In a matter of hours, we will be preparing to retell the story of our people’s journey from bondage to freedom. In preparation for Passover, Jews all over the world are taking time to purge their homes of chametz, those dreaded morsels of leavened food that are forbidden during the week.
As we all prepare to observe Passover how we do, I have noticed an interesting phenomenon — this coming week seems to be the one week out of the year when Jews who would normally not think twice about eating a cheeseburger or a shrimp cocktail go out of their way to eat specifically hechshered Kosher for Passover food.
A mentor of mine who served a congregation in the south once shared a story of a phone call they received shortly before Passover began:
Rabbi, if I put matzoh meal in my crab cakes, will that make them Kosher for Passover?
My mentor had to take a minute to think because this isn’t necessarily a question a rabbi would expect to get. After a few moments of contemplation, my mentor replied:
Why not? If you don’t keep kosher during the rest of the year, but in observance of Passover you are taking steps to omit chametz, you are keeping your version of Kosher for Passover.
The dietary laws of Passover dictate that we do not eat food that has risen during the duration of the festival, but specific Passover dietary guidelines do not speak to traditional kashrut, traditional dietary laws. The same laws found in Leviticus that pertain to the everyday avoidance of various foods are the only guidelines we have for any food that isn’t specifically forbidden due to Passover.
That is all to say that I find it completely understandable when I hear Jews who normally do not keep any level of kashrut lament about how hard it is to keep Kosher for Passover, when they are trying to keep Kosher as well.
Passover is primarily a home-based observance, which invites us all to own our observance and to make our seders and our Passover observances our own. If you keep Kosher or Kosher-style normally, I would encourage you to continue to do so while integrating Passover guidelines as well. Those for whom a cheeseburger is a way of life, I would similarly invite you to make Passover observance your own — try to omit what Passover observance dictates without taking away the foods you would normally eat that fit under the Passover guidelines.
Reform Judaism espouses choice through knowledge — we are invited to think critically about what we do and why, and to create observance and ritual that are personally meaningful. Just as this evening we will make Shabbat our own as we celebrate Shabbat and our first night of Passover and just as we make each holiday and festival our own we can make Passover dietary observance our own as well.