Passover is a week-long Jewish celebration starting on the 15th of Nisan—which in the Gregorian calendar can range from March 25-April 24.
For 2023, it’s Tuesday April 4.
Traditionally there is a communal meal—a seder—at the home, focusing on the theme of freedom.
The iconic food of Passover is matzah—unleavened bread.
Traditionally people refrain from all foods made from grains except for matzah as these foods might “puff us up”—and humility is required to see ourselves as redeemed.
The origins of the laws are much more interesting than this.
Keep reading, my friend.
Rabbi Brian’s guide: How To Determine If Food Is Kosher for Passover.
1. Examine the thing to be ingested
2. If you deem it fit for you to eat on passover, it is kosher for passover
3. Optional: consider how blessed you are before you eat
How this works:
According to Jewish tradition, any person who is over 13 years old is said to be accountable for their own actions with regard to the conduct of their religious life.
Therefore, anyone who meets this age requirement has the religious authority to determine for themselves what foods they deem to be to כשר— kosher — which best translates as “fit.”
So, if you think it’s fit for eating on Passover, it is.
Um, that’s it. Really.
Oh, you want more? Some history of this?
OK. Keep reading.
Fasten your seatbelt and allow me to be your tour guide as we watch the laws of What is Kosher for Passover change over the centuries.
According to the text of Exodus: (1) Eat unleavened bread with roasted meat and (2) Don’t keep leavened bread in the house.
And they shall eat the meat that night, roast with fire, and unleavened bread; and with bitter herbs, they shall eat it.
Seven days shall you eat unleavened bread; the first day you shall put away leaven out of your houses; for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel.
The story that we tell is that the Israelites didn’t have time to let their bread rise and that’s why we eat unleavened Matzah.
However the above passages are from before the Exodus.
In other words, there was plenty of lead time to let bread rise.
We were to eat unleavened bread because God said so.
As to the “eat the meat that night” thing, that isn’t a thing anymore.
If you want to do the Biblical thing, you should know the next verse talks about how you should cook it: “You may not eat it raw or boiled in water, but only roasted over fire, including its head, its legs and its internal organs.”
In the year 200 CE, rabbis recorded explanations to questions not answered in the Bible. (I’m just showing you a few of the many rules recorded.)
When do these rules go into effect and how strict must we be?
So long as it is permitted to eat leavened, a man may give it as fodder to cattle, wild animals, and birds, or sell it to a gentile; and it is even permitted to derive benefit from it. But when the time is past , it is forbidden to derive benefit from it, and one may not light an oven or stove with it.
Mishna Moed: Pesachim: 2:1
Exactly what are the leavened items we must remove from possession?
These must be removed at Passover: Babylonian porridge, Median beer, Edomite vinegar, and Egyptian barley-beer; also dyers’ pulp, cooks’ starch-flour, and writers’ paste. Rabbi Eliezer says: Also women’s cosmetics. This is the general rule: anything made from any kind of grain must be removed at Passover.
Mishna Moed: Pesachim: 3:1
From how much and which grains can it be made?
One who eats an olive’s bulk of unleavened bread at Passover has fulfilled the obligation to eat; but, if one ate an olive’s bulk of leavened bread, one is punishable… Five kinds can be used: wheat, barley, spelt, goat-grass and oats.
Mishna Zeraim: Hallah: 1:2
No one knows what “Babylonian porridge, Median beer, Edomite vinegar, and Egyptian barley-beer; also dyers’ pulp, cooks’ starch-flour, and writers’ paste” really are.
We assume they are things made of flour that aren’t matzah.
Like rapidly reproducing invasive species, time leads to exponential growth of laws.
The Talmud (500 CE) records more answers to more questions.
To keep things simple, I’m going to focus our examination from here about rules for rice and other outliers—let’s look at a follow-up question to the Mishna above.
Why are rice and millet permissible?
Only these five species listed in the Mishna are kosher for making matzah but not rice or millet. Why is this? These are excluded, because they do not come to the state of leaven but to the state of decay.
Talmud: Moed: Pesachim 35a
Pay attention that that “state of decay” part. It’s going to come back later.
In the 1200s people are still asking about the difference between leavening and fermentation. So, more is recorded.
Why is rice permissible?
Legumes such as rice, millet, beans, lentils, and the like, are not subject to the law prohibiting leavened bread. Even if one kneads dough out of rice flour, or the like, with hot water, and covers it with garments until it swells in the same way as ordinary fermented dough, it may still be eaten during Passover because what has taken place is not fermentation but purification/rotting.
Moses Maimonides,Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Chametz Umatza 5:1
Let’s hop a few more hundred years and we will see that the law changes based on where you are living.
I live in Spain or Africa, may I eat rice?
Rice and other legumes may be used during Passover.
Joseph Caro,Shulchan Aruch,Orach Chayim 453:1
I live in Europe, may I eat rice?
Rice, millet, corn, and other legumes may not be used during Passover because their use might lead to possible confusion in the kitchen.
Isserles,Rama, O:CH 453:1
It’s the 20th century, how about peanuts?
Peanuts are not prohibited.
Moshe Feinstein,Igrot Moshe Orach Chayim3:63
How about peanut oil?
Oil from legumes is permissible.
Shoalom Mordecai Schwadron,She’elot Uteshuvot Maharsham, 1:183
You might ask: if they are both peanut oil and peanuts are permitted, why include laws about these? Because there was (and still is) debate about peanuts. The scholars wouldn’t have to clarify unless there was confusion.
Can I make a leavened cake for Passover?
Leavening is caused when the grain or come into contact with water. This excludes moistening with other liquids, such as undiluted fruit juices. Hence cakes made with flour and eggs or undiluted fruit juices are not forbidden.
Isaac Klein,A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, Pesach: 8
So, yes. You can have cake!?!
It’s stunning. The letter of the law, as to how you can have cake! Brilliant. Infuriating. This is how “kosher for Passover” leavened cakes happen.
Gevalt—yiddish for “ZOINKS!”
This legal loophole so upset me when I learned of it that I decided that I was done with the letter of the law and was going to authorize myself—and then others, like you—to determine for ourselves what is Kosher For Passover.
Here’s how I see it:
If it looks like a regular bread product—no matter how it is concocted — be it a cake, a bagel, a muffin—it is not kosher for Passover. The idea here, folks, is to restrict our diet to remind us of our immense freedoms. For a week, eat matzah, not bread.
Rabbi Brian Zachary Mayer, Religion Outside The Box
I hope you enjoyed this tour.