Ask the Rabbi: The spirits of the law

Do spray deodorants require Pessah supervision?

March 25, 2011 15:15
4 minute read.

Haredim 521. (photo credit:

The Torah commands that we eradicate (tashbitu) all hametz (leavened bread) from our homes (Exodus 12:15), thereby ensuring that we do not violate the prohibition of possessing or consuming hametz on Pessah (12:19, 13:7). Some commentators, like Maimonides, believe that this commandment entails legally renouncing ownership (bitul), thereby severing any connection to the food (Hilchot Hametz 2:2). Others contend that the Torah envisaged a search (bedika) and destroy (bi’ur) procedure that removes the hametz from one’s possession (Ritva Pessahim 2a). In any case, all agree that the sages demanded that one perform both procedures in fear that either the legal renunciation was not wholehearted or that one may find and accidentally eat hametz over the holiday (Ran).

The sages declared that the search for hametz should take place on the night of 14 Nisan, allowing for proper attention before the prohibition of owning hametz kicks in midday on the 14th (Pessahim 4a).

Although this search was traditionally done by candlelight, many decisors today believe it is safer and more effective to use a flashlight (Yabia Omer OC 4:40).

While one must search all property to which one regularly brings food, including cars and offices, one does not need to inspect any area that never contains hametz. While some sources deem it meritorious to go beyond the letter of the law in searching for hametz (MB 442:6), Rabbi Chaim P. Scheinberg and others have warned that unwarranted overexertion (including spring cleaning) causes wellintentioned people to be too tired to enjoy the Seder evening.

To ensure quality cleaning, many people thoroughly clean their homes before that evening. A few medieval authorities asserted that in such a case, one does need to search the house on the 14th (Ba’al Hameor).

Yet many contend that the law demands that one must perform a search on the 14th (Tur OC 433). While some believe that a previously cleaned home only requires a quick look-over on the 14th (Sha’arei Teshuva 433:11), others assert that a proper check is required, which should include double-checking for missed areas (MB 433:45).

Because of these disputes, many questioned whether one would be allowed to recite a blessing on the 14th, since one may have already fulfilled their cleaning obligation (MB 433:1). To solve this problem, some proposed leaving one room unchecked until the 14th (Magen Avraham 433:20), with others encouraging people to place (and not to forget) small pieces of bread around the house to ensure that the search “turns up something” (OC 432:2).

The Talmud asserts that one can ignore tiny crumbs (Pessahim 6b) unless they are of such significance that they can plausibly combine into an edible object (Gr”a 460:11). Some, however, believe that one should search for anything that one might come to eat (Hayei Adam 119:6). Similarly, while one may possess and benefit from hametz products that are not fit for canine consumption (Pessahim 21b), since they are deemed like dust, one may not consume them because such an action would upgrade their status into a significant object (MB 442:43).

These factors play a major role in the debates over the propriety of using many cosmetics and toiletries which contain active hametz ingredients, such as ethanol (which is derived from grains). Most ointments and certain cosmetics (like mascara) can clearly be stored and used during Pessah, since they can never be consumed.

Some believe that bad-tasting or unflavored pill or liquid medications have their status upgraded to hametz when consumed by their patient (Ahiezer 3:34). They therefore should be avoided if an equally effective substitute is available, but only after consultation with one’s doctor and rabbi. Others, however, assert that such medications, even when ingested, never become reclassified as food, especially when they are in pill form (Nishmat Avraham OC 466:1). More pleasant tasting cough syrups are generally considered fit for consumption and may require Pessah supervision (SSK 40:74).

Scholars have further debated the use of products which use denatured alcohol derived from ethanol, such as deodorants and colognes. While inedible for consumption at the time of purchase, their hametz ingredients can become edible through distillation or adding certain ingredients. (Some products with completely denatured alcohol – as well as alcohol in paints and shampoos – are reportedly not restorable and remain definitively permissible). While Rabbis Tzvi Pesach Frank (Mikraei Kodesh 54) and Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe OC 3:62) ruled stringently, Rabbis Joseph Soloveitchik and Ovadia Yosef (Yalkut Yosef, KSA p. 585) contended that these ingredients are deemed inedible based on their current composition.

Others have further noted that in the contemporary market, ethanol is regularly synthesized from chemicals and is not derived from grain. Since many kashrut agencies adopt varying standards, one should consult with their halachic authority for proper guidance.

The writer, online editor of Tradition and its blog, Text & Texture (, teaches at Yeshivat Hakotel. [email protected]

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