Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Rabbi's Pesach Stress

Why did your Rabbi cringe today when you approached him with that ladle?

Why does he start to tremble when people mention smoothtop stoves or granite countertops?

Is he ever going to have a normal expression on his face when someone mentions quinoa?

Yes, we are at the height of pre-Pesach rabbinic stress. It's all about the shailos (halachic questions).

I've written in the past about the stress that comes with answering shalos. It's hard to apply halachic principles to practical situations, and to be sure we have asked the right questions and understood the responses.

Certain types of questions are worse than others. Niddah questions, when a couple is having fertility problems. Yom Kippur fasting for people in poor health. And, yes, Pesach questions. We have established principles for leniency, but applying them is tough.

Example 1: "I inherited a used set of china from a relative who did not observe kashrut; can I kasher it for Pesach?"

For year-round use, the answer is easier; since the alternative to kashering would be to throw it out, and china is valuable, the argument for leniency due to hefsed (financial loss) is clear. But regarding Pesach, there is a rabbinic counter-argument: "You won't lose money if you save this china for year-round use." To which the congregant might respond, "But I don't have a nice set of china for the seder." Well, just how important is having such a set for the seder?

Example 2: "I was given a $50 bottle of Scotch for Purim. Can I include it in my sale of chametz?"

Following the view that one may sell bona fide chametz only in a case of financial loss, we now need to define financial loss. On the one hand, $50 is a loss – the congregant would never go out and spend $50 on liquor on his own. On the other hand, is it really such a loss? He pays annual tuition of $23,000 for his daughter's high school education, and he wouldn't blink if it was suddenly $23,050.

Example 3: "Can I drink Lactaid on Pesach? I get cramps from regular milk."

Assuming (as I believe major kashrut organizations do) that Lactaid poses a kitniyos problem, it is permitted for someone who needs to drink milk, and who cannot use regular milk. But define "needs to drink milk". And "cannot use regular milk", for that matter.

And the cases go on and on.

It's rare that I feel good about no longer being in the shul rabbinate, but pre-Pesach is one of those times…


  1. That's why rabbis get the big bucks, the unlimited kavod, and the best shidduchim for themselves and their kids.

  2. That's why rabbis get the big bucks, the unlimited kavod, and the best shidduchim for themselves and their kids.

  3. Shalom RosenfeldApril 4, 2012 at 2:25 PM

    קרב אל המזבח: שהיה אהרן בוש וירא לגשת. אמר לו משה-- "למה אתה בוש? לכך נבחרת

  4. Why should you feel stressed? Aderaba you should be happy an give thanks to Hashem that he gave you the ability and opportunity lilmod ulilamed lehorot halacha to your fellow Jews.

  5. Melech-

    And yet.

    Remember Sanhedrin 37a-b on the intimidation of the witnesses? The importance of the task does not remove from its gravity.