The Meaning of Unleavened


An article in the Friday edition of the New York Times, on the eve of the Passover, reported that the public debate in Jerusalem recently shifted from Hamas to hametz (hametz being baked goods that are leavened). This stems from a ruling last year by a Jerusalem municipal court that overturned the convictions of four bakeries and restaurants, judging that it was not illegal for them to have sold pizza during the Passover because the law only prohibited the public display of hametz at that time. This decision elicited broad criticism. Even the secular Israeli Foreign Minister expressed her displeasure in a newspaper column. So the issue of leavened bread became quite sensitive coming into this year’s festival.


The Jewish festival of Passover starts at dusk on the 19th of this month. According to religious edict, they must adhere to the Feast of Unleavened Bread and refrain from leavened bread for eight days. This commemorates the delivery of the Jews from slavery in Egypt by God in the past, and is an important milestone in the transformation of Israel from clan to nation. Particularly as the 60th anniversary of the founding of Israel will be celebrated this May, the Passover this year can evoke strong nationalist feelings among the Jews. In recent polls, some 70% of Israeli Jews said they would voluntarily abide by the religious rule to avoid yeast during these eight days. Most non-religious Jews believe that, while obeying the ban against yeast is of minor personal impact, it is of substantive importance to the fostering of a unique collective identity for themselves. Jews generally have a deep sense of connection with their nation and people. Societal trends also indicate that more and more Jews are reflecting on their own history and willingly observing some religious regulations, such as slowing down the pace of life on Sabbath and following the Jewish calendar. Although there is no law against driving on Yom Kippur, yet many people voluntarily refrain from it to show their respect for traditional religion.


The Jews of today gladly fulfill certain religious duties not because they know and fear God, but because of recognition of their own national identity. The majority of Jews observe the Feast of Unleavened Bread due to religious tradition. They stop at the level of religious ceremony without truly understanding the meaning of unleavened. Employed in the teachings of the Old and New Testaments, yeast always had a negative symbolic meaning related to sin, bad influences, erroneous teachings and false behavior in religious life. God ordered the Israelites to observe seven days of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, “Eat unleavened bread during those seven days; nothing with yeast in it is to be seen among you, nor shall any yeast be seen anywhere within your borders. On that day tell your son, 'I do this because of what the Lord did for me when I came out of Egypt.'” (Exodus 13:7-8) The Israelites could not present a grain offering made with yeast (Leviticus 2:11). Jesus Christ warned his disciples to be careful, and guard against the teachings of the Pharisees and Sadducees (Matthew 16:6, 12) and against adopting a hypocritical attitude in life (Luke 12:1). The Feast of Unleavened Bread is also known as the Passover (Luke 22:1). To the Jews, it is to commemorate that day in the past when God rescued their ancestors from Egypt and gave them freedom (Exodus 12:17). To all the people of this world, all our sins had been removed due to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ the Passover Lamb. But to the saints who have been saved by grace, are we constantly reminded by the significance of avoiding yeast to stay far away from sin and live holy lives that please God?


“Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast - as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” (1 Corinthians 5:7)


By: Daniel To