Sisterhood Blog

Passover Cleaning and Sisters in Brillo Bondage

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

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People go crazy cleaning their houses for Passover.

There’s an edge of competitiveness to the kvetching when they say “Oh, Sammy brought chametz into the living room after I turned it upside down to clean it for Pesach (sigh),” or “I told Maddie to stay out of the closet I already cleaned but she got in there (sigh).” And that’s just the day after Purim.

I keep meaning to buy stock in an aluminum foil manufacturer because lord knows that consumption shoots up when people use it to cover every surface of their entire kitchens, which then look like something out of an early sci-fi movie.

There is what we have to do — the minimum to fulfill the requirements — and then there are the stringencies that have worked their way into the normative expectations of what we’re going to do to prepare our homes for the holidays.

I say it’s time to dial it down, and much to my surprise, I have company in the form of one Rabbi Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg, a Haredi legal authority in the fervently Orthodox Jerusalem neighborhood Kiryat Mattersdorf.

In an opinion posted here, he advises:

[T]oday, we seem to be caught in a trap. The average modern home is larger than formerly. Furniture, utensils and clothing are much more plentiful. The average home today could compare with the more affluent homes of previous generations. However, we do not have the servants that they had, so that, today, all the chores fall on the housewife. At the same time, she feels obligated to clean and scrub as they did formerly, even though she has laminated furniture and tiled floors, making this type of cleaning unnecessary. As a result of this, the pressure of pre-Pesach cleaning has reached unnecessary and overwhelming levels.

The good rabbi goes on to list what must be done, and what should be skipped (as in extra cleaning of pots and pans that are being put away and “sold” for Passover anyway).

There are psychological and for some, almost spiritual, aspects to the cleaning experience. I totally enjoy the purging of stale baking soda and the opened packages of crackers. I also appreciate the sense of satisfaction that comes from having a clean home.

But cleaning for Pesach has become a nearly fetishized ritual that spurs even more anxiety than we already have.

Over-cleaning for Pesach is a poor channeling of time and energy when we could be discovering cures for cancer, writing music, reading to our children, whatever.

There’s a funny short video, which can be seen below, making its way around. It shows a young girl, separated by glass from her mother, who appears to be in prison, asking, “When are you going to get out of here?” The mother answering, sadly, “In awhile,” before she turns away, saying, “I’ve gotta get back.” They both cry, “I love you.”

Then it shows that the mom was in a glass-enclosed bathtub, which she gets on her knees to clean.

The closing title says “Learn Hilchot Pesach (the laws of Passover) and make cleaning easy.”

I’m with that message, and say to my sisters enslaved by the bondage of Brillo and to the servitude of Scrubbing Bubbles, “Let My People Go.”


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