Beit Midrash

  • Pesach
To dedicate this lesson
Chapter Five-Part Two

The Custom of Bi’ur Ĥametz by Burning


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed


4.The Custom of Bi’ur Ĥametz by Burning
As we have learned, in addition to bitul ĥametz, the Sages ordained the active elimination of all ĥametz remaining after breakfast on the morning of the fourteenth, and any ĥametz that was found during bedikat ĥametz (including the ten pieces of bread that were hidden before the search). In principle, one may eliminate the ĥametz in various ways: by crumbling it and throwing it into the wind, the sea, or a river (SA 445:1); by pouring bleach or some other substance on it, rendering it unfit to be eaten by a dog, since if it is not considered ĥametz food, it need not be eliminated (SA 442:9); by placing it in an ownerless public domain before it becomes forbidden (MB 445:18); or by flushing it down the toilet, whereby it no longer remains in the house.
Nonetheless, the holy people of Israel customarily enhance the mitzva of eliminating the ĥametz via burning it. Nothing eliminates ĥametz better than fire. Furthermore, there are poskim who maintain that the mitzva to dispose of ĥametz must be fulfilled by burning.
Those who wish to enhance this mitzva further must make sure to nullify the ĥametz after burning it, since if they nullify it beforehand, the ĥametz will no longer be considered theirs, and they will lose the enhancement of bi’ur by burning. One must therefore be careful to leave enough time after burning the ĥametz to nullify it, for after the fifth hour of the day it is no longer possible to nullify ĥametz (as we learned above 3:6). Hence, as soon as a kezayit of ĥametz has been burned, the enhancement of bi’ur ĥametz by burning has been achieved, and the bitul can be recited.
Some people, when using kerosene to light the fire, are careful not to pour it directly on the ĥametz. They do this so that the fire alone destroys the ĥametz, and the kerosene does not render it unfit for consumption by a dog before it is burned. 3
5.Ĥametz in the Garbage
On the morning of the fourteenth of Nisan the question arises: Must ĥametz that has been placed in the garbage also be destroyed?
If the garbage bin belongs to a Jew or is located on his property, he is obligated by rabbinical ordinance to remove the ĥametz before it becomes prohibited. The owner may pour bleach or some other foul substance on the ĥametz rendering it unfit for consumption by a dog.
If the garbage container is the property of the local authority and is located in the public domain, one need not destroy the ĥametz he placed in it before the ĥametz becomes prohibited. The local authority is not obligated to destroy it because it was not interested in acquiring the ĥametz to begin with. Its only aim was to remove it to a garbage dump. 4
6. Ĥametz Found after the Onset of the Prohibition
If one finds ĥametz in his possession after the sixth hour of the day, he must dispose of it immediately. After midday, if one forgot to nullify the ĥametz in his possession, he is obligated by Torah law to eliminate it. The most preferable form of the mitzva is to burn the ĥametz, but one may eliminate it in a number of ways, as we have learned. For example, one may crumble the ĥametz and cast it into the wind, or break up the ĥametz and flush it down the toilet.
However, if one throws his ĥametz into an ownerless public domain, he has accomplished nothing. Although one may renounce ownership of his ĥametz before it becomes prohibited and thus avoid the obligation to remove it, if one still possesses ĥametz when the prohibition takes effect, the only way he can get rid of it is by destroying it completely.
Similarly, once the prohibition has taken effect, it is no longer possible to remove ĥametz simply by pouring a foul substance like bleach on it to make it unfit to be eaten by a dog. Only before the ĥametz becomes prohibited is it possible to do so. If the ĥametz was fit for consumption when the prohibition took effect, one is obligated to dispose of it completely. Therefore, if one finds such ĥametz in his possession, he must burn it, scatter it in the wind, or crumble it into pieces and flush it down the toilet, in order to eliminate it. As stated, the best way to fulfill this mitzva is by burning the ĥametz. Moreover, even after the ĥametz has been burned, it is forbidden to derive benefit from its ashes. 5
If one finds ĥametz on the first or last day(s) of Pesaĥ or on Shabbat of Ĥol Ha-mo’ed, he may not burn it or even carry it to the bathroom to flush it down the toilet, as ĥametz is muktzeh and may not be handled. Rather, one must cover it with a container so that nobody accidentally eats it, and it must be burned as soon as possible after the Shabbat or holiday. If the same person forgot to nullify his ĥametz before Pesaĥ, he violates two Torah prohibitions – bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei – every moment the ĥametz remains in his possession. In order for one to spare himself from these transgressions, according to many poskim he may pick up the ĥametz, break it up somewhat, and throw it into the toilet; these poskim permit violating the laws of muktzeh, which are of rabbinic origin, in order to avoid Torah prohibitions. Nonetheless, some poskim take the stringent position that he should wait until Shabbat is over before getting rid of the ĥametz (MB 446:6).
Regarding the berakha, if one finds ĥametz during Pesaĥ, even though it is a mitzva to dispose of it, he does not recite a berakha before the bi’ur, because the blessing he said before bedikat ĥametz included all ĥametz in his possession that required removal. However, if one kneads dough during Pesaĥ and it becomes ĥametz, he must say the berakha over its disposal since this ĥametz was not in his possession before Pesaĥ, at the time of his bedika, and thus the berakha he said then did not apply to it (MB 435:5).

^ 3.. There is a dispute in Pesaĥim 27b regarding the mitzva of destroying the ĥametz: R. Yehuda says it must specifically be burned, and the Sages say it can be destroyed in any fashion. According to the majority of Rishonim, including Rambam, Rosh, Ritva, and Ran, the halakha follows the Sages; this is also the ruling of SA 445:1. A minority of authorities, including Tosafot and Sefer Mitzvot Katan, follows R. Yehuda. Baĥ and Gra add that even the Sages believe that the preferred method is burning, just that it is also possible to destroy the ĥametz in other ways. Other Aĥaronim disagree and feel that according to the Sages there is nothing special or preferable about burning, and one may destroy his ĥametz in any way.
Most Rishonim feel that even according to R. Yehuda, the mitzva to burn ĥametz only applies to ĥametz that is left over past midday of the fourteenth, when it becomes forbidden, similar to the law of notar (uneaten portions of a sacrifice left over until the morning), which must also be burned. However, before midday of the fourteenth, it is possible that even R. Yehuda would agree that one may destroy the ĥametz any way he wants; this is the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam and Maharam Halawa. On the other hand, Rashi explains that according to R. Yehuda the mitzva is to burn the ĥametz before midday. According to Rosh’s understanding of Rashi, the mitzva to burn the ĥametz only applies during the sixth hour of the day, but according to Tur’s understanding of Rashi, the mitzva to burn the ĥametz applies even prior to the sixth hour. If this opinion is correct, the mitzva to destroy the ĥametz is specifically by burning it. See Birur Halakha Pesaĥim 27b for a summary of the topic. Even though it is clear according to almost all poskim that there is no mitzva to burn the ĥametz before it becomes forbidden, Rema 434:2 and 445:1 writes that the custom is to burn the ĥametz even earlier. See Or Le-Tziyon 2:33, which explains that the stringency of burning the ĥametz is dependent upon the combination of several opinions: firstly, the authorities who follow R. Yehuda; secondly, Tur’s understanding of Rashi that the mitzva to burn the ĥametz applies even before the ĥametz becomes forbidden; and thirdly, Tosafot’s opinion that the act of nullification renders the ĥametz ownerless, as opposed to Rashi’s understanding that nullification accomplishes the mitzva of destroying the ĥametz (and thus the only way to fulfill the mitzva of destroying the ĥametz according to Tosafot is by burning it). See also Bedikat Ĥametz U-vi’uro 7:5-7 and Hilkhot Ĥag Be-ĥag 8:7-8.
It is also worth noting that, according to a simple reading, the mitzva of removing ĥametz (in Shemot 12:15) is to dispose of the ĥametz before it becomes forbidden, as most Rishonim write. Ran and Ritva also write that one fulfills this mitzva by conducting bedikat ĥametz. Rambam writes that the mitzva of removing ĥametz begins on the night of the fourteenth (MT, Laws of Ĥametz and Matza 3:1). However, Rosh maintains that the mitzva only begins once the ĥametz becomes forbidden. Hilkhot Ĥag Be-ĥag 8:8 summarizes this topic.
Sidur Pesaĥ Ke-hilkhato 15:4 states that one should be careful not to pour lighter fluid on the ĥametz itself, and see Hilkhot Ĥag Be-ĥag 8:10 n. 17, which disagrees, since the main objective is to turn the ĥametz into ashes, regardless of whether or not its taste remains intact. See above ch. 3 n. 8.
^ 4.. Igrot Moshe OĤ 3:57 states that the mere act of placing the ĥametz in the trash clearly shows that one’s intentions were to rid himself of the ĥametz. However, if the trash can belongs to him, according to Taz and MA 445:3 he has a rabbinic obligation to burn the ĥametz. However, if the trash can is in the public domain, he does not have to burn any ĥametz he placed inside the trash can. Bedikat Ĥametz U-vi’uro 3:45 adds that if the ĥametz is so filthy that clearly no person would use it for any purpose, it is considered destroyed. It also adds a novel idea in n. 130: ĥametz that is unfit for humans but suitable for dogs only must be destroyed if the ĥametz is able to cause other dough to become ĥametz. However, if the ĥametz is so filthy that it is no longer suitable to any person for any purpose, it is considered nullified and need not be destroyed (see also Piskei Teshuvot 445:7, which cites other opinions). Nevertheless, when one discards his trash into a bag, as is the modern custom, the ĥametz does not always become that dirty. Thus, if the trash can is in his domain, it is best to dispel all doubt and refrain from discarding ĥametz that is still suitable for dogs into that particular trash can in the days leading up to Pesaĥ.
^ 5.. See n. 3, where we learned that the main dispute between R. Yehuda and the Sages is about ĥametz that one finds after it has already become forbidden. According to the Rishonim who follow R. Yehuda, one has a mitzva to burn this ĥametz. Even though most poskim follow the Sages, as quoted in SA 445:1, burning the ĥametz is an acceptable method, especially according to R. Yoel Sirkis (Baĥ) and Gra, who maintain that the Sages agree that the preferable method to destroy the ĥametz is burning. This is what MB states in 445:6.
Once the ĥametz becomes forbidden, there is an obligation to destroy the ĥametz completely, as cited in SA 442:9 and MB ad loc. 40. Even declaring the ĥametz ownerless does not work at this point; it only works before the ĥametz becomes forbidden, as explained in MB 445:18. Even after the ĥametz is burned, one is forbidden to benefit from the ashes, as explained in SA 445:2. MB 445:5 states that if one throws ĥametz into an outhouse, it is considered destroyed. However, the outhouses in the times of MB were exceptionally filthy, and anything that was thrown there became so repulsive that it would no longer be usable in any capacity. Conversely, bread that has been discarded in a modern toilet is likely to emerge intact from the drainpipes, and would likely be fit for a dog; therefore, if one were to discard bread this way, he should first break up the bread into smaller crumbs. See also Bedikat Ĥametz U-vi’uro 7:24 n. 56 for more on this topic, and see 7:1-2 and the corresponding footnotes. In n. 7, the author writes that if one finds ĥametz on Pesaĥ and spoils it so that it is no longer fit for a dog, he still violates bal yeira’eh and bal yimatzei according to SAH, but according to Ĥazon Ish he is required to destroy the ĥametz, but does not violate bal yeira’eh or bal yimatzei. According Pri Megadim, he only has a rabbinic obligation to destroy the ĥametz, since by not completely destroying the ĥametz before Pesaĥ he missed the Torah-level mitzva (the opinions of SAH and Pri Megadim are cited in SHT 442:19).
Although in general any ĥametz found on Pesaĥ has already been nullified and would therefore only be rabbinically forbidden, the ĥametz must still be destroyed, as would any ĥametz that had not been nullified, since, as noted, the rabbis decreed that all ĥametz must be nullified and eliminated. SAH (435:4) adds that if one did not burn his ĥametz, he violates bal yeira’eh and bal yimatzei on the rabbinic level and is subject to the rabbinic obligation of tashbitu. See also Bedikat Ĥametz U-vi’uro 7 n. 40 for other sources. Additionally, see chapter 8, 24, which says that if one finds ĥametz on Pesaĥ, there are ways that he can avoid bal yeira’eh and bal yimatzei, although he cannot fulfill the active mitzva of tashbitu. For example, he can heave the ĥametz into the sea in a manner that the ĥametz would be impossible to retrieve. The mitzva, however, which he cannot fulfill, is to burn the ĥametz.
Regarding the time for burning the ĥametz: if one finds ĥametz in his possession after the beginning of the sixth hour of the day, he has a rabbinic obligation to burn it, and if he found ĥametz that he did not nullify, he has a biblical obligation to destroy it. If he does not, he violates bal yeira’eh and bal yimatzei as soon as the festival begins. If he nullified his ĥametz, he does not violate bal yeira’eh and bal yimatzei on the biblical level, but he still has a rabbinic obligation to burn it.

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