Passover Practice Guide • ©2020 Revised Edition

Rabbi Bruce L. Cohen
(© 2020 Revised Edition)

This little guide is to make easy and understandable the Biblical standards of “kosher for Passover.” Many varied traditions and standards of practice have evolved over the last few thousand years; so what I present here is the core set of Biblical standards, which in my view, are very “user-friendly” – and far less confusing than many traditions. Enjoy.

Let us begin with what is clear and straightforward.
Rav Saul (Paul) wrote in the New Testament of his concern that even well-meaning religionists might produce “extra” religious practices that “lead your minds astray from the simplicity of faith in Messiah.” (2Corinthians 11:3) This paper is meant to strip away the extras accumlated through centuries of “s’yag l’Torah” (fence around the Torah) Talmudic theology having created man-made commandments as “a fence around” the original commandments to prevent their breakage.
Both Testaments clearly affirm that Passover and The Feast of “Passover” and “The Feast Of Unleavened Bread” are both names for the same seven day long holiday:

Exodus 12:15 Seven days you shall eat matzah; on the first day you shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eats leaven from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.

Exodus 13:7 Matzot shall be eaten seven days; and there shall be no chametz seen with you, neither shall there be se’or seen with you in all your borders.

Ezekiel 45:21 In the first month, in the fourteenth day of the month, you shall have The Passover, a feast of seven days; unleavened bread shall be eaten.

Mark 14:12 And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, His disciples said to Him, “Where do you want us to go and prepare so you may eat the Passover?” (also see Luke 22:1)

So – Passover, aka The Feast Of Unleavened Bread starts on the 14th of Nisan, the day on which the Passover lamb is slain “between the evenings.” Jewish calendar days begin at sunset, due to the Genesis pattern of “there was evening and morning, one day.” (Genesis 1:5-31). The passages installing Passover as a holiday (Exodus 12:1-14) state the holiday begins before sundown on the 14th of Nisan when the pesach lamb is “killed between the evenings.” Passover’s beginning is thus on the 14th, but “the beginning” of the holiday carries over into the 15th: and the “first (full) day of Passover/Feast of Unleavened Bread is technically Nisan 15th … despite the observances having begun before sunset on Nisan 14th.
The Scriptures also say …

Leviticus 23:6 And on the fifteenth day of the same month is the feast of unleavened bread to the Lord: seven days you must eat unleavened bread.

Numbers 28:17 And in the fifteenth day of this month is the feast: seven days unleavened bread shall be eaten.

Common practice embraces the ambiguity by ignoring it: the “first day” of Passover as the 14th of Nisan – but since the Seder runs “between the 14th exiting-15th oncoming evenings,” the day-count starts with the 15th of Nisan and runs to the end of the 21st, thus giving 7 full days of eating unleavened bread.

The commonly observed eighth day is a Talmudic contrivance called, “isru hag” (bind the sacrifice) meaning, keep the Biblical feast an extra (8th) day to insure no one anywhere in the world breaks the commandment to observe for 7 days. Since the modern world is not as calendar-challenged as the ancient world, this concern is moot; and the Torah also makes a direct provision by positive commandment in Numbers 9:10-11 for any who missed the Nisan Passover to observe it in a 2nd window in the next month of Iyar, which we see King Hezekiah having done in 2Chronicles 30:13-22.

In sum: Passover is simply a seven-day holiday – period.

The things commonly called “leaven” in English, and which the Pesach laws tell us to get out of our homes, and forbid us to eat during the seven days of Biblical Passover, is called by two different Hebrew words: חָמֵץ “chametz” and שְּׂאֹר “se’or” – and also, any bread/cake that is not מַצָה “flat.” The key passages using these words are:

Exodus 12:15 Seven days you shall eat מַצּוֹת (matzot, flats); on the first day you shall put away שְּׂאֹר (se’or leaven) out of your houses: for whoever eats חָמֵץ (chametz, leaven) from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.

Exodus 13:7 Matzot מַצְות (flats) shall be eaten seven days; and there shall be no חָמֵץ (chametz, leaven) seen with you, nor shall there be שְּׂאֹר (se’or leaven) seen with you in all your borders.
It is significant to notice that in some English translations, the phrase “leavened bread” is often casually interchanged for the one word chametz in Passover passages, when the Hebrew word for bread (לֶחֶם) is not there at all. The key in the passages is not “bread,” but the two words chametz and se’or, referring to all forms of rottenness, active fermentation, and decay.

Chametz חָמֵץ is the yeasted-fermented dough material used in ancient times to cause bread to rise, and also it is the word for vinegar, which is, of course, fermented-to-rot grape juice. It basically means something yeasted or fermented to the point of decay. (This does not include alchoholic drinks per se, because all Passover models include wine, and wine is fermented. Thus, the issue regarding beverages is more in regard to rottenness than mere fermentation.
Se’or שְּׂאֹר is a word for remainder or left-over, referring to that all decaying left-overs or rotting remnants usually kept to be used for dough-raising and other household purposes.
In plain terms, we were told to get everything rotten out of our homes., and every bread product inflated by it, or by any other inflation-agent like baking soda. (See just below.)

What we were positively commanded to eat (specifically, but not only) was something called, matzah (מַצָה) flat – the plural is, matzot flats, as in the Scriptures quoted from the Torah at the start of this paper. Matzah in Hebrew is from the root-word מֵץ (metz), which means “press” or “oppress.” “Matzah” is technically an adjective being used a noun describing something flattened, or pressed-down. In modern usage, women call certain shoes, “flats” – although, strictly speaking, “flat” in English is an adjective. Even so for the bread of Passover: it is “flat” – matzah. Plural are matz’ot – flats.

We are to eat “flats” for seven days.

“Flats” are eaten instead of anything we normally eat that is not flat because we use leaven (whether chametz or se’or or any other inflation-agent like baking soda) in to make it not flat.

One of Beth El’s bedrock standards is to adhere as closely as possible to to the Scriptural specifics above. (Isaiah 8:20) In regard to Passover, this is the avoidance of all rotting and decaying agents, and leads to the following ideas also.

All foods with yeast or active rotting agents (like the live cultures in yogurt) in them are unkosher during Passover, because yeast is a still-alive and active rotting agent: a chametz חָמֵץ or se’or שְּׂאֹר, as are breads or any other foods caused to rise with bread-mold type yeast. Of course, use of yogurt or bread or other chametz-se’or foods for medical reasons is permitted: all dietary laws are secondary to guarding health, per Pikuach Nefesh פִּּיקוּחַ נֶפש: “saving a life.” (See special Addenum below here on Passover law and the CV19 Virus’s impact on food supplies.)

Some Jewish traditions embarking from Talmudic directives call for removal from our home of “The Five Species” – wheat, rye, barley, spelt and oats – which are seen as things having potential to develop chametz or se’or on them. This is more reflective of the Mishnaic precept of “a fence around the Torah” – installing extra laws to increase the distance between the commandment and the possible breakage of it – than it is reflective of the actual commandment.

There is, in truth, no way to totally eradicate fermenting spoilage from our dwellings: molds and rot-inducing bacteria are everywhere in the air and on surfaces, and impossble to elimate in totality: this is why we pray the prayer of “Bittul Chameytz” (a plea to God to nullify whatever leaven we could not find or eliminate) after we do our best in “Be’or Chameytz” to eliminate all leaven possible. The Scriptures are not concerned on Pesach so much grains which might develop microscopic presences of molds, as it is clearly seen and visible (see end of Exodus 13:7) items that are chametz and se’or. There is no rot of we can see (with reasonable due diligence) we should allow to remain.

Pasta is a good example of the above concepts in contrast. Pasta is forbidden by Talmudic precept: but pasta is usually made with unleavened grains; so there is no reason to avoid it or throw it out on Pesach. Talmudic observers throw it out because it might form a chameytz or se’or presence on its surface across the seven days of The Feast. Scripture specifically calls our attention to leaven that can “be seen.” (Exodus 13:7)

Finally, “leavening” does not refer in Hebrew so much to rising, as it does to rotting. However, the directive to eat matzah (flats), which does not include use of the word for bread, seems to indicate our best observance would be not to make raised things that would normally be raised by leavening with chametz or se’or – because even without a rotting agent, such would not be “matzot” (flats).

As to wine: The core standard for a wine to be kosher for Passover is that the yeast used to ferment it does not come from a bread-mold source; and no preservative containing anything considered chametz is used. This seems a sound standard in line with the holiday’s mandates. However, Talmudic standards of kashrut (fitness) for wine demand that wine only be prepared and handled after preparation by Sabbath-observant Jews, because some other religions use or dedicate wine to other gods. This is, obviously, a concern with roots in antiquity.

Talmud permits wine handled by non-Jews, or possibly affected by unkosher contamination, to be consumed by Jews after it is מְבוּשָׁל “mevushahl” (“boiled,” or, in the modern era, flash-pasteurized). Since very little wine today is grown by people who make offerings of grapes to Bacchus or other dieties, we do not share the idolatry concern to the extent that we would not allow non-Jews to be involved with the manufacture or handling of wine – especially as guests at our tables. (Acts 10:28) Most modern wines are put through a pasteurizing process that would cause them to be considered mevushahl, anyway.

“Hard” drinks like whiskey, vodka, and others which have been fully fermented and then arrested by pasteurization and preservatives are Biblically-kosher for Passover, just as is wine. Since all chametz and se’or issues is killed by the processing, and since the flatness issue does not concern drink, these grain-based drinks are considered kosher for Passover. Ironically, wines that are kosher for Passover are not necessarily chemically prevented from recommencing fermentation after the bottles are opened – so fermentation in many of them actually begins again at the Passover table … as it most likely did at Yeshua’s Passover (since no modern preservatives like BHT existed in those days).

In regard to lamb being kosher for Passover, the only direct prohibition is that the entire lamb is not to be roasted and served, because such a sequence is too similar to the actual Pesach sacrifice, and might be mistaken as an attempt to offer the sacrifice with the Temple gone. This concern is explained in The Code of Jewish Law by R’Yoseyf Caro: Shulhkan Aruch, Orach Hayyim 476:1. So, you can serve lamb as long as it is so obviously only part of the lamb that it cannot be mistaken for an attempt at observance of “the Pesakh” lamb-eating mitzvah which roasts and consumes the lamb entire, and mandates everything left over to be burned rather than preserved.

Pikuach Nefesh פִּּיקוּחַ נֶפש: “saving a life” is the phrase describing the principle in Jewish law that the preservation of human life overrides virtually any other religious rule. When a life is in danger, almost any mitzvah lo ta’aseh (command to not do an action) of the Torah becomes optional-to-inapplicable. In the Talmud, this precept is so entrenched as a precedent that even on Yom Kippur, if someone’s health is failing due to fasting, that person may even be given unclean (non-Kosher) food until “the light returns to their eyes” (the danger of death or harm is past). TB Yoma 83a.

In this season of coping with the effects of the CV19 pandemic which include the looming plausible shortage of food – it is this synagogue’s Rabbi’s view that the Passover commandments against having leavened foods in our homes may be omitted this year: no leavened or non-flat foods must be thrown out that might, during or after Passover, be needed in a plausibly-looming food-shortage.

This is a voluntary choice to the observer: if people feel moved to discard and destroy their leavened foods – so be it. Beth El of Manhattan’s rabbi is not “directing” people not to do so: only saying, a choice to hold onto leavened foods in this season is not, in his view, a culpable disregard for the Passover commandments. As Rav Saul wrote in Romans 14:5: “Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 One who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and one who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and one who does not eat, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.” May God’s “Spirit lead each one into all the truth.” (John 16:13)

So, in conclusion, is a “standing on one foot” (TB Shabbat 31a) summary:
By Nisan 14 get rid of your leaven and non-flats, and on Nisan 14 prepare the Pesach Seder (or retain your foods against plausible CV19 shortages).
• On Nisan 14 evening, as the 15th approaches, start your Seder.
• Do not eat chametz or se’or or non-flat breads or have it in your homes from the the start of preparing the Seder until after sunset on the evening ending the 21st of Nisan.
• The first and final (7th) days of Pesach are “a Sabbath of no work” and a “mikrah kodesh” (a holy gathering for the kehilah). These mitzvahs should be observed, if at all possible.
May Heaven light up your personal understanding of this defining holiday for our Jewish nation ¬– and Messiah-related touchstone for all humankind.

Shalom, and Hag Sameakh!


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