Sweet and Kosher Pesach

Dear Friends,

Typically at this time of year, we wish each other a חג כשר ושמח, a “sweet and kosher Pesach.” (The snarky and witty among us sometimes wish others a חג כשר או שמח “sweet or kosher Pesach.” But that’s another matter.)

This year, keeping the mitzvot of Passover and obtaining enough food will not be nearly as easy as in previous years. For most of us, it will be unsafe to trek out to the Kosher super-stores in Brooklyn, Queens or New Jersey. The online retailers may be sold out or unreliable. Items you’re used to – your pizza sauce and potato chips – may be inaccessible this year.

But you can still do it. This holiday is not up in heaven or beyond the sea. This year, by adopting some leniencies that you might not choose to use in other years, you can still have both a sweet and kosher Passover. Here are a few thoughts and reminders.

Not everything needs a Passover certification.

You may be familiar with the rule that tiny traces of unwanted matter can be considered negligible – as if they do not exist at all (or instance, when a drop of milk falls into your chicken soup.) This applies to products bought before Passover, but not to actual hametz [i.e. unsupervised wheat, barley, oats, rye, spelt] that mixes in on the holiday itself.

In practice this means that you can buy lots of items before the sun sets on Seder eve without need for a special K-P.

Unflavored dairy products (eg milk, butter, cheese, yogurt), pure oils (olive and others), single ingredient items like fruit juices, unflavored coffees, teas and spices, need no special Passover certification, if bought before the chag. (For us in NYC, know that almost all dairy products do carry the K-P supervision, and kosher cheese is almost always certified “for Passover and year-round.”)

The same goes for fresh fish, and needless to say, otherwise kosher fresh meat.

This year, when food supplies might be uncertain in the weeks ahead, I would not hesitate to buy single-ingredient frozen fruits and vegetables. A bag of frozen spinach or frozen strawberries, without additives is OK for Passover. If, God forbid, some hametz fell in before Passover it can be considered nullified (but not during the holiday). It’s reasonable and pious not to observe Pesach this way during other years. But, mah nishtana, how different is this Passover. You should visually inspect those single ingredient foods upon opening the bags before consuming them, just to make sure that no stray hametz has gotten in your frozen broccoli.

All that I have said applies to those single ingredient foods, or slightly more leniently, the base ingredient + water or salt. It cannot apply to substantially processed foods, like tomato sauce or almond milk. When it comes to additives, you cannot know their sources, which might include hametz. For example, avoid anything including “maltodextrin,” which may be made from wheat. Do you really know how “sodium benzoate” or “polysorbate 80” are produced? And what are “natural colorings” anyway?

Any other year, I would not use canned fish (tuna, salmon) without a special Passover symbol. This year, if before the chag you can find canned fish whose sole ingredient is fish (or perhaps fish and water or salt), you can use this during the holiday. Such products can often be found in health food stores. I would not buy tuna that says it is cooked in “vegetable broth,” whose source is uncertain.

How about things that are already open in your kitchen? In a normal year, I would open a new container of any spices or coffee and tea for Passover. That remains the optimal practice. But strains and stresses are many this year. If you want to keep using your regular oregano, there are worse things you could do.

This is the year to use kitniyot.

A few years ago, when my kids started becoming vegetarian, we switched to consuming “kitniyot” and related products. These are the “legumes” — although the Judaic category and the botanic category are not identical — which Ashkenazi Jews traditionally avoid on Pesach.

Given how unreliable food supplies might become, this is the year that I recommend you should make this change. The main reason to avoid corn, rice, lentils, peas, beans or chickpeas, is family tradition. It is not a Halakhic requirement. Given the strains of this year, it is reasonable to vary your Passover menu. Typically, I personally trek to Brooklyn or Queens to obtain those items bearing Passover supervision symbols. This year, that’s impossible. (On a happy note: I’ve seen on the shelves of West Side Market some Israeli brands of hummus and techina– I’m looking at you אחלא/Achla — bearing Kosher for Passover symbols.)

I recommend purchasing regular rice, for instance, then pouring it from its bag into a different bag, and visually inspecting it for stray matter. I would treat a can of chickpeas or a bag of frozen edamame the same way as described above: a single ingredient product with no additives besides water, or water and salt, may be purchased before Passover.

I would not hesitate to purchase pure kitniyot oils — canola, corn, soy — before Passover.

Speaking of soy: A not-so-modern Orthodox Sefardic Beit Din in Los Angeles has ruled that pure, unflavored tofu — they mention specifically the brand Nasoya — can be purchased before Passover with a regular, year-round Kosher symbol, and does not need a special Pesach supervision. You can rely on that without hesitation.

Selling and nullifying your hametz.

The mitzvot of Passover include not only not eating hametz, but not owning hametz and destroying what was in your possession. That’s why we have the ritual of searching for and burning your last cheerios and bagels on the morning before the Seder. (Another absence this year.)

Over time, Jews developed the practice of selling hametz to a non-Jew to fulfill what they could not physically get rid of. But many people sell undefined hametz only as a precaution, and make a point of actually destroying any wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt in their homes. This year, given the uncertainty of what food supplies will be in the coming weeks and months, this is unwise. If you have hametz in your home that you don’t want to get rid of [e.g. boxes of spaghetti or cereal, burritos in your freezer] you may box them up, put them away, and sell them through my agency. I am likely to repurchase them for you after the holiday.

What still needs supervision?

Does all this sound unusually soft for Pesach? Don’t worry. There are still plenty of restrictions that you should observe whether before or during the holiday.

Anything made from the five species of grain — wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt — needs a special Passover certification no matter when it is bought. Anything with alcohol or vinegar, or processed with those things needs supervision both before and during the holiday. (E.g. Decaffeinated coffees and teas can be processed with hametz ingredients. Decaf needs a K-P.) Anything with multiple ingredients and undergoing factory processing — like margarine, ketchup — needs Passover supervision both before and during the holiday.

But so much doesn’t

We do well to avoid grocery stores during the Covid crisis. Especially older people should avoid going out. Please turn to ACKavod2020@gmail.com so younger people can do some shopping for those over 70 or otherwise in a higher risk category.

But remember that plenty of items need no supervision even when bought during the holiday, such as fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and eggs.

As long as they are available in the stores or the street corner vendors, you can have a very sweet and kosher Pesach.

Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any specific questions. Please write me at rjk.nycac@gmail.com.

Warmest regards,


Jeremy Kalmanofsky