The Feast of Unleavened Bread
The Old Time Way

by Larry C. Hamner

April 1, 2007

God commands his people

“Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses: for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land. Ye shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations shall ye eat unleavened bread.” (Exodus 12:19-20)

“Unleavened bread shall be eaten seven days; and there shall no leavened bread be seen with thee, neither shall there be leaven seen with thee in all thy quarters.” (Exodus 13:7)

What Makes Sense

Puzzled by what to eat during Passover? We have somehow, with no small contribution from our Jewish brethren, turned what was a simple and straight forward statement from God into theological fodder for debate. As a result many would be celebrants of the feast are confused and uncertain as to what is required by God to fulfill his command. As I see it, there are three elements to this Passover conundrum let's look at each in turn.

Conundrum Number One

What is meant by leaven or leavening (heb. - Chametz)? Unless you understand the meaning of “leaven”you won't be able to understand the Bible's teachings on unleavened bread.

So here's the issue

In our understanding of the word “leaven”, the picture that comes to mind is that of Yeast, Baking Powder and Baking Soda, which we pour into our dough, chuck it in the oven and - KaPow! -We have bread! Since these leavening agents are all we are familiar with, we miss the meaning of what the Bible is referring to as leaven.

(Definition from what's cooking America)

Yeast (a biological leaven) is a tiny plant-like microorganism that exists all around us, in soil, on plants and even in the air. It has existed for so long, it is referred to as the oldest plant cultivated by man. The main purpose of yeast is to serve as a catalyst in the process of fermentation, which is essential in the making of bread. The purpose of any leavener is to produce the gas that makes bread rise. Yeast does this by feeding on the sugars in flour, and expelling carbon dioxide in the process. As the yeast feeds on the sugar, it produces carbon dioxide. With no place to go but up, this gas slowly fills the balloon. A very similar process happens as bread rises. Carbon dioxide from yeast fills thousands of balloon-like bubbles in the dough. Once the bread has baked, this is what gives the loaf its airy texture.

Although they work in a similar fashion, it is important to note that the chemical leaveners baking powder and baking soda did not exist in Bible times. For that matter, neither did the little package of yeast that we buy in the supermarket today. However, yeast spores have always been around, even in the air we breathe. The fact that yeast exits naturally in our environment makes it impossible to get the leavening agent (yeast) out of our homes.

Now, here's the important connection:

During biblical times they did not use leavening (yeast) as we know it today. Since the days of ancient Egypt, 5000 or more years ago right up to the present, bakers have captured and used wild yeast to make bread. In more recent history, before yeast was available in grocery stores and supermarkets, bakers kept colonies of yeast for making bread. These colonies were known as starters, and were sometimes passed on from generation to generation. And you can do this as well, right in your own kitchen.

Here's how:

(Recipe by SourdoLady)

Purchase some rye and wheat berries from your local health food store and grind them in a coffee grinder to make flour for your starter. It is kind of tedious to grind but you'll only need a few tablespoons or you can just buy freshly milled flour at the health food store and it would work just as well. The wild yeast is on the grains and you just need to provide the right condition to wake it up.

Procedure for Making Sourdough Starter

Day 1: mix...

Cover and let sit at room temperature for 24 hours.

Day 2: add...

Stir well, cover and let sit at room temperature 24 hours.
At day 2 you may (or may not) start to see some small bubbles.

Day 3: add...

Stir well, cover and let sit at room temperature 24 hours.

Day 4:

Stir down, measure out 1/4 cup and discard the rest.

To the 1/4 cup add...

*You can feed the starter whatever type of flour you want at this point (unbleached white, whole wheat, rye). If you are new to sourdough, a white starter is probably the best choice. All/purpose flour is fine--high protein flour is not necessary.

Repeat Day 4: Once daily until the mixture starts to expand and smell yeasty. It is not unusual for the mixture to get very bubbly around Day 3 or 4 and then go completely flat and appear dead. If the mixture does not start to grow again by Day 6, add 1/4 tsp. apple cider vinegar with the daily feeding. This will lower the pH level a bit more and it should wake up the yeast.

How it Works

The yeast you are trying to cultivate will only become active when the environment is right. When you mix flour and water together, you end up with a mixture that is close to neutral in pH, and your yeasties need it a bit more on the acid side. This is why you are using the acidic fruit juice. There are other microbes in the flour that prefer a more neutral pH, and so they are the first to wake up and grow. Some will produce acids as by-products. That helps to lower the pH to the point that they can no longer grow, until the environment is just right for wild yeast to activate. The length of time it takes for this to happen varies.

When using just flour and water, many will grow gas-producing bacteria that slow down the process. It can raise the starter to three times its volume in a relatively short time. Don't worry it is harmless. It is bacteria sometimes used in other food fermentations like cheeses, and it is in the environment, including wheat fields and flours. It does not grow at a low pH, and the fruit juices keep the pH low enough to by-pass it. Things will still progress, but this is the point at which people get frustrated and quit, because the gassy bacteria stop growing. It will appear that the “yeast” died on you, when in fact, you haven't begun to grow yeast yet. When the pH drops below 3.54 or so, the yeast will activate, begin to grow, and the starter will expand again. You just need to keep it fed and cared for until then. Once your wild yeast is growing, the character and flavor will improve if you continue to give it daily feedings and keep it at room temperature for a couple of weeks longer.

After that time, it should be kept in the refrigerator between uses/feedings. Do you know what was just described? LEAVEN! Not the Usual Version of Leaven, packaged yeast, baking powder, or baking soda! Yeast is an important part of the substance but it is the mixture--this “frothy mixture” as a whole is the substance you knead into dough to make the dough rise. This is the Bible's leaven! Sourdough Starters!

Leaven then is - any food that's made from the flour of oats, wheat, barley, rye or spelt mixed with water then allowed to ferment and “rise”. Bread, cereal, cake, cookies, pizza, pasta, and beer are some examples of food that has leavened; but any food that contains these five grain or derivatives of these could be, leavened.

So then -- any of the five grains and products from these five grains that has not leavened is permissible by the Bible, and can be eaten by Christians during the Passover.

Conundrum Number Two

Everyone knows you shouldn't eat bread during Passover, but what about corn, rice, peanuts and other legumes? Much of what we Christians know about celebrating the feast we learned from our Jewish brethren. Much of what we do or don't do is reliant on which group of observant Jews we received our information from. Jews of different backgrounds do not observe all of the same rules. Ashkenazi Jews, who come from Europe (most Jews in America), also avoid corn, rice, and peanuts. The medieval Jewish sages placed a ban on eating legumes during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The origins of this practice are not clear. Two common theories are that these items are often made into products resembling leavened(chametz) products ( e.g. cornbread), or that these items were normally stored in the same sacks as the five grains and people worried that they might become contaminated with the leavened ones. This Rabbinic prohibition was accepted by Ashkenazi Jews, but many Sephardic Jews(Jews of Spain, Portugal, North Africa and the Middle East and their descendants) continue to eat rice, corn, peanuts, beans and other legumes during the feast.

The question in our minds really should be will legumes leaven? The test to identify what types of grain will leaven is to take the flour of that grain, mix it with water, take it through the process for making a sourdough starter and see if it leavens. Or you can use the quick start method by mixing them with a packaged yeast and leave it for a few hours. If the dough of the grain rises when using either of these methods, that grain is subject to becoming leaven. On the other hand, if the dough spoils, then that grain or plant will not leaven and it can be freely used and cooked during the feast. Rather than accept my word or that of the Jewish Rabbis and Sages do the experiment yourself. What you will discover is that only the flour of wheat, oats, barley, rye and spelt will leaven the flour of rice, corn, peanuts and beans will not.

So then -- since the dough made from the flour of these products will not leaven legumes such as rice, corn, peanuts and beans is not the leavening of the bible and can be freely eaten by Christians during Passover.

Conundrum Number Three

Are Fermented foods forbidden by the Bible?

The Jewish sages say that any food or food product containing fermented grain products or Leaven (Chametz) may not be used or remain in a Jew's possession on Passover. Even foods with minute amounts of Leaven (Chametz) ingredients, or foods processed on utensils which are used for other Leaven (Chametz)-containing foods, are not permissible for Passover use. Not all Jews agree with this definition of leaven. A second school of thought goes even further and argues that leaven is not limited to ”leavening” but “fermentation” as well. They point out that in biblical Hebrew vinegar is called “Chametz Yayin” meaning “leavened-wine” (others translate: “soured wine”). They use this as proof that Chametz refers not only to the leavening of grains but any fermentation or souring process. Based on this reasoning, they forbid the consumption of not only fermented grain but anything fermented. Included in their list of forbidden foods on Passover are all forms of alcohol, lentils, rice, and all milk products such as yogurts and cheeses. This school of thought never considers that the feast is called unleavened bread, nor do they consider that if vinegar is “leavened wine” there must also be an “unleavened wine”. However, according to the Bible it's all about the dough--if there is no fermented dough--then it is not the leaven of the Bible. According to the Bible Leaven -Chametz- is defined as the result of the dough of grain that ferments. Thus Leaven (Chametz) is (Se'or) sourdough -- highly fermented dough that is used to make another dough ferment. Instead of using yeast, what they did in the olden days (and many people do today as well) is to take a little piece of old dough, mix that with the fresh dough, and it causes the fresh dough to rise. Again I suggest you do the test--take a small quantity of the fermented product and mix that product with fresh dough and see if it causes the fresh dough to rise. If the dough rises you have Leaven if not you have Unleavened dough. What you will soon discover is neither the liquids of fermented grain (alcohol) nor will other fermented product such as cheeses, yogurts or other milk product cause the fresh dough of Oats, Wheat, Barley, Rye and Spelt to rise.

So then -- since these fermented products are not the Leaven of the Bible and will not cause the dough of the five forbidden grains to Leaven then they can be freely eaten by Christians during Passover.

The answer to the Passover riddle can be summarized as follows:

Formula for leaven: Flour (that will rise) + Water + Leavening Agent biological (sourdough starter), chemical (baking powder, baking soda) or natural (air, steam) = Leaven (chametz).

In summary neither the five grain that will leaven nor their by products were forbidden by the Torah (Law). “And they did eat of the old corn of the land on the morrow after the passover, unleavened cakes, and parched corn in the selfsame day.”(Joshua 5:11)   Only the leavened dough of the grains and anything made from the leavened dough is forbidden by Torah during Passover.   Not even their flour in its raw state or its unleavened dough was forbidden by the Bible. “And the meat offering thereof shall be two tenth deals of fine flour mingled with oil, an offering made by fire unto the LORD for a sweet savor: and the drink offering thereof shall be of wine, the fourth part of a hin” (Leviticus 23:13KJV)    As you can readily see the Passover meat offering (grain offering NASB) was to be made from fine flour. The Israelites carried unleavened dough from Rameses to Succoth (approx. 25 miles) on foot and it was still considered unleavened by Torah. “And they baked unleavened cakes of the dough which they brought forth out of Egypt, for it was not leavened; because they were thrust out of Egypt, and could not tarry, neither had they prepared for themselves any victual.” (Exodus 12:39KJV) So even the dough that the people had with them for much longer than 18 to 25 minutes was called by Torah unleavened dough. (The Talmud says it should take no longer to make matzo than the time to walk a Roman mile, which in later years became understood to be 18 minutes)

Many of the Passover dietary prohibitions by the Jewish Rabbis and Sages were based on misunderstandings or overly cautious interpretations of the Torah. These renderings have made the Passover celebration too complicated. What was intended to be a reminder of the importance of freedom and salvation in every generation, and a celebration of redemption has become a time of stress and anxiety. Christian celebrants of Passover shouldn't burden themselves with the grievous restrictions of the Rabbis. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.” (1 John 5:3KJV) Rather yet let us heed the words of the Prophet Jeremiah and seek the old paths. “Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls. But they said, We will not walk therein.” (Jeremiah 6:16KJV) Let us return to the days when Leaven was simply sourdough and it's by products--back to a time when the Passover could truly be called and celebrated as the The Feast of Unleavened Bread. And not as the Feast of Unleavened Everything!

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