What Can We Eat?
Over the years, I have been asked numerous times, “Rabbi what can we actually eat on Passover?” The Torah seems specific, “Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the very first day you shall remove leaven from your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day to the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel,” (Ex 12:15). That is to say, chametz (leavened product) is not allowed to be eaten on Passover. However, what are the products that constitute chametz? In his work, the Mishneh Torah, the Rambam states precisely this concept:
There is no prohibition on account of chametz on Passover except from the five species of grain alone. They are the two species of wheat - being wheat and spelt: and - three species of barley - being barley, oats, and rye. But legumes, like rice, millet, beans, lentils, and that which is like them, are not prohibited on account of chametz. Even if one kneads rice flour and the like in boiling water and covers it in cloth until it rises like leavened dough - it is surely permitted for eating, as this is not leavening but rather decay. (MT 5:1)
The Rambam teaches us of the five actual species that are termed chametz. Specifically, they are called wheat, spelt, barley, oat, and rye. If any of these species are eaten on Passover, Jewish Law states that one violates the mitzvah of “No Chametz.” It seems to be a very important negative mitzvah in the Torah.
The rabbis teach that so important is this mitzvah that “the Torah had to spell out the penalty for eating leavened matter during these seven days, as otherwise people would have thought that while they had to eat unleavened bread on the first night, and were expected to eat unleavened bread during the whole seven days, they could also eat leavened matter if they so choose to do so,” (Chizkuni, Ex 12:15).
Yet, I think most of us realize that if our people were/are allowed to eat chametz during Passover, the ritual effect of unleavened bread would be lost for future generations. No Jew in the future would truly internalize the notion of our people eating the Passover sacrifice with matzah and the fact that our people did not have time to allow dough to rise as they left Egypt. Therefore, according to the rabbis, the Torah needed to state, “חמץ יאכל ולא) “one is not allowed to eat anything leavened). Of course, this is the concept that we all hear in sermons and teachings in our time, L’Dor Va-dor, or from generation to generation.
Finally, the Rambam makes note of another very important aspect regarding the mitzvah of not eating chametz during Passover. For some reason, the Ashkenazim (eastern European Jews) decided that honoring the mitzvah of no chametz means a Jew cannot eat legumes. As the Rambam presents, legumes are things such as rice, millet, bean, lentils, etc. Yet, this interpretation of the mitzvah seems to be more than just a “fence around a fence.” For the Sephardim (north Africa and Spanish Jews) the mitzvah seems clear. A Jew is not allowed to eat one of the five species that create chametz. So, even if a Jew uses rice or say almonds to create rice or almond flour, the notion of legumes rising is termed a different kind of biological process, that of decay – not leavening! Therefore, way before the concept of Gluten-Free came into existence, the Sephardim were baking and creating these types of products.
I can only say that as a Jew that needs to eat Gluten-Free…I LOVE all the legume creations for Passover! And – I hope and pray that each of you have a meaningful Passover. It is truly a miracle that God brought our people out of Egypt from so many years of bondage. Let us celebrate the one week for the entire calendar year of not eating chametz to remember such an event in the lives of our people.