- Question: [Sunday, 4th Nissan 5783]
What is the deal with using sugar for Pesach? I have heard that some don’t use it at all while others pre-boil the sugar before Pesach. What should I do?
If the sugar contains a good rabbinical supervision for Pesach, then there is no issue with using it. This applies, even according to Chabad custom. Nonetheless, some are stringent to not use sugar at all, or to pre-boil the sugar before Pesach. You are not required to adapt these customs if you do not wish to.
Explanation: In previous times the manufacturing of sugar often contained flour contamination, and hence was a worry of Chametz. This was either due to being 1) manufactured in similar plants as flour, or 2) due to intentional contamination being that in certain countries flour was cheaper than sugar and hence they would mix the powdered sugar with flour, hence cheating the consumers, and creating a real problem for Pesach or 3) due to being cooked and dehydrated in Chametz pots. Due to this, we already find in the times of the Shulchan Aruch and later Rishonim, a discussion regarding which sugars may be used for Pesach and which may not, depending on the above worry of flour contamination. The final ruling in the Poskim, in those times, was that sugar of all sorts should not be eaten during Pesach, and that therefore the custom is to sell it to a Gentile before Pesach, due to the worry of the Chametz contamination.
With time, however, we find that they began manufacturing sugar with rabbinical supervision and that this was relied upon for Passover. This already began in the times of the Noda Beyehuda, in the late 1700s. The Noda Beyehuda also stated that those powdered sugars which do not have the supervision are to be cooked before Pesach and may then be used.
All in all, we see already starting 250 years ago, that they began to swerve away from the general custom to avoid eating sugar on Pesach, either through having rabbinical supervision on the product to make sure that it does not contain flour infiltration, or through boiling it before Pesach.
Now regarding the Chabad custom: The Alter Rebbe in his Shulchan Aruch rules as does the Rama and other Achronim to prohibit or avoid the use of sugar during Pesach due to possible flour infiltration. Following this approach, the Rebbe Rashab avoided using sugar. Various reasons have been recorded regarding why the Rebbe Rashab still continued the custom to avoid sugar despite the fact that the main worry in the times of the Shlchan Aruch were no longer relevant. Rav Yaakov Landau OBM states that he explicitly heard from the Rebbe Rashab that this was due to suspicion that a Chametz ingredient powder was used in the boiling process, and hence the worry only applies to powdered sugar and and not to sugar cubicles. Others however state, as he negates, that this is due to worry that the workers would dip their breads into the sugar water, and there is thus a suspicion that a crumb of Chametz remained in the sugar. There is a story with the brother-in-law of the Rebbe Rashab who owned a sugar production plant and had made a specially supervised batch of sugar to be used by the Rebbe Rashab on Pesach, despite that even throughout the year there was no suspicion of Chametz in the sugar. When the Rebbe Rashab was brought the sugar cubical his face became stern with concern, and he followed to break open one of the cubicles, and unexplainably a wheat kernel fell out. Whatever the case, it is clear that the Rebbe Rashab did not eat sugar during Pesach.
As for the Rebbe’s opinion, when the Rebbe was addressed the question as to why this stringency [and custom of the Rebbe Rashab] to avoid sugar during Pesach was not recorded in Sefer Haminhagim at least in the form of “some are accustomed to avoid sugar etc.” the Rebbe responded, that he is not sure if this is a directive for the public to follow, and that if one knows for certain that there is no worry of Chametz in the sugar, then why should he avoid eating it.
From all the above, it is understood that a) the initial custom of avoiding eating sugar on Pesach is no longer applicable as the reasons no longer apply, and b) this applies even according to Chabad custom, c) and it is not necessary to boil the sugar before hand. Nonetheless, it is also understood that those who are accustomed to boil the sugar before hand are following a ruling of the Noda Beyehuda, which although not applicable by today’s sugars with a rabbinical supervision is an adaptive stringency. Likewise, it is also understood that those who completely avoid sugar during Pesach are simply following the original custom that was around in the pre-1800s to avoid all sugar on Pesach.
Despite the above letter of the law allowance to use sugar today, all sugar used today for Pesach should have a kosher for Pesach certification being that there are enzymes added to the process of sugar making which may contain Chametz. Sugars which are certified as kosher for Pesach do not contain this worry.
Sources: See the original ruling in the Rishonim and Shulchan Aruch in the negation of sugar: Admur 447:50; 467:19-20 [Uncooked sugar known as Hut-Sugar is not chametz, but custom to avoid and sell to Goy, however boiled sugar called Tzukar Kandel and sugar powder is Chashash Chametz]; Rama 467:8 [forbiddne to eat and even own, except for sugar kneidal]; Minhagei Maharash 37, 48; Maharil Pesach p. 132; Terumas Hadeshen 119; Taz 467:8 [explains Rama, and so rules Admur ibid]; M”A 467:9; Malbushei Yom Tov 467:8; Olas Shabbos 467:8; Chok Yaakov 447:34; 467:21 and 23; Elya Zuta 447:12 See regarding the eventual custom to permit sugar under rabbinical supervision or through boiling: Noda Beyehuda 24; Chayeh Adam 127:3; Nitei Gavriel Pesach 39:19 footnote 29; See regarding those who even today avoid sugar on Pesach as was the original custom: Chaver Ben Chaim 5 p. 106 that so was the custom of the Chasam Sofer; Rabbanim in Nitei Gavriel ibid footnote 28; Darkei Chaim Veshalom 566; See regarding the Chabad custom and custom of the Rebbe Rashab: Igros Kodesh Rashab 1:406; Sefer Hasichos 5700 p. 37; Toras Menachem Reshimos Hayoman p. 181 and Vol. 5:21 [that Rebbe Rayatz did not eat sugar]; Reshimos of Rav Yaakov Landau in Yagdil Torah 52:149; Shemuos Vesippurim 1:105; Likkutei Sippurim p. 232-233; Halekach Vehalibuv 2:216; Hamelech Bemisibo 1:307; Otzer Minhagei Chabad Nissan p. 50-54; Shulchan Menachem 2:267; Yimei Melech 3:948 See regarding the possible Chametz issues with sugar today: From the OU website “Due to the increasingly common use of Passover questionable processing aids used in the manufacture of sugar, OU Kosher has decided to limit the brands recommended for Pesach use, to those with the OUP symbol. Rest assured, if any OU certified granulated sugar was used in a Pesach product, (post-facto) those foods may still be considered kosher for Passover.” And “Sugar itself is made from sugarcane or sugar beets, which are not chametz (leavened grain) and are therefore technically permissible for Passover consumption. However, during the refining process, some types of sugar may be treated with agents such as cornstarch or other additives, which may not be kosher for Passover. Therefore, to ensure that sugar is kosher for Passover, it must be specifically certified as such by a reliable kosher certification agency. Many sugar companies offer Passover-certified sugar, which is produced under strict supervision to ensure that it meets kosher for Passover standards”