Shabbat Parashat Vayikra | 5769
Ask the Rabbi
Question: Must someone in charge of a shul do bedikat chametz in the shul in addition to telling people to remove any chametz from their places?
Answer: The Yerushalmi (Pesachim 1:1) says that shuls and batei midrash need bedikat chametz because certain meals are held in them. The Tur (Orach Chayim 433, accepted by the Shulchan Aruch, OC 433:10) says that shuls of his time required it because small children would bring in food. Major Acharonim (Magen Avraham 433:19; Mishna Berura 433:43) say that this is to be done with the rules of bedikat chametz, such as doing it on the night of the 14th by candle light. The Shulchan Aruch Harav (433:36) and Mishna Berura (ibid.) complain that shamashim are not sufficiently careful to do this bedika on the 14th at night.
Let us take a better look at the reason for this bedika. In general, there is a machloket Rishonim why we need to do bedikat chametz. Rashi (Pesachim 2a- see Ran, Pesachim 1a) says that it is to avoid the prohibitions of bal yeira’eh bal yimatzei (=byby; not to possess chametz on Pesach). Tosafot says that Chazal instituted bedikat chametz to distance people from coming to eat chametz.
It is unclear if the first reason applies to chametz that might have been left behind in a shul. The Chidushei Hagahot (on the Tur, ibid.) says that without the precedent of the Yerushalmi, we would say there is no need for bedika in shul, as byby could not apply to a public place that is not owned by an individual. The Perisha (433:11) says that we would have said that byby and bedika do not apply because whatever is left there becomes hefker (rendered ownerless). He points out that we see that the Yerushalmi assumes that we are more stringent regarding shuls than the regular rules would indicate. The Da’at Torah (on the Shulchan Aruch ibid.) seems to assume that the problem is that the community becomes partners in whatever is left in shul and that partners can violate byby in their joint possession. However, he questions whether there is much chance that there will be a significant amount (k’zayit per person), which would cause that issue.
The Aruch Hashulchan (OC 433:12) and Da’at Torah (ibid.) assume that, specifically in shul, the bedika was instituted because of concern that someone will come to eat it and, therefore, neither is convinced that one should make a beracha on it. This is because the main institution of bedikat chametz with a beracha was for possibilities of byby. The Shulchan Aruch Harav and Mishna Berura (ibid.) say that one should do it with a beracha. Many suggest (see Yechaveh Da’at I, 5) that to remove oneself from doubt of a beracha l’vatala, he who checks the shul should check first his house and then go directly to the shul to check there based on the original beracha. The traveling is not a hefsek (break) regarding the beracha.
Some hold that bedikat chametz in shul is not a public obligation per se but that we are concerned that whoever might have left chametz such as a father of the young child we mentioned) would violate byby. The shamash is obligated to look out for members who might unknowingly be in that situation, and, in any case, whoever else is willing to help may search with a beracha on behalf of nondescript others (see B’er Sarim IV, 68-69; Kinyan Torah Bahalacha V, 33).
Based on the above, it is logical that bedikat chametz in shul is an exception to the rules. Therefore, one can claim that there is not a similar obligation of formal bedika in other public facilities. However, we do note that Rav Ovadya Yosef (Yechaveh Da’at I, 5) assumes that public institutions such as bus companies and airlines should check their vehicles just as a shul does.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld
Hemdat Yamim is endowed by
and Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.