Friday, April 11, 2008


I think, more than anything about Judaism that fascinates me to no end is the question of origins. Naturally this includes the big questions about the universe, the Jewish people, the Torah and so on - but also the relatively smaller questions. Why was pork forbidden as an unclean animal? What is tzitzit? Why circumcision? Why Shabbos? Who wrote this or that prayer and what does it mean? Why do we fast on Ta'anit Esther? Why don't we cut our hair during Sfira?

What is often most fascinating about all this is the very different answers you may get from traditional sources as compared to academic scholarship, assuming the origins aren't lost in the sands of time. As I brought the question up recently on XGH's blog - why is Chanukah eight days long? The Talmud says because the oil miraculously lasted that long. What says historical sources like 2 Maccabees? Because they were celebrating Succos in Kislev. Back in Tishrei when they were at war, the Temple was impure and they couldn't do it properly so they translated the eight days of Succos + Shmini Atzeret into Kislev and established a holiday. Understanding the true origins of a practice usually makes it that much more meaningful.

Anyway, I was wondering recently about the origins of the feather, wooden spoon, and candle deal that is traditionally used for bedikat chametz. I figure it's probably kabbalistic, but I haven't been able to track it down. What are the objects supposed to signify? A gold star to whomever can give me the answer.


Frum Heretic said...

What's the mystery? Flashlights weren't available way back when, a feather can pick up fine particles (not that you really need to), and a wooden spoon is a handy receptacle in a time when there were no plastic bags or similar cheap containers that could be disposed of. Remember, everything is getting burnt later.

No need for kabbalah, although here's one that I just made up:

Candle (ner) + spoon (kaf) + feather (notzah) = 501. This is the same gematria of

דצ"ך עד"ש באח"ב

Now we know that using these three implements are halacha Moshe miSinai, and probably go back to Avraham Avinu (who we know kept Pesach). Thus, Hashem knew that B'nai Yisroel would use them to remove their chametz (=nullify their yetzer harah even though they were at the 49th level of tumah), and thus they were zocheh that He would eventually bring the eser makos against our enemies!

(Well what do you want for a spur of the moment vort...)

Lubab No More said...

I too was under the impression that the reasons was simply practical. (Need light to search and a crude broom/dustpan to collect). "Rite and Reason" by Shmuel Pinchas Gelbard seems to support that idea with the candle and the feather. There may be a reason for the spoon however. (With the exception of the "Reason" for the wooden spoon my notes below are not verbatim).

A Wax Candle (pg. 355)
Shulcan Aruch says to use a wax candle and not one made of fat or oil.
Reason: Fat might drip on utensils making them unkosher. We don't use oil for fear it will stain clothes.

A Feather (pg. 356)
Some people use a feather...
Reason: To sweep the crumbs of chametz out of crevices and holes (Mishnah Berurah).

A Wooden Spoon (pg. 357)
Some people add a wooden spoon to the burning of the chametz on Erev Pesach.
"Reason: We burn the chametz on Erev Pesach to satisfy R. Yehudah's view that chametz must be destroyed by burning. R. Yehudah derives this from the law of nosar [the leftover parts of a sacrificed animal]. Just as nosar is burned in a wood fire, so also we must burn the chametz with wood."

BTW, I'm a big fan of this sefer. I hope this helps.

Orthoprax said...


The candle makes sense, but the feather and wooden spoon thing just seem strange. You think people had these things just sitting around and figured to use them particularly because they are flammable? Though the reference to nosar is enlightening.

But even then you have to take care not to make any anachronistic distortions. We refer the wearing of kippot to the Gemara too, but that didn't become popular until centuries later.

Were people using the feather before the MB was written? Probably, right? Might be a backwards explanation. And if not - how did these items become set in ritual as they are? Why _these_ items? Just luck because they made it into the MB?

Lubab No More said...

Yeah, the fact there is so little information on this ritual suggests to me that it may be a relatively new custom. MB might just be giving a straight forward explanation. Maybe feathers were simply a cheap, disposable, kosher-for-Peasch alternative to the brooms and brushes which were probably full of chametz. Maybe the same goes for the spoon. Who knows?

Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. :)