by your commandments and has commanded us regarding the removal of the Chametz.

They then work methodically around the house, traditionally with the lights off, working by candlelight as this encourages you to look closely. Of course they are looking for the intentionally hidden bread, but also for any other things which are chametz which should be placed with the other chametz that is being sold.

Once completed, all the bread and chametz that isn't going to be sold (including the hidden pieces) is put in a paper bag and the following declaration is made.

I hereby relinquish any association or ownership to all and any leaven or leavening agents in my possession that I did not see, or did not find, and that I have not destroyed, or that I do not know about. They are null and ownerless, just like dust on the ground.

The actual declaration is usually made in aramaic. However, it is very important to understand what you are saying (aramaic was the main language at the time it was written) so it is important to say it in English as well.

The following morning, the morning before Pesach starts, there are two key "times" of day (which depend on your location and the time of year). To check the exact times, speak to your local Synagogue. The first of these (usually around 10am) is the time you have to stop eating chametz, and the second (usually around 11am) is the time that you must not own any chametz. The Rabbi will arrange for the sale of your chametz before the second time. Before the second time, the chametz you found the night before is burnt, and the following declaration is made.

I hereby relinquish any association or ownership to all and any leaven or leavening agents in my possession, whether or not I saw them, whether or not I found them, and whether or not I destroyed them. They are null and ownerless, just like dust on the ground.

If you find any chametz after this point, you cannot use it. Speak to a Rabbi to decide what to do with it. The homeowner should make this declaration. If, for example, he has to work, he can appoint someone else to actually burn the chametz, but he should still make the declaration at the right time, wherever he is.

As mentioned above, if Pesach starts on a saturday night, there are different procedures.

  • The search for chametz is conducted on the thursday evening, and the first declaration is made.
  • The chametz is burned on friday morning, leaving behind just enough to make the blessing over bread on saturday morning.
  • Morning prayers are held very early on saturday morning, so they complete in enough time to get home and make the blessing over bread before the 1st time mentioned above.
  • The house has to be ready for Pesach, and all the pots and pans, and all the food, has to be Kosher for pesach.
  • The blessing over bread is made in the back garden or hallway, where bread crumbs won't contaminate the Pesach utensils.
  • After making the blessing, all the bread should be finished, and the second declaration made.

There are other complicated issues related to Pesach on a saturday night. Fortunately it's not very common (about 1-2 times in 10 years), including this year (2005).

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