Israel's Safari Animals Are Keeping Kosher for Passover, and Loving It

It's that time of year and there is some logic to the weird Passover products, including kosher-for-Pesach pet food

Orangutan getting benignly possessive over matza at the Ramat Gan Safari Park, Israel, ahead of Passover 2017.
Orangutan getting benignly possessive over matza at the Ramat Gan Safari Park, Israel, ahead of Passover 2017. Tibor Jaeger

It's that time of year and Israelis are frantically cleaning their homes and eradicating any signs of chametz, as well as shopping for rabbinically approved Passover products. They are also spending small fortunes on special products for Passover, from the mandatory chocolate-covered matza for the kiddies to kosher cigarettes. And pet food.

Even the Safari Park in Ramat Gan acknowledges the week-long holiday. The animal cages, night quarters and pedestrian walkways of the gigantic zoo were cleaned as thoroughly as sanely possible, and the animals were shifted to special-for-Passover chow, where relevant.

Animals that normally get bread as a treat with their diet – including apes and elephants, for instance, and the aromatic goats and so on of the petting zoo – were moved to matza. Whatever you might feel about unleavened bread, see the video for animals enjoying it very much.

The animals in the free-range part of the zoo who eat normally grains that might harbor chametz have been moved to kosher-for-Passover fare, featuring corn and legumes, says the Safari, adding that it bought 13 tons of the stuff. Hope the animals like it.

It bears saying that this mania for cleaning the house top to bottom isn't a rabbinical dictate – dust isn't chametz, rabbis have observed in the past, and the sacrificial lamb isn't supposed to be the family slaving to scrub. Dipping newly bought dishes is required, for instance, after removing any sticky labels that might come between the item and the cleansing water, and a blessing needs reciting, because the dish was almost certainly made by goyim. But other areas are as gray as all cats in the dark.

Apes at the Ramat Gan Safari eating matza: Passover 2017 Ramat Gan Safari, Youtube

Pet food is chock full of unspeakable things, and chametz too. Thing is, while the Torah teaches compassion to animals, who also deserve to rest on Shabbat, for example, the animals are not bound to the mitzvoth that bind Jews, explain the rabbis. Animals are allowed to eat chametz during Passover without incurring divine wrath.

The snag is that a Jewish household may have rabbits or dogs or whatever but not keep chametz in the house during the week – nor may it host an animal enjoying chametz. And that, dear reader, is why observant households need to buy pet food that is kosher for Passover, not because their animal would sin, but because what is the family supposed to do – sell their furry beloved to a goy for a week?

"I have pet food without chametz. One supplier for instance sent an official opinion from a food chemist that the specific foods it sells (Happy cat and dog food), and Aquafin fish food, for example, do not contain chametz," says Shahar of Linker, a pet store in central Tel Aviv.

How much does he sell? Well, Linker is on Shenkin Street, which isn't the most observant of neighborhoods. "I have one guy who buys it every year," he observes.

Gorilla eating matza, April 2017
Sebastian Scheiner, AP

That cigarette was not made on Shabbat

As for humans, every Passover, Israeli companies come out with special products for Passover. In some cases, like Dubek cigarettes, toilet paper and medical marijuana, the products are exactly the same as the non-Passover ones.

The only difference is that a rabbi has certified that the product does not contain forbidden ingredients, such as chametz, was not boiled in its mother's milk, or wasn't made when Jews are supposed to be at rest.

Pressed on the question of kosher cigarettes in the past, Dubek explained frankly that some people just prefer everything they buy to be approved by rabbis. That evidently includes cigarettes they smoke during Passover week. For instance, observant Jews might appreciate the assurance that the glue binding the cigarette isn't based on chametz, not that it ever is, Dubek pointed out, but you get the idea.

As for toilet products such as paper, soap, and so on, the faithful and the companies explain that rabbis confirm the things weren't manufactured on Shabbat. That clears that up.

Chimpanzee enjoying his matza at the Ramat Gan Safari Park, Israel, ahead of Passover 2017.
Tibor Jaeger