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Title: Chametz  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Kitniyot, Bedikas Chametz, Chol HaMoed, Ma Nishtana, Jewish holidays
Collection: Hebrew Words and Phrases, Jewish Law and Rituals, Nisan, Passover
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Chametz, also Chometz, Ḥametz, Ḥameṣ and other spellings transliterated from Hebrew: חָמֵץ / חמץ (IPA: ), 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.

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.


  • Etymology 1
  • Torah related sources 2
  • What is chametz? 3
    • The five grains 3.1
    • Leavening 3.2
  • Stringency 4
  • Removal of chametz 5
    • Mechirah practices 5.1
  • Chametz found during or after Pesach 6
  • Additional Ashkenazi restrictions 7
    • Kitniyot 7.1
    • Egg matza 7.2
    • Gebrochts 7.3
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • External links 10


The word chametz is derived from the common Semitic root -M-, relating to bread, leavening, and baking. It is cognate to the Aramaic חמע, "to ferment, leaven" and the Arabic حمض ḥamuḍa, "to be sour", "to become acidic".

Torah related sources

The Torah has several commandments governing chametz during Passover:

  • The positive commandment to chametzremove all from one's home (Exodus 12:15).[1]:§9
  • Not to possess chametz in one's domain. (Exodus 12:19, Deuteronomy 16:4).[1]:§11, 20
  • Not to eat chametz, or mixtures containing chametz (Exodus 13:3, Exodus 12:20, Deuteronomy 16:3).[1]:§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. Traditional Jewish homes spend the days leading up to Passover cleaning and removing all traces of chametz from the house.

What is chametz?

The five grains

For the rabbis, five specific species of grain become chametz after wetting. The actual species are not known with certainty, although they would necessarily have been crops that grew in the middle east in Biblical times. When the Bible was translated into European languages, the names of food grains common in Europe, wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats, were used, some of which were not grown in ancient Israel (Mishnah P'sachim 2:5).

As more accurate historic and botanical evidence comes to light, some scholars today propose that only the 'five grain species' native to the Land of Israel can become chametz.[2][3] They are, as described in the Mishnah:[4]

שיפון Shippon (shifon) – einkorn wheat (Triticum monococcum),
כוסמין Kusmin – emmer wheat (Triticum dicoccon),
חיטים Ḥittim – durum wheat (Triticum durum) and bread wheat (Triticum aestivum),
שעורים Se’orim – six row barley (Hordeum vulgare), and
שיבולת שועל Shibbolet shual – two row barley (Hordeum vulgare).

Spelt, rye (Secale cereale), and oats (Avena sativa) did not grow in the Land of Israel in the biblical period. Since spelt (Triticum spelta) is genetically closely related to bread wheat it is also considered to be prohibited. Rye should not be eaten since it closely resembles wheat and can be mistaken for it; it was considered chametz during Exile, even though in fact it did not grow in ancient Israel and was not on the list of chametz-capable grains. According to the Talmud, when any grain not listed is exposed to water it begins to "decay or rot", rather than "rise" (sirachon).[5]

Coincidentally, these are also the grains that people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance must avoid.[6]


Leavening agents, such as yeast or baking soda, are not themselves chametz. Rather, it's 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.[7] In accordance with those who permit it, cookies made with Passover flour, wine and a chemical leavener (the absence of water 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 then the usual 1/60 rule applies; however Ashkenazi Jews apply this leniency only if the mixture is liquid.[8]

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 which are not eaten by normal people (e.g. medicine or pet food, even if it is perfectly edible), may be owned and used on Passover, but may not be eaten.[9]

Removal of chametz

A small scale Bi'ur Chametz. Note the charred ashes of the lulav palm frond from Sukkot has been used for kindling, in order to reuse a holy object to perform an additional mitzvah. - March 29, 2010
Bi'ur Chametz - April 2, 2007

In addition to the Biblical prohibition of owning chametz, there is also a positive commandment to remove it from one's possession.[10] There are three traditional methods of removing chametz:

  • Bi'ur: burning one's chametz. All appropriate methods 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 one discovers must be destroyed.[11]
  • 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.[12] One who keeps the sold chametz in his or her 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.[13] Mechirah, which averts the prohibition of ownership, is an alternative to destruction.

Mechirah practices

In many Jewish communities, the rabbi signs a contract with each congregant, assigning the rabbi as an agent to sell their chametz.[14] This 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 Mr. 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 dollars.[15]

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 can only be burned; no benefit may be derived from it at all, not 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, corn (maize), lentils, and beans. Many include peanuts in this category as well.

The origins of this practice are not clear. Two common theories are that these items are often made into products resembling chametz (e.g. cornbread), or that these items were normally stored in the same sacks as the five grains and 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 thought to be eating chametz despite the law, or erroneously conclude that chametz was permitted. To avoid this confusion, they were simply banned outright.

While it would seem ideal to eat foods that cannot conceivably become chametz, there are authorities who are concerned that Kitniyot might in some way become confused with true chametz. First, cooked porridge and other cooked dishes made from grain and Kitniyot appear similar. Second, Kitniyot are often grown in fields adjacent to those in which chametz is grown, and these grains tend to mix. And third, Kitniyot are often ground into a type of flour that can easily be confused with chametz. For these three reasons these 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 this 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 this is a Torah prohibition, kitniyot is merely prohibited by the Rabbis, and therefore 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",[16] meaning that 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.[17]

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.

Egg matza


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.[18] 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"), although outside Israel the Yiddish name is usually used.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Sefer ha-Chinuch
  2. ^ Gil Marks (2010-11-17). Encyclopedia of Jewish Food.  
  3. ^ How To Prepare For Passover / Pesach
  4. ^ Hallah 1:1
  5. ^ Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, Gil Marks, Publisher - John Wiley and Sons, NJ, 2010, Eli Rogosa based on her field research in Israel and on interviews with Israeli scholars;
  6. ^ Celiac disease - sprue; Gluten intolerance; Gluten-sensitive enteropathy
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ Shulchan Aruch OC 447:4, and Rema
  9. ^ Shulchan Aruch OC 442:4, SA Harav OC 442:22, Rambam Chametz Umatza 4:12
  10. ^ Exodus 12:15
  11. ^ Shulchan Aruch OC 434:2, 443:1
  12. ^ Shulchan Aruch OC 443:1, 445:2
  13. ^ Mishnah Berurah §434
  14. ^ "Laws of Selling Chametz". 
  15. ^ "The Muslim guardian of Israel's daily bread".  
  16. ^ Rema, OC 453:1
  17. ^ "Va'ad Ha'Halakhah - English Summaries (Volume 3)".  
  18. ^ 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."

External links

  • Etymology of "chametz" from
  • "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
  • )Bidikat ChametzHow To Search for Chametz ( by
  • Chametz FAQ by
  • Rabbi Eliezer Melamed - Peninei Halacha - The Laws of Chametz
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