The ancient punishment for very serious crimes in the Jewish human being is called kareth, or “cutting off,” which can mean either resources punishment or excommunication. Crime worthy of kareth incorporate incest, bestiality, sacrificing one’s very own child, and, um, eating bread during Passover.

Most likely no one has actually been executed for eating a sandwich during Passover in fairly some time, if ever, but the reality remains the the dietary laws throughout the holiday, start at sundown this Friday, room very, very serious. And also yet they’re also completely muddled and chaotic: people obey totally different rules based on where they’re from, and every as soon as in for bit a prominent rabbi looks in ~ an old rule and also says “this is stupid” and also that dominance no longer counts. To this day, teams of scholars problem rulings on whether it’s okay to, say, eat quinoa. (The old Jews, being very far indigenous the Andean residence of quinoa, were unable to properly preeminence on the food.)

At the danger of generalizing, Jews love come argue, and the rules about what is acceptable because that Jews to eat during Passover is fantastic topic about which come argue. There are stakes, at the very least theoretically, from the kareth punishment, definition there is some pressure to number out the answer. The rules themselves are kind of conceptual, which method there’s endless wiggle room come debate. And also debate us have, because that literally thousands of years, with no real end in sight.

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A ridge of matzoh bread. (Photo: LeonP/shutterstock.com)

The Passover dietary constraints originate indigenous one detail in the Passover story, one of the earliest stories and also thus among the earliest holidays on the Jewish calendar. If fleeing persecution in Egypt, go the story, the Jews had actually such small time to prepare the bread wasn’t also able come rise. However this unleavened bread, now called matzoh, showed hardy and also easy come transport, and also sustained the Jews together they fled.

To commemorate this incident, and also to psychic the enduring our ancestors walk through, Jews attempt to, sort of, emulate this diet. Here’s among the many possible translations of a i in Deuteronomy the spells this out:

You shall not eat leavened bread with it; 7 days you shall eat through it unleavened bread, the bread the affliction (for you came out that the floor of Egypt in haste), so the you may remember every the job of your life the day once you came out the the floor of Egypt.

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Chametz commodities covered up in a Jerusalem supermarket. (Photo: Daniel Case/CC BY-SA 3.0)

The word provided in Deuteronomy because that “leavened bread” is chametz, and Jews for every little thing reason chose to take this prohibition incredibly seriously. Girlfriend can’t just not eat it; you have to ritually expel that from your house, you are not allowed to sell it, and also you should be careful not to let any type of chametz even come into contact with noþeles you can eat during Passover. Over there are old prayers come render any stray crumbs that might still it is in in your residence “ownerless” and also “nullified.”

But prior to you have the right to chant Aramaic in ~ a crumb to officially orphan it, you need to decide what actually qualifies as chametz, and this transforms out to it is in a complete nightmare of a proposition. The Talmud, basically the opinions and also thoughts of ancient scholars around how the dictates in the Torah should be carried out, offers a simple sort that idea: chametz consists of grains that rise, or ferment, once exposed to water.

The Talmud helpfully lists 5 of these, other than only 2 of them can today be established without doubt (barley and also wheat). The various other three space usually analyzed as rye, spelt, and also oats, however it’s unlikely the either rye or oats actually grew in Israel when the Talmud was composed. Some scholars have determined the translations that the original five chametz grains could include farro, or sorghum, or possibly just an additional kind the barley.

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Home make shmurah matzah. (Photo: Edsel Little/CC BY-SA 2.0)

A commonly, but by no way exclusively, accepted ruling is that any grain that has actually been merged with water because that 18 minutes or much more qualifies together a chametz product and is therefore forbidden. The 18-minute rule dates to a conversation in between two scholars organized sometime approximately 200 CE; one rabbi, an great fat scholar called Shimon ben Lakish, opined that the moment it takes because that chametz-potential commodities to come to be actual chametz is “as long as that takes a man to walk indigenous Migdal Nunaiya to Tiberias.”

On Google Maps, Migdal Nunaiya, now called Migdal and known as mary Magdalene’s hometown, is around five mile from Tiberias, or one hour and also 42 minute by foot. It is unclear how this trip ever took 18 minutes. Today, in a car, it takes 11.

So the 18-minute mark is not always obeyed; scholars as much as the modern day have discussed exactly exactly how long the takes because that chametz-potential ingredient to ferment right into chametz. After ~ all, some assets take longer to ferment than others—surely this need to be taken into consideration! There’s no conclusion on that, partly because there’s no conclusion on any kind of of this.   

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Orange juice that is kosher because that Passover. (Photo: Pete unseth/CC BY-SA 4.0)

But the principle of fermentation extends even further. Take it alcohol, for example: beer is make from fermented barley or wheat. Thus it is forbidden ~ above Passover. However wine is made from grapes: just fine top top Passover. (In truth drinking alcohol is a significant part the the Passover seder.) The prohibition climate gets even more granular: since fermented alcohol i do not care vinegar, you need to make sure also your vinegar comes from the appropriate place. Malt vinegar, made from beer? Nope. Apple cider vinegar? Fine. Level white vinegar? Ah ha, you have to investigate this, because white vinegar is do from a neutral alcohol (basically vodka). Several of it comes from wheat: bad! Some originates from potatoes: fine!

A weird thing about Judaic rules is that they differ widely based upon community. For much of Jewish history, Jews have actually been scattered all over the planet, complying with the opinions of separation, personal, instance rabbis or sects. Over there is no central rule-making force as there is in the Catholic church; the rabbis and also organizations affiliated in this story space simply world who have studied a lot and have opinions and also are good at arguing those opinions.

Sometime about the damage of the an initial Temple in Jerusalem in 587 BCE, the Jews dispersed, and began to develop separate customs based upon where they ended up. The two largest teams still staying are the Ashkenazi, that ranged from Germany to Russia, and also the Sephardi, who worked out around the Mediterranean, from the Middle eastern to Spain. These groups are exceedingly different; castle speak different languages, eat various foods, and have different spiritual customs, all within the structure of Judaism.

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A Passover table showing the Seder plate. (Photo: Rebecca Siegel/CC by 2.0)

Those distinctions extend to exactly how they cope with chametz, particularly with a vast subsection that plants known as kitniyot. Kitniyot technically describes legumes, yet during Passover it gets also broader, and also can include rice, corn, sesame seeds, and lentils. The Ashkenazi Jews traditionally do not eat kitniyot throughout Passover; the Sephardi do. Kind of.

The ban on kitniyot is about 800 years old, and also by this time it’s basically been a preeminence for so long that observing the is much less a statement around how true-to-the-Talmud the is and an ext about simply keeping heritages alive. Yet in so late 2015, two significant scholarly teams both determined that kitniyot are now just fine come eat. These groups do not declare what people should do; they simply espouse learned opinions. And also those learned opinions were, basically, the the Ashkenazi half on kitniyot is stupid.“In our opinion the is allowed (and perhaps even obligatory) to get rid of this custom,” writes Rabbi David Kolinkin in among these. Because that those Ashkenazic Jews that pay close attention to the rulings that learned Israeli Rabbis, this year might be the very first in i m sorry they happily partake in rice and also corn throughout Passover.

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