What is Leaven?
As you know, during the Days of Unleavened Bread, we are to have no leaven or leavened products in our homes (Exodus 12:15; Exodus 13:7). This includes any agent that produces fermentation and causes dough to rise - yeast, baking soda, baking powder, and the like. Items such as bread, cake, crackers, cookies, and prepared cereals and pies, which contain leavening, of course, must be put out. Doing so is symbolic of putting both the visible and the hidden sins out of our lives.
January - April (1971) Good News Magazine
The Bible Answers Your Questions:
Question: Just what is leaven? Which foods are to be avoided during the Days of Unleavened Bread?
Answer: God uses leaven to typify sin (I Corinthians 5:1 8). Sin puffs up just as physical leaven puffs up (verse 2). Unleavened Bread is a type of an unleavened life.
To understand exactly what is included in the leaven we are to avoid during the Days of Unleavened Bread, let's first notice some of the Hebrew words translated "leaven" in the Old Testament. Mechametz refers to leavening agents - substances used to puff up or produce fermentation, causing dough to rise. Yeast, bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) and baking powder are such substances.
Another Hebrew word rendered "leaven" is she-ohd. This literally means "sourdough," a naturally fermenting yeasty batter which was the most common leaven of the Israelites, and which is still often used to cause baked goods to rise and become light in texture.
These leavening agents cause food to become chametz. This Hebrew word is translated "that which is leavened" in Exodus 12:19. It is also translated "leavened bread" in a number of places. It refers to all foods that leaven has caused to rise, including bread, cake, some crackers, certain cookies, some prepared cereals, and pies. A few candies and other foods also make use of leavening agents. If you are in doubt about any product, check the list of ingredients on the wrapper.
Instead of eating leavened bread, we have the positive command to eat unleavened bread for seven days (Exodus 13:6). We may also eat unleavened pies and cereals together with all the meats, drinks, fruits, and vegetables we normally consume.
Most stores carry a variety of unleavened bread. These include Jewish and whole-wheat Matzzoth, Rye Krisp, hard tack, and a number of flat breads. Always check the ingredients of the label to be sure.
Some have asked about using egg whites in baking. Egg whites should not be used as a substitute for leaven, in a deliberate attempt to circumvent the spirit of the law. On the other hand, beaten egg whites used in meringue on pies and other deserts do not constitute a leavening agent. They have not been used to puff up any product baked of flour or meal.
Others have noticed the term "yeast extracts" on the labels of certain foods and have wondered if they should be avoided. These are derivatives of yeast that cannot be used as leavening agents. It would therefore be permissible to use a product containing yeast extracts provided, of course, that it does not contain any actual leavening agent. Some people also buy brewer's yeast from health food stores. This form of yeast is totally dead and should not therefore be considered as leaven. It should also be mentioned that cream of tartar, by itself, is not a leavening agent either.
Occasionally a question comes up about beer or other fermented drinks. There is nothing in the entirety of Scripture to indicate any restriction on the kind of beverages we consume during the Days of Unleavened Bread - no mention of these being the "Days of Unleavened Beverages." The fact is that in all cases where the Days of Unleavened Bread are mentioned, the reference is always to the example set by the children of Israel when they came out of Egypt without any leaven in their dough (see Exodus 12:39). There is no reference to the invisible yeast or result of it in either beer, wine, or other beverages.
Naturally fermented wine was customarily consumed by the Israelites at God's Festivals. If God had intended a ban on fermented beverages during the Days of Unleavened Bread, it would undoubtedly have been mentioned. In fact, such mention would have been necessary. Yet the command adds no more than is found in Exodus 13:6-7: "Seven days thou shalt eat unleavened bread...and there shall be no leavened bread seen with thee in all thy quarters."
If you are unsure about a particular food and unable to find the answer, you should refrain from eating it, "for whatsoever is not of faith is sin" (Romans 14:23).
We should all see to it that we do eat some unleavened bread during each of the seven Days of Unleavened Bread. Remember that it is a positive command. By eating the "bread of affliction" we are reminded of our having been in bondage to sin, from which we are now delivered.
If it occurs, as in all probability it will, that partway through the Feast you find some leavened product that had somehow escaped your scrutiny, put it off your property immediately. This is a type of those hidden sins that we don't always discover upon conversion. We must keep on putting out sin (leaven) until the process is complete, as is signified by the very fact that there are seven - the complete number - of Days of Unleavened Bread.
God intended the Days of Unleavened Bread to be a type to remind us that we are to be unleavening our lives spiritually by putting out the spiritual leaven of SIN - not for seven days only, but throughout our ENTIRE LIVES. "Therefore, let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (I Corinthians 5:8).
Ambassador College Correspondence Course - Lesson 26
Comment: Leaven is any substance used to cause dough to rise by fermentation. Yeast, bicarbonate of soda (baking soda), baking powder and sourdough are leavening agents. Leavened foods include most breads, crackers, cakes, cookies, biscuits, pastries and some pies and prepared cereals. A few candies and other foods are also leavened. If one is in doubt about any product, he should check the list of ingredients on its package. If still not sure about a particular food, it should not be eaten during the Feast (Romans 14:23).
All leaven and leavened foods should be removed from one's premises before the beginning of the first Holy Day. They should not be stored in another room. The morning after the New Testament Passover service, which is still the Passover day, is a convenient time to finish removing any leavening agents or leavened bread. It is wise to arrange purchases so that when Passover comes, there will be little leaven to discard. Removing these inexpensive products is one way God tests us to see how much we value obedience to Him.
If during the Feast some accidentally overlooked leaven is found in the home, it should be thrown away immediately. This is a good lesson for us as it is a type of the hidden sins, we aren't aware of at baptism. As we grow in spiritual knowledge and understanding, we become aware of more sins to overcome. We must immediately put the leaven of sin out of our lives when it is discovered!
Quick Reference Page
Sodium Phosphate (can be used as an agent)
Not a leavening agent:
Cream of Tartar
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