I’m Embarrassed to Tell You How I Cleaned the Pacifier

I’m Embarrassed to Tell You How I Cleaned the Pacifier

20 years ago, when my oldest child was a few weeks old, I took her to the baby clinic to get a vaccination. When I was sitting in the nurse’s cubicle, my baby’s pacifier fell out of her mouth and onto the ground. I picked up the pacifier, stuck it into my own mouth to wash it off, and then placed it back into my baby’s mouth…

The nurse, nearly shaking from shock, did her best to keep her voice calm: “Geveret, you shouldn’t put your baby’s pacifier in your mouth. Your baby is sterile! And your mouth is not…”

That means it’s been 20 years since I washed off a pacifier in my mouth…but I’ve been thinking of that story a lot this week, as it relates to the best explanation I’ve ever heard of a question I’ve had for many years:

Why do we Jews go ballistic over a microscopic crumb of chametz on Passover, but next week bread, pretzels, cookies, and crumbs galore will once again be Glatt Kosher?

In a lecture given by Rena Tarshish, she explained the following:

When babies are newborns, they are extremely vulnerable. That’s why delivery rooms are kept completely sterile, and why, for those first days of life, we try to keep that newborn baby in as sterile an environment as possible.

But as the baby grows up, we allow his surroundings to be less and less sterile.

We can see this in the way the average mother reacts when her baby’s pacifier falls on the ground…

For a newborn, she sterilizes the pacifier in boiling water.

After that first month, she rinses it off with soap and water.

But by the time that baby is a few months old, she likely just picks up that fallen pacifier, brushes it off a little, and places it back in her baby’s mouth.

So too, Rena Tarshish suggests, with the Jewish people.

When we were a newborn people, escaping from Egypt on that first Passover, Hashem knew we needed, like a newborn baby, to be kept in a strictly sterile environment.

Any crumb of chametz, which represents the evil inclination, could do great harm to our newborn nation.

But as babies grow up, it’s actually not healthy to keep them in a sterile environment. Coming into contact with germs and illnesses helps the baby develop resistance and a vigorous immune system.

That’s why, as a newborn nation this Pesach week, Hashem keeps us in an incubator or purity and goodness–100% chametz-free.

But next week, and for the rest of the year, our encounters with impurity and even evil don’t weaken us, they are intended to ultimately make us stronger, more resilient. A nation with grit.


  1. This is great! Thank you!

  2. Yael Maizels

    I disagree with your nurse. When you give birth, the baby goes through the birth canal and is covered in good bacteria, then it nurses and you transfer good bacteria into its digestive system. You populate your baby with bacteria inside and out from day one. Your baby is never sterile. Obviously it’s important to protect them from bad bacteria, but mother and baby are supposed to share from the beginning. It’s called the microbiome. Yael Maizels PhD.

    • JewishMom

      cool, so dr. maizels (/rebbetzin/jewishmom), to clarify, is it actually OK to put your baby’s pacifier in your mouth?

      • what was Dr Yael Meizels reply?
        love you, Chaya Malka

      • I imagine that putting the pacifier in your mouth is not the problem, it’s (possibly) thinking that you have cleared off all the bacteria from the floor by doing so.

        But I would do the same, in fact scientists verified that the 5-second rule has validity…

      • Yael Maizels

        Missed this. Basically what the poster below said. If your kids pacifier fell on the floor it might get bacteria on it, that bacteria won’t necessarily be cleaned off entirely by your mouth, but some of it will be. Putting the pacifier in your mouth definitely does not expose your baby to bacteria it has not been exposed to until that point.

  3. I always put it in my mouth before my baby! Dusted off first with my hand. I did it with all my kids: lets think about all the gazillion times a crawling baby will drop their dummy and put it back into their mouth without cleaning it ;-))

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