Flour – sell it or throw it out?
It is common practice to sell one’s chametz to a non-Jew before Pesach. However, due to the severity of the prohibition on chametz during Pesach and the fear that the sale may not be carried out in accordance with all halachic and legal requirements, many prefer not to sell “real chametz” (chametz gamur) which is prohibited by Torah law, and restrict the sale only to products containing a mixture of chametz (taarovet) which is forbidden by rabbinic decree. The “real chametz” is either eaten or otherwise disposed of before Pesach.
It is therefore important to know which products are considered “real chometz” that should be disposed of before Pesach and which products can be sold. Clearly, bread, pasta, cookies, crackers, pretzels, etc., are definitely chametz. But the chametz status of some products is unclear. Take flour for example: ostensibly plain flour should not be considered chametz – after all, matzos are made from it. However, due to its manufacturing process, the chametz status of regular flour is disputed among halachic scholars.
Wetting the wheat
Most flour is made from wheat that was tempered before milling. Tempering is a process whereby the grain kernels are sprayed with water and left to stand for several hours until the moisture penetrates the endosperm. This helps to separate the bran from the endosperm allowing better quality control over the flour.
The implications of wheat tempering for Pesach is already discussed in the Talmud (Pesachim 4a). The Gemara there concludes that the tempering process does not render the wheat chametz as long as the kernels do not split or crack. However, during the Gaonic period (6th – 11th century CE), the rabbis banned tempered wheat for Passover use because they were not competent in the methods used in Talmudic times for tempering wheat and could not guarantee that the kernels would not become chametz.
Does tempering make the wheat chametz?
Today, all halachic authorities agree that, in accordance to the rabbinic decree, flour made from tempered wheat should not be used for Passover. However, that does not necessarily mean that such flour is actually chometz.
The Shulchan Aruch (467,2) rules that wheat that became wet from water and remained wet without being handled (or processed) for some length of time, can become chametz even if the kernels do not split. The Mishnah Berura (453,28) points out that if the flour is milled immediately after tempering, it is not chametz and although it may not be eaten on Pesach, it can be kept at home without selling it to a non-Jew.
It follows that according to the Shulchan Aruch and Mishnah Berura, today’s flour which is not milled immediately after tempering, but stands unhandled for many hours, should be considered chametz. Indeed that is the position taken by several contemporary halachic authorities. They consider regular flour to be chametz which should be gotten rid of before Pesach.
However, other authorities argue that the tempering process used today is different from that used in past generations. The Shulchan Aruch and Mishnah Berura refer to wheat that was actually soaked in water for a short time. Today, the wheat is not soaked — it is sprayed for a few seconds with just enough water to barely dampen the kernels. No water droplets are visible on them. The entire process is controlled so that the wheat generally does not crack. According to these authorities, such wheat is not real chametz and although it should not be used on Passover, one may be lenient and sell it to a non-Jew.
There are three basic opinions regarding the chametz status of regular flour.
1) The flour is chametz and those who do not sell real chametz should throw out any remaining flour before Pesach.
“Regular flour is made from wheat which was tempered with water before milling. They stayed moist between 3-9 hours. Therefore the flour is considered chametz. One who generally refrains from selling [actual] chometz, should not sell flour either – rather he should eat it before Pesach or give it away to a non-Jew who will take the flour with him.”
– Rabbi Chagai Bar Giora – Israel Chief Rabbinate
“Wheat grains undergo a wetting process and stay in this wet [damp] state many hours to separate the bran from the flour. In light of this, there is ample reason to suspect that the flour is chametz. “
– Rav Haim Katz, Rabbi of Remez and Ramat Alon neighborhoods in Haifa.
“… in the tempering methods practiced today there is a long delay after tempering, before milling, therefore, one who has regular flour [in his possession] before Passover, can sell it to a gentile with the rest of the chametz he is selling, and one who is strict in not keeping chametz or possible chametz in his home (and does not rely on the sale of chametz), there is good reason for him to burn the flour as well …”
– Responsa – B’mareh Habazak, Vol. 4.“
2) Flour is not true chametz but it must be sold to a non-Jew before Pesach.
“… for those who do not wish to sell chometz gamur, selling flour would still be permissible as the kernels do not crack, and are therefore just a safek chometz.”
– The Tempering of Grains by Rabbi Yitzchok Gutterman – Orthodox Union
“The custom is to permit the sale of flour. Although some have the custom not to sell food that is definitely chametz, flour is not considered to be definite chametz. This is because the grains are washed quickly and probably have not been in contact with water for sufficient time to become chametz.”
– Laws of Selling Chametz, Rabbi Elozor Barclay and Rabbi Yitzchok Jaeger.
3) Flour is not chametz at all and may even be kept at home
“In practice, nowadays, even though regular flour which is not kosher for Passover, should not be allowed for matza baking, it is permissible to keep the flour at home during Pesach without selling to a non-Jew…”
– Rabbi Moshe Bigel – Tzohar
As always, consult with your rabbi for the correct option to follow.