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Chametz, also Chometz, Ḥametz, Ḥameṣ, Ḥameç and other spellings transliterated from Hebrew: חָמֵץ / חמץ (IPA: [χaˈmets]), are leavened foods that are forbidden on the Jewish holiday of Passover. According to Jewish law, Jews may not own, eat or benefit from chametz during Passover. This law appears several times in the Torah; the punishment for eating chametz on Passover is the divine punishment of kareth ("spiritual excision"), one of the severest levels of punishment in Judaism. For non-Jews, this punishment would be understood as the equivalent of eternal damnation.
Chametz is a product that is both made from one of five types of grain and has been combined with water and left to stand raw for longer than eighteen minutes and becomes leaven.
The word chametz is derived from the common Semitic root Ḥ-M-Ṣ, relating to bread, leavening, and baking. It is cognate to the Aramaic חמע, "to ferment, leaven" and the Arabic حمض ḥameḍ, "to be sour", "to become acidic".
- The positive commandment to remove all chametz from one's home (Exodus 12:15).:§9
- Not to possess chametz in one's domain. (Exodus 12:19, Deuteronomy 16:4).:§11, 20
- Not to eat chametz, or mixtures containing chametz (Exodus 13:3, Exodus 12:20, Deuteronomy 16:3).:§12, 19
The prohibitions take effect around late morning on the eve of Passover, or the 14th of the month of Nisan, in the Jewish calendar. Chametz is permitted again from nightfall after the final day of Passover, which is the 21st day of the month and the last of the seven days of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 13:6). Traditional Jewish homes spend the days leading up to Passover cleaning and removing all traces of chametz from the house.
All fruits, grains, and grasses for example naturally adhere wild yeasts and other microorganisms. This is the basis of all historic fermentation processes in human culture that were utilized for the production of beer, wine, bread and silage, amongst others. Chametz from the five grains is the result of a natural microbial enzymatic activity which is caused by exposing grain starch—which has not been sterilized, i.e. by baking—to water. This causes the dissolved starch to ferment and break down into sugars which then become nutrients to the naturally contained yeasts. A typical side effect of this biological leavening is the growth of the naturally-adhering yeasts in the mixture which produce gaseous carbon dioxide from glycolysis which causes the fermented dough to rise and become increasingly acidic.
The five grains
According to the Talmud, chametz can only consist of grains of two varieties of wheat and three varieties of barley which begin to rise when exposed to water. The Talmud—the Jerusalem Talmud in regard to the Land of Israel and the Babylonian Talmud in regard to the Persian Empire—lists the following five grain varieties as the only ones who do so: חיטים Ḥittim, כוסמין Kusmin, שעורים Se’orim, שיבולת שועל Shibbolet shual, and שיפון Shippon (shifon). After that the Talmud groups them into two varieties of wheat Triticum (חיטים Ḥittim, כוסמין Kusmin) and three varieties of barley Hordeum (שעורים Se’orim, שיבולת שועל Shibbolet shual, and שיפון Shippon [shifon]). Since European medieval times, the following translations are widely accepted in Orthodox Jewery: חיטים Ḥittim-wheat, כוסמין Kusmin-spelt, שעורים Se’orim-barley, שיבולת שועל Shibbolet shual-oats, and שיפון Shippon (shifon)-rye. Note: the latter types of grain, oats and rye, normally are not cultivated in the hot, dry subtropical climate, but in the colder, wetter temperate climate.
While oats are still generally accepted as the fifth grain since times of medieval European Jewry, modern research suggests that what has been traditionally translated as "oats" is in fact a wild species of barley (Hordeum), or other grains. Although there have been no changes to normative Jewish law to reflect this, some rabbis take a stringent view and discourage the use of oat matzah to fulfil the biblical obligation of eating matzah at the Passover Seder.
Other than the traditional translation, some researchers today propose that only the grain species native to the Land of Israel can become chametz, which would render rye (Secale) out because it grows in colder, wetter climates. They offer other translations to the 5 grains. However, just as before, this research has had no effect on normative Judaism, which continues to accept the traditional translation.
According to the Talmud, when any other cultivated grain from the mediterranean climate regions (of Israel or Iraq) is exposed to water it begins to decay or rot, and does not rise (sirachon). (The use of these five grains also have other applications in Jewish Law, including their exclusive suitability for the production of matzah.)
Leavening agents, such as yeast or baking soda, are not themselves chametz. Rather, it is the fermented grains. Thus yeast may be used in making wine. Similarly, baking soda may be used in Passover baked goods made with matzoh meal and in matzoh balls. Since the matzoh meal used in those foods are already baked, the grain will not ferment. Whether a chemical leavener such as baking soda may be used with flour in making egg matzoh is disputed among contemporary Sephardic authorities. In accordance with those who permit it, cookies made with Passover flour, wine and a chemical leavener (the absence of water would make them similar to egg matzoh under the chometz rules) are marketed in Israel under the name "wine cookies" to Sephardim and others who eat egg matzoh on Passover.
The Torah specifies the punishment of karet (spiritual excision) for eating chametz, one of the highest levels of punishment in Jewish tradition. During Passover, eating chametz is prohibited no matter how small a proportion it is in a mixture although the usual rule is that if less than 1/60 of a mixture is not kosher, the mixture is permitted. If the dilution happened before Pesach, the usual 1/60 rule applies; however, Ashkenazi Jews apply this leniency only if the mixture is liquid.
Also, hana'ah (any benefit, such as selling) from some forms of non-kosher food is permitted, but no form of benefit may be derived from chametz during Passover. Mixtures containing less than 50% chametz and not eaten by normal people (medicine or pet food, even if it is perfectly edible) may be owned and used on Passover but may not be eaten.
Removal of chametz
In addition to the Biblical prohibition of owning chametz, there is also a positive commandment to remove it from one's possession. There are three traditional methods of removing chametz:
- Bi'ur: destroying one's chametz. All appropriate methods[specify] of destruction are included in this category. On the night preceding the 14th of Nisan, a formal search of the house known as bedikat chametz ("search for chametz") is conducted by candlelight. The chametz found in this search is burned the next morning, in a formal bi'ur ceremony.
- Bittul: nullifying one's chametz. On the night and again on the morning of the 14th of Nissan, at the formal bedikah and bi'ur respectively, the head of the household recites an Aramaic statement nullifying all chametz remaining in the family's possession. The statements conclude that the chametz "shall be nullified and considered ownerless as the dust of the earth." Bittul must be done before the prohibition of chametz takes effect; once five twelfths of the day have passed on Passover eve, bittul is no longer an effective means of removal, and any chametz that one discovers must be destroyed.
- Mechirah: selling one's chametz. Until five twelfths of the way through Passover Eve one may sell or give ones chametz to a non-Jew, and it is no longer one's responsibility. One who keeps the sold chametz in a household must seal it away so that it will not be visible during the holiday. After the holiday, the non-Jew generally sells the chametz back to the original owners via the agent; however, he is under no obligation to do so.
It is considered best to use both bi'ur and bittul to remove one's chametz even though either of these two methods is enough to fulfill one's biblical requirement to destroy one's chametz. Mechirah, which averts the prohibition of ownership, is an alternative to destruction.
In many Jewish communities, the rabbi signs a contract with each congregant, assigning the rabbi as an agent to sell their chametz. The practice is convenient for the congregation and ensures that the sale is binding by both Jewish and local law.
For chametz owned by the State of Israel, which includes its state companies, the prison service and the country's stock of emergency supplies, the Chief Rabbinate act as agent; since 1997, the Rabbinate has sold its chametz to Jaaber Hussein, a hotel manager residing in Abu Ghosh, who puts down a deposit of 20,000 shekels for chametz worth an estimated $150 million.
Chametz found during or after Pesach
According to Halakhah, if chametz is found during Shabbat or Yom Tov, it must be covered over until Chol HaMoed, when it can be burned. Chametz found during Chol HaMoed (except on Shabbat) should be burned immediately.
After the holiday, there is a special law known as "chametz she'avar alav haPesach," chametz that was owned by any Jew during Pesach. Such chametz must burned; no benefit may be derived from it at all, even by selling it to a non-Jew.
Chametz that was owned by a Jew during Pesach may not be eaten by Jews after Pesach. If a store owned by a Jew is known not to have sold its chametz, no Jew may buy chametz from that store until enough time has passed that it can be assumed the inventory has changed over since Pesach.
Additional Ashkenazi restrictions
Because of the Torah's severity regarding the prohibition of chametz, many communities have adopted stringencies not biblically required as safeguards from inadvertent transgression.
Among Ashkenazi Jews, the custom during Passover is to refrain from not only products of the five grains but also kitniyot. Literally "small things," kitniyot refers to other grains or legumes. Traditions of what is considered kitniyot vary from community to community but generally include rice, maize (corn), lentils and beans. Many include peanuts as well.
The origins of the practice are not clear. Two common theories are that those products are often made into products resembling chametz (cornbread) or that they were normally stored in the same sacks as the five grains and so people worried that they might become contaminated with chametz. The most common explanation, however, has to do with the Talmudic concept of Marit ayin (translated as "how it appears to the eye"). While not against the laws of passover to consume kitniyot, a person might be observed eating them and be thought to be eating chametz despite the law, or the observer might erroneously conclude that chametz was permitted. To avoid confusion, they were simply banned outright.
While it would seem ideal to eat foods that cannot conceivably become chametz, there are authorities[who?] who are concerned that Kitniyot might, in some way, become confused with true chametz. Firstly, cooked porridge and other cooked dishes made from grain and Kitniyot appear similar. Secondly, Kitniyot are often grown in fields adjacent to those in which chametz is grown, and these grains tend to mix. Thirdly, Kitniyot are often ground into a type of flour that can easily be confused with chametz. For theose reasons, those authorities suggested that by avoiding eating Kitniyot, people would be better able to avoid chametz. The Vilna Gaon (Hagaos HaGra, ibid.) indeed actually cites a novel source for this custom. The Talmud in Pesachim (40b) notes that Rava objected to the workers of the Raish Gelusa (the Exilarch) cooking a food called chasisi on Pesach since it was known to be confused with chametz. The Tosefos explain that according to the Aruch, chasisi are lentils and thus, argues the Vilna Gaon, establishes the basis for the concern of Kitniyot.
While the practice is considered binding in normative Ashkenazi Judaism, these items are not chametz and therefore are not subject to the same prohibitions and stringencies as chametz. For example, while there is a prohibition against owning chametz on Passover, no such prohibition applies to kitniyot. Similarly, while someone would not be permitted to eat chametz on Passover unless his life were in danger since it is a Torah prohibition, kitniyot is prohibited merely by the Rabbis, and so people who are infirm or pregnant may be allowed to eat kitniyot, on consultation with a Rabbinic authority. Furthermore, kitniyot is considered "nullified in a majority" so Ashkenazi Jews may eat food containing less than 50% kitniyot as long as the kitniyot are not distinguishable within the food, and the food was not prepared to take advantage of such a "loophole". However, many Ashkenazi Jews today hold to a standard not to eat food containing any kitniyot.
There is some movement among Conservative Ashkenazi Jews to cease to observe the tradition of kitniyot.
Sephardi Jews have no general restrictions. Some Sephardi Jews from Spain and North Africa (for example, Moroccan Jews) have different restrictions, such as avoiding rice during Pesach.
At Passover, some Hassidic Ashkenazis will not eat matza (unleavened bread) that has become wet, including matza balls and other matza meal products although it cannot become chametz. Such products are called "gebrochts" or gebrokts, a Yiddish word meaning "broken" referring to the broken or ground matza used for baking or cooking. Instead of matzo meal, they use potato starch in cakes and other dishes. The Hebrew term for gebrochts is "matza shruya," (מצה שרוייה, "soaked matza"), but outside Israel, the Yiddish name is usually the one that is used.
- Sefer ha-Chinuch
- Jeffay, Nathan (April 1, 2009). "Pesach Kitniyot Rebels Roil Rabbis As Some Ashkenazim Follow New, Permissive Ruling" (News, Community News). The Forward Association, Inc. Retrieved 11 March 2015.
- Ahren, Raphael (April 15, 2011). "Efrat rabbi tilts against Passover food restrictions for Ashkenazi Jews" (Home - Weekend - Anglo File). Haaretz Daily Newspaper Ltd. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
- How To Prepare For Passover / Pesach
- Gil Marks (2010-11-17). Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. ISBN 9780470943540.
- Bar-Hayim, David. "Interview of Rabbi David Bar-Hayim Shlitta about Five Grains". TagMehirTzedek. Retrieved 20 April 2016.
- Rabbi Ovadia Yosef permits it since the baking soda produces its own carbon dioxide rather than causing the grain to ferment while Rabbi Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron and others prohibit it. The question is purely academic to Ashkenazic rabbis since traditionally, most Ashkenazim do not egg matzoh on Passover.
- Shulchan Aruch OC 447:4, and Rema
- Shulchan Aruch OC 442:4, SA Harav OC 442:22, Rambam Chametz Umatza 4:12
- Exodus 12:15
- Shulchan Aruch OC 434:2, 443:1
- Shulchan Aruch OC 443:1, 445:2
- Mishnah Berurah §434
- "Laws of Selling Chametz".
- "The Muslim guardian of Israel's daily bread". The Independent. 6 April 2009. Retrieved 2009-04-19.
- Rema, OC 453:1
- "Va'ad Ha'Halakhah - English Summaries (Volume 3)". Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. Retrieved 2009-04-19.
- IsraelNationalNews: In Time for the Holiday: What is Matzah? How is it Baked?: "According to Jewish Law, once matzah is baked, it cannot become hametz. However, some Ashkenazim, chiefly in Hassidic communities, do not eat [wetted matzah], for fear that part of the dough was not sufficiently baked and might become hametz when coming in contact with water."
- Etymology of "chametz" from balashon.com
- "The Symbolism of Chametz" by Rav Alex Israel, at the Virtual Beit Midrash
- Are oats really one of the five species of grains?
- Chametz and Pesach Products
- Chametz Wizard at chabad.org
- How To Search for Chametz (Bidikat Chametz) by about.com
- Chametz FAQ by AskMoses.com
- Rabbi Eliezer Melamed - Peninei Halacha - The Laws of Chametz