Play Doh Anniversary and Story
Today the local paper marked 50 years since Play Doh was invented - by a NJ nursery school teacher, it turns out. I loved my Fun Factory as a kid, and so did my kids when they were young enough and unjaded enough to enjoy toys that weren't electronic (for the boys) or doll accoutrements (for Shayna). I hope Play Doh continues to hold its own in our overcomplicated world. Except on Passover, of course, when it's considered, in the words of recent kashrus guides, "100% edible chametz".
Which brings to mind a rather uncomfortable situation we had several years ago where social etiquette and halacha clashed. This is along the same lines as the story OrthoMom told last week. In our case, we invited some non-Ortho cousins for dinner on one of the intermediate nights of Passover. We had asked them not to bring any food gifts, and thought we were safe. So what happened; instead of food, they came with toys for the kids, including - you guessed it - Play Doh!
What made this even more difficult to handle than a typical case of being at a non-kosher affair/party, is that chametz is not only forbidden to eat on Passover, but forbidden to own or derive any benefit from. So we could not even allow them to leave the Play Doh in our house, or in any way indicate that we were taking ownership of it. On the spur of the moment, I explained as politely as I could that since Play Doh was edible and made from dough, we couldn't have it around on Passover. They understood and quietly put it back in their car. It wasn't optimal for us to be complacent in their continuing to own the chametz either, but I couldn't see any way out of that one.
Of course, as soon as Passover was over, they came by again and dropped off the Play Doh! At this point, given the trouble they had already taken, I couldn't bring myself to raise any further complications, so we simply thanked them for the gift. The issue now was that since the chametz had been owned by Jews over Passover, it remained forbidden for us to benefit from, even to the extent of us re-gifting it to gentile neighbors. But I couldn't bring myself to throw a brand new toy in the garbage either - it seemed like such an inexcusable waste. In the end, I left it on a street corner with a note saying "free" in English, along with another note in Hebrew explaining that it was chametz owned by a Jew on Pesach.
Don't know whether any of my actions here were "perfect". But if nothing else, I taught the kids a good object-lesson in the importance of trying to balance issues of religious law, people's feelings, and wasting food... or Play Doh, anyway!