Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Printed from chabad.org
Contact Us
Visit us on Facebook

What Is Chametz?

What Is Chametz?

 Email

The Very Short Answer

Chametz is any food product made from wheat, barley, rye, oats or spelt that has come into contact with water and been allowed to ferment and “rise.”

In practice, just about anything made from these grains—other than Passover matzah, which is carefully controlled to avoid leavening—is to be considered chametz. This includes flour (even before it is mixed with water1), cake, cookies, pasta, breads, and items that have chametz as an ingredient, like malt.

The Biblical Basis

Just before the nation of of Israel left Egypt, G‑d commanded them to sacrifice the paschal lamb and then eat it with unleavened matzah and bitter herbs.2 G‑d then told them that they should replicate this feast every year on the anniversary of the Exodus: “It shall be for you a remembrance . . . seven days you shall eat matzah, and on the first day you should remove all se’or (sourdough, a leavening agent) from your homes. Anyone who eats chametz (leaven) from the first day to the seventh day shall be cut off from Israel.”

When Is It Forbidden?

According to Jewish law, it is forbidden to eat chametz after the fourth halachic hour3 on the morning before Passover. It is forbidden to derive any benefit from chametz at the fifth hour, and all chametz should be burned before the sixth hour. From then until after Passover, chametz is completely forbidden.

Why does the prohibition start before Passover begins?

The Torah states: “You shall slaughter the Passover sacrifice to the L‑rd, your G‑d. . . . You shall not eat leaven with it.”4 Tradition interprets this to mean that the prohibition of chametz starts from the time when the Passover sacrifice could be offered: from midday of the 14th of Nissan.5

To prevent people from transgressing the prohibition inadvertently, the sages decreed that the prohibition of eating chametz starts two hours before midday, and the prohibition of deriving any benefit starts one hour prior to midday.

To see the relevant halachic times for your area, click here.

Getting Rid of Chametz

Long before Passover begins, we clean our homes, offices, and any other place that belongs to us to rid our homes of chametz. Although it’s praiseworthy to be stringent on Passover, keep in mind that dust isn’t chametz. The main purpose of cleaning and searching for chametz is to remove any chametz that one may come to inadvertently eat or derive benefit from during Passover. This obligation of getting rid of chametz does not extend to inedible chametz or tiny crumbs or particles of chametz that are soiled or spoiled. So the key areas to focus on are things that may come in contact with food, since we are forbidden to eat anything with even a trace of chametz.

The kitchen should be thoroughly cleaned, and all surfaces should be covered or koshered. Additionally, if you’re using your regular utensils or appliances for Passover, they will need to be koshered. If finances permit, it is better (and easier) to simply buy a set of Passover utensils. For more on the specifics of getting rid of chametz and koshering your kitchen, click here.

Some non-food items, such as vitamins and cosmetics, may contain chametz and will need to be disposed of or sold (see below). Please consult with a rabbi for a list of permissible and prohibited items.

The Search

On the eve of the 14th of Nissan, with just 24 hours to go to the Seder, we search our property—including home, office and car—for any chametz that may have been missed in the cleaning process.

The custom is to conduct the search using a candle, feather, wooden spoon and a (paper) bag for collecting any chametz found. Have someone place 10 pieces of bread throughout the house to be found during the search.6

Before we start the search, we recite the blessing (found here). No interruption should be made between reciting the blessing and the start of the search. Additionally, during the search, we only discuss that which pertains to the search for chametz.

In order to ensure that we remember to conduct the search on time, it is forbidden to eat or even learn Torah after nightfall until after the search has been completed.

The Nullification

Following the search for chametz, we recite a “nullification statement” renouncing all ownership of any chametz that, unbeknownst to us, may still be in our possession. The nullification statement should be said in a language that you understand, and can be found here.

Through nullifying our chametz, we consider it as no more than dust and thus ownerless, thereby fulfilling the mitzvah of removing chametz from our possession.

The Sale

Utensils used for chametz (and chametz itself that you are reluctant to dispose of) may be sold to a person who is not Jewish for the duration of Passover. (Some have the custom not to sell any real chametz, although this is not the Chabad custom.)

The sold chametz and utensils should be set aside in a designated place (e.g., closet or cabinet), which is rented to the non-Jewish buyer until after Passover. This storage place should be clearly marked, so no one can take anything from there through force of habit.

The sale of chametz to the non-Jew is not a symbolic sale, but a legally binding transaction, and must therefore be conducted by a competent rabbi.

After writing a bill of sale, one may leave the chametz in his home without transgressing the prohibitions of not seeing or having chametz, since the chametz no longer belongs to him.

For more about the sale of chametz, click here.

To arrange for the sale of your chametz, click here.

The Burning

On the 14th of Nissan, before the sixth hour of the day, we burn any chametz that we still have. This includes the bag of chametz from our search the previous night.

After the chametz is burned, we again recite a nullification statement. However, this nullification statement has a slightly different wording than what was said at night after the search for chametz. The statement recited at night includes only chametz that was missed in the search, but doesn’t include chametz set aside to be sold or eaten in the morning. When we burn the chametz, the statement includes all chametz that may still be in our possession, and serves as a final “safety measure” for a chametz-less Passover.

The text can be found here.

Kitniyot

Due to the gravity of the prohibition of chametz, the medieval Ashkenazic rabbis also forbade the consumption of any kitniyot (very loosely translated as “legumes”) on Passover, since they can be confused with the forbidden grains. This includes (but is not limited to): rice, corn, soybeans, stringbeans, peas, lentils, mustard, sesame and poppy seeds. This ban was accepted as binding law by Ashkenazic Jewry.

The prohibition extends only to the consumption of kitniyot; there is no obligation to destroy or sell kitniyot products before Passover, and we can derive benefit from kitniyot products (e.g., pet food) during Passover.

For more on kitniyot, click here.

Chametz After Passover

Due to the severity of the prohibition of owning chametz on Passover, the rabbis of the Talmud established an after-the-fact penalty for owning any chametz products during Pesach. This prohibition is known as chametz she’avar alav haPesach. One may not consume or even derive benefit from such chametz, and if chametz is found either on or after Passover that was owned by a Jew during Passover, it needs to be destroyed.

So, what does that mean on a practical level? When you’re purchasing chametz products after Passover from a Jewish-owned store, the owner cannot have owned that chametz during Passover. If he did, you’ll need to refrain from purchasing any chametz products there until it is deemed that a sufficient amount of time has passed for all of those chametz products to have been sold. Consult your local rabbi with any questions regarding stores in your area.

This prohibition does not apply to kitniyot, since one is permitted to own it on Passover.

On a Spiritual Note

Chametz and matzah are almost the same substance, containing the same ingredients of flour and water. The one key difference is that while chametz bread rises, filling itself with hot air, the matzah stays flat and humble.

Thus, chametz represents that swelling of ego that enslaves the soul more than any external prison. It is for this reason that once a year on Passover, when we celebrate our freedom from slavery and our birth as a nation unto G‑d, we are extremely careful to eradicate any chametz that we may have.

The flat, unpretentious matzah represents the humility, self-effacement and commitment that are the ultimate liberators, enabling us to connect to G‑d without our egos getting in the way. And that is why eating matzah on Passover is so fundamental to our faith.

Footnotes
1.
Technically, flour need not be chametz. However, common practice is that before the milling process begins, the wheat kernels are tempered (sprayed) with water and left to stand until the moisture penetrates it. Therefore, the custom is to treat flour as chametz.
2.
Exodus 12.
3.
A halachic hour is calculated by dividing the daytime hours into twelve equal parts.
6.
For more on this, see Why scatter 10 pieces of bread?
Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
Artwork by Sefira Ross, a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with Chabad.org's copyright policy.
 Email
Join the discussion
1000 characters remaining
Email me when new comments are posted.
Sort By:
Discussion (51)
April 21, 2016
Well said! Thanks for posting!
Anonymous
April 20, 2016
I wanted to ask the Rabbi what is the Chametz or leavening, to be removed from our homes?
bread as source of food energy, whether leavened or not still you will get the energy you need is the time wasted to wait for to leaven and you still will get the same source of energy, why wait? what is wasted our time to do what meant to do with our lives, what is restraining our lives after its freedom, What is really the leaven that is in our homes? that waste our time ?and Unnecessary, and that we will get the same purpose from it but something extra to it that we do that is waste of time?
what is it in our homes that takes us back from what we suppose to do?
what is inside of us that is unnecessary that takes us from what we suppose to do? unnecessary worries? someone is bothering us and wasting our time on it? what else can be in the homes and in us that is unnecessary and not essentially needed that without it no difference or addition,to be gotten out?
Anonymous
Florida
April 13, 2016
I am Ashkenazim but Sephardim only for Pesach. Being Celiac I am on a Chametz free diet year around. However I also have other sever food allergies, and use soy/legume products, which being kitniyot, are not allowed with Ashkenazim but allowed with Sephardim.
I have spoken at length with my Rabbi several times over the years growing up and in my adulthood about this issue, and it has been encouraged. And it was actually suggested to do the Sephardim route for Pesach to do the kitniyot.
I buy the GF matzo and make my own matzo to make matzo balls for soup, but I do eat the legumes, quinoa, soy, rice, due to severe food allergies (nightshade plants.. i.e. tomatoes and potatoes are one, Gluten is another one)

Editor's note: This is a personalized halachic decision. If you have health issues and need to eat other foods during Passover, you must consult with a rabbi and receive halachic dispensation to do so. Feel free to contact our Ask the Rabbi service on the top of this page.
Becca
Portland Oregon
April 7, 2016
To Babette
Ashkenazic Jews avoid rice and other legumes on Passover. For more on this and related issues, please see this link:
Eliezer Zalmanov
for Chabad.org
April 3, 2016
Is rice kosher for passover? I am confused about what is permitted, is it possible for a list of permissable foods for passover please?
Babette Woolf
Benoni S.A
March 30, 2016
Re: Leaven
As is mentioned in the article, what makes something forbidden on Passover is the inclusion of one of five specific grains. But in order to know for certain that a product contains no traces of these grains, it must be certified as kosher for Passover.
Eliezer Zalmanov
for Chabad.org
March 29, 2016
To: Aaron Maurice
It is actually both. But in a scenario where there is no risk of someone eating it, owning it is still prohibited.
Eliezer Zalmanov
for Chabad.org
March 29, 2016
Leaven
I know that baking soda and baking powder is considered leaven, but there are other things as well, is there a list of these things in which we can see or have?
Felicita Cardona-Vega
PA
March 29, 2016
why is the matter dependant issue dependant upon the existance of chametz, not the person's risk of eating it?
Aaron Maurice
April 5, 2015
New to this can children go outside to play during Passover?
pennacle gude
CUTHBERT