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Why Is This Year Different?

A Practical Guide To The Laws That Apply When Erev Pesach Occurs On Shabbat

5768 – 2008

By Rabbi Philip Ginsbury, M.A
Reprinted with permission of the London Beth Din


The problems that arise when erev Pesach falls on Shabbat are not new. In Talmudic times it was Hillel’s expertise in this area of Jewish law which gained him the position of Nasi (religious leader) in preference to other scholars. Yet the problems are by no means as complex as at first appears. With careful planning, the variations from other years can add an exciting new dimension to the celebration of the festival. In particular, the children in each family should be invited to assist at every stage, and parents should use the opportunity of explaining the reason why each action is taking place. Each one of us should inject both joy and meaning into the ceremonies preparatory to Pesach, so that the celebration of the festival makes a lasting impact on every Jewish home. Pesach is after all the supreme home festival, and in the strength of traditional Jewish family life lies the guarantee of our continued existence as a faith and as a people.


The basic problem may be set out simply. The day before Pesach has been described as the busiest day in the Jewish year. On this day, the last of the chametz (leaven) is used up, and the remainder burnt. The house is meticulously cleaned. The change-over from chametz to Pesach utensils takes place. Although we can still have bread for breakfast, we have to eat a ‘Pesach-dik’ lunch. After lunch comes the cooking and preparations for the Seder, the laying of the table and the arrival of the guests, all of which gives the Jewish housewife little respite.

What happens when, as this year, erev Pesach falls on Shabbat? The prohibition of work on Shabbat is very strict: to burn the chametz that remains is out of the question, and even the cleaning and tidying of the house is severely restricted. No cooking may be done, nor may we make any preparations for the following day, even to the extent of laying the Seder table. Yet at the same time, the main meals of Friday night and on Shabbat must include lechem mishneh – two loaves of bread – over which we say the appropriate blessing. How then is it possible to have two chametz meals on Shabbat, to dispose of any chametz that remains, to effect the change-over from chametz to Pesach utensils, and to prepare the Seder, without coming into conflict either with the laws of Shabbat of those of Pesach?

Halachic solutions exist to all these problems, and in this guide an attempt has been made to set them out as clearly as possible. But first a word of warning. No such publication, however comprehensive, can hope to cover adequately every single question that may arise. If you are in any doubt at all, ask your rabbi. He will be pleased to help you, and also glad that you take Judaism seriously enough to ask him. Secondly, the arrangements recommended seem to the author the most practical and least complicated. But they are not necessarily the only correct way of coping with the problems, and again your own rabbi can advise you according to your individual circumstances.

The sequence of events described below begins on the Thursday before Pesach (this year April 17th). It is assumed that by this time, as in any ordinary year, stocks of chametz products will have been run down by the housewife, the house will have been cleaned of chametz, and that only food sufficient for the last few days before Pesach will remain.

For the sake of convenience, a summary of the arrangements is given at the end, but in order to understand them fully, a more detailed description is now given.


The fast of the First-born (Taanit bechorot) usually takes place on the day before Pesach, but this year it would occur on Shabbat. As fasting is forbidden on Shabbat (except for Yom Kippur) it is brought forward. We do not favour fasting of Friday, the eve of Shabbat either, so we observe it on Thursday instead.

The Siyyum celebration (conclusion of studying a volume of the Talmud) which releases the first-born from fasting, will therefore take place after the morning service on Thursday.

By Thursday, or Friday at the latest you should already have made arrangements with your rabbi for him to sell your chametz. (Mechirat chametz). The sale of chametz involves a contract drawn up with a non-Jewish person to purchase items containing chametz such as tinned foods, whisky etc., the disposal of which would entail financial loss. It is usually done through the rabbi of your synagogue and details will be announced locally. (Alternatively, forms to authorise the sale of chametz through the London Beth Din Kashrut Division can be found enclosed with this booklet or on www.kosher.org.uk)

On Thursday one is advised to thoroughly clean and kasher the inside of the oven, and thus make it ready for Pesach. After this of course it may no longer be used for chametz. One should also obtain a supply of paper plates and cups and plastic cutlery. The use of these for Shabbat meals will be described later.

The search for leaven (Bedikat chametz) which is traditionally performed by means of a candle and a feather, usually takes place on the evening of the day before Pesach. But as this would fall on Friday night, when the use of a candle is forbidden, the ceremony is held instead on Thursday evening, after nightfall. The blessing recited over the search, and the declaration made afterwards annulling any chametz which has not been noticed, can be found at the beginning of the Haggadah.


For all practical purposes, Friday may be considered as erev Pesach, and you should plan the day accordingly.

After breakfast, the kitchen should be prepared as for Pesach: the top of the cooker should be kashered and well-covered.

Working surfaces should be thoroughly cleaned and covered.

A small area should be set aside in the kitchen, completely separate from the rest, where the chametz food and crockery etc. for Friday lunch, and the challot for Shabbat can be left. Apart from this, all other chametz utensils should be cleaned and stored away, and replaced by Pesach utensils. Any food not containing chametz, but which is not supervised for Pesach, should be similarly stored away.

The burning of chametz (Biur chametz) should take place before 5/12* of the day. as is normally done on Erev Pesach. The declaration (Kol chamira) annulling any chametz inadvertently left, however, is omitted, as a quantity of chametz still has to be used, and some may be left over. It is said instead after breakfast on Shabbat.

As no preparations for the Seder may be made on Shabbat, it is a good idea to prepare it and lay the table on Friday, to avoid a long wait after Shabbat goes out. Care should be taken that no chametz is brought near, e.g. the Seder table could be laid in the dining room, and all meals between now and Shabbat afternoon eaten in the kitchen.

Shabbat meals must be cooked on Friday, and should consist only of foods permitted for Pesach. The cooking should be done in Pesach utensils. However, two challot should be reserved for use on Friday night and two for Shabbat morning. Where these are unlikely to be finished, small ones should be used instead. It is recommended that these are the only items of actual chametz used for Shabbat meals.

(An alternative to using challot with all the attendant chametz complications is to use Matzo ashira. This is a special type of matzo made with eggs or fruit juice instead of water. Since it is not real matzo it can be eaten on erev Pesach and thus avoids all the difficulties of using chametz when the home and the rest of the food is pesachdik. Please note, however, that the Ashkenazi ruling is that Matzo ashira may not be consumed on Pesach or erev Pesach after 4/12* of the day.)

NB. When making the blessing (Hamotzi) over bread on Friday night and Shabbat morning, it is suggested that the challot should be placed on a small side table, separately from the other food. They should be eaten up. The family should make sure that no crumbs remain on their hands or clothes, and they should then move to the main table for the rest of the meal.

The meals on Friday night and Shabbat morning, which have been prepared in Pesach utensils, can be served most easily on paper plates. This avoids the problem of transferring food from a Pesach saucepan to a chametz plate (which would have to be done by means of an intermediate vessel) and also lessens the possibility of mixing Pesach and chametz dishes. Paper cups and plastic cutlery are also recommended, as these are easily disposable.


The morning service on Shabbat Erev Pesach is held early in order to enable people to return home, make Kiddush and have breakfast before the Hafsakah (the latest time for eating chametz) at 4/12* of the day.

For breakfast, after the challot have been eaten, it is suggested that light refreshments be served, e.g. cheese, herring, cake and biscuits (all supervised for Pesach) and fruit.

Immediately after breakfast the tablecloth is well shaken and stored away with the other chametz utensils. Any bread or other chametz unavoidably left over from the meal should be flushed away.

Paper plates and cups and plastic cutlery which have been used should be thrown away. The declaration (Kol chamirah) which was omitted on Friday should now be said (at the beginning of the Haggadah). By saying it, we finally renounce our ownership over any chametz which we have inadvertently failed to remove. It should be recited before 5/12* of the day.

Now is the opportunity for the housewife and other members of the household to enjoy a well-earned rest, an opportunity which rarely presents itself on erev Pesach in other years.

By lunch time on Shabbat the whole house has been converted to Pesach routine and lunch can be enjoyed in a relaxed atmosphere. There is one restriction however: matzo cannot be eaten, otherwise it would lose its freshness and novelty at the Seder.

Yom Tov candles should not be lit until Shabbat ends.*

The Seder has finally arrived. Once again the family sits around the table, the children’s faces shining with eager anticipation. The age-old story of the deliverance from Egypt is recounted anew, and again we are told that we must think of ourselves as having been personally involved in that redemption.

May the effort that we have put into preparing for Pesach this year be amply rewarded by the satisfaction we receive from it. May it imbue us with a sense of renewal, especially at this time of

the year, when G-d miraculously renews nature’s cycle. May it inspire us with even greater love for our traditions, loyalty to our faith, and commitments to the ideals and values which Judaism has given to the world, which have ensured our survival, and which have brought us from slavery to freedom.


THURSDAY 17th APRIL – Fast of First-born



לשנה הבאה בירושלים הבנויה


* Please note: All times given in this booklet were removed and replaced by fractions of a day by kashrut.com to make the article more universal. Consult your local Rabbi for local times. The origional article with London Times is available here.

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