Weird Rituals – The Passover Telephone

If you visit Israel during Passover, or indeed many other parts of the world where there is a large Jewish population, you may notice that when you go into a store many of the items on the shelves will be covered by plastic or cloth.

The reason for this is that Passover, or Pesach as it is also called, celebrates the deliverance of the ancient Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Families join together in a festive ritual meal, called seder, that features the retelling of the struggle of the Jewish people to gain their freedom. According to tradition, because the Jews had to flee Egypt hurriedly, there was not time for the bread they were preparing to rise and they took the unleavened bread in their escape. Jews, therefore, eat only unleavened bread, or matzah, during the week of Passover.

Chametz is the Biblical term for ‘leaven’ and it describes any of the five grains, which includes wheat, barley, oats, rye, & spelt, that has come in contact with water, and left to rise for 18 mins.

So during Passover, the owners of kosher stores cover all chametz products so that customers will know they are chametz.  But it goes further than that, because the store owner can’t sell these products because they are not his or hers to sell, as the products don’t belong to the store owner for the period over Passover.

Jewish law prohibits a Jew from owning any chametz (non-Passover) items on Passover. There is even a special Passover beer available, which contains no grains. The items that are covered have been sold to a non-Jew for a small fee, in anticipation that the goods will be sold back to the shop keeper for the same price after Passover. Therefore since the products no longer belong to the owner, he or she can’t sell them as you can only sell something which belongs to you.    

However, so serious is an association with chametz during Passover, that many Orthodox practitioners keep a special telephone, called, you will be surprised to know, a Passover Telephone for use during Passover week.  During the other 51 weeks of the year, the Passover Telephone is kept well-wrapped, less it should come into contact with Chamtez in some way. Even a crumb is to be avoided, so keeping a special phone wrapped and locked away during the rest of the year ensures that it will remain kosher at a time when the only bread in a household will be matzah, and thus safe to touch and eat.

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