Chametz and Matzah

Chametz and Matzah

Yoel Halevi 2 comments

Part 1

What is Chametz?

When it comes to the process of leavening dough using sourdough and yeast, both methods work through a similar principle: fermentation. However, they achieve this fermentation through different mechanisms.

Yeast: Yeast is a single-celled organism, typically Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which consumes sugars present in the dough and produces carbon dioxide (CO2) and alcohol as byproducts. This process is called alcoholic fermentation. The CO2 gas gets trapped in the dough, causing it to rise.

Sourdough: Sourdough starter is a mixture of flour and water that has been naturally fermented by wild yeast and lactic acid bacteria (LAB), such as lactobacillus. These microbes exist naturally in the environment and on the surfaces of grains. When mixed with flour and water, they begin to ferment the sugars in the flour. This fermentation process produces not only CO2 but also lactic acid and acetic acid. The lactic acid bacteria produce lactic acid through lactic acid fermentation, while the wild yeast produces CO2 through alcoholic fermentation.

In both cases, the production of CO2 gas causes the dough to rise. However, sourdough fermentation typically takes longer than using commercial yeast because wild yeast and LAB are slower at fermenting dough compared to commercial yeast strains. Additionally, sourdough fermentation introduces more complex flavors and textures to the dough due to the presence of lactic acid and acetic acid.

Overall, whether using commercial yeast or sourdough starter, the process of leavening dough involves the fermentation of sugars to produce CO2 gas, which causes the dough to rise and results in lighter, airy bread.

Baking powder and baking soda 

Baking powder and baking soda serve a similar purpose in baking as yeast and sourdough in that they contribute to the leavening of dough or batter, but they achieve this through different mechanisms.

1. Baking Powder: Baking powder is a chemical leavening agent composed of an alkaline component (usually baking soda), an acid component (such as cream of tartar), and a moisture absorber (such as cornstarch). When baking powder is combined with moisture and heat during baking, a chemical reaction occurs. This reaction releases carbon dioxide gas, which causes the dough or batter to rise. Baking powder is often used in recipes where a rapid rise is desired, such as in cakes, muffins, and quick breads.

2. Baking Soda (Sodium Bicarbonate): Baking soda is another chemical leavening agent, but unlike baking powder, it requires an acidic ingredient in the recipe to activate it. When baking soda comes into contact with an acid (such as yogurt, buttermilk, vinegar, lemon juice, or cocoa), it undergoes a chemical reaction that produces carbon dioxide gas. This gas helps the dough or batter rise. Baking soda is commonly used in recipes where there is already an acidic ingredient present, such as in certain types of cakes, cookies, and pancakes.

Though the end result of the different products is similar, there are key differences between yeast/sourdough and baking powder/baking soda:

1. Type of Leavening: Yeast and sourdough rely on the fermentation of sugars by microorganisms (yeast and lactic acid bacteria) to produce carbon dioxide gas, which causes the dough to rise. In contrast, baking powder and baking soda undergo chemical reactions to release carbon dioxide gas, which leavens the dough or batter.

2. Time: Yeast and sourdough typically require more time for fermentation to occur, often requiring hours or even overnight, whereas baking powder and baking soda produce immediate leavening effects once they come into contact with moisture and heat during baking.

3. Flavor and Texture: Yeast and sourdough fermentation can impart complex flavors and textures to the final baked goods due to the byproducts of fermentation, such as acids and alcohols. Baking powder and baking soda do not contribute significant flavor or texture changes to the baked goods.

While both yeast/sourdough and baking powder/baking soda contribute to the leavening of dough or batter, they operate through different mechanisms and have distinct effects on the final baked product.

In conclusion, the terms discussed – Chametz, sourdough, yeast, baking powder, and baking soda – represent fundamental elements in the realm of culinary arts and food science. Chametz embodies the concept of fermentation and leavening. Sourdough and yeast are microbial agents that ferment sugars in dough, producing carbon dioxide gas and contributing to the rise of baked goods. Baking powder and baking soda, on the other hand, leverage chemical reactions to release carbon dioxide gas, facilitating leavening in a more immediate manner. Each method imparts distinct flavors, textures, to the final products. Hens it is clear that Backing powder and soda do not produce the same prosses as yeast and sourdough and are not chametz. 

Possible Origins of the word Chametz 

Semitic root “ח-מ-ץ” (ḥ-m-ṣ):** The Hebrew word “Chametz” is derived from the Semitic root ḥ-m-ṣ (ח-מ-ץ), which carries the meaning of fermentation or souring. This root is shared across various Semitic languages, indicating a common understanding of the process of leavening. In Akkadian, the cognate term is “ḥamāṣu” (חֲמָץ), which refers to the act of souring or fermenting. Akkadian texts, such as culinary recipes and agricultural records, mention the use of fermentation in food production. In Arabic, the root appears in words like “ḥamīṣ” (حَمِيْص), which means sourdough or fermented dough, and “ḥimṣ” (خِمْص), which refers to leavened bread.

Akkadian Sources

Akkadian was a prominent Semitic language spoken in Mesopotamia, with a rich literary and cultural heritage. Due to the interactions between ancient Israelites and neighboring civilizations, including the Babylonians and Assyrians, Akkadian influence on Hebrew vocabulary and culture is evident.

Akkadian texts, such as legal codes, administrative documents, and literary works, contain references to agricultural practices, including the preparation of bread and the use of leavening agents. Archaeological findings, such as clay tablets with cuneiform inscriptions, provide insights into ancient Mesopotamian cuisine, including the production of bread and beer through fermentation.

While direct ancient sources specifically mentioning the Hebrew word “Chametz” might be scarce, we can explore ancient texts and inscriptions from Akkadian sources that shed light on the process of fermentation and its cultural significance in the ancient Near East. Here’s an example of an Akkadian source discussing fermentation:

One of the notable sources for understanding ancient food production and culinary practices in Mesopotamia is the collection of Akkadian culinary texts found on clay tablets. These texts often provide recipes and instructions for various food preparations, including bread-making and brewing.

The Yale Babylonian tablet (YBC 3657) that contains recipes for brewing beer and making bread. While the tablet doesn’t mention the specific word “ḥamāṣu” (חֲמָץ) directly, it offers insights into the techniques and ingredients used in fermentation processes:

“Mix [the dough] with the dates, then add to it crushed barley, together with flour, and let the dough stand overnight. Then set up the mash tub, put the crushed malt in it, and prepare the liquid. […] Work into the dough and make large loaves, and set them in a circular pan. Cover the pan, and bake the loaves in the embers; do not let the fire touch them.”

This excerpt highlights the use of fermentation in bread-making, with the dough left to stand overnight, likely allowing for natural fermentation to occur. While this example doesn’t directly mention the Hebrew word “Chametz,” it illustrates the ancient practice of fermentation in bread-making, which aligns with the concept conveyed by the word “Chametz” in Hebrew.

Egyptian Hieroglyphic Inscriptions

 Hieroglyphic inscriptions found in tombs, temples, and other archaeological sites often depict scenes of daily life, including food preparation and baking activities. These inscriptions can offer indirect evidence of bread production techniques and tools used by ancient Egyptians.

 The tomb of Rekhmire, a vizier under Pharaoh Thutmose III during the New Kingdom period, contains reliefs depicting scenes of food production, including bread-making. One such scene shows workers kneading dough and shaping bread loaves. While the inscriptions accompanying these scenes may not provide detailed instructions, they offer visual evidence of bread production in ancient Egypt.

Archaeological excavations of ancient Egyptian sites have uncovered various artifacts related to bread production, such as baking ovens, grinding stones, and bread molds. These findings provide tangible evidence of the tools and techniques used by ancient Egyptians to make bread.

In the archaeological site of Amarna, the ancient capital of Egypt built by Pharaoh Akhenaten in the 14th century BCE, archaeologists discovered numerous bread molds made of pottery. These molds, often shaped like small loaves of bread, were used to shape and bake individual bread portions.

Part 2

Unleavened bread 

Unleavened bread is a type of bread that is made without the use of leavening agents, such as yeast or baking powder, which are typically used to make bread rise. Instead, unleavened bread relies solely on flour and water, sometimes with added salt, to create a simple dough that is then baked.


From the Akkadian word “maṣṣu” or Aramaic “maṣṣāʾ”. This theory suggests a borrowing from ancient Near Eastern languages such as Akkadian or Aramaic. Akkadian was a Semitic language spoken in ancient Mesopotamia, while Aramaic was widely used in the region during the time of the Babylonian exile and beyond. The Akkadian term “maṣṣu” and the Aramaic “maṣṣāʾ” both refer to a type of unleavened bread. Another theory claims that the word has its origins in Greek. Some scholars propose a connection between the Hebrew word “Matzah” and the Greek term “azymos” (ἄζυμος), which also means unleavened bread. This theory suggests that there might have been cultural or linguistic influences between ancient Greek and Hebrew, possibly during periods of contact or exchange.

The process of making unleavened bread 

Ingredients: The basic ingredients for unleavened bread are flour and water. Additional ingredients such as salt or oil may also be used for flavor and texture, but they are not strictly necessary.

Mixing: The flour and water (and any other optional ingredients) are mixed to form a dough. The dough should be kneaded until it is smooth and uniform in texture.

Resting: Unlike yeast bread, unleavened bread does not require a resting period for fermentation. Once the dough is mixed and kneaded, it is ready to be shaped and baked immediately.

Shaping: The dough is shaped into flat discs or rounds of the desired size and thickness. This can be done by hand or using a rolling pin to flatten the dough.

Baking: The shaped dough is then baked in an oven until it is cooked through and slightly golden brown. Baking times may vary depending on the thickness of the bread and the temperature of the oven.

Cooling: Once baked, the unleavened bread is allowed to cool briefly before serving. It can be eaten warm or at room temperature, and it pairs well with a variety of toppings, spreads, or accompaniments.

Overall, unleavened bread is characterized by its simplicity and lack of rise, resulting in a dense and hearty texture. It has been a staple food in many cultures throughout history and continues to be enjoyed for its versatility and ease of preparation.

Unleavened bread was a staple food in many ancient cultures, often associated with religious or ceremonial practices. Here are examples of ancient sources, cultures, and religious practices involving unleavened bread.

1. Ancient Egypt:

In ancient Egypt, unleavened bread held a central place in both dietary and religious contexts, playing a vital role in the daily lives and spiritual practices of the Egyptian people. 

Unleavened bread was a dietary staple for the ancient Egyptians, serving as a primary source of sustenance for the populace. It was consumed by people from all social strata, from the common laborer to the pharaoh himself. Bread-making was a highly developed craft in ancient Egypt, with a variety of breads made from different grains, including wheat and barley. Bread-making was deeply ingrained in Egyptian culture, reflecting the importance of agriculture and food production in sustaining the civilization. Depictions of bread-making and baking can be found in tomb reliefs, temple inscriptions, and artistic representations, highlighting the centrality of bread in Egyptian daily life.

Unleavened bread held significant religious symbolism in ancient Egyptian religious rituals and ceremonies. Bread offerings were made to various deities as part of religious rites seeking divine favor, protection, and blessings. The act of offering bread to the gods was believed to ensure the well-being and prosperity of the community.

Unleavened bread played a crucial role in funerary rites and rituals associated with the afterlife. Bread offerings, along with other food items, were placed in tombs and burial chambers to sustain the deceased on the journey to the afterlife. Bread offerings symbolized the continuation of life beyond death and the provision of sustenance in the underworld.

Temples dedicated to Egyptian gods and goddesses were centers of religious activity where bread offerings were made as part of temple ceremonies and festivals. Bread-making was carried out in temple bakery facilities by dedicated priests and temple personnel, ensuring the production of high-quality bread for religious rituals. Osiris, the god of the afterlife and the underworld, was often honored with bread offerings during funerary rites and temple ceremonies. Bread symbolized the sustenance needed by the deceased in the afterlife, and offerings to Osiris were believed to secure his favor and protection for the departed soul.

2. Ancient Mesopotamia (Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians):

In ancient Mesopotamia, comprising the civilizations of Sumer, Babylon, and Assyria, bread held immense cultural, dietary, and religious significance.

Bread was a dietary staple for the people of Mesopotamia. It served as a primary source of sustenance, providing essential carbohydrates and nutrients to the populace. Mesopotamians, including the Sumerians, Babylonians, and Assyrians, consumed bread daily as a staple part of their meals. Unleavened bread, made without leavening agents like yeast, was a common variety consumed in Mesopotamia. It was typically made from simple ingredients such as flour, water, and salt. Unleavened bread was favored for its simplicity and ease of preparation, making it a practical choice for everyday consumption. Bread held a cultural significance in Mesopotamian society. It was not merely a food item but a symbol of sustenance, community, and civilization itself. The act of bread-making was a communal activity, often involving multiple individuals in the process of kneading, shaping, and baking the dough.

Bread played a central role in Mesopotamian religious rituals and ceremonies. Temples dedicated to various gods and goddesses had bakery facilities where bread, including unleavened varieties, was prepared for religious offerings and sacrifices. The bread was offered to deities as part of rituals seeking divine favor, blessings, or appeasement. Bread was a common offering made to Mesopotamian gods and goddesses. It symbolized sustenance and hospitality, reflecting the belief that offerings of food would ensure the goodwill and protection of the divine entities. Temples maintained dedicated staff for bread-making to ensure the quality and quantity of offerings. Temples in Mesopotamia often had elaborate bakery facilities equipped with ovens, grinding stones, and storage areas for grains and flour. These facilities were essential for the production of bread used in religious ceremonies and feasts. Bread-making was considered a sacred duty entrusted to temple personnel.

3. Ancient Greece:

In ancient Greece, bread was a fundamental component of the daily diet and held significant cultural and religious importance. 

Bread, including unleavened varieties, was a dietary staple for the ancient Greeks, providing a source of carbohydrates and sustenance for the populace. Bread-making was an essential skill passed down through generations, with various types of bread made from grains such as wheat, barley, and rye. Unleavened bread, made without yeast or other leavening agents, was one of the many bread varieties consumed by the Greeks.

Bread held significant cultural importance in Greek society, symbolizing hospitality, community, and civilization itself. The act of bread-making was a communal activity, often involving multiple individuals in the process of kneading, shaping, and baking the dough. Bread was a central feature of Greek meals and gatherings, where it was shared among family and friends. Unleavened bread played a role in religious ceremonies and festivals dedicated to Greek gods and goddesses. Demeter, the goddess of agriculture, fertility, and grain, was particularly associated with bread and cereal crops. Offerings of unleavened bread were made to Demeter and other deities during religious rites and festivals honoring the harvest, fertility, and the cycle of agricultural seasons. Bread offerings were made at temples throughout ancient Greece as part of religious rituals and sacrifices. Temples dedicated to various gods and goddesses, including Demeter, had dedicated altars where offerings of food, including unleavened bread, were presented to the divine entities. Bread offerings symbolized the gratitude of the worshippers and the sustenance provided by the gods. Religious festivals and celebrations in ancient Greece often involved the consumption of unleavened bread as part of communal feasting and offerings to the gods. These festivals, such as the Thesmophoria, celebrated the fertility of the land, the harvest, and the blessings of the agricultural deities. Unleavened bread served both as a sacred offering and as a symbol of abundance and prosperity.

4. Persian Culture 

Unleavened bread, known as “naan-e-tanur” or “naan-e-sangak” in Persian culture, holds a significant place both in Persian cuisine and in Zoroastrian religious practices. Here’s a detailed explanation of the role of unleavened bread in Persian culture and its use in Zoroastrian worship:

Unleavened bread has deep roots in Persian cuisine and culture, dating back thousands of years. It is a staple food item consumed by people across Iran and neighboring regions. Unleavened bread is traditionally made from wheat flour, water, and salt, and it is typically baked in traditional ovens called “tanurs” or on hot stones known as “sangak,” hence the names “naan-e-tanur” and “naan-e-sangak.”Unleavened bread is a dietary staple in Persian cuisine, often served alongside various dishes such as kebabs, stews, and salads. It is enjoyed by people of all ages and socioeconomic backgrounds and is considered a symbol of hospitality and community in Persian culture. The simplicity of its ingredients and the traditional methods of preparation reflect the rich culinary heritage of Iran. In Zoroastrianism, the ancient religion of Persia, unleavened bread holds religious significance and is used in worship ceremonies and rituals. Zoroastrianism emphasizes purity, truth, and the balance between good and evil, and unleavened bread plays a role in conveying these spiritual principles. Unleavened bread is offered as a sacred offering during Zoroastrian ceremonies and rituals, particularly in the context of Yasna, the primary worship service in Zoroastrianism. In Yasna ceremonies, unleavened bread, along with other ritual items such as Haoma (a sacred plant), is presented on a special altar known as the “khordeh Avesta.” The bread symbolizes sustenance, purity, and communion with the divine. Unleavened bread holds symbolic significance in Zoroastrian worship. Its simplicity and purity reflect the Zoroastrian ideals of moral integrity and spiritual enlightenment. By offering unleavened bread during worship, Zoroastrians seek to express their devotion to Ahura Mazda, the supreme deity of Zoroastrianism, and to align themselves with the divine order of the universe. In addition to its use in religious ceremonies, unleavened bread often serves as a focal point for communal gatherings and celebrations within the Zoroastrian community. During festivals such as Nowruz (the Persian New Year) and Mehregan (the Festival of Mithra), unleavened bread is shared among family members and friends as a symbol of unity, prosperity, and renewal.

Selected Bibliography 

– Civil, Miguel. “Akkadian Culinary Tablets: The Yale Culinary Tablets.” In “Akkadica,” vol. 1, pp. 95-105. Peeters Publishers, 1978.

– Greenberg, Moshe. “Akkadian ‘maṣṣu’ and Hebrew ‘maṣṣah’.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 11, no. 4 (1952): 251-253.

– Horbury, William. “The Background to the New Testament Passover: The Meal Traditions of the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism.” Tyndale Bulletin 47, no. 2 (1996): 201-226.

– Huehnergard, John. “Akkadian and Eblaite.” In The Semitic Languages, edited by Robert Hetzron, 91-131. Routledge, 1997.

– Kemp, Barry J. “A House Altar Model from Amarna with a Mould for Making Bread.” In “Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland,” vol. 118, pp. 253-264. Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 1988.

– Lipiński, Edward. “The Aramaic and Canaanite Inscriptions.” In Semitic Languages: Outline of a Comparative Grammar, 235-275. Peeters Publishers, 2001.

– Loewenstamm, Samuel E. “Unleavened Bread in Jewish Greek Literature.” In Linguistics and Biblical Hebrew, pp. 295-306. Brill, 1988.

– Potts, Daniel T. “Akkadian.” In The Oxford Handbook of Cuneiform Culture, edited by Karen Radner and Eleanor Robson, 17-35. Oxford University Press, 2011.

– Robins, Gay. “Bread and Beer: The Subsistence Basis of Ancient Egyptian Civilization.” In “Egyptian Art in the Age of the Pyramids,” pp. 55-61. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1999.

– Sasson, Jack M. “Mesopotamian Civilization.” In Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, edited by Jack M. Sasson, vol. 1, 1-20. Hendrickson Publishers, 1995.

– Weinfeld, Moshe. “The Name of Passover.” Vetus Testamentum 18, no. 2 (1968): 184-188.



April 22, 2024 at 2:22 am

I know to get rid of my sourdough starter but does scripture require us to get rid of store bought yeast in the packets, or is it treated like baking powder and baking soda (we can have it in the house we just don’t use it with grain). I keep hearing conflicting arguments.
Any help would be appreciated.

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