Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicated in the memory of

Yaakov Ben Behora

Passover...and Foreign Workers

The people of Bombay inquire of Ben Ish Chai as to whether or not there is a possible violation of Jewish law in the fact that non-Jewish servants bring chametz into the homes of their Jewish employees and eat there in the privacy of their own rooms.


Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu Zt"l

Feeding the Foreigner
These days, we find many foreign workers employed in Israeli homes. The verse, "Strangers shall stand and oversee your flock" has become a reality (we just have to make sure that they do not settle here and begin to exercise rights at the expense of unemployed Israelis who barely have have enough to live on). At any rate, when dealing with the laws of foreign workers at Passover, we must divide these laborers into three groups: (a) non-Jews who live in their own apartment and work at an Israeli business or in the house of an Jew, (b) non-Jews that have their own room in an Jewish home, (c) non-Jews who live together with Jews in the same room, or live in a room which Jews enter rather frequently. (Though this third scenario is rare, it is important to clarify the status of such workers according to the laws of chametz [leaven on Passover.])

This problem in not particular to our own day. It once existed in Bombay, India. In Bombay, there were many Jews who had non-Jewish servants, and they queried Torah authorities regarding how to relate to such non-Jews during Passover. The acclaimed luminary, R' Yosef Chaim of blessed memory, in his work Rav Pe'alim (vol., 2 ch. 55) responds to the following question: In the city of Bombay, all of the servants of Jews are non-Jews. Some of these servants eat from the food of their employee, while others prefer not to eat the food of Jews and instead bring food from their homes. Among these servants, there are those who sleep and sit with the family members and have no separate room of their own, while others are given a private room from the homeowner. During Passover, all of the Jewish homeowners in Bombay customarily give their servants (the ones who eat from the family's table throughout the year) money to buy food for nine days, from Passover eve until after Shmini Atzeret, and they buy whatever food they want. Jewish employers also gives their servants a special room in the basement of the house to reside throughout Passover, and order them not to bring any chametz into the house to eat. The servants agree to this, but their word it worthless, for they sneak chametz in to their room and eat it there. They justify themselves before the homeowners, saying, "What have you got against us, we are bringing it into our own room which is our own domain and we do not bring the chametz to the place where you sit, nor do we bring it into the kitchen." Therefore, the people of Bombay inquire as to whether or not there is a possible violation of Jewish law in the fact that these workers bring chametz into their own rooms and eat there in privacy. And if it does involve a violation, how shall this matter be rectified, for the people of Bombay are in need of these workers day and night, and it is impossible to force them to eat in their own homes and to avoid eating any food whatsoever in the houses of the Jews. Please instruct us on this matter, and may your heavenly reward be doubled.

R' Yosef Chaim responds that the question of the food of foreign workers on Passover is a difficult one, for Shulchan Arukh (Orach Chaim 450:6) rules that "it is permissible to tell a slave on Passover, 'Take this coin and buy food to eat,' even if a person knows that he will buy chametz, but one may not say 'go and eat and I will reimburse you.' And there are those who permit even this so long as he (the employer) did not first give money [to the gentile store owner, telling him to give food to his servant when he comes] or take the chametz [himself] and place it in the hand [of the non-Jew]."

From here we see that a person must be careful not to say to a foreign worker who is dependent on him for his food, "Go buy food, put it on the account and I will pay," for in this manner the employer is using chametz to fulfill his obligation to feed the worker, and the Jew derives benefit from the chametz on Passover. Therefore Rav Pe'alim says there, "They are doing a good thing by giving their servants money for food before Passover." But, as we shall see, the rabbi has difficulty regarding the fact that non-Jews eat in the houses of the Jews:

When Is it Forbidden for non-Jews to eat Chametz on their own?
R' Yosef Chaim writes: In "Agudah" (ch. Kol Sha'ah) we find that "a man can say to his Cuthite maidservant on Passover, take this money and buy something to eat and she can go and buy chametz and eat outside of his house," and Magen Avraham brings this in the name of the Agudah but adds that the reason that she is not allowed to eat in his house is because it raises suspicion. And R' Ahsa and R' Makor Chaim bring the words of the Magen Avraham, but Eliyah Raba brings the words of "Aguda" alone, as they are, without bringing the issue of suspicion which was added by Magen Avraham.

And in truth, this goes against the ruling of Shulchan Arukh above regarding a non-Jew who enters the house of a Jew with chametz in his hand, for it is written that one needn't drive him out of the house for there is no prohibition against seeing the chametz that belongs to others; only your own chametz, "you may not see."

A number of distinctions must be drawn: (a) To begin with, Agudah deals with an Jew's maidservant, explaining that if she buys chametz, it is possible that people will think that he himself buys chametz for her. (b) Because we are dealing with a maidservant, he can tell her what to do. This is not true regarding an ordinary non-Jew over whom a Jew has no control. (c) Rav Pe'alim explains that there is a difference between dough that does not crumble which is permissible, and ordinary chametz, the crumbs of which can scatter throughout the house, and that is what is spoken of as being forbidden with the maidservant. Therefore, in the Talmud it says that "his dough" is permissible (Pesachim 6a): "The Rabbis say, if a non-Jew enters the courtyard of a Jew with his dough is in his hand, it need not be destroyed. (4) When we speak of a maidservant, we say that it is forbidden because she is accustomed to eat together with the family members, as opposed to a non-Jew who eats the chametz which he holds in his hand. And, as the Shulchan Arukh rules, even though it is generally permissible to eat with a non-Jew at the same table when there is some object separating them, and it is similarly permissible for two Jews - one eating meat and one eating milk - to sit at the same table if there is some unusual object separating between them (e.g., a flowerpot), chametz is different, for even a modicum of chametz is forbidden for consumption. It is forbidden for a Jew and a non-Jew to eat at the same table, one eating matzah and the other chametz.

Rav Pe'alim therefore writes that because of this difference, if we are dealing with a non-Jew who eats privately and quietly in his room, there is no reason for worry, for everybody knows that these non-Jews are buying with their own money, for this is the local practice. But non-Jews who eat from the table of the homeowner cannot eat "chametz" regardless of separation or interruption. He writes:

"It is explicitly clear from the question itself that such a servant is given a special room in the basement, and certainly nobody goes in or out of that room. He eats his chametz there privately and secretively, and he does not eat before any other person, and if so there is no reason to worry. And Magen Avraham, who brings the issue of suspicion, was referring to a situation in which one eats together with the houseowner and his family members, and he eats openly amongst them. In the case under discussion we should say that even if the family members do not know that the head of the household gave the servant money, it is permissible, for he is eating in the room set aside for him which is considered like a separate house, and if we add the fact that he eats privately and secretively, and nobody sees him, certainly it is permitted.

Rent the Room: A Stringency
If a person wishes to behave stringently, in light of Magen Avraham's chashash, he may rent the room to the non-Jew or loan it to him for a coin for the duration of the holiday, and then the room will no longer be the Jew's at all. And after all of this, the Jew should tell his servant not to bring any chamatz into there because of the possible suspicion. As the Rabbi writes there, "Know, that if a homeowner wishes to behave stringently in this respect, he should rent the room to the servant for the days of Passover, and then also command him (even though he is renting him the room) not to bring chametz into the room."

The source of this ruling is to be found in the words of Rema, who writes (Orach Chaim 450), "It is permissible to rent him a house to live in, and even though he will bring chametz into it afterwards, it is permissible."

Kooking in an Oven or on a Stove
Shulchan Arukh writes (Orach Chaim 450:8), "Some permit renting a stove to a non-Jew in order that he can cook matzah in it, and if he cooks chametz in it, what can one do." The word "stove" spoken of here does not refer to a stove like the ones we have in our homes. Rather, it designates a bakery. When it comes to a stove inside a Jew's home, it is absolutely forbidden for him to cook or bake anything, for he is liable to cause the Jew to violate the prohibition against chametz.

Even in the room of the non-Jew, it is forbidden to give him a pot in which to cook chametz, for if he cooks in it and it does not contain any chametz, the pot will burn. In this manner the Jew will derive indirect benefit from chametz. However, regarding eating utensils, it is permissible to rent or lend them to him, so long as the Jew does not intend for it to be used for chametz.

And though it is written in Shulchan Arukh (457) that "it is permissible to rent a utensil to a non-Jew on Passover so that he can cook chametz in it, but he may rent him a donkey so that he can bring chametz on it," this is true according to the opinion that holds that it is permissible to derive benefit from chametz in this manner of renting, however, in practice we forbid deriving any kind of benefit from that which is prohibited (Mishnah Berurah, ad loc.) and therefore it is forbidden even to rent a car to a non-Jew with the intention that he use it to transport chametz. But it is permissible to rent him a car or utensils or a stove for no defined purpose and the non-Jew can do with them as he pleases.

Seder Night With Non-Jews
Passover is a festival of the Jewish People, and regarding the Passover sacrifice the Torah commands that no non-Jew partake of it. The story of R' Yehudah ben Beteira is well known (Pesachim 3b):
There once was a non-Jew that would go up [to Jerusalem] and eat from the Passover sacrifice. He said: "It is written, 'No stranger shall eat thereof, no gentile shall eat thereof' yet I managed to eat from the choicest portion of it."

R' Yehudah ben Beteira said to him, "Did they give you a portion of the fat tail?" He said, "No." R' Yehudah ben Beteira said: "When you go up there tell them that you want a piece of the fat tail."
Next time he went up he said, "Give me some of the fat tail." They said, "The fat tail is offered on the altar. Who told you [to ask for the fat tail]?"
He said, "R' Yehudah ben Beteira."

They said to themselves, "What is this that has come before us?" They looked into the matter and found that he was a non-Jew and they killed him. Then they sent a message to R' Yehudah ben Beteira: "Shalom to you R' Yehudah ben Beteira, you who are in Netzivim (Babylon) but whose net is spread in Jerusalem."

This story, however, refers to the Passover sacrifice, and, to our great sorrow, we have yet to merit the Passover sacrifice in our day. All the same, we do a number of things on Seder Night as if we were partaking of the Passover lamb. For example: (a) After the meal, we eat from the matzah (Afikoman) which has been kept under the covering, and each person eats the amount of an olive, in remembrance of the Passover sacrifice which too was eaten after the meal in a state of satiation (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 477). (b) We eat it while reclining. (c) It should be eaten before midnight. (d) It should not be eaten in two different places (ibid. 478). (e) Ideally, we eat an additional olive's bulk of matzah with it.

We do all of these things because we view the "Afikoman" as if it were the actual Passover Sacrifice. Therefore, in a situation where one has no choice but to bring a non-Jew to the Seder, the visitor should not be allowed to eat from the "Afikoman" matzah.

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