Recently, there has been an important, explosive discussion on an otherwise entertaining blog that is penned by the self-styled 'Renegade Rebbetzin.' The subject is ostensibly that of home preparation for Pesach versus spending the holiday at a Hotel. However, the author and her many corespondents included within the scope of the discussion the overall issues of Pesach stringencies and the popular identification of Pesach cleaning with Spring cleaning. JUdging from the remarkably virulent tone of the author, as well as that of those who commented, I have been hesitant to participate. However, as the question touches upon a broader issue that is of keen concern to me, I felt obliged to participate, post factum.
The phenomenon of families spending Pesach in a hotel, rather than at home, is an expression of the westernization of Orthodoxy and a key indicator of the significantly improved economic status of observant Jews. It also constitutes a further indication of decentralizing and specialization of Jewish observance. In other words, rituals and knowledge that had previously been home based are now transferred to specialists who provide them as a commercial service. This, of course, is not an unprecedented phenomenon. Professionalization has been a permanent moment in he history of Judaism (at least, Ashkenazic Judaism), since the late thirteenth century. However, it has long been my feeling that this development is not always salutary. On the contrary, I think that it has potentially negative effects upon present and future Jewish education, ethics and religiouslity.
Jewish religious life involves much more than punctillious observance of Halakha. It has an experiential aesthetic and that aesthetic is not only expressed in results but in preparation. In the present context, this is a maddeningly academic way of saying that the experience of Jewish life requires getting one's hands dirty with Shabbat/Holiday preparations. Only one who makes the effort on Erev Shabbat can truly eat on Shabbat. As Professor Haym Soloveitchik has noted on more than one occasion, the increase of Jewish observance and the greater emphasis on strict halakhic detail has been accompanied by the death of Erev Shabbat, Erev Yom Tov, Elul, and the Three Weeks. The observances are stricter, the texture is weaker.
Opting for Pesach in a hotel may well be satisfying spiritually in terms of the seder. However, what is lost is the anticipation created by Pesach preparations and the sense of tradition of preparing as one's parents and grandparents did. It also leads to functional ritual illiteracy on the part of children who don't have a clue how to 'make Pesach,' and results in alienation from a critical aspect of the holiday. In addition, consistent resort to hotels for Pesach assumes the capacity to pay for them. What of those who can't? [In addition, while hoteliers have the right to make a living, it bothers me deeply that so much money is spent on hotels when so many Jews barely have money for matzot.]
I am fully cognizant of the tremendous efforts that are require to prepare for Pesach (or for other holidays). In our house everyone contributes equally to the effort (much as we all work on baking hamentaschen, instead of buying them). I also categorically reject the extremes ogf Pesach 'insanity.' Nevertheless, it is my deeply held feeling that more is lost by the hotel phenomenon than is gained (though I don't reject the idea of occasionally resorting thereto. I am addressing the phenomenon of preparing for Pesach by making reservations.)