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What is Leaven?

Commandments on leaven

These are the only verses that are commandments about removing leavning from our homes for Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread [matsah], but on the first day you shall remove leaven [so'er] from your houses; for whoever eats anything leavened [chamtez] from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel. Exo 12:15
In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at evening, you shall eat unleavened bread [matsah], until the twenty-first day of the month at evening. Seven days there shall be no leaven [so'er] found in your houses; for whoever eats what is leavened [chamtez], that person shall be cut off from the congregation of Israel, whether he is an alien or a native of the land. You shall not eat anything leavened [chamtez]; in all your dwellings you shall eat unleavened bread [matsah]. Exo 12:18-20
Moses said to the people, "Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the LORD brought you out from this place. And nothing leavened [chamtez] shall be eaten. Exo 13:3
"For seven days you shall eat unleavened bread [matsah], and on the seventh day there shall be a feast to the LORD. Unleavened bread [matsah] shall be eaten throughout the seven days; and nothing leavened [chamtez] shall be seen among you, nor shall any leaven [so'er] be seen among you in all your borders. Exo 13:6-7
"You shall not eat leavened [chamtez] bread [chamtez] with it; seven days you shall eat with it unleavened bread [matsah], the bread [lechem] of affliction (for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste), so that you may remember all the days of your life the day when you came out of the land of Egypt. For seven days no leaven [so'er] shall be seen with you in all your territory, and none of the flesh which you sacrifice on the evening of the first day shall remain overnight until morning. Deu 16:3-4
Six days you shall eat unleavened bread [matsah], and on the seventh day there shall be a solemn assembly to the LORD your God; you shall do no work on it. Deu 16:8

The definitions of the Hebrew words from the above scriptures.

  • מַצָּה matstsâh (matsah), mats-tsaw'; from H4711 in the sense of greedily devouring for sweetness; properly, sweetness; concretely, sweet (i.e. not soured or bittered with yeast); specifically, an unfermented cake or loaf, or (elliptically) the festival of Passover (because no leaven was then used):—unleaved (bread, cake), without leaven.

  • שְׂאֹר sᵉʼôr (so'er), seh-ore'; from H7604; barm or yeast-cake (as swelling by fermentation):—leaven.

  • חָמֵץ châmêts (chamtez), khaw-mates'; from H2556; ferment, (figuratively) extortion:—leaven, leavened (bread).

  • לֶחֶם lechem, lekh'-em; from H3898; See also H1036 food (for man or beast), especially bread, or grain (for making it):—(shew-) bread, × eat, food, fruit, loaf, meat, victuals.

New Testament references to leaven

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven [zýmē] leavens [zymóō] the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven [zýmē] so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened [ázymos]. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven [zýmē], nor with the leaven [zýmē] of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread [ázymos] of sincerity and truth.
1 Cor 5:6-8
Another parable He spoke to them: “The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, [zýmē] which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened [zymóō].” Matt 13:33

The definitions of the Greek words from the above scriptures.

  • ζύμη zýmē, dzoo'-may; probably from G2204; ferment (as if boiling up):—leaven.

  • ζυμόω zymóō, dzoo-mo'-o; from G2219; to cause to ferment:—leaven.

  • ἄζυμος ázymos, ad'-zoo-mos; from G1 (as a negative particle) and G2219; unleavened, i.e. (figuratively) uncorrupted; (in the neutral plural) specially (by implication) the Passover week:—unleavened (bread).

  • ἄζυμος, (ζύμη) [ázymos], Hebrew מַצָּה, unfermented, free from leaven; (Thayer's Greek Lexicon)

English words and their origins

Note: Proto-Indo-European (PIE) is the linguistic reconstruction of the common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, the most widely spoken language family in the world. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proto-Indo-European_language)

Note: Prefix “en-” means “within, in,” occurring in loanwords from Greek: energy; enthusiasm.

leaven (n.) mid-14c., "substance added to dough to produce fermentation," from Old French levain "leaven, sourdough" (12c.), from Latin levamen, which in literary use meant "alleviation, mitigation," but in Vulgar Latin it had a literal sense of "means of lifting, something that raises." It is from levare "to raise" (see lever).

yeast (n.) Old English gist "yeast, froth," from Proto-Germanic *jest- (source also of Old Norse jastr, Swedish jäst, Middle High German gest, German Gischt "foam, froth," Old High German jesan, German gären "to ferment"), from PIE root *yes- "to boil, foam, froth" (source also of Sanskrit yasyati "boils, seethes," Greek zein "to boil," Welsh ias "seething, foaming").

ferment (v.) late 14c. from Old French fermenter (13c.) and directly from Latin fermentare "to leaven, cause to rise or ferment," from fermentum "substance causing fermentation, leaven, drink made of fermented barley," perhaps contracted from *fervimentum, from root of fervere "to boil, seethe" (see brew (v.)).

brew (v.) Old English breowan "to brew" , from Proto-Germanic *breuwan "to brew", from PIE root *bhreuə- "to bubble, boil, effervesce" ... Latin fervere "to boil, foam," ... Old English beorma "yeast;" Old High German brato "roast meat"), the original sense thus being "make a drink by boiling."

barm (n.) Old English beorma "yeast, leaven," also "head of a beer," from Proto-Germanic *bhermen- "yeast" (source also of Dutch berm, Middle Low German barm), from suffixed form of PIE root *bhreuə- "to boil, bubble, effervesce"

sourdough (n.) early 14c., "leavened bread," also "leaven" (late 14c.), from sour (adj.) + dough. Meaning "fermented dough" is from 1868. The meaning "Arctic prospector or pioneer" is from 1898 Yukon gold rush, from the practice of saving a lump of fermented dough as leaven for raising bread baked during the winter.

sour (adj.) Old English sur "sour, tart, acid, fermented,"

enzyme (n.) 1881, as a biochemical term, from German Enzym, coined 1878 by German physiologist Wilhelm Kühne (1837-1900), from Modern Greek enzymos "leavened," from en "in" (see en- (2)) + zyme "leaven" (see zymurgy). Related: Enzymotic.

zymurgy (n.) branch of chemistry which deals with wine-making and brewing, 1868, from Greek zymo-, comb. form of zyme "a leaven"

en·zyme/ˈenzīm/ noun a substance produced by a living organism that acts as a catalyst to bring about a specific biochemical reaction.

enzyme (n.) 1881, as a biochemical term, from German Enzym, coined 1878 by German physiologist Wilhelm Kühne (1837-1900), from Modern Greek enzymos "leavened," from en "in" (see en- (2)) + zyme "leaven" (see zymurgy). Related: Enzymotic.

Zymotic diseases (from the Greek word ζυμοῦν zumoûn "to ferment") is a 19th-century medical term for acute infectious diseases,[1] especially "chief fevers and contagious diseases (e.g. typhus and typhoid fevers, smallpox, scarlet fever, measles, erysipelas, cholera, whooping-cough, diphtheria, &c.)".

Some uncommonly known history of fermentation and yeast

Zyme or microzyme was the name of the organism presumed to be the cause of the disease.

As originally employed by Dr W. Farr, of the British Registrar-General's department, the term included the diseases which were "epidemic, endemic and contagious," and were regarded as owing their origin to the presence of a morbific principle in the system, acting in a manner analogous to, although not identical with, the process of fermentation.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zymotic_disease
“Although showing fermentation to be the result of the action of living microorganisms was a breakthrough, it did not explain the basic nature of the fermentation process, or prove that it is caused by the microorganisms that appear to be always present. Many scientists, including Pasteur, had unsuccessfully attempted to extract the fermentation enzyme from yeast.[26] Success came in 1897 when the German chemist Eduard Buechner ground up yeast, extracted a juice from them, then found to his amazement that this "dead" liquid would ferment a sugar solution, forming carbon dioxide and alcohol much like living yeasts.[27] Buechner's results are considered to mark the birth of biochemistry. The "unorganized ferments" behaved just like the organized ones. From that time on, the term enzyme came to be applied to all ferments. It was then understood that fermentation is caused by enzymes that are produced by microorganisms.[28] In 1907, Buechner won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work.[29]”
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermentation#History_of_human_use
Barm is the foam, or scum, formed on the top of liquor – fermented alcoholic beverages such as beer or wine,[1] or feedstock for hard liquor or industrial ethanol distillation – when fermenting. It was used to leaven bread, or set up fermentation in a new batch of liquor. Barm, as a leaven, has also been made from ground millet combined with must out of wine-tubs[2] and is sometimes used in English baking as a synonym for a natural leaven.[3] Various cultures derived from barm, usually Saccharomyces cerevisiae, became ancestral to most forms of brewer's yeast and baker's yeast currently on the market.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barm

As recently as the beginning of the 20th century, fermentation was still considered the cause of disease. Zyme or microzyme was the name of the organism presumed to be the cause of the disease.

ZYMOTIC DISEASES (Gr. ζύμη, ferment), a term in medicine, formerly applied to the class of acute infectious maladies. As originally employed by Dr W. Farr of the British Registrar-General's department, the term included the diseases which were “ epidemic, endemic and contagious," and were regarded as owing their origin to the presence of a morbid principle in the system acting in a manner analogous to, although not identical with, the process of fermentation. A large number of diseases were accordingly included under this designation. The term, however, came to be restricted in medical nomenclature to the chief fevers and contagious diseases (e.g. typhus and typhoid fevers, smallpox, scarlet fever, measles, erysipelas, cholera, whooping-cough, diphtheria, &c). The science of bacteriology has displaced the old fermentation theory, and the term has practically dropped out of use.1911 Encyclopedia Britannica