Passover Pages of Sinai Temple
 
What Do We Eat on Passover?

You are what you eat!

That is the message of Passover for all seven days in Reform Judaism.

As you decide how to make your eating decisions for Passover, I invite you 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.

Let’s get specific: What do we eat? Here’s a list that runs from fresh vegetables to potato chips and in between.

  1. The following foods can be eaten without concerning yourself about their "chametz" content.
    • Fresh fruit, fresh vegetables
    • Eggs, fresh fish, fresh meat and poultry
  2. The following foods can also be eaten without concern for "chametz" content.  You should, however, purchase new packages and not use them before Passover.
    • Pure tea, pure coffee (with no cereal additives)
    • Sugar, honey, milk, cottage cheese, cream cheese
    • Butter (See Category 3 for margarine)
  3. Although the following processed foods do not appear to contain chametz, they are often produced with chametz.  For example, corn syrup is frequently used as a sweetener in ketchup and chocolate. (See below for details on corn syrup.) It is therefore best to purchase these products for use during Passover only if they bear a label saying they are kosher for Pesach or if you at least read the contents label carefully.  That way you will be sure that chametz has not been used in preparing them.
    • Condiments (ketchup, mayonnaise), Canned goods, Grape juice, Wine
    • Oils, Candy, Ice Cream, Yogurt, Potato Chips, Margarine (no corn oil!)
  4. And just stay away from the following foods altogether.
    • Leavened bread, rolls, bagels, muffins, biscuits, croissants, doughnuts, crackers
    • Cakes, Cereals, Coffee with cereal additives
    • Wheat, barley, oats, spelt, rye
    • All liquids containing ingredients or flavors made from grain alcohol

Why would ice cream or yogurt or plain peanut butter even be considered chametz?

Another set of restricted foods is called kitniot-legumes. Ashkenazic Jews of Eastern European origin do not eat vegetables such as beans, rice, corn, and peas because they can be ground into a kind of flour and made into foodstuffs which might appear to be chametz. So, to guard against the possibility of confusion, legumes were forbidden.

This explains the restrictions placed on the use of processed food which contain flour, grain, or legume products. Unless the product has been prepared for Passover, we don’t know if the flour or grain used reached the fermentation point. In addition, many processed foods use corn syrup as a sweetener, which makes them inappropriate for Passover. (And, by the way, it’s probably a whole lot healthier to say away from most processed foods anyway.)

Can’t I make the point by eating matzah at the Seder and then going back to bagels, creal, and pizza for the rest of the Passover week?

Of course, you can. In the modern world you can live and eat however you wish as a Jew.

On the other hand, as you define your practice for Passover, the real question for you as a Jew may be why you would want to eat chametz at a time when Jewish tradition says not to do so. What are you saying about your Judaism when you eat pizza two days after the Seder? Are you making a statement of principle or rather missing an opportunity for self-definition as a Jew? Bagels are delicious, but abstention can also be delicious - a concrete way to affirm your role in a tradition that stretches back thousands of years.

Does a Reform Jew Change Dishes for Passover?

Most Reform Jews probably don’t change dishes for Passover.  In fact, most Passover comments from Sinai Temple have not mentioned the idea.  That’s because your Rabbi (that’s me) has mainly wanted to focus the congregation on what and what not to eat for the holiday.

That doesn’t mean, however, that there isn’t yet another possibility for giving shape to Passover.  If you don’t eat chametz during the holiday, it can indeed make sense not to use your usual dishes and silverware during Passover.  Some Jews (Reform Jews!) do have a totally separate set of dishes, silverware, pots and pans which they only use during Passover; others choose to use different dishes and silverware while holding onto their regular pots and pans.  Some choose to use different silverware in order to indicate that what we eat on Passover is meant to be different from the rest of the year.

Does it matter?  Does "God really care” if we eat matza on the same plate used for a bagel the rest of the year?  My bet is God doesn’t much worry about our plates and silverware.  Nevertheless, the idea of making our homes visually different for one week a year does speak strongly to me.  At some level, “changing some dishes” can be an aesthetically pleasing and memory creating Passover option.


Not Eating Bread This Year?

I vividly remember my experience as a young Air Force Chaplain, going to the senior Chaplain who I recall was a Protestant fundamentalist, and saying "Next month is Passover, and I need to have certain foods stocked in the PX for Jewish families."  His response was a puzzled "Why?"  A year later, I said the same thing to a Catholic senior Chaplain, and his response was "Of course," I got what I wanted in both cases, but the second was the easier.

I vividly remember my experience as a young Air Force Chaplain, going to the senior Chaplain who I recall was a Protestant fundamentalist, and saying "Next month is Passover, and I need to have certain foods stocked in the PX for Jewish families."  His response was a puzzled "Why?"  A year later, I said the same thing to a Catholic senior Chaplain, and his response was "Of course," I got what I wanted in both cases, but the second was the easier.

Jews have always understood this relationship.  Even in Reform Judaism, where questions of kosher foods are left to the individual’s choice, it is still clear that what we eat reflects what we believe.  This is especially obvious on Passover, when – at the very least – we abstain from eating bread for the duration of the holiday.  It links us to other Jews in the world, and “vertically” to our people’s experience on this planet.

Although we talk about the great central ideal of Passover, the concept of freedom, nothing illustrates a concept better than some concrete action as a reminder.  In fact, we realize more and more that you cannot have a religion based only on ideas.  That is called a philosophy. We do not practice the philosophy of Judaism, but the religion of the Jewish people, which requires action as well as faith.

We eat matzah during Passover to remind ourselves that we are part of the community of Israel, as well as the heirs of the hasty departure from Egypt.  It is also a question of taste.  matzah really doesn’t taste very good the rest of the year, no matter what you put on it.  And no bread ever tasted better than the first bite after the week of Passover.  Right?

We eat matzah during Passover to remind ourselves that we are part of the community of Israel, as well as the heirs of the hasty departure from Egypt.  It is also a question of taste.  matzah really doesn’t taste very good the rest of the year, no matter what you put on it.  And no bread ever tasted better than the first bite after the week of Passover.  Right?

—Rabbi James Perman, Mount Vernon, NY


Did You Know That Quinoa is Kosher for Passover?

Quinoa (pronounced “keen-wa”) is rapidly becoming a popular healthy alternative to starchy side dishes like potatoes, rice & pasta. Quinoa is a grain-like tasty gluten free food that is high in fiber & protein and contains more calcium & iron than wheat.

Another unexpected feature of quinoa is that it is kosher for Passover! This is a welcome fact for those who have been yearning for alternatives to potatoes and matzah during Passover.

Quinoa was not a part of our ancestors’ diet in the Middle East during the time of their escape from Egypt. Since it was not part of their diet, quinoa is not on the list of leavened grains forbidden during Passover.

So, is quinoa really Kosher for Passover?

Jewish Law prohibits leavened wheat products, known as chametz on Passover. Chametz is any food product made of wheat, barley, rye, oats, spelt, or their by-products, which has leavened (risen) or fermented. Jewish tradition has determined that flour from any of these five grains that comes in contact with water or moisture will leaven unless fully baked within eighteen minutes.

Quinoa first arrived in the US from Chile in the 1980’s. Quinoa is not one of these forbidden grains, nor is it related to any of these grains, and is therefore not chametz.

Quinoa is actually a grass rather than a grain. We are actually eating the seeds of a leafy green plant similar to chard or spinach. Thus, quinoa can be eaten on Passover.

For fun with quinoa right now, follow the link to recipes.

For Passover Recipes, follow this link.