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Chametz (also chometz, ḥametz, ḥameṣ, ḥameç and other spellings transliterated from Hebrew: חָמֵץ / חמץ; IPA: [χaˈmets]) are foods with leavening agents that are forbidden to Jews on the holiday of Passover.

Chametz is a product that is both made from one of the five species of grain and has been combined with water and left to stand raw for longer than eighteen minutes (according to most opinions) and becomes leavened. This law appears several times in the Torah; according to halakha (Jewish law), Jews may not own, eat or benefit from chametz during Passover. The penalty for eating chametz on Passover is the divine punishment of kareth (cutting off).


The adjective chametz is derived from the common Semitic root -M-, relating to bread, leavening, and baking. The related noun chimutz is the process of leavening or fermenting. It is cognate to the Aramaic חמע, "to ferment, leaven" and the Arabic حَمْض ḥamḍ, "acid", حَمُضَ ḥamuḍa "to be sour", "to become acidic", "to acidify".[citation needed] This root relates to acidity and sourness in Hebrew as well, as the word chometz - חומץ‎ - means vinegar, and the word chamootz - חמוץ‎ - means sour.[1][2]

Torah-related sources

The Torah has several commandments governing chametz during Passover:

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, which is the 21st day of the month and the last of the seven days of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 13:6). Traditional Jewish homes spend the days leading up to Passover cleaning and removing all traces of chametz from the house.


Further information: Leavening agent and Fermentation

Chametz is a product that is both made from one of five species of grain and has been combined with water and left to stand raw for longer than eighteen minutes (according to most opinions) and becomes leavened.[1][4]

All fruits, grains, and grasses for example naturally adhere wild yeasts and other microorganisms. This is the basis of all historic fermentation processes in human culture that were utilized for the production of beer, wine, bread and silage, amongst others. Chametz from the five species is the result of a natural microbial enzymatic activity that is caused by exposing grain starch—which has not been sterilized, i.e. by baking—to water. This causes the dissolved starch to ferment and break down into sugars that then become nutrients to the naturally contained yeasts. A typical side effect of this biological leavening is the growth of the naturally adhering yeasts in the mixture, which produce gaseous carbon dioxide from glycolysis, which causes the fermented dough to rise and become increasingly acidic.[1]

The five grains

According to the Talmud, chametz can only be present in the five species of grain. Other species are considered not to undergo "leavening" (chimutz), but rather "spoilage" (sirchon), and thus cannot become chametz.[5]

At least four of the five grains contain high levels of gluten. The fifth grain (shibolet shual) is translated in Ashkenazi Jewish tradition as "oats" (which are low in gluten), but many modern scholars instead understand it to be a variety of barley (high in gluten). If the latter opinion is correct, then all five grains are high in gluten. That suggests that gluten is a necessary component of chametz, as it holds the dough together while rising, allowing the formation of a fluffy bread loaf.[6]


Leavening agents, such as yeast or baking soda, are not themselves chametz. Rather, it is 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 is 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 would make them similar to egg matzoh under the chametz 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 kareth, one of the highest levels of punishment in Jewish tradition, for eating chametz on Passover (Exodus 12:15).[8] 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, the usual 1/60 rule applies; Ashkenazi Jews apply this leniency only if the mixture is liquid.[9]

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 consisting of less than 50% chametz that are not usually consumed by people (such as medicine or pet food—even if perfectly edible) may be owned and used on Passover but may not be eaten.[10]

Removal of chametz

See also: Passover § Removing all leaven (chametz)

See also: Eliminating Ḥametz

A small scale bi'ur chametz. Note the charred ashes of the lulav palm frond from Sukkot has been used for kindling to reuse a holy object to perform an additional mitzvah.
Bi'ur chametz (destroying chametz)

In addition to the Biblical prohibition of owning chametz, there is also a positive commandment to remove it from one's possession.[11] There are three traditional methods of removing chametz:

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 it.[14] Mechirah, which averts the prohibition of ownership, is an alternative to destruction.

Sale of chametz

See also: Passover § Sale of leaven

In many Jewish communities, the rabbi signs a contract with each congregant, assigning the rabbi as an agent to sell their chametz.[15] The 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; during the 2000s, the Rabbinate sold its chametz to 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.[16]

Chametz found during or after Pesach

"Chametz" in large black Hebrew letters on a letter-size piece of paper, affixed horizontally to white plastic background.
Chametz sign on blocked-off sections of a Jerusalem supermarket during Passover

According to halakha (Jewish law), 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 a Jew during Pesach). Such chametz must be burned, since no benefit is allowed to be derived from it, not even by selling it to a non-Jew. Chametz she'avar alav haPesach may not be eaten by Jews after Pesach. If a store owned by a Jew is known not to have sold its chametz, a Jew may not buy any from that store until enough time has passed in which it can be assumed that the inventory has changed over since Pesach.

Customs related to chametz

Because of the Torah's severity regarding the prohibition of chametz, many communities have adopted stringencies not biblically required as safeguards from inadvertent transgression.


Main article: Kitniyot

Among Ashkenazi Jews, the custom during Passover is to refrain not only from products of the five grains but also kitniyot (lit. small things), which refers to other grains or legumes. Traditions of what is considered kitniyot vary from community to community but generally include rice, corn, lentils, and beans. Many include peanuts as well.[17]

The custom of kitniyot is observed by Ashkenazi Jews. Some Sephardi Jews from Spain and North Africa (for example, Moroccan Jews) have different restrictions, such as avoiding rice during Pesach. In recent years, there is some movement among Conservative as well as some Orthodox Ashkenazi Jews to cease to observe the tradition of kitniyot.[18]

Egg matzo

Main article: Matzah § Egg matzah

Matzo is generally made from flour and water. If made from flour and a different liquid, such as fruit juice or eggs, it is not considered chametz. Ashkenazi custom is generally to avoid such products, in case some water was mixed into the liquid, which could cause the mixture to become chametz.[19] This product is known as "egg matzo" or "enriched matzo".


Main article: Gebrochts

At Passover, some Hasidic Jews will not eat matzo that has become wet, including matzo balls and other matzo meal products although it cannot become chametz.[20] Such products are called gebrochts (Yiddish: broken), referring to the broken or ground matzo used for baking or cooking. Instead of matzo meal, they use potato starch in cakes and other dishes. The Hebrew term for gebrochts is matzah sh'ruyah (Hebrew: מצה שרויה, soaked matzo), but outside Israel, the Yiddish name is usually the one that is used.

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Defining Hametz". Jewish Tradition. Retrieved 2024-03-28.
  2. ^ "על המילה חָמֵץ" [About the Word Chametz]. (in Hebrew). Retrieved 2024-03-28.
  3. ^ a b c Sefer ha-Chinuch
  4. ^ Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz (2021). "What is Matzah? - Kosher for Passover". OU Kosher. Archived from the original on 28 February 2021.
  5. ^ Yerushalmi Pesachim 2:4 (16b); Talmud Bavli Pesachim 35a
  6. ^ Why Are These Cheerios Different from All Other Cheerios?
  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. ^ "Four Mitzvot Concerning the Prohibition against Hametz". Peninei Halakha. Retrieved 2024-03-28.
  9. ^ Shulchan Aruch OC 447:4, and Rema
  10. ^ Shulchan Aruch OC 442:4, SA Harav OC 442:22, Rambam Chametz Umatza 4:12
  11. ^ Exodus 12:15
  12. ^ Shulchan Aruch OC 434:2, 443:1
  13. ^ Shulchan Aruch OC 443:1, 445:2
  14. ^ Mishnah Berurah §434
  15. ^ "Laws of Selling Chametz". Archived from the original on 2008-04-09. Retrieved 2008-04-12.
  16. ^ "The Muslim guardian of Israel's daily bread". The Independent. 6 April 2009. Archived from the original on 2009-04-19. Retrieved 2009-04-19.
  17. ^ "What Foods are Kitniyot: A Kitniyot List - OU Kosher Passover". Passover. 2013-01-22. Retrieved 2019-04-19.
  18. ^ "Va'ad Ha'Halakhah - English Summaries (Volume 3)". תשובות לימינו. Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies. Retrieved 2009-04-19.
  19. ^ "Is Egg Matzah Kosher For Passover".
  20. ^ IsraelNationalNews: In Time for the Holiday: What is Matzah? How is it Baked?: "According to Jewish Law, once matzo is baked, it cannot become chametz. Some Hasidic communities do not eat "wetted" matzo, for fear that part of the dough was not sufficiently baked and might become chametz when coming in contact with water."