The Karaite Korner

Passover and Matzot (Unleavened Bread)

Passover Haggadah
The True Meaning of Passover
Egyptian Karaite Matzah Recipe
Passover and Unleavened Bread
When was the Passover Sacrifice Brought?
Beginning or End of 14th?
What is Hametz (Leaven)?

The True Meaning of Passover

Read about the true meaning of Passover by the Karaite sage Hakham Meir Y. Rekhavi.

Hakham Rekhavi has also written a primer concerning the laws of Passover. The primer is available as part of the new Passover Haggadah.

Traditional Karaite Matzah (Unleavened Bread) Recipe

The Egyptian Karaites have a unique and intriguing way of making Matzah. The recipe was provided by Shoshi Dabach of Jerusalem.


4 cups flour (NOT self-rising or containing rising agents)
2 heaping tablespoons of crushed coriander seeds (also called "cilantro")
1 level teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sunflower oil
3/4 cup of water and add more as needed

flat cookie sheet or other flat cooking tray
large bowl (to knead the flour in)
Bread Pin
blender, food processor, or coffee grinder

1) Preheat the oven to 180 degrees celcius (356 degrees Fahrenheit)

2) Oil the cookie tray.

3) Grind the Coriander in the blender or coffee grinder.

4) Mix the ground coriander and salt into the flour

5) Add the oil and knead it into the flour

6) Gradually kneed the water into the dough until the dough is no longer sticky

7) Flatten the dough with the pin until it is 1 cm (about 1/2 inch) thick; shape it to fit on the cookie sheet.

8) place the dough on the cookie sheet and cut into squares or triangles

9) Stick in oven

10) Cook for 15-20 minutes until crispy (like a dry cracker)

11) For the next batch wash all utensils thouroughly and repeat steps 1-10.

Passover and Unleavened Bread

These days one hears much about the "Holiday" of Passover and even we Karaites refer to it often. But in the Hebrew Bible there is no such holiday! In the Tanach "Passover" is the name of a sacrifice, while the holiday is called Hag HaMatzot ("Feast of Unleavened Bread"). Thus in the verse: "Draw out and take a lamb according to your families, and slaughter (KJV: kill) the passover." (Ex 12,21). In this verse the "Passover" is the lamb that is to be sacrificed by slaughtering and eating it. Similarly in Ex 12,26-27: "...when your children shall say to you, What mean ye by this service? And you shall say, It is the sacrifice of YHWH's passover". The service of slaughtering the lamb and eating it is called "the sacrifice of YHWH's passover". This is also the meaning of Passover in the verse: "In the fourteenth day of the first month between the two evenings is YHWH's passover" (Lev 23,5). And again in Dt 16,1: "Observe the month of the Abib, and perform the passover unto YHWH your God". To "perform" or "keep" the Passover (in Hebrew literally "do the Passover") means to bring the Passover sacrifice and eat it. It is only in post-Biblical times that the word Passover took on the new meaning of referring to the Holiday on which the sacrifice was eaten and not to the sacrifice itself. Today we often hear of the "Passover Holiday" and "Hag Ha-Pessach" both of which are post-Biblical inventions. In the Tanach the Holiday is called Hag HaMatzot which means: "Feast of Unleavened Bread".

When was the Passover Sacrifice Brought?

The Torah commands us: "In the First Month on the fourteenth day of the month, between the two evenings [Hebrew: "Bein Ha'arabayim"], is the Passover [Sacrifice] to YHWH." In biblical Hebrew, the word "evening" (Ayin-Resh-Bet) indicates both the "early part of the night" as well as the actual "onset of evening". In the expression "between the two evenings" the first "onset of evening" is sunset (when the disk of the sun disappears) while the second "onset of evening" is the disappearance of the last rays of the sun and the onset of total darkness. The expression "between the two evenings" is used interchangeably with the term "Ba-Erev" (literally: "at evening") which itself refers to the "onset of the evening". For example, in the incident of the Manna it is written (Ex 16,11-13):

"I have heard the complaints of the Children of Israel; speak to them saying 'Between the two evenings you shall eat meat'... And it was at evening that the quail rose up and covered the camp.'"

We see in this passage that an event predicted as happening "between the two evenings" is said to have happened "at evening". The meaning of "at evening" itself can be learned from the verse "... you shall slaughter the Passover [sacrifice] at evening, at sunset" (Dt 16,6). We see in this verse that "at evening" and "at sunset" are interchangeable expressions (used in "apposition").

To summarize, the Torah describes the time of the Passover Sacrifice with three different expressions: "At Sunset", "At Evening", "Between the Two Evenings". All three of these terms refer to the early evening, shortly after sunset.

Beginning or End of the 14th?

The Torah commands that the Passover sacrifice be brought "In the First Month on the Fourteenth Day of the Month between the two evenings" (Lev 23,5). It is unclear from this verse whether what is being referred to is the period of dusk at the beginning of the 14th or the period of dusk at the end of the 14th. Lev 23:6 continues that the Feast of Unleavened Bread is "on the Fifteenth Day of this month". From this verse it appears that the Passover Sacrifice is to be brought at sunset at the end of the 14th and eaten on the night of the 15th. This is confirmed by Dt 16:4, which commands us regarding the Passover Sacrifice: "and there shall not remain of the meat that you slaughter at evening on the first day until the morning." We see that the entire Paschal lamb must be consumed on the following night it is slaughtered and none of it may be left over until the morning (see also Ex 12:10,22). For our purposes what is significant is that the verse describes the Passover sacrifice as being slaughtered "at evening on the first day".

The passage in Dt 16:1-8 is talking about the Feast of Unleavened Bread and there can be no doubt that "the first day" in v.4 refers to the first day of Unleavened Bread. We have already seen in Lev 23:6 that the First Day of Unleavened Bread falls out on the 15th of the First Month. When we look at Lev 23:5-6 and Dt 16:4 together it becomes clear that the Passover Sacrifice is brought at the end of the 14th of the First Month between the two evenings and eaten that same evening on the 15th of the First Month. The period of "between the two evenings" is reckoned as both the end of the 14th (Lev 23:5) and the beginning of the 15th (Dt 16:4)!

It is not unusual for the Torah to refer to "such and such a date at evening" and to mean the evening that ends that day. In Lev 23:27 we learn that the Day of Atonement occurs on the 10th day of the Seventh Month. A few verses later the Torah makes clear what is meant by the 10th day: "and you shall afflict your souls on the ninth of the month at evening, from evening to evening you shall observe your Sabbath" (Lev 23:32). So we see that to fast on the 10th day means to fast from sunset on the 9th until the following sunset. In this verse "the ninth at evening" refers to the onset of evening at the end of the 9th, not the beginning! So the fast of the Day of Atonement on the 10th of the month runs from sunset ending the 9th until sunset ending the 10th (see also Ex 12:18). Similarly, the 14th between the two evenings in v.5 of the same chapter refers to the end of the 14th, not the beginning, as confirmed by Dt 16:4.

"and there shall not remain of the meat that you slaughter at evening on the first day until morning" Dt 16:4

What is Hametz (Leaven)?

There is a centuries-old debate among the Karaites themselves about the definition of Hametz (leaven). According to the first opinion Hametz is the process of leavening that occurs to certain grains when they are mixed with water. The test to identify what types of grain can become Hametz is to take the flour of that grain, mix it with water, and leave it for a few hours. If the dough rises, that grain is subject to becoming Hametz (leaven). On the other hand, if the dough spoils, then that grain or plant is not leaven-able and it can be freely used and cooked on Passover.

This seems rather obvious but in the Middle Ages the question arose of whether lentil-flour was permissible on Passover. While lentils are not grains, their flour looks much like wheat-flour. The Rabbanites too puzzled over this issue and to this day Sephardic Rabbanites eat lentils on Passover while Ashkenazic Rabbanites do not. Rather than accept arbitrary rulings the Karaite sages sat down and performed experiments. They concluded that the flour of lentils does not rise but spoils and therefore lentils in all its forms are permissible on Passover. The same with rice which is also permissible in all its forms on Passover. Adherents of this view include most of the medieval Karaite sages including Aharon ben Eliyah and Elijah Baschyatchi (see below) as well as the present author.

Not all Karaites agree with this definition. The second school of thought argues that Hametz is not strictly speaking "leavening" but something like "fermentation". They point out that in biblical Hebrew vinegar is called "Hometz Yayin" meaning "leavened-wine" (others translate: "soured wine"). This is used as proof that Hametz refers not only to the leavening of grains but any fermentation or souring process. Based on this reasoning, they forbid the consumption of anything fermented. Included in their list of forbidden foods on Passover are all forms of alcohol, and all milk products such as yogurts and cheeses. Some, although not all, include lentils and rice in this list of forbidden items. This school also considers wine to be Hametz, which is somewhat surprising given that vinegar is called "leavened-wine" (implying that the difference between wine and vinegar is that the latter is leavened but the former is not!). Adherents of this view include the medieval Karaite sage Samuel al-Maghrebi.

The following are excerpts from the writings of some medieval Karaite sages on Hametz:

"and the sage our teacher Yosef Kirkisani said... only the five types of grain can be made into Hametz, namely wheat, spelt, barley, oats, and rye. And the sage was correct because whatever experimentation shows to leaven can be used for Matzah, but the flour of the other 'seeds' do not leaven. For example, [the flour of] millet, rice, beans, lentils, and peas do not leaven but spoil [lit. 'stink']." [Aharon ben Eliyahu (14th Century), Gan Eden, pp.45d-46a].

"The sage Yosef Kirkisani said that only the five types of grain can be made into Hametz, namely, wheat, spelt, barley, oats, and rye. It has also been said that if experimentation shows that a thing can become leaven then it can be used to make Matzah. However, all the other 'seeds' such as bean, lentil, pea, millet, and rice flours do not leaven but spoil [lit. stink]. And the sage our teacher Aharon (author of Etz Hayyim) said that all of these matters can become known through experimentation and he has spoken well for millet flour if left with water for a number of days does leaven. Therefore, in truth, there are six types of grain that can leaven and from which Matzah can be made: the aforementioned five as well as millet. And if Hametz is made from any of these it must be destroyed... and so too any alcohol made from the five types of grain [e.g. beer] or from millet. But some of the fools in our times who pretend to be wise do not eat anything that ferments based on the verse 'no leaven shall you eat' such as fermented milk [i.e. yogurt, etc.] and fruits soaked in water; they also refrain from eating beans and rice and any type of 'seed' and this is because of their foolishness and their lack of knowledge..." [Elijah Baschyatchi (15th century), Aderet Eliyahu, Ramla 1966, pp.133-134]

See also the treatise of Samuel al-Maghrebi in Karaite Anthology.

Have a happy and Kosher Hag HaMatzot


Last Updated: Mar 26, 2010