Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Why "Biur Chametz"?

Not surprisingly, websurfers often find this site when searching for "chametz" (not to be confused with "searching for chametz" - see below). It currently appears on the first page of Google's results for "chametz", and it's been the number 1 result for "biur chametz" since shortly after I started the blog.

A while back, in a magnanimous attempt to help those poor souls seeking practical information but finding instead a useless weblog, I added a link to the OU's Passover information page. Still, I think I owe my readers a fuller explanation.

Nobody's ever actually asked me these questions, so I can't very well call them Frequently Asked Questions. I would call them Frequently Unasked Questions, but this is a family publication. Call them what you will, here they are:

Q: What does "Biur Chametz" mean?

A: It's Hebrew.

"Biur" means "Destruction, especially by fire". "Chametz" means "Leavened bread, of the sort Jews are forbidden from consuming or possessing during the Passover (Pesach) festival. Unleavened bread is called matzah."

Thus, "Biur Chametz" is "the destruction of leaven", an annual pre-Passover ceremony in which one's home must be rid of leavened products, at least a symbolic amount of which must preferably be burnt. This process begins with "Bedikat Chametz", "the search for chametz" (not be confused with a search for "chametz" - see above).

Q: What does "Zman Biur" mean?

A: "Zman" means "time", so "Zman Biur" means "destruction time". It refers to the deadline by which Biur Chametz must be completed, which is midmorning Passover Eve.

Q: Oh. What does that have to do with a blog?

A: Not much.

Q: Then why did you choose that name?

A: Dunno - I was starting a blog and needed a name quick. "Biur Chametz" met a few of my criteria:

  • For a Jewish/Zionist blog, I wanted a clearly Jewish name, preferably in Hebrew.
  • It's quirky, original, and not in use elsewhere.
  • It's a pun of sorts. In addition to "destruction", "Biur" can represent a different Hebrew word, a near-homophone with a different spelling, meaning "explanation". Several classical Jewish commentaries incorporate the word in their names: "Biur HaGra", "Biur Halacha". "Biur Chametz" is something of a satire on that.
  • I have a soft spot for a particular drasha (exegesis, creative interpretation) related to biur chametz and Passover in general. I won't go into it here, though.

Q: Any regrets?

A: Well, "Zman Biur" is a weird moniker. It bears no resemblance to any actual human name. Guess I'm stuck with it now.

Also, I feel a bit guilty about drawing all those hits from people geniunely seeking Passover information. This posting will hopefully draw many of those hits, since it mentions lots of chametz-related keywords. If you're one of those Pesach researchers, please accept my apologies for wasting your time. (Unfortunately, this posting will probably draw even more of them than before!)

Q: Incidentally, who are you really?

A: You don't expect me to answer that, do you? That's why I'm using a pseudonym!

All I will say is that the descriptions of myself which appear in this blog are generally accurate. I try to give as much detail as is relevant, while keeping it unlikely that anyone but my closest friends can guess who I am. As far as I know, only one person knows my "true identity", and that's because I let it slip once in a technical glitch. (You know who you are!)

Update (March 2006): Okay, now three people know who I am. As far as I know, that is.

Further update (March 2006): Q: How is "chametz" pronounced?

Update (July 2006): Make it five people.


A Simple Jew said...

Here is a related story I thought you might enjoy if you haven't seen it already:

A young man once came to the Alter Rebbe and asked, "Rebbe, what do I lack?" The Alter Rebbe answered, "You lack nothing. You are pious and a scholar. But you must rid yourself of the chometz, self-awareness, and arrogance. You must instill within yourself matzah, renunciation of self. By law, a vessel used for chometz with fire can be made kosher for Passover use only by being subjected to heat intense enough to make sparks fly, or until the outer shell is removed."

Zman Biur said...

Thanks for the story. I have heard versions of it, though other readers may not have.

Unfortunately, blogging can be difficult without a dose of "self-awareness and arrogance." "Renunciation of self" doesn't easily go along with public pontificating.

DovBear said...

I think I know the drash to which you referred above, and it confirms my original understanding of your name. Unless I am very wrong, you're out to destroy all that chametz, metaphorically, represents.

Zman Biur said...

You're right and you're wrong.

Your interpretation was part of what I had in mind in choosing the name. (Though, realistically, my aspirations are far more modest than "destroying all that chametz represents" - I'd settle for "some". And I'm not that violent; I prefer biur as explanation to biur as destruction.)

Yet the drash I'm referring to is a different one. As far as I know it's original to me, and I've published a brief version of it under my real name. One of these years I intend to write it up at greater length for an appropriate publication. (Any suggestions as to appropriate places to submit an analysis of the symbolic connotations of Passover?)