Waterboarding your keyboard, and other halachic questions

Passover, after all, is about Jewish perseverance, meeting challenges head on, like magically making cakes rise without leavening.

keyboard for pessah 311 (photo credit: (Chris Ware/MCT))
keyboard for pessah 311
(photo credit: (Chris Ware/MCT))
It’s not quite true that matza is the worst type of food one can eat at a computer. Cooked rice and sunflower seeds are worse, but experienced computer geeks recommend spooning up Jell-O while reading online for a real challenge. Which brings us to Pessah, and the biggest challenge of all. As it is, it’s said that keyboards harbor more bacteria than a public toilet seat, but germs aside, how exactly does one get a year’s worth of cracker crumbs and other hametz out of a keyboard in time for Pessah? It depends on whom you ask.
Most agree that buying a new keyboard would be a cop-out: Passover, after all, is about Jewish perseverance, meeting challenges head on, like magically making cakes rise without leavening. Kosher-for-Pessah baking powder is considered a sacrilege in my family, and I’m sure we are not alone in this. The conservatives say swab the keyboard with wet wipes, give it a good shaking, then use a can of compressed air as a chaser. Puritans will run Q-tips dipped in alcohol between the keys.
Objectively, both are far too conventional to mention.
What got me into koshering keyboards? Well, part of my Pessah preparations had nothing to do with completing deadlines parallel to spring cleaning, nor doing my share of the cooking. This year, each family member was instructed not only to bring the gefilte fish or the brisket; each attendee was told to bring a story or a poem/limerick or an anecdote or a drawing for the Seder table. Being an odd news junkie, this was a no-brainer: I set out to write a series of short vignettes about odd requests and halachic questions and no-less bizarre answers. The keyboard question was one gem out of many.
Take the young Israeli couple who wrote to an online forum saying: “We’re a couple interested in spending Seder night without spending a dime.
Where???” A respondent invited the pair to his Seder if they were Jerusalemites – appending his telephone number, but warned – “ours is very long, almost all night.”
But who says beggars can’t be choosers? “Thanks,” the young lady wrote back. “Is the evening in a religious milieu? I’ll check with my spouse and we’ll get in touch.”
There were countless queries about house pets.
For instance, does one have to sell one’s pet to a non-Jew for the duration, like hametz – and can the exchange be virtual rather than physical? One query involved a pet parrot. “Is my parrot’s food hametz?” asked one pet lover. “Parrot food isn’t hametz any more than wheat and barley are hametz. Hametz is created when wheat comes in contact with water for more than a few minutes,” she was told. But there was a catch: The pet owner must be careful to keep the parrot’s food away from its water dish” said the rabbinical authority, but he added: “Even if in the middle of Pessah, the parrot’s food gets into the water dish, it’s not the end of the world. The pet owner would not have caused the hametz. It would be the parrot’s doing.”
In another online forum, a lady asked “what to feed her chinchilla during Pessah,” but, unsure whether there would be a workable solution forthcoming, she asked hopefully if there was anyone out there “interested in hosting our chinchilla for Pessah?” The family – Ashkenazi Jews judging by their name, clarified: “She will eat gebroktz, and kitniot – the first being wet matzot (which Hassidic Jews don’t eat out of fear it might leaven before they consume it), the second being rice and legumes (which only Sephardi Jews eat during Pessah).
What she forgot to say is chinchillas – native to the Andes – will die of heat stroke if the temperature goes above 24ºC. In a crisis situation, one can place an overheated chinchilla on a terracotta roof tile (kept in the freezer for just such emergencies) but if there will be a real sharav [hot dry easterly winds common in the spring] hosts would have to operate the air-conditioning around-the-clock...
SO HOW does one kasher a keyboard for Pessah? Luftgesheft, what else! But here, like everything else, for every two Jews there are three opinions.
First of all, should one “inhale” or “exhale”? Answers ranged from aiming a domestic hairdryer (on ‘cool’) at the keyboard from a point-blank range and blasting away, to jerry rigging one’s trusty Dirt Devil for an immaculately clean sweep by “putting a straw through a hole in the bottom of a Styrofoam coffee cup made with a screwdriver and attaching the cup over the open end of the vacuum cleaner hose.”
On a glatt-kosher halachic website, a contributor argued one should take the keyboard to an auto garage and give it the once-over with an industrial- strength air compressor, but the most bizarre solution was unorthodox but simple: Toss the keyboard into the dishwasher. Place keys facing down in the upper rack, run on the ‘regular’ cycle with a bit of dishwasher detergent and retrieve before the drying phase kicks-in to prevent meltdown.
The only drawback beside the fact that this won’t work with laptops (someone actually asked!) and that such treatment may wash out some models is that a waterboarded keyboard may take ‘til next Pessah to thoroughly dry, although optimists insist that giving it a week in the sun, or five days in front of a fan will do the trick.
The writer is a bilingual Israeli freelance journalist and founder/CEO of The Chelm Project that shares in English the wackiest and wildest news stories published in the Hebrew press. Her work was recently profiled in The Jerusalem Post’s Weekend Magazine.