This morning I was asked, "what should we do???” Here it is the day of Pesach, which starts at sundown this evening. It is time to clean out the biblical leaven. From a biblical perspective, cleaning out the leaven is actually as simple as throwing out the actual biblical leavening agent and any leavened bread - leaven is yeast or yeast based. In ancient times, the leaven (Yeast) was from the sourdough starter that was used. This would include any breads, rolls, biscuits, and sometimes flat breads or tortillas that were leavened (risen) using a yeast or sour dough starter.
In Exodus 12, verses 15-20 talk about the actual requirements:
“Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel. And in the first day there shall be an holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you. And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even. Seven days shall there be no leaven found in your houses: for whosoever eateth that which is leavened, even that soul shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he be a stranger, or born in the land. Ye shall eat nothing leavened; in all your habitations shall ye eat unleavened bread.” See also: Leviticus 23:4-8; Numbers 28:16-25; Deuteronomy 16:1-8
Although it is not commanded to clean out every nook and cranny of our homes, traditionally many people do. Yet this is only tradition.
The leaven used in biblical times was what we call today sourdough starter. It was a lump of raw dough from a previous loaf that is added to the next loaf to cause it to rise. Historically speaking, they would take that lump, set it aside in a bowl, covered, and add it to the next loaf. We do the same today by taking a portion of sour dough starter, feeding it, storing it for the next loaf, and taking the leftover portion to make a loaf with.
Baking soda and baking powders were not used in baking until much later, and thus we do not consider them the same as biblical leavening. Although baking soda (bicarbonate of sodium or sodium bicarb) was used for mummification purposes in ancient times, it was not for baking. This is why we teach that you do not need to throw them out for the Feast of Unleavened Bread. They are not actual leavening agents as they do not cause the same fermentation/gaseous process as yeast does.
What we think of "cakes" mentioned in the bible are not at all like the light, fluffy sweet cakes we eat these days. Our cakes use baking soda or baking powder. The ancient cakes would have more likely been a drier, whole grain cake that would either have been a flat cake or leavened with sourdough. Even the sweet cakes would have been heavier than we are accustomed to seeing. After the spring Feasts are over, it is fun to start a new sour dough starter and try experimenting with making muffins and sweet breads with it instead of baking powder and baking soda. . .it takes practice, but it is much better for you in the long run. It also gives a good view of how the little lump leavens the whole lump.
When deciding what to eat right this minute or to toss in the trash, here is one way to look at it: The leaven in the bible is actually a living "creature." It needs to be fed - yeast, when you activate it, feeds off the sugars or carbs in whatever it is living in. It grows into a larger 'colony.' When you take a piece of that yeast dough (sour dough starter), then add it to a fresh batch of flour, the yeasts in the starter feed on the natural sugars in the new mixture, producing the gas, etc., which generates the rising effect.
You cannot take a dollop of dough from quick breads, cakes, cookies, etc., which contain baking soda or powder, and add the dollop to the next batch to generate "leavening the whole lump." If you have left a batch of any of these batters sit too long, you can see it will not rise any longer. It is "flat." It also will not re-leaven if you add more sugar or flour to 'feed' it because it cannot be fed. Leaven from the bible is something that is fed, re-fed, and fed again. . . . Each new batch getting stronger and more active.
Biblical leaven, though, can almost always be re-fed (unless you left it unfed horribly long and all the yeast actually died of starvation). This is why sourdough starter should be fed at least once per week in cold or rest times, or every day if you are using it regularly. It is much more than just the chemical process produced by baking soda and powder (which is nothing more than baking soda and cream of tartar).
Our answer is simply: No, baking soda and baking powder are not commanded to be avoided. If someone "chooses" to avoid them, that is their choice, but it is not part of the commandment.
May you have a blessed Feast Day and may your final preparations today go wonderfully easy.
Chag Sameach Massah!!
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Lead Author (Bio)
Jim, (Judi's husband), has Sephardi Jewish ancestry and is a minister and head of Shofar Productions. Jim was a denominational pastor, hospital chaplain, and former director of a non-profit community organization.
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