Tuesday, March 5, 2013

What is Chametz?

As we have explained, during Pesaḥ we cannot eat, benefit from or even posses ḥameṣ. But, what exactly is ḥameṣ? Ḥameṣ (or Chametz) is any fermented substance -solid or liquid- that comes from one of the following five grains: wheat, rye, spelt, barley and oats.

The ḥameṣ type fermentation takes place after eighteen minutes, from the moment one of these grains or one of its by-products comes in contact with water. 

Some common examples of ḥameṣ products are: Bread, pasta, crackers, cookies, fiber-drinks, cereals, baby foods, whiskey and beer.

The following three factors need to be present simultaneously for a food to be considered  ḥameṣ.

(i) Flour or any other product derived from one of the above mentioned five grains.  A fermented food product which is not or that does not contain any element coming from one of the five grains is not ḥameṣ. (tomorrow, BH, we will explain this subject better).
(ii) Water: as we explained yesterday when flour coming from one of the five grains is mixed exclusively with fruit juice, without water, is not ḥameṣ (see here).  

(iii) Time.  The maṣa (Matzah) has two of the three elements that render a product ḥameṣ: flour and water.  But it is entirely baked before eighteen minutes have passed from the moment water and flour came in contact.  Time, therefore, is the main difference between ḥameṣ and maṣa

The prohibition of ḥameṣ includes another element, a food additive which the Tora calls se-or. Se-or (grain yeast) is a catalyzer of the fermentation process. In other words, once you have a dough, flour and water, mixed together the fermentation process could take place in 18 minutes, or you can add se-or / yeast and the fermentation process will be faster.  All the prohibitions ofḥameṣ apply to se-or as well.