Ask the Rabbi with Rabbi YY Schochet

Pesach Cleaning or OCD


Dear Rabbi

It’s that time of year again! I always find post Purim a really anxious time as I get stuck in with Pesach cleaning. I know a lot of preparation goes into making Pesach but must it be such a stressful time? Surely that’s really not the point of the festival – or any Jewish ritual for that matter. Can you please share with me and other readers how I can better cope during this time?



Dear Selina

Welcome to the PPPPP (post Purim pre Pesach period). This question comes up often enough at this time of year and I will share with you a variation of what I’ve shared previously. 

By the time Pesach rolls around, many a woman will sit at the Seder table with calloused hands. Men meanwhile will find spending more time at the office over these next few weeks a welcoming experience. Of course no one has benefitted more from Pesach cleaning than the tourist industry. For many, the enticement of not having to lift a finger makes the cost more than worthwhile. From Greece to Greenland you can find a five-star Pesach experience virtually anywhere in the world today. The food may not be Mama’s recipe, and sharing a dining-room with nine hundred people singing Vehi Sheamda in a variation of six different tunes – simultaneously, may not be as atmospheric as being surrounded by the warmth of family in the privacy of one’s own home; but it still ensures that tender hearts don’t start palpitating at the sight of Mr Muscle, Flash or Domestos.       


No leavened matter shall be seen throughout your property. This is the one verse that transforms clean conscientious housewives into manic OCD women on the verge of a breakdown. I know some women who go scrubbing in cupboards before Passover which hadn’t been opened since, well the last time it was cleaned, before the previous Passover. My dear mother would display more energy in her fastidious Pesach cleaning than an Olympic medallist. When we were younger there was perhaps always the risk that we would take food into the playroom in the basement. The last of my siblings moved out of home twenty years ago. That playroom hasn’t seen a morsel in all that time. Still, there’s every attention to detail in every nook and cranny of that room.  


It is precisely the ritual aspects of Pesach that has preserved the importance and intensity of the holiday so well. All the cleaning and scrubbing, the change of diet and habit is precisely what has so emblazoned Pesach on the Jewish psyche so that we always remember the birth of our nation. Indeed many non-observant Jews will run a mile from a breadcrumb during the eight days. But I want to go on the record to say, Pesach cleaning is not spring cleaning and it is precisely the over-obsessiveness that risks turning one of our most exciting festivals into a dreaded experience. It’s almost as though we’re looking to relive the servitude in Egypt so that we can better appreciate the Exodus celebration when the holiday arrives. 


On Pesach we greet one another with Chag kosher v’sameach – “a kosher and happy Passover.” The kosher bit is paramount. But for too many it comes at the expense of happy. If so, then something is desperately wrong. 


“No leavened matter” means exactly that. It means no chametz food particles. It means certain sealed cupboards, koshered stoves and covered countertops. It does not mean going where no man – or woman – or child – has gone before. It does not mean scrubbing the parquet floor till you’ve sanded the wood down an inch. It doesn’t mean spending hours scouring the bath – unless you really enjoy the occasional sandwich in there. And it certainly doesn’t mean that one should perceive Pesach preparation with the same trepidation as the Jews perceived their Egyptian taskmasters. 


One more thing: If there’s a man about the house – be sure he pulls his weight too. This is not a uniquely woman’s responsibility!!! 


A Dignified Response


Dear Rabbi

Congratulations! You’ve bullied every one of your critics to back off. That’s no way to win an argument. I have one question for you: How do you justify all the civilian deaths in Gaza? Explain that to me in a dignified manner please.



Dear Gainer 

When someone comes at me swinging I am not going to respond in a pacifistic manner. The problem with people like yourself is that they feel the right to antagonise with bullying questions. But if someone gives them back as good as they get, they become the victims and the other, the aggressor. It’s really the whole story with Israel as well.

To your precise point, I’ll be dignified and give you the words of Lord Roberts of Belgravia, a respected military historian:

“Even if we were to take as accurate Hamas’s statistics and the 27,500 figure – there is no reason why we should; we do not do that with Putin or ISIS – if one subtracts the number of Gazans who have been killed by the quarter or so of the Islamic Jihad and Hamas rockets that fall short, one is left with a less than 2:1 ratio of civilians to Hamas terrorists killed, of whom there have been more than 9,000 so far. War is hell, and every individual civilian death is a tragedy, but – I speak as a military historian – less than 2:1 is an astonishingly low ratio for modern urban warfare where the terrorists routinely use civilians as human shields. It is a testament to the professionalism, ethics and values of the Israel Defence Forces.”

I couldn’t have put it better or more dignified myself.