Chametz (also chometz, ?ametz, ?ame?, ?ameç and other spellings transliterated from Hebrew: / ; IPA: [?a'mets]) are foods with leavening agents that are forbidden on the Jewish holiday of Passover. According to halakha, 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 (cutting off).
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 (according to most opinions) and becomes leavened.
The adjective chametz is derived from the common Semitic root ?-M-?, relating to bread, leavening, and baking. The related noun chimutz is the process of leavening or fermenting. It is cognate to the Aramaic , "to ferment, leaven" and the Arabic ?am?, "acid", ?amu?a "to be sour", "to become acidic", "to acidify". This root relates to acidity and sourness in Hebrew as well, as the word chometz - ? - means vinegar, and the word chamootz - ? - means sour.
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.
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 which do so: ?ittim, Kusmin, Se'orim, ? Shibbolet shual, and Shippon (shifon). After that the Talmud groups them into two varieties of wheat ( ?ittim, Kusmin) and three varieties of barley ( Se'orim, ? Shibbolet shual, and Shippon (shifon). Since European medieval times, the following translations are widely accepted in Orthodox Jewry: ?ittim-wheat, Kusmin-spelt, Se'orim-barley, ? Shibbolet shual-oats, and Shippon (shifon)-rye. 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 matzo to fulfil the biblical obligation of eating matzo 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 rule 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 Jerusalem Talmud (Pesachim 1:1), when any other cultivated grain from the mediterranean climate regions (of Israel or Iraq) is exposed to water it begins to decay or rot; this process is not chimutz, but sirachon.
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 is 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 chametz 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 kareth, one of the highest levels of punishment in Jewish tradition, for eating chametz on Passover (Exodus 12:15). 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.
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:
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 it. 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.
According to halakha (Jewish law), 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 a Jew during Pesach). Such chametz must be burned, since no benefit is allowed to be derived from it, not even by selling it to a non-Jew. Chametz she'avar alav haPesach may not be eaten by Jews after Pesach. If a store owned by a Jew is known not to have sold its chametz, a Jew may not buy any from that store until enough time has passed in which it can be assumed that the inventory has changed over since Pesach.
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 not only from products of the five grains but also kitniyot (lit. small things), which refers to other grains or legumes. Traditions of what is considered kitniyot vary from community to community but generally include rice, corn, lentils, and beans. Many include peanuts as well.
Two common theories for this custom are that those products are often made into products resembling chametz (such as 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 ("how it appears to the eye"). While not against the laws of Passover to consume kitniyot, a person eating them might be mistakenly assumed by others to be consuming chametz against the law, or the observer might erroneously conclude that chametz was permitted. To avoid confusion, they were simply banned outright.
Although kitniyot cannot conceivably become chametz, there are authorities such as the Vilna Gaon 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 these reasons, those authorities suggested that by avoiding eating kitniyot, people would be better able to avoid chametz.
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. 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 rabbi. 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.
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 Hasidic Jews will not eat matzo that has become wet, including matzo balls and other matzo meal products although it cannot become chametz. Such products are called gebrochts (Yiddish: broken), referring to the broken or ground matzo used for baking or cooking. Instead of matzo meal, they use potato starch in cakes and other dishes. The Hebrew term for gebrochts is matzo sh'ruyah (Hebrew: , soaked matzo), but outside Israel, the Yiddish name is usually the one that is used.