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Fired up about eliminating Jerusalem's chametz with the biur chametz ritual
Passover's distinguishing feature is the elimination of chametz - leavened grains - from the diet in favor of matza. Indeed, the first answer of the traditional Four Questions during the Passover Seder states that on all other nights of the year, Jews eat both chametz and matza, but during Passover, only matza.
But the prohibition against chametz, traditionally defined as any mixture of water and flour from wheat, rye, spelt, barley or oats that has been left to sit for more than 18 minutes, extends much further than the dinner table. In observant homes before Passover, the entire house is turned upside down for what is known as bedikat chametz, or checking for chametz, in a quest to root out every molecule of chametz that may be hiding in some dark nook or cranny, for the ownership of even a small amount of chametz during Passover is considered a sin. Turning out all the lights in the house and searching for pre-placed chametz with a candle, while making use of the lulav they still have left over from last year, or if not, a feather to sweep up what chametz found in each room in the house makes for a fun family experience, with the chametz kept in a bag so it can be disposed of the next morning.
Following bedikat chametz, observant Jews are enjoined to destroy any hametz they have found the next morning, usually by burning, known as biur chametz. In Jerusalem's Orthodox neighborhoods, residents create massive bonfires for this express purpose, allowing one and all to engage in a bit of pyromaniacal - and holy - fun. But almost all neighborhoods get in on the action too. The clear mountain air of Jerusalem suddenly smells like someone forgot to unplug the toaster, as middle-aged men with hibachis and others throwing yesterday's papers into burning dumbsters to help speed up the burning process, all get into the act. As the following slideshow demonstrates, it's quite a sight: