This year, with the need to physically distance and isolate ourselves collectively so as to curtail the spread of COVID-19, community has become something even more precious. We cannot gather around the seder table as we do most years. We cannot come physically to synagogues to make a minyan. Even shopping for kosher-for-Pasover foods has become more difficult, as shoppers take goods off the shelves.
This brings the issue of electricity on Shabbat and Yom Tov into sharper focus, and forces us to look at the issues at hand. Would using Zoom or similar software during Yom Tov be enough of a violation of Torah law that people who live alone and cannot have seder with family, spouses, roommates, or other companions should be forced to spend the first two nights of Passover in complete isolation?
Electronic devices like computers and smartphones are the quintessential instruments of chol, of the non-holy days. They are the devices that we use for writing, for work, and for reading the news. It is essential to keep all of those things temporarily out of our worlds when we enter holy times like Shabbat and Yom Tov.
On the other hand, they are also primary tools of communication, and this year is unlike other years. Circumstances allow for a certain level of using these devices to keep us connected with one another on seder night. In order to preserve the sanctity of Yom Tov, though, certain limitations are necessary.
- If you are going to share your seder, or join someone else’s seder, set up your device Wednesday before candle-lighting time (6:59 PM). Leave it running through Shabbat.
- Avoid writing. Do not use chat functions, or write in passwords during Yom Tov. If your computer is set to unlock only with a password when it goes to sleep after prolonged inactivity, change your settings so as to be able to wake your device with a click or a thumbprint.
- Shinui: Use a different finger than usual to use your mouse, press keys, etc. Maybe use a stick, or a knuckle, or some other thing so that you are not using your device in the usual ways.
- Use of the mouse to enter zoom conferences is permissible during this yom tov only.
Please keep these guidelines in mind if you decide to have seder with friends and loved ones who you do not live with, and wish to remain within the bounds of halachah.
My zoom conference will be open from 6:45 PM that day. Please join us then. Before candle-lighting time is ideal, but after is permitted.
If you have no other means of sharing a seder with others, I would love for you to join mine by clicking this link: [privacy deletion]
Or, if you do not have internet access, you may join by phone by dialing: [privacy deletion]
In regards to keeping kosher for Passover this year, it is inadvisable to travel to Brookline or to New York City to shop at a kosher market for items that are certified kosher for Passover. It is possible to adhere to the laws of chametz and matzah without those products. The key is to buy packaged non-chametz foods before Passover begins.
When other foods and food mixtures that Jewish law does not allow, such as milk and meat, non-kosher beef or poultry, pork and seafood, etc. are mixed with kosher food, as long as the kosher food is sixty times the amount of non-kosher food, the overall mixture is kosher. The non-kosher food is nullified (batel beshishim).
This rule does not apply to chametz on Passover. This is why there are non-grain products like milk, orange juice, cream cheese, etc., with “kosher for Passover” certifications.
But if we acquire our non-grain foods before Passover, the usual rule of batel beshishim, the one-sixtieth rule, does apply. We need to take advantage of that leniency this year.
KOSHER FOR PASSOVER FOODS IN PORTLAND
Here is a short, non-exhaustive list of foods that, if they are kosher the rest of the year, are kosher for Passover if bought before Passover even without Passover certification:
- Cheese, as long as it does not contain vinegar
- Cream cheese (The OU does not consider locust bean gum or carob bean to be kitniyot)
- Plain yogurt with no additives
- Jellies, jams, preserves. Ideally without corn syrup.
- Orange juice
- Coffee beans, unflavored
- Cocoa powder
- Cooking oils
- Maple syrup
- Unflavored nuts and seeds
- Dry fruit
Check that any matzah you buy is certified for Passover. There is non-Passover matzah in many stores’ kosher sections.
Shmurah matzah is not necessary for the seder.
Kosher-for-Passover foods, including matzah, are available at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Hannaford on Marginal Way and Forrest Ave. Kosher wine can be found at Trader Joe’s, and sometimes at Bow Street Beverage. Trader Joe’s carries kosher chicken and turkey. Whole Foods intermittently carries kosher chicken. They always have a supply of OU-certified cheeses, “The Cheese Guy” brand.
Rabbi Aaron Shub