Jewish dietary laws forbid practicing Jews to eat, own or derive any benefit from chametz (prohibited food) during Passover. The process of avoiding the outlawed substances can be pretty tricky, and very complex for anyone new to Judaism. Here are some general guidelines for the next Passover.
- In addition to avoiding chametz, many Ashkenazi Orthodox Jews also refrain from contact with kitniyos, which includes rice, corn, millet, mustard, peas, beans and lecithin. (Ashkenazi Jews are those from Eastern Europe; Sephardic Jews are from Spain and the Middle East.)
- Orthodox, Conservative and Reform customs vary, and even within each tradition, every family maintains its own way of observing Passover. Some honor the occasion by simply refraining from eating leavened bread; others only eat food designated Kosher for Passover, with dishes and utensils used at no other time of the year. Most people follow a path somewhere in the middle.
- Some utensils and countertops cannot be kashered but must be put away or covered for the duration of Passover. For detailed guidelines, check with your rabbi.
- Gather up all traces of chametz before Passover, including any in your vacation home, office kitchen, boat or mobile home. By definition, chametz is any substance made from wheat, barley, oats, spelt or rye that been in contact with water for longer than 18 minutes, including pet food, beverages and cosmetics.
- Dispose of everything or "sell" it to a non-Jew to be bought back after the holiday. The chametz need not go into the possession of the buyer, but it must be placed in a sealed-off area and remain there undisturbed throughout Passover.
- Kasher (wash thoroughly) any utensils, linens, shelves, appliances or countertops that have come in contact with chametz during the year. There are specific guidelines for kashering each material.
- Buy and use only products labeled "Kosher for Passover."
- Avoid confusion about chametz-free products by checking the lists published each year by Jewish organizations. Many Web sites post this information during the weeks before Passover, as products can vary from year to year. For instance, a brand of frozen vegetables that was kosher last year will be forbidden this year if the producer uses the same equipment to process plain vegetables and a vegetable-pasta blend.
Because the English versions of Jewish terms are translations from Hebrew, spellings vary, but never enough to make them unrecognizable. For instance, chametz is often spelled chometz. Both versions are correct.