The comments I received after my post about Pesach in Hotel led me to re-read Bat Sheva Marcus' article in the New York Jewish Week, which started the whirl of debate. There was much there that I could sign off on, until I reached the following paragraph:
Much of the responsibility for this new trend, it seems to me, has to fall on the shoulders of our rabbis and leadership. If our rabbinic leaders in the last decade had spent their time working out easier, halachically acceptable solutions for the myriad of tasks involved in Passover instead of engaging in the one-upmanship in stringency that has characterized the development of Pesach preparation, we might find ourselves in a very different place. Perhaps if we were told that the spring cleaning was optional, that making something kosher for Passover is not rocket science, and that so much of what we buy and cook can be easily adapted for Passover, maybe we wouldn’t find ourselves a community feeling like it needs to run away for the holiday.
This has got to be one of the most gratuitous swipes at the rabbinate that I have ever encountered. Every first year Semikha student knows the story of the rabbi whose wife threw him out of the house Erev Pesach because if she were to listen to him (i.e. Halakha) the house wouldn't be Pesachdig. Outside of the realm of kashering and products, the rules for pre-Pesach preparation are a matter of folklore and custom. Now, these are integral parts of an ongoing tradition and of the mimetic culture to which I referred in my post. Much of it is critical to the education of the next generation, since sights, smells and sounds are deeply ingrained in the emotional memory of children. However, these cleaning strictures were not foisted on an unsuspecting public by a cabal of reactionary, primitive rabbis. They express deeply held feelings (at least, in the past) about the larger significance of Hametz and non-Hametz.
I will grant Ms. Marcus that ultimately much of this has a distant halakhic basis. Rav Soloveitchik zt'l used to note that the halakhic strictures of Pesakh are due to the fact that even the smallest amount of Hametz renders food unfit for consumption ('assur be-mashehu'). This, in turn, is a result of the fact that consumption of Hametz varries a punishment of 'karet.' Nevertheless, it's a long way from there to spring cleaning. Miles, in fact.
Now, it is a fact that in the area of foodstuffs there are some amazing Humras floating around. In Israel, most of these revolve around kitniyot (In the US it seems that the issue is the Hasidic hijacking of restaurants wherein those of the Misnagdic persuasion can't get a knaidel to save our lives.) These deserve separate treatment. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile noting that recent research by my friend and colleague, Professor Menachem Friedman, has shown that the rise of 'mahmirim' in the religious world was as much predicated upon the search for humras by members of the community as upon their own jurisprudential proclivities (perhaps more so). [I suggest reading this article and this one as well to understand the point.]
In light of this, I have to chalk up this intemperate outburst to misinformation and anti-clerical sentiments that are rooted elsewhere. Certainly they have nothing to do with Pesach.