I’ve noticed that next to the kosher certification on certain baked goods, it says “Yashan.” What does this mean?
Yashan literally means old. But there’s no reason for alarm, no reason to check for mold—the bread or pastry you have just purchased is probably perfectly fresh (check the sell-by date on the packaging if you want to be sure). Yashan does mean that the flour used in this baked item came from wheat that took root in the ground before the previous 17th of Nissan.
The Torah tells us: “You shall not eat bread, parched grain flour or parched kernels [from the new crop] until this very day, until you bring your G‑d’s sacrifice.” This verse forbids us from partaking of the new grain harvest until the Omer barley offering was brought in the Holy Temple on the 16th of Nissan (the second day of Passover).
Forbidden new grain is known as chadash, “new.” After the 16th of Nissan, all grain that took root before that day is known as yashan, “old.” And flour from such permitted grain is known as kemach yashan, “yashan flour.”
Since the destruction of the Holy Temple in the year 70 CE, there is no Omer offering. Nevertheless we are still obligated to wait until the 16th of Nissan has passed before eating from the year’s harvest.
As Jews migrated to European lands, where the growing season is limited to the summer months, it became increasingly difficult for them to refrain from partaking of the new harvest for the entire winter until Passover, and it became common custom to eat all baked goods, regardless of whether they were chadash or yashan.
The rabbis were lenient in this area for the following reasons:
1. There is a difference of opinion between the earliest halachic authorities whether in the Diaspora the restriction against eating chadash is of biblical or rabbinic origin. If it is only a rabbinical enactment, then the prohibition applies only to those regions adjoining the Land of Israel.
2. In many regions, most of the wheat on the market has taken root before Passover.
3. There are those who maintain that only wheat that was owned by a Jew when it was harvested is subject to the rules of chadash.
4. Rabbi Moshe Isserles (1520–1572) ruled that all grains purchased after Passover are permitted by power of a double doubt: (a) It may be the product of a previous harvest year. (b) Even if it is from this year’s harvest, it may have taken root before Passover and would therefore be permitted.
Nevertheless, there are those who are scrupulous in eating only yashan, and hence the label on your baked goods. In Chabad circles, it is not customary to be meticulous about this.
In many communities there are bakeries that sell only products made of definitively yashan flour, and they usually post signs informing their customers of this stringency.
Wishing you a happy, healthy and sweet new year!
Rabbi Menachem Posner