Hamodia reporters researched three major centers– in the U.S., U.K., and Israel – to find out.
NEW YORK – Pesach Price Check $
by Ben Zion Wolff
The annual changeover begins the day after Purim, when food products are moved, shelves are lined, and the new line of Pesach products take the place of the candies and cookies which were set out for Purim. It may be a month before Pesach, but the shopkeepers are busy preparing for the onslaught of the upcoming Pesach season.
Although prices of some staples fluctuate during the year, the majority of food items have stabilized and are not expected to rise due to market forces, says the proprietor of a kosher supermarket on Coney Island Avenue in Midwood. “We had a spike in egg prices last year, when Pesach coincided with the secular holidays, and there was a shortage of eggs nationwide. That led to prices rising to almost four dollars a dozen, or $100 per case. But generally, the amount of eggs purchased by our community for Pesach does not have much of an impact on prices across the country. The price per dozen, while no longer 79¢ as it was in the past, is expected to remain at about one dollar or so, or in the mid-$30s for a case, which is where it was throughout the year.”
Eggs and other commodities, which must be bought fresh and have an expiration date, are directly impacted by a variety of market forces. For this reason, it is almost impossible to speculate where the prices will be in a week from now, as prices fluctuate constantly. But at this time, according to proprietors of several food stores contacted by Hamodia, there is nothing to suggest that we should experience a similar spike to last year’s.
UNITED KINGDOM – Pesach Price Check £
by Vicki Belovski
However, as the KLBD pointed out, the market has become increasingly competitive over the years with Israeli, American and French imports competing with local U.K. manufacturers. As a result, in real terms, Pesach prices have often dropped rather than increased. Many shops, both supermarket chains and kosher grocery stores, have special offers on basic items, which can also go a long way to keeping the total cost down.
For those who struggle to afford Pesach, the UOHC has a kimche dePischa, as do many individual shuls of all organizations. The United Synagogue is directly helping around 600 families, confidentially, through their local shuls, with options including vouchers for a supermarket, vouchers for a kosher grocery and food parcels. One of the main matzah manufacturers provides the U.S. with boxes of matzah to distribute to those in need.
So if the cost of your Pesach shopping trip is daunting, consider the amount of work that goes into producing high-quality supervised food, and the quantity of food you will be eating over Yom Tov (and into the following weeks!) and perhaps it won’t seem so bad after all.
ISRAEL – Pesach Price Check ₪
by Yossi Goldschmidt
In the run-up to Pesach, we recall the Gemara discussing Haman speaking to Achashverosh about his “Jewish problem” and why the king needs to agree to get rid of the Jews. One of the points with which Haman slandered the Jews before the king – which doesn’t sound different from what many say of the religious community until today — “They are good-for-nothing and lazy, for they are forever observing days of rest, pushing off work with the claim that ‘today is Shabbos,’ ‘today is Pesach.’ ”
The mefarshim explain that it is understood why Haman mentioned Shabbos, because that is every week, and the Jewish workers leave early on Friday, but why, of all the Yamim Tovim did Haman only choose to mention Pesach? The answer given by many is that preparations for Pesach are throughout the year, during summer and winter, and obviously in the weeks or months before — much more than other Yamim Tovim.
To learn a bit “behind the scenes” of the world of kashrus, notably in regards to the Pesach season, Hamodia held a wide-ranging discussion with noted kashrus expert Harav Dov Landau of Yerushalayim, who shared with us the fine details and the various she’eilos that can arise.
It is imperative to note that all points mentioned in this discussion are only halachah-based, and not at all regarding any minhagim. Pesach is based on minhagim and mesorah — and minhag Yisrael Torah.
The Rav notes that part of the “hotza’os Shabbos v’Yom Tov —expenses of Shabbos and Yom Tov” that we are accustomed to are the seemingly higher prices ahead of the Yamim Tovim.
In this conversation, we heard about the extra hashgachah that at times translates into extra costs, as well as practical steps to watch over the foods for Pesach.
Fruits and Vegetables
“Let’s begin with one important thing — there is no food today that doesn’t need to have a hechsher. The world has advanced to such an extent that anything can be made into something totally different, and therefore we will only purchase foods that have a proper hechsher.
“In fruits — aside from the issues of orlah, etc. in Eretz Yisrael — there are other things to take note of before Pesach. For example, some apples are waxed before being put out for sale. This wax might be chametz.
“Dates also need extra hashgachah for Pesach. The Rema writes in Hilchos Pesach that one shouldn’t eat dry fruit on Pesach. The reason given is that there is chametz on the fruits. Those who think, these days, that reason is no longer relevant are mistaken. Many dates, for example, receive glucose dripping before being marketed, and that could be chametz. Therefore, on Pesach one shouldn’t purchase dates without a hechsher that they are kosher l’Pesach.
“A she’eilah I have every year, generally on the first night of Pesach, is from those who buy sacks of fruit in the markets and all of a sudden realize that they didn’t take maasros from it, and now they have already cooked up the whole Yom Tov with these fruits…”
Milk and Milk Products
Rav Landau is a member of the Vaadat Mehadrin of Tnuva, and shares with us vital information regarding dairy products for Pesach.
“I hold, even though I am on the Vaadat Mehadrin, that one must purchase milk and dairy products before Pesach. Of course, we take much effort to ensure that the cows won’t eat chametz in the days before Pesach, but nevertheless there is a slight chance that something in the barn may get stuck to the cow or fall in the milk. All the milk is strained and is 100% kosher l’Pesach, yet I still say that those who want to be mehadrin should have all the products bought up before Pesach.”
Tnuva doesn’t milk during Chol Hamoed?
“Of course we milk during Pesach. There is also milking on Shabbos, as the halachah explicitly allows. There are years that we can ascertain that no milk is marketed as mehadrin during Chol Hamoed, only as regular kashrus. This year, with nearly a full week between the first day of Pesach and Shevi’i Shel Pesach, I don’t think it’ll be possible not to have fresh milk with a mehadrin hashgachah on the shelves. But obviously the milk and products that were milked before Pesach have a special stamp to show that they were manufactured before Pesach, and thus can be battel b’elef.
“Another issue that people aren’t aware of, found in cheese and other dairy products, is in regard to gebrokts. We all know of the minhag not to wet the matzah, or to place on it wet foods. What people might not know is that the sliced cheese they place on the matzah might be based on milk powder, as are many cheeses in Israel, due to lack of fresh milk, and this might render the matzah to be gebrokts. Those who are particular about gebrokts should inquire before Pesach which cheeses or butters have milk powder and which are purely milk, no water added.
“And obviously there are other dairy products that have flavorings or colors that are not kosher l’Pesach and need to be changed for the Pesach production. There are also products that are enzyme-based — a topic that warrants discussion on its own — and these must be kosher l’Pesach as well.”
Do you need to add mashgichim before Pesach in the dairy farms?
“What’s the question — we have extra teams who comb the barns to make sure that there is no chametz near the cows. There are two parts of that as well. The cows are no longer fed chametz from three to four days before Pesach, and there is also the food that they are fed during these days and the week of Pesach. This food needs to be prepared months in advance, with the supervision of a mashgiach. Actually, not only from the stage of preparation, from the earliest stages of its growth.
“The Poskim discuss if the milk of a cow who ate chametz is permitted, but all agree that if chametz falls into the milk it is forbidden, and a mashgiach is also needed for that.”
Chicken and Meat
Are the same she’eilos relevant to chickens?
“To eat the meat of a chicken that ate non-kosher food, or that even ate chametz on Pesach, or Shemittah fruits during Shemittah, is not a halachic problem. It is considered “zeh v’zeh gorem,” and is therefore permitted.
“What is more of a problem is that after the shechitah, the stomach of the chicken might burst, and if the chicken had eaten any chametz, even a minuscule piece, this will render the food not kosher l’Pesach. There are factories where they do not remove the gizzard from the chicken to ensure that it will not burst.”
We see people who are particular not to eat any processed foods on Pesach.
“It all depends where they’re coming from. If they are talmidei chachamim, they might know half of the reason why they don’t eat specific foods. If they are talmidei chachamim and are involved in kashrus, then they might know more.
“For example, there are those who will not drink Coca-Cola on Pesach. But wait: which wines/grape juice will they drink on Leil haSeder? Wines and grape juice have the same flavorings that are in Coca-Cola. If one takes a chumrah upon himself, they should know what stands behind it.
Bulk Sales and the Stores
In Eretz Yisrael, many are accustomed to having bulk sales ahead of Pesach, where people buy up for several months at the cheaper Erev Pesach prices.
But that came with a drawback. One needed to sign up weeks in advance, pay up front in cash, wait on the long lines for the products and all this in the pre-Pesach heat. And then comes the next stage and complicated operation: schlepping all the goodies home. Bear in mind that one day was the fruit order, the other day was the chicken, then the fish came from a different place — and those who sell weren’t always timing their sales with the cleanliness of the house, or the kitchen.
The expenses of Erev Yom Tov are exorbitant, and for larger families, it all adds up, and there is no reason to shop in a regular store where you will simply overspend or be overcharged, logic says.
Or maybe not?
In recent years, we hear from Reb Avraham Brisk, one of the managers of the Yesh Chesed supermarket chain, that they have collected all the products under one roof (no longer under the scorching sun…), and one can buy whenever he feels his kitchen is ready for the delivery.
There are certain advantages to the cheap bulk sales, but at that time the emphasis is on bulk and not on sales. At these larger sales, you can’t buy exactly the quantity you need; rather, it all comes in dozens or in containers, and at times, that is an expense, rather than a saving. And it isn’t just someone coming with food that is three days before the use-by date; rather, it is the regular quality products at the regular cheap prices.
Reb Avraham notes that having the larger families in mind, they keep their prices low, even with the slight rise that might occur in the Pesach foods. “There are foods in Israel that are under government supervision so that the prices stay low, like bread and basic milk products. But even for other foods, we keep the prices down.
“Most foods in Israel stay basically the same price come Pesach. Even though the companies will add to the costs, adding mashgichim, or changing some of the ingredients, the changes will be minimal, or even lower.
“The problem arises at times when there is a shortage of a certain food — and it might not specifically have anything to do with Pesach or chametz. There are several factors that might cause a sudden shortage in certain foods. The larger sales, selling foods by the dozen, can have an effect on the market, as these aren’t the regular numbers for the specific food. There are also the various minhagim on Pesach over which foods people eat, and this can cause a seeming shortage in some items. There are those who are particular to purchase all foods before the onset of Pesach, and that might also causes a certain food to be scarcer.
“Another reason for shortages, or artificial shortages, is the companies wanting to raise the prices last minute and utilize the momentum of the Erev Pesach season.”
What can be done to offset this?
“I would say to buy up early… but that’s what I just mentioned is the advantage of not being bound to specific days and schlepping.
“Ultimately, if you do hear of a specific food that is going to be running short, the only solution is to buy it now — based on storage availabilities — or to make a conscious decision to be able to make Pesach without it.”
From the perspective of a customer in the store, is Pesach more expensive?
“If you check item by item, the change in price is next to nothing. Why then, you may ask, are the Pesach purchases so expensive — at least in the experience? I think the reason is the quantities that people buy. I’m not referring to Pesach-specific items, which are certainly more expensive — or perhaps that is their price — but even regular items seem to be expensive. Based on my experience, even when shopping in the stores, people still come with the mindset of needing to buy a dozen packets or bottles, because anything less than that doesn’t ‘feel like Pesach.’”
Pesach is the Yom Tov most associated with chessed, perhaps due to it costing more than a regular Shabbos and Yom Tov. Another reason given in the sefarim is that the Shalosh Regalim are linked to the three Avos. Pesach resembles Avraham Avinu, who is known for his special middah of chessed. The passuk says on the Bnei Yisrael leaving Egypt and following Hashem in the desert, “Zacharti lach chessed ne’urayich, I remember the kindness of your youth … your following Me in the desert, in a land not sown.”
May we merit to have both a kosher and freilichen Pesach.