Hag HaMatzot: Feast of Unleavened Bread
...So, are we to rid our houses of yeast or leaven?

When in doubt, throw it out!

The Feast of Unleavened Bread is meant as a reminder to us of the Israelites' redemption from bondage in Egypt and of our redemption from sin through Mashiyach Yeshua/Jesus Christ. God's Word tells us that during Hag HaMatzot - the Feast of Unleavened Bread we have to spend a week without "leaven" in our lives. This feast, which immediately follows Pesach/Passover, is observed in the spring time and lasts for seven days. YHWH gave us very specific instructions to remember this feast and to observe it perpetually:

Exodus 13: 3 "...Remember this day, on which you left Egypt, the abode of slavery; because YHWH, by the strength of his hand, has brought you out of this place. Do not eat hametz."

Every year at Passover there are those who keep talking about getting the "yeast" out of our lives, when the actual word was "leaven"...which represents sin. And sin, as we all know, grows once it's allowed to take root in our lives. Sin feeds on itself and leads to other sins. That's "leaven"...and that's why we refrain from eating anything leavened for 7 days - just to please YHWH who is using the feast of Passover, in part, as a reminder that HIS people are to be sin free. And of course, the most important thing about Passover is to remember that we would not have eternal life if it hadn't been for Y'shua martyring himself on our behalf.....He paid a debt He didn't owe, because of a debt we couldn't pay!

Matthew 16: 6. But he said to them, Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. 7. And they were reasoning among themselves, and saying, "It is because they had not taken the bread. 8. But Y'shua knew, and said to them, What are you thinking among yourselves, oh you of little faith, that it is because you did not bring the bread? 9. Still, you do not understand nor do you recall those five loaves of bread for the five thousand. And how many baskets you took up! 10. Nor those seven loaves of bread for the four thousand. And how many baskets you took up! 11. How is it that you do not understand that it was not about bread that I spoke to you, but that you should be aware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. 12. Then they understood that he did not say to be aware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and the Sadducees.

Mark 8: 11. And the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with him, and were asking him for a sign from heaven, tempting him. 12. And he sighed in his spirit and said, Why does this generation seek a sign? Truly I say to you, that a sign will not be given to this generation. 13. And he left them and went up into the boat and they departed to the other side. 14. And they forgot to take bread, and except for one cake, there was nothing with them in the boat. 15. And he commanded them and said, Watch out! Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herodus. 16. And they were reasoning with one another and saying, "It is because we have no bread.

17. But Y'shua realized this and said to them, Why are you thinking that you have no bread? Until now, don't you realize nor understand? How long will you have a hard heart? 18. You have eyes and yet you don't see. And you have ears and yet you don't hear. And you do not remember 19. when I broke those five loaves of bread for the five thousand. How many full baskets of fragments did you gather? They said to him, "Twelve." 20. He said to them, And when the seven (loaves) to the four thousand (were given), how many full baskets of fragments did you gather? They said, "seven." 21. He said to them, Why is it that you do not even now understand?

Unfortunately, some Bibles have mistranslated the whole idea about what YHWH was referring to - specifically, the exchange of the Hebrew word "chametz" (also spelled "hametz") to "leaven" or "yeast". For instance, the NIV reads:

Exodus 12: 18 In the first month you are to eat bread made without yeast, from the evening of the fourteenth day until the evening of the twenty-first day. 19 For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses. And whoever eats anything with yeast in it must be cut off from the community of Israel, whether he is an alien or native-born. 20 Eat nothing made with yeast. Wherever you live, you must eat unleavened bread."

Notice the word "yeast" appears over and over again where it should read "chametz". Stern's Complete Jewish Bible more properly reads:

Exodus 12: 18 From the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month until the evening of the twenty-first day, you are to eat matzah. 19 During those seven days, no leaven is to be found in your houses. Whoever eats food with hametz in it is to be cut off from the community of Isra'el - it doesn't matter whether he is a foreigner or a citizen of the land. 20 Eat nothing with hametz in it. Wherever you live, eat matzah."

It is truly a shame that we must communicate with each other in a language other than Hebrew to study the Scripture because the meaning of words as they were translated from Hebrew to Greek, and then to modern languages, and then to our understanding of the meaning of the word as it is used today - as you can imagine, can cause serious interpretation problems.

We'll address in a moment the meaning of the word "chametz" which is often translated into English as "leaven" (even in the citation from Sterns, above), but for the moment, let's discuss the word "yeast".

By our modern understanding of the word "yeast", the picture that comes to mind is that of a little foil bag of yellowish power called "Fleischmann's" Yeast which we blend into our dough, toss into the oven and, PRESTO! - we have bread! Because this is all we are familiar with in these our times, we miss the meaning in these scriptures - and we can blame the various Bible translations which, over the centuries, have caused enormous problems with our understanding.

Let's look, for example, at a description of the Jewish observance of Passover:

"During Passover, Jews refrain from eating chametz, which is anything that contains barley, wheat, rye, oats, and spelt (a kind of wheat), which is not cooked within 18 minutes after coming in contact with water. No leavening is allowed. This signifies the fact that the Hebrews had no time to let their bread rise as they made a hurried escape from Egypt."

An example of "rabbinic" interpretation that totally destroys the idea that no chametz is to be found in our homes can be found in Michael Morrison's "Passover: Feast Without the Yeast":

1. Jews of different backgrounds do not observe all of the same rules. Ashkenazi Jews, who come from Europe (most Jews in America), also avoid corn, rice, peanuts, and legumes as they are also used to make bread and may have other grains mixed in. These items are known as kitniyot.

2. Rules and guidelines may be extremely stringent. Not only must Orthodox Jews not eat these items, but they also must completely remove them and any food that has come in contact with them from their homes. They may throw them away, burn them, or sell them to a non-Jew (they are allowed to buy them back at the end of Passover). Some go through amazingly thorough and labor-intensive cleaning processes to rid their homes of any hint of chametz or kitniyot. For example:

3. Items which seem acceptable for Passover but may not be:

And let's not even get started on pet food!

Okay, clearly there is something wrong here! YHWH says no chametz is to be in your house (Exodus 12:19 & 13:7), and that you are not to eat food with chametz in it (Exodus 12:20 & 13:3). The above Orthodox rules tend to go overboard....

And remember also in the NIV, Exodus 12:19 says: "For seven days no yeast is to be found in your houses". If that were really the case, then the NIV has just asked you to perform the impossible! For instance - stop reading and take a deep breath... You've just inhaled millions of yeast spores! Natural, wild yeast is all around you, including in your homes; you can't avoid it and you can't get rid of it.

So what, exactly, is yeast and what is the difference between yeast and "chametz"? We know that bakers use yeast to make the dough "rise"; without it, our bread would be nothing but flat, hard cakes - like what? - Matzah! Just how do we comply with YHWH's mitzvot?

We don't know when or how the first leavened bread occurred; only that the first records of any sort of bread are in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs from around 5,000 years ago which depict bake-houses with dough rising next to bread ovens.

In ancient Egypt, wine-making and brewing occurred alongside baking and, it's possible that some fermenting brew - a kind of liquid yeast known as barm - could have ended up in the bread dough which then caused the dough to rise. No one knows how it happened, but one good guess is that YHWH simply told man how to make bread.

Continuing with the topic of yeast, the exact nature of yeast - where it comes from and what it is - remained a mystery for thousands of years. It took, in fact, the invention of the microscope in the early 17th Century to finally allow scientists to see what a single-celled yeast looks like and they soon realized that yeast cells multiply in a sugar solution, but they did not realize in that era that the cells were actually alive. A 19th Century food chemist thought it was decomposition of the cells that caused fermentation, and refused to accept the theory that yeast was a living organism.

It took Louis Pasteur to solve the mystery in 1859 when he discovered how yeast works. He established beyond doubt, using grapes, that it was the dust on the surface of the grape skin which made wine ferment, that yeast was a living organism and that only active living cells can cause fermentation.

Simply stated, the fermentation process in dough can be described as the breakdown of the starches in flour - producing carbon dioxide - which, in turn, expands the gluten proteins in the flour and causes the dough to expand. A small amount of alcohol is also produced, but this burns off as the bread bakes.

Bread makers understand this process: When you slice your bread, you can see tiny pockets, parts of holes. Those holes are a result of carbon dioxide oozing through the wet dough, and when the bread was baked, it drove just enough of the moisture out to dry out the dough, drive out the carbon dioxide, and kill the yeast.

(An interesting side note: In England in the 1468 - in the "Brewers Book of Norwich", the name for barm was "goddisgoode" because it was made by the blessing of God.)

Thus we now know, yeast is a single cell micro-organism capable of reproducing itself. Scientists today classify yeast as a fungus. A yeast consists of a cell with walls composed of cellulose and an interior of living matter called protoplasm. You can feed it with a solution of sugar to make it grow, or it can be "killed" with heat. A yeast therefore is neither a plant nor an animal!

Now, here is the important connection:

The ancients did not use yeast as we know it today. Since the days of ancient Egypt, 5000 or more years ago right up to the present, bakers have captured and used wild yeast to make bread. (Remember your deep breath? The same stuff.) And you can do this as well, right in your own kitchen. Here's how:

  1. Mix a cup of flour (whole wheat or white) with a cup of lukewarm water in a small jar, and stir them together until they are smooth. Place the mixture on a shelf or windowsill and leave it uncovered so the yeast will be able to find food. Now wait and watch it change over the next several days.
  2. Stir that mixture each day with a wooden spoon or stick. After a few days, it will start to smell a little sour and become sticky. The mixture is fermenting - which is another way of saying that it has attracted invisible wild yeast which are feeding off the flour and water and changing everything in the process. Once it begins to ferment, place a cloth napkin or piece of cheesecloth over the jar to keep it from drying out on top.
  3. After five to ten days, depending on the place and temperature of the room, you will notice small bubbles in the mixture. This is that carbon dioxide which is a by-product of the reproduction of the yeast. Notice that the smell is more pleasant - almost like peaches. Give it another five days to build strength, stirring it daily and feeding it by adding a few tablespoons of flour and maybe a little water if it is too dry.
  4. You now have a cup of guess what? Sourdough starter that you can add to bread dough to make it rise. You can store it in the refrigerator to keep it fresh and to slow down the fermentation process. After you have added it to the flour and water you use to make your bread dough, be sure to take a cupful out before adding any other ingredients and set it aside so you have more Sourdough starter for your next batch of bread.

Do you know what was just described? Chametz! Not yeast - yeast is the small microscopic organism and an important part of the substance, but it is the mixture - the mixture of sticky, pleasant smelling "stuff" that as a whole is the substance you add to knead into dough to make the dough rise. This is chametz - leaven.

Chametz etymologically means "hot" and "pressed", so the most accurate translation in English should be chametz = "baked bread". But "chametz", in reality, comes from a root which means "to be sour". So where YHWH says (Exodus 12:20) to eat nothing with chametz "in it" - it literally means the material from which the bread is made - the mixture, i.e., chametz! If you have the chametz - get rid of it, if you have the baked bread (which has chametz in it), get rid of that!

Do you get the point? Unless you understand the meaning of "leaven", i.e., "chametz" you won't be able to understand Yeshua's teachings:

Yeshua told His disciples in Matthew 16:6: "So when Yeshua said to them, "Watch out! Guard yourselves against the chametz of the P'rushim (Pharisees) and the Tz'dukim (Sadducees)", the talmidim (disciples) thought He was talking about "bread," - but He meant the leaven of FALSE TEACHINGS and FALSE DOCTRINES! (Verses 8-12).

But if you read the same verse from a translation called "The Message" it says:

Matthew 16:5-6 On their way to the other side of the lake, the disciples discovered they had forgotten to bring along bread. In the meantime, Jesus said to them, "Keep a sharp eye out for Pharisee-Sadducee yeast."

Huh? Wow! That has no meaning whatsoever! The original meaning of the scripture is totally lost. "The Message" has literally lost the message!

This is why it is so important to read the Bible in its true context. Don't be led astray by man's ideas; pray that YHWH will reveal those words that cause misunderstanding and ask Him to give you the desire to seek His true meaning.

And be aware of the LEAVEN that can take you from YHWH.

In summary, the Torah commandments are:

In all these mitzvot, the command is to simply remove baked bread and eat matzah - in commemoration of the exodus - not so much for the purpose of being strictly obedient of "what" to eat or not eat. Rather it is the ACT of removing baked breads, not consuming baked breads with your meal, and spending the week of Pesach with YHWH that is important.

Regardless of whether or not you have "leaven" or "yeast" in the house, as long as you have rid your home of baked bread and do not consume baked bread during Pesach, you are acting in obedience to Torah.

By "baked bread", there are two considerations to evaluate. First there is the obvious - the actual loaf of baked bread. Today, this is usually in a plastic bag and is "ready to eat". The other is the cake mix in a box on your pantry shelf. Though it is technically not "baked bread" as it is not yet "baked", it is most definitely the key ingredients ready to be turned into baked bread.

YHWH was pretty clear that these things qualify as well as they are "leavening agents" (see Exodus 13:7). The difference is clearly that it is not all mixed up into "chametz". Nevertheless, it seems clear that for all practical purposes cake mixes in boxes are "leavening agents". Ridding our homes of prepared baked bread in a bag certainly meets YHWH's mitvot, and in our household we also get rid of cake mixes in boxes.

You are certainly free to decide in your homes what you should do to prepare your household for the Feast of Unleaven Bread.

IMPORTANT: DO NOT get "wrapped around the axle" on definitions. Some will argue that "yeast" is a "leavening agent" as well and that there are other "leaven" or "leavening agents" other than what was described above. Fact is that the terms "leaven" and "yeast" are relatively modern terms so there's lots of room for argument! Though it is futile to "rid" your home of yeast, it is quite easy to rid your home of baked breads, cake mixes, bags of "Fleischmann's Yeast" or cans of Baking Powder.* All these things clearly fall in the essence of "chametz" or "leaven".

*NOTE: You don't have to get rid of baking powder or soda because they may be in your homes for other purposes and must be mixed with flour before it becomes chametz. Yeast occurs naturally in the environment, and it, too, must be mixed before it can become chametz, and it is simply not possible to "remove" all naturally occurring yeast in homes. Baking soda and powder are a "form" of yeast in that they cause the bread to rise (though chemically), but don't by themselves constitute "chametz". Ask yourself "Are these ingredients in my home for the purpose of making bread? Or are these agents here for something else? Baking soda, for example, is a terrific cleaning agent, and a box of it under our sinks certainly does not constitute "chametz" or "leaven". But if baking soda and baking powder are in your home because you use them to make bread, then they are "leavening agents" and you should dispose of them.

If you're not sure, make this your new habit: "When in doubt, throw it out!"

As for cereal, most cereals are grain, baked, then crushed and made into a dough - but not mixed with yeast to "rise". The dough is pressed (to make flakes) or extruded (to make shapes), then the resulting product (flakes or shapes) are baked again. So cereals are okay at Passover, though beware, for if you research this topic on the web you will find answers all over the map - from "yes" to "no" to "only specific cereals", etc.! Simplistically cereals are designed to be "crispy" - if they had "risen", they would become mush when milk is added, so that assessment alone is pretty much enough to show cereals are okay!

And finally, what about wine? Both bread making and wine making are a fermentation process. They both ferment don't they? Should we not rid our homes of wine as well? Indeed, some Rabbis do insist you must also get rid of wine in the house at Pesach. But this is why we must take care NOT to get rabbinical in our observance of Torah! Wine is not "chametz"....

In the simplest comparison, bread making and wine making are the same. But "fermentation" is not the issue. The issue is "rising".

In bread-making the released gas is important to the rising of the dough, for if gas was not produced, the bread would not rise. But the alcohol produced is evaporated and driven out of the dough during baking. In wine-making, released gases are disposed of, nothing "rises" and the produced alcohol is concentrated. In both processes yeast cells feed on sugar producing both gas and alcohol - fermentaion. But in bread-making, the gas produced is the important part while in wine-making the alcohol is the important part.

By rabbinical thinking, some wines and beers are considered "leaven" because/if they contain barley, and a fermenting process similar to bread-making happens in making wine and beer. Vinegar is made by taking an alcoholic mixture and fermenting it a second time with an aerobic acidic bacteria, which converts alcohol into acetic acid. So, by rabbinic thinking, some vinegars would also be considered "leaven".

Indeed the Hebrew word for "vinegar" is "chometz" (not "chametz", which is risen bread). "Chometz" and "chametz" both use the root word meaning "sour" so this gives the rabbis additional reasons to consider "vinegar" as leaven. But it's not. Nowhere in scripture do we see any suggestion that "chametz" and "seh'ore"- a leavening agent - apply to wine, beer, or even vinegar. They don't "rise" and they are not "baked". The commandment is to eat matzah - unleavened bread - during Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and remove the risen bread and the materials for making risen bread from your homes. Wine and beer, if made improperly or if contaminated may "turn" to vinegar, but these items are NOT leaven.

Cheese culture: By "cheese culture", we mean the prepared cultures purchased for the purpose of cheese-making. These are specially maintained strains of bacteria, cultured by these companies to produce a cheese of known qualities. Some of these cheese cultures contain "yeast hulls" to be a food source for the bacteria when they are "activated". But those yeast hulls are biologically inactive, so cheese culture is not "leaven" or "chametz".

The only exception would be if the cheese culture were part of a bread recipe instead of for making cheese, where the culture is exposed to active yeast, and somehow becomes part of the bread "rising" component, in which case it would be considered "seh'ore". So if the cheese culture was kept in ones home exclusively for the purpose of a bread recipe, then it would qualify to be removed at Passover. (This same sort of consideration applies to "baking soda". Baking soda is not a "seh'ore" unless it is used in bread making. If baking soda is in the home for use as a cleaning product, then it is in no way "seh'ore".)

Oh! And what about mushrooms? The questions can be endless, can't they? The thing we must realize is that Scripture isn't replete with every little detail concerning all aspects of life. To "fill in the gaps" sometimes, we are expected to use some common sense...

For instance, Genesis is not a book of instruction. It is a narrative from Moshe's hand to begin the documentation of the story leading to the Messiah. The scriptures of Genesis regarding food are very general, not intended to be a complete, thorough, and solid reference of do's and don'ts. There are no other mitzvah presented in the Bible narrowing down what green plants can be consumed and which can't. In that, we have to use our own brains. Some green plants will kill us. So we must choose wisely. Also, YHWH gave no prohibition on fungi! As indicated, the scriptures of Genesis are very general, not specifically including or excluding what is or is not edible in regard to plants.

In the story of Elisha's miracle in 2 Kings 4: 39-42, the words of verse 39 translated as "wild squash" (Sterns) or "gourds" (NIV), in Hebrew is "paquot sade" or "fungi of the field". So it seems we have a story in the Bible which give credence that fungi, which includes mushrooms, are not expressly forbidden.

Therefore, according to this logic, mushrooms are edible. (As a matter of fact, Chabad.org, insists that mushrooms are kosher.) In fact, some have argued that manna was a sort of fungi. Interesting concept. In the same argument, the yeast cell is not prohibited by YHWH either. We'd be in big trouble if fungi were prohibited as we breathe yeast cells constantly, which are fungi, and they are critical to making chametz! In most cases, what yeast we consume is already dead (in both bread and wine), but we do ingest live yeast cells just by breathing. These are promptly killed by our immune systems.