To Eat or Not to Eat ... What to Eat Is the Question

“You shall observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread, for on this very day I brought your ranks out of the land of Egypt; you shall observe this day throughout the ages as an institution for all time.  In the first month, from the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. No leaven shall be found in your houses for seven days. For whoever eats what is leavened, that person shall be cut off from the assembly of Israel, whether he is a stranger or a citizen of the country. You shall eat nothing leavened;  in all your settlements you shall eat unleavened bread.” (Exodus 12:16-20)

The Book of Exodus specifically mandates that “throughout the seven days (of Pesakh) unleavened bread shall be eaten.” Accordingly, any food that has become fermented is prohibited during Passover. These forbidden foods, and by extension, utensils that come into contact with these foods, are characterized in Hebrew as hametz, literally meaning “sour.” Although it may seem a simple matter to distinguish between what’s unleavened (matzah) and what’s leavened (hametz), it’s not always obvious. Hopefully, this will clarify what’s what:

HAMETZ (LEAVENED, or NOT OK TO EAT)
  • Wheat
  • Barley
  • Spelt
  • Oats
  • Rye
  • All flour not prepared for Passover
  • All breads, cakes, cereals, and baked goods
  • Yeast, baking soda, and baking powder
  • Beer, whiskey, and all other liquors made with grain alcohol
  • Millet
  • Peanuts

MATZAH (UNLEAVENED, or OK TO EAT)

  • Foods that do not need a Pesakh label:
    • Coffee, tea, spices and sugar
    • Fresh fruits and vegetables
    • Frozen and dried fruits and vegetables
    • Meats and fish
  • Foods that should have a Pesakh label:
    • Milk and dairy products
    • Oil, margarine and shortening
    • Canned goods
    • All matzah products (including matzah flour, matzah meal, matzah farfel, and any other mixes)

Also ... the Ashkenazic tradition (European Jews) and Sephardic tradition (Spanish and North African Jews) differ on a number of foods items considered to be kosher for Passover. The Ashkenazic tradition deems corn, rice and beans as hametz (because they expand or rise during cooking) and are, therefore, forbidden foods during Pesakh. The Sephardic tradition not only allows those foods during Pesakh, but includes some of them in time-honored dishes reserved for the Seder meal.

Whatever your heritage or tradition, may your holiday be enhanced and enriched by the foods you and your family choose to eat or not eat. Each dining room table in every Jewish home is considered to b a mikdash me'at, a miniature Sanctuary where the Shehinah, God's presence on earth, awaits to reside. May your table, during Pesakh and after, offer its sanctuary to all who enter and eat.