Is vinegar considered leavened?

[The Leaven – exploring the relationship between science and religion (cont)]

The Jewish word for leaven is chametz. This is not normally thought to be yeast but naturally fermenting grain, particularly wheat, barley, rye, spelt or oats. In this respect, wine being fermented from grapes would not be considered leavened but beer probably would, as it is likely to contain barley. Sour wine or vinegar was also likely to be considered leavened. The Hebrew for vinegar is chometz meaning sour. This is almost the same as the word chametz which is probably derived from a similar meaning. Vinegar is made by fermenting an alcoholic substance, such as wine, a second time with acetic acid bacteria to convert ethanol  into acetic acid. Turning wine into vinegar can be avoided by excluding air from the process as these bacteria are predominately aerobic. It is likely that wine frequently turned to vinegar in the Biblical era as a consequence of contamination and therefore it was thought to simulate corruption in a similar way to  leaven. It has been suggested that when the term chometz is used in the Bible it refers to both leaven and vinegar as they are both considered to be sour. The Hebrew word for wine was yayin derived from the word yaneh meaning to squeeze or press. Sour wine was usually referred to as chometz yayin or chometz yin.

It is believed that vinegar or sour wine was offered to Jesus before and after the crucifixion:

And when they were come unto a place called Golgotha, that is to say, the place of the skull, they gave him vinegar to drink mingled with gall: and when he had tasted thereof, he would not drink. They crucified him, and parted his garments, casting lots: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, they parted my garments among them, and upon my vesture did they cast lots. And sitting down they watched him there; And set up over his head his accusation written, THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Mt 27:33-37

Golgotha was thought to be called the place of the skull because it was a hill that resembled a skull although it may have also been called this because it served as a place for executions. It was located at the entrance of Jerusalem.  Some translations say that Jesus was offered  vinegar while bearing the cross to Golgotha whereas others say it was wine containing gall. Gall was often referred to as anything that was bitter so it was more likely to be sour wine or vinegar.  In his gospel, Matthew states that this was done to fulfil a prophecy. The particular prophecy that Matthew refers to is in the Old Testament. It describes the demeaning  manner by which vinegar is offered to quench a thirst. The guards further demean Jesus by removing his clothing in order to share them between themselves. This is also predicted in a prophecy:

When I was hungry they gave me poison. When I was thirsty they offered me vinegar.
Ps 69:21

The gamble for my clothes and divide them among themselves.
Ps 22:18

In the Gospel according to John, Jesus drank vinegar just before he died whilst on the cross in order to fulfill the prophecy.

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Jn 19:28-30

The disrobing Of Christ, Cattura di Cristo. Guercino 1621.

It would seem that vinegar could be more likely to be viewed as a leavened drink than either wine or grape juice as it was synonymous with a corruptive influence in the same way as leaven.

…how to avoid the Destroyer

[The Leaven – exploring the relationship between science and religion (cont)]

During the Passover, Moses claimed that the Lord would ensure that every first born in Egypt would die at midnight.  The Passover was an ancient ceremony practised uniquely by the Hebrews, and not  the Egyptians. It was a ritual  practiced by shepherds, at the first full moon of spring, to ward off evil spirits in order to protect lambs and goats during birth. This explains the logic behind the species chosen as the sacrificial beast, either a young sheep or a goat. They believed the evil spirits would kill newly born animals. If the blood of a sacrificed animal was smeared on to door posts it would keep away the Destroyer. The Destroyer was most likely to be the bringer of disease or plagues. The ovine meat was later eaten during a nocturnal family festival and may have included herbs to enhance the smell and make it pleasing to the deity concerned. This is another way by which the community dealt with uncertainty. They did not understand the epidemiology of disease or the causative agents and therefore attributed stillbirths to the retaliation of an angry supernatural being.

A lamb prepared for sacrifice. Josefa de Ayala c1670s

The following paragraphs explain how the Passover had been modified by Moses to prepare for the Exodus. It describes how the sacrificial blood spread on the doors would be used by the Lord to distinguish Hebrew houses from those of the Egyptians:

 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt: “This month is to be the first month of all the others for you, the first month of your year. Speak to the whole community of Israel and say: On the tenth day of this month each man must choose either a lamb or a young goat for his household. If his family is too small to eat a whole animal, he and his next-door neighbour may share an animal, in proportion to the number of people and the amount that each person can eat. You may choose either a sheep or a goat but it must be a one-year-old male without any defects. Then, on the evening of the fourteenth day of the month, the whole community of Israel will kill the animals. The people are to take a sprig of hyssop, dip it into the bowl containing the animals blood and strike the doorposts and above the doors of the houses in which the animals are to be eaten. That night the meat is to be roasted, and eaten with bitter herbs and unleavened bread. Do not eat any of it raw or boiled, but eat it roasted whole, including the head, the legs, and the internal organs. You must not leave any of it until the morning; if any is left over it must be burnt. You are to eat it quickly, for you are to be dressed for travel, with your sandals on your feet and your stick in your hand. It is the Passover Festival to honour me, the Lord.”

“On that night I will go through the land of Egypt, killing every first-born male, both human and animal, and punishing all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. The blood on the doorposts will be a sign to mark the houses in which you live. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and you shall escape the destroying plague when I strike the land of Egypt. You must celebrate this day as a religious festival to remind you of what I, the Lord, have done. Celebrate it for all time to come.”
[Ex. 12, 1-20]

It is evident that the Hebrews continued eating unleavened bread when they left Rameses heading for Sukkoth, as they had no time to put leaven back into their dough:

The Israelites set out on foot from Rameses for Sukkoth. There were about 600,000 men, not counting women and children. A large number of other people and many sheep, goats and cattle also went with them. They baked unleavened bread from the dough that they had brought out of Egypt, for they had been driven out of Egypt so suddenly that they did not have time to get their food ready to prepared leavened dough.
[Ex. 12.37-39]

In an address by Moses to the Hebrews, after the exodus, he stated that the day they left Egypt was to be commemorated by the festival of unleavened bread to remind them of the haste with which they departed, having no time to put leaven in their dough.  The festival of unleavened bread traditionally occurred the day after the Passover:

The Lord said, “For seven days you must not eat any bread made with leaven- eat only unleavened bread. On the first day you are to get rid of all the leaven in your houses, for if anyone during those seven days eats bread made with leaven, he should no longer be considered one of my people. On the first day and again on the seventh day you are to meet for worship. No work is to be done on these days but you may prepare food. Keep this festival, because it was on this day that I brought your tribes out of Egypt. For all time to come you must celebrate this day as a festival. From the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month to the evening of the twenty-first day, you must not eat any bread made with leaven. For seven days no leaven must be found in your houses, for if anyone, native born or foreign, eats bread made with leaven, he shall no longer be considered one of my people. You must eat no leavened bread; wherever you live you must eat unleavened bread.”
[Ex. 12.15-20]

It is interesting that at the time diseases and plagues were spreading through the Nile Delta area the Hebrews abstained from eating leaven. It was a normal practice of the Egyptians to allow the dough from bread to rise in the sun, this would make it a vulnerable target for disease carrying insects that would inevitably lead to the spread of communicable disease. By not eating leavened bread for several days the Hebrews were unwittingly protecting themselves from a potential reservoir of pathogenic organisms. Eating only freshly killed meet in the cooler climate of the evening, then completely burning any leftovers would offer further protection from any contaminating microbes. Perhaps as a consequence of this, and segregation in other social practices, the spread of disease that occurred within the Egyptian population permitted the Hebrews too escape at a time when resistance was weakened.

Bread containing leaven is traditionally burnt before the Jewish Passover. Image by Valley2City.

When the Hebrews left Egypt they continued to treat leaven as an impure substance that could displease God. The removal and burning of leaven is still carried out before Passover in some religions. During the Jewish celebration, it is traditional to hunt for any leaven (also known as Chametz) remaining in the house, the evening before Passover, by candlelight with a wooden spoon and  feather to dust away and scoop up crumbs to be burned the following day. Blood is no longer smeared on door posts though.