Questions About Passover

Mar 28, 2024 12:24 AM
PassoverFeasts & Holy DaysUnleavened Bread
Bible References

Deuteronomy 16; Exodus 12; Leviticus 23

Table of Contents


Passover is the first feast Israel is given to celebrate and probably the most recognizable feast of the Bible. We are given explicit examples on how to celebrate each feast, and part of the instructions for Passover has me scratching my head.

No Leaven

Deuteronomy 16 tells us that no hametz (in Hebrew) is to be consumed for seven days starting with the Passover. This is generally interpreted as “leaven” or “leavened bread” in English. Hametz isn’t just forbidden from consumption, however, it’s not supposed to be in the house at all.

Is Wine Hametz?

Most of my life I have been content to believe hametz refers to leavened bread; there was never a reason to think otherwise. However, a few years ago a pastor mentioned that the wine Messiah drank at the last supper must have been grape juice because fermented things were banned (Matthew 26). It took me a while to trace that logic back to the concept of hametz or leaven, but once I did it sparked many questions.

Jewish People Today

Many Jewish people today consider fermented wine Kosher for Passover and it is actually standard practice to have wine with the Passover meal. According to Chabad.org, hamtez only refers to things produced from 5 grains: wheat, barley, rye, oat, or spelt.[1] However, there’s nothing in the Bible that gives this definition. Strong’s Concordance does mention leavened bread, but it also mentions fermentation and leaven without reference to bread.[2] There is no reference to grain or the grains mentioned by Chabad.org.

Interestingly, the Bible actually uses 2 different words to discuss the “leaven” that is forbidden. Exodus 12:15, 19; 13:7 and Deuteronomy 16:4 use the word se’or, which means “barm or yeast-cake (as swelling by fermentation):—leaven.”[3] Hametz is used Exodus 12:5, 19-20; 13:3, 7 and Deuteronomy 16:3. Notice that in some cases both words are used in the same verse!

Why Wasn’t Hametz Allowed?

One of the things that makes this interesting is the why. After all, depending on why you think YHWH commanded us no to consume hametz during Passover, will determine which way you lean in terms of whether wine is or isn’t permissible. There are two main interpretations of the prohibition of leaven.

You’ve probably heard the phrase “a little leaven, leaveneth the whole lump” if you grew up in a Christian church. Leaven is often used to symbolize sin and in this frame of mind, leaven would be a contaminant. Covering the house with the lamb’s blood could be seen as a waste if the interior is still full of sin.

On the other hand, we are told explicitly that the Feast of Unleavened Bread (often referred to as Passover as well, since it immediately follows Passover) is about the fact that they fled Egypt at a moment’s notice. There was no time to let the bread rise because they were in a rush (Deuteronomy 16:3).

There is a significant difference in what the leaven or fermentation means in these interpretations. In the former, the symbolism of eliminating sin is the focus. In the latter, its about a reminder of what YHWH brought Israel through. If you lean toward the former, it makes sense that one would conclude wine is also hametz. However, if you lean toward the latter, I see an argument for why it might not be.

Was Messiah’s Wine Fermented or Not?

Remember this, if you were in a rush to leave right now you would work as fast as you could to prepare the food and drink you need to carry with you. For the bread, you wouldn’t leave it to rise (hence unleavened bread), and for the “wine” you would press the grapes into juice and go, right? Except, grapes are harvested in late summer or early fall. During Biblical times when there was no refrigeration and grapes weren’t being shipped from one hemisphere to another to be sold in grocery stores; all the grapes would have been harvested and converted to juice months before Passover. This juice was definitely fermented.

That leads me to believe that wine is permissible during Passover and the absence of leaven was more about remembering the event than the symbol of sin. That being said, since it is not commanded that wine (or grape juice) be drunk during Passover, abstaining from fermented wine is always a safe bet.

References and Footnotes

  1. Dovid Zaklikowski. “Why is it permitted to drink wine with Passover when it is fermented with yeast?”. Chabad.org; visited August 2023
  2. Strong’s H2557. חָמֵץ“. Blue Letter Bible; visited August 2023
  3. Strong’s H7603. שְׂאֹר“. Blue Letter Bible; visited August 2023

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