Passover Foods and the Passover Kitchen

Knowing what is kosher for Passover

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An essential reason for the removal of hametz is to fulfill the commandment of biurhametz (burning the leaven). This in turn symbolizes the preparedness of Jews to experience gastronomic inconveniences while preparing for the redemption. Reproduced with permission from Teaching Jewish Holidays: History Values and Activities (A.R.E. Publishing Inc.).

Removing all leaven (hametz) from the home is part of making a home kasher l’Pesach--kosher for Pesach. In addition to removing any leavened foods, all utensils that came into contact with hametz may not be used during Pesach or on the day preceding Pesach [unless they were “kashered”--made kosher for Passover].

Two special sets of utensils, flatware, and dishes are used for Pesach: one for milchig (dairy) dishes and one for fleishig (meat) dishes. [The same rule applies year-round, with non-vegetarian households maintaining two sets of utensils, flatware, and dishes; maintaining two separate, additional sets for Passover means that many kosher households have four sets in total.]

foodAll cooking, food preparation, and eating surfaces are scoured and usually covered for the duration of Pesach. The refrigerator is likewise cleaned to remove all traces of hametz. The care and the extent that Pesach preparations are made depends on the fervor with which a person celebrates Pesach. Some people do not prepare the home for Pesach, but refrain from eating anything that is hametz, while others meticulously follow all of the rules and regulations.

Many foods are labeled kasher l’Pesach. Each year the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America publishes a directory of Passover products that are recognized by them as kasher l’Pesach. In the choice of foods, there is also a wide range of observance.

In addition to bread products containing leaven, there are a few other foods that are not eaten on Pesach. The basic rule is that any product that is fermented or can cause fermentation may not be eaten, including five grains: wheat, rye, barley, oats, and spelt. Any food or drink that is made from one of these grains or that contains one of these grains, even in very small quantity, is considered hametz.

Ashkenazic Jews follow the custom of not eating rice, corn, peanuts, or other vegetables in the pea family, treating them as hametz because these products swell when cooked and so resemble a leavening process. [These are called ‘kitniyot’ (beans). Traditionally, Ashkenazic authorities consider kitniyot to be part of the forbidden foods on Passsover, but technically these items are not hametz.] Neither the grains nor any of the flours or oils made from them may be used. Sephardic tradition allows these products to be eaten. [In Israel, the Conservative movement has also allowed these products to be eaten even by Ashkenazim on Passover.]

Matzah is an unleavened bread made from water and flour of any of the five major grains that have been carefully tended from harvest through the baking process to make certain that they have no leaven in them.

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Rabbi Robert Goodman is a former consultant to the Boards of Jewish Education in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee. He is the former rabbi of Congregation Beth Shalom in Brandon, Florida.