As you decide how to make your eating decisions for Passover, you may wish to consider the definitions and suggestions that follow.

The conversation begins with a definition of “chametz.” This is the term the Torah first uses to teach that Passover should involve changing what we eat.  Chametz becomes the term for what we do not eat on the holiday.

What is chametz? What makes something chametz?

Chametz is defined as food containing any amount of leavened product derived from five types of grain: wheat, barley, oats, spelt and rye.

What is “leavened?” Leavened refers to the process of fermentation which results when flour from these grains is mixed with water and allowed to sit 18 minutes or longer.  Why 18 minutes?  Just as water has a boiling point, flour has a fermentation point – 18 minutes.  After 18 minutes, the dough created by the mixture of flour and water begins to ferment and rise, creating “leavened bread”.

“Unleavened bread” (i.e. matzah) is bread made with flour ground from these same grains (usually wheat) which has been kept absolutely dry until mixed with water and then baked before this 18-minute point of fermentation or leavening. This flour, when baked, becomes a flat cake of matzah bread because the dough was not allowed to rise. The hurried nature of baking matzah before the 18-minute point is what reminds us of the hurried flight of the Israelites from Egypt during the Exodus.

What about kitniyot (beans and rice)

In addition to the above, Ashkenazi Jews (originally from Eastern Europe) traditionally prohibit kitniyot during Passover (rice, corn, millet and beans). The origin of the ban is unclear; it’s thought that perhaps kitniyot were considered too similar to grains. Grains and kitniyot often shared the same storage bags, so it’s possible there was concern that chametz might accidentally be mixed in with the kitniyot and consumed during Passover. Another theory is that kitniyot expand when immersed in water, which may have been perceived by the early rabbis as a form of rising or leavening. Whatever the reason, most Ashkenazi Jews today stick to the ban on kitniyot, even though it’s not technically prohibited by Torah law.  By contrast Sephardic Jews (from Spain and North Africa) do consume kitniyot during Passover and rice dishes are quite common at Sephardic Seders.

But what can we eat?

Of course it is up to each one of us to decide what is meaningful for us.   Here is a list of foods which every Jewish person will eat over Pesach (although more traditional jews may still look for a ‘kosher for passover’ label on packaging):

  • Fresh fruit, fresh vegetables
  • Eggs, fresh fish, fresh meat and poultry (although York’s policy is eggs and fish only)
  • Pure tea, pure coffee (with no cereal additives)
  • Sugar, honey, milk, cottage cheese, cream cheese
  • Butter
  • Condiments (ketchup, mayonnaise)
  • Canned goods
  • Grape juice, Wine
  • Oils,
  • Ice Cream, Yogurt
  • Potato Chips
  • Chocolate (without additions)

And just stay away from the following foods:

  • Leavened bread, rolls, bagels, muffins, croissants, doughnuts, crackers
  • Cakes (except flourless ones) and biscuits
  • Pasta

In addition, so as many Jews as practically possible can enjoy the York communal seder, we ask members not to bring kitniyot dishes, that is to say avoid dishes including rice, corn, millet and beans.