What foods are prohibited during Passover?
Passover, which is being observed this week, is the holiday that celebrates Jewish freedom from slavery in Egypt more than 3,000 years ago. Because the Jews fled so quickly, they didn't have time to prepare leavened bread. As a memorial to this, according to Exodus 12:17, "And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread." But how this is observed is interpreted differently both by the three major branches of Judaism--Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform--and the two major ethnic groups: the Ashkenazim of central and eastern European extraction, and the Sephardim, originally from Spain and Portugal. (Explainer is now wondering why she thought this would be an easy Explainer.)
The Orthodox and Conservative movements both prohibit any foods made from barley, oats, rye, spelt, and wheat. The Reform movement leaves it up to each individual to decide how to observe dietary rules. Ashkenazic Jews are also not supposed to eat corn, legumes, millet, or rice. Sephardic Jews can. Everyone can eat potatoes.
But aren't matzos, the staple food of Passover, made from flour?
Yes. But kosher-for-Passover matzos are made under strictly supervised conditions in which no more than 18 minutes pass between the mixing of the flour and water and the completed baking. In that way, the dough is considered unleavened because it didn't have time to rise.
Your last question seems to imply that not all matzos are acceptable for Passover. Could that be?
Yes. Matzos made during the year are prohibited because they are not made under such careful conditions.
If Jews are not supposed to eat anything that rises, how come they can eat matzo balls, which expand from ping-pong ball size to tennis ball size during cooking? And why are there special Passover cakes that rise when baked?
Because these are made from matzo meal, or ground matzos. The rule is once Passover matzos are baked, they are acceptable, even if they get mixed with other allowed ingredients and rise during rebaking. However, some Hasidic Jews, an Orthodox sect, forbid the eating of these products.
Can observant Jews drink Coke during Passover?