We find many times in the OT that leaven or anything containing leaven is not to be served to God.

For example, Leviticus 2:11 exhorts the Israelites:

No meat offering, which ye shall bring unto the LORD, shall be made with leaven: for ye shall burn no leaven, nor any honey, in any offering of the LORD made by fire. KJV

In Exodus (23:18) too we find that the Pascal lamb may not be sacrificed together with leaven

Thou shalt not offer the blood of my sacrifice with leavened bread; neither shall the fat of my sacrifice remain until the morning.

In this case, the prohibition was extended even to the way the sacrifice should be eaten. The Israelites were prohibited even to eat the Pascal with leaven only with unleavened bread (Exodus 12:8). Though the leaven prohibition on Passover was not solely about serving the leaven to god--as they were prohibited to eat leaven all through Passover with or without the sacrifice (see verse 19 ibid)--it was obviously related to the general prohibition in Leviticus not to sacrifice leaven to god, it was just further extended. The similarities between them I think are striking and must be related somewhat. (most scholars believe that the Pascal offering antedated the Israelite Exodus from Egypt and that the ritual was pre-mosaic. So most probably the leaven prohibition preceded the Exodus as well. This prohibition took on a new meaning after the Exodus from Egypt when the Israelites ate the Pascal lamb the night with the sacred bread before they left in haste. See verse 39 ibid; Deut. 16:3)

What is it about leaven that the bible found to be so loathsome to God? The leaven taboo is unprecedented in the ANE and no parallel can be found in the ANE sources. Neither was I able to find, after many years of searching, any satisfying explanation in the scholarly sources for this prohibition. (Note that this cannot be adequately explained without taking into account the honey prohibition as well)

I would think that leaven had some symbolic significance to the ancient Israelites which made it unsuitable for sacrifice, but i'm trying to understand what that was (For example, salt certainly had a symbolic significance and that is why it was used together with the meal-offerings, see Leviticus 2:13). Once that has been convincingly explained I would like to know how it relates to the leaven prohibition on Passover, and if it can shed some light on why the prohibition was further expanded on eating leaven at all during Passover.

  • 1
    Are you looking for a strictly OT related response?
    – alb
    Mar 29, 2018 at 22:28
  • 1
    Leaven is not loathsome to God. He instituted the practice as a memory aid -- "You will not eat leaven with it. Seven days you will eat unleavened bread with it ‒ the bread of affliction [you ate] when you came forth in haste from the land of Egypt. This is how you will remember the day of your coming forth from the land of Egypt, all the days of your life." (Deuteronomy 16:3). The feast of Unleavened bread was a whole week during which Israel would rehearse the birth of their nation throughout the generations.
    – enegue
    Mar 29, 2018 at 22:32
  • @alb yes i am looking for some kind of support from the OT, but not exclusively. The main thing is that the response should be well supported by ancient sources (even extra-biblicla) and corroborated by some evidence from the OT or the ANE rather than mere speculation. I'm not interested in: I think that the significance of leaven in the OT was this. Well how do you know that? and what is your evidence? Show your work!
    – bach
    Mar 30, 2018 at 2:17
  • @enegue i am aware of that. My question is what was the intent of the original prohibition that the Israelite's were to commemorate every year by abstaining from leaven? What was its original significance? Did you read my question?
    – bach
    Mar 30, 2018 at 2:24
  • 1
    @bach; I can only offer a NT related answer based on the words of Christ and the Apostle Paul. Paul addresses the metaphor of leaven and unleavened bread directly in the context of Passover. I can provide if you feel this may be useful; i fully understand if not.
    – alb
    Mar 30, 2018 at 14:30

5 Answers 5


Quite difficult to explain, as it was noticed many times that it is not typical of the law codes of the Torah generally to explain the basis for their requirements or prohibitions. So maybe we have to take the risk of an "I think that the significance of leaven in the OT was this" kind of answer.

One very practical explanation:

Daat Zkenim on Leviticus 2:11:1

The reason was that God had said that every offering had to be accompanied with a certain amount of salt (Leviticus 2:13) and the two ingredients mentioned here are not compatible with salt.

This, involving salt, would get things even more complicated on a certain level. But let's return to yours':

First of all, yes you are right, we find many times in the OT that leaven or anything containing leaven is not to be served to God. But this is not general. Actually leaven and honey CAN be offered in sacrifice, but not burnt and not associated with blood shedding. Apparently leaven and honey may not be burned onto the altar, however they can be offered as a thanksgiving or peace-offering, when they don't need to be burned (TWOT, 1999, p. 298).

Amos 4:5

And offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened, And proclaim freewill-offerings and publish them; For so ye love to do, O ye children of Israel, Saith the Lord GOD. (JPS Tanakh) See also Leviticus 7:13; 23:17.

D.C. Fleming summarized a traditional explanation saying that leaven and honey were not to be offered on the altar, because of their tendency to spoil foodstuffs, whereas salt preserves things (see above Daat Zkenim on Leviticus 2:11:1). See for instance:

Ibn Ezra on Leviticus 2:11:1

.... leaven the agent that causes bread to rise, honey also a leavening agent.

I would not 100% buy this explanation, simply because wine was fermented too, and yet it was proper for libations poured onto the altar.

In addition to this, Fleming makes a very interesting observation: burnt offering and blood shedding is about consecration to God, while peace offering is about fellowship with God. (see D.C Fleming, Concise Bible commentary, AMG Publishers,Chattanooga, Tenn., 1994, p. 53).

I would rather suggest to seek an explanation that is tied in specifically with consecration to God vs. fellowship with God. I would focus on the "consecration to God" direction, as this would probably lead to an answer to your question.

Therefore, a connection between the prohibition stated in Leviticus 2:11 (also in Leviticus 6:17; Deut 16:3-4 etc) and the Passover laws is certainly to be assumed. Passover is given an historical and commemorative explanation and it is also about consecrating the people of Israel to God.

Now here the classical explanation would go on saying that when Israel went out of Egypt, bread was made without leaven because there was not enough time to leaven it. Therefore unleavened bread, “the bread of affliction”, is eaten the week after Passover as a celebration, as a commemoration of this event (Deut. 16:3).

Deuteronomy 16:3

You shall eat no leavened bread with it. Seven days you shall eat it with unleavened bread, the bread of affliction—for you came out of the land of Egypt in haste—that all the days of your life you may remember the day when you came out of the land of Egypt. (ESV)

And the teaching would be that having been redeemed from Egypt, Israel should leave its old life quickly and set out toward the promised land by faith (see TWOT, 1999, p. 298). This movement of leaving the old life behind and turning to the promised land can be understood indeed as a consecration, as assuming the call addressed to Abraham in Genesis 12:1 and, together with that, the Covenant:

Genesis 12:1

The Lord told Abram, "You are to leave your land, your relatives, and your father's house and go to the land that I'm going to show you. ... (ISV)

It is all about this "leave ... go ..." thing.

Jewish commentators would connect the idea of consecration to God with that of atonement for one's sins, expressed in Exodus as the previous state of slavery in Egypt. Before consecration, there is this need of atonement:

Rabbeinu Bahya, Vayikra 2:11:1-3

According to the plain meaning of our text the purpose of the offerings is to atone for one’s sins. Had it not been for the evil urge man would never have committed a sin in the first place. There would not have been any need for such offerings then. Our sages in Mechilta Pischa, 8 commening on Deut. 16,3 לא תאכל עליו חמץ, explain this. The reason that חמץ is not to be eaten at a time when the Passover lamb can be brought (on the 14th of the month of Nissan after noon) is that the lamb atones for the idolatrous practices of the Jewish people prior to the Exodus. God wanted to keep anything which reminded the Israelites of the evil urge away from them so that they would not be tempted to return to such practices. Not only chametz, but also honey is a symbol of the evil urge as the letters of the word דבש have the same numerical value as the letters of the word אשה, woman (306). We find that when the first human being, Adam, sinned and God asked him how this could be, he blamed his wife, i.e. woman as such saying that “the woman You God have given me gave me of that fruit and I ate.” (Genesis 3,12). Clearly, he equated woman with the personification of the evil urge, his temptress. Woman herself said that she had been seduced by the serpent, the creature embodying the concept of the evil urge. This is the mystical dimension of the relationship between woman-the serpent- and the inherent hostility between the serpent and woman, i.e. man born by woman. This is why both leavened goods and honey have generally been declared as unfit to be the means through which man atones for his sin when bringing a sacrifice. Another reason for this is the well known statement of our sages that “one cannot immerse oneself in a ritual bath and expect it to cleanse one while holding the source of one’s ritual impurity, i.e. a dead mouse or such like in one’s hand” (Taanit 16).

Now I think this would offer a hint for your observation with respect to the fact that the leaven taboo cannot be adequately explained without taking into account the honey prohibition as well. This prohibition may represent indeed a reaction against the widespread use of honey in pagan cults, as indeed honey was frequently offered to pagan gods in the ancient Near East. I would not go into detail with this, it would really take to much (See for instance the Ugaritic epic of Keret, line 72, in H. L. Ginsberg, The Legend of King Keret: A Canaanite Epic of the Bronze Age, American Schools of Oriental Research, New Haven, 1946). So, by prohibiting the use of honey on the altar, the Exodus + priestly laws may have been directed at eliminating pagan practices (see Maimonides, Moreh Nevuchim 3,46). Yet, taking into account the comment above and all its suggestions with respect to דבש / אשה, it is clearly more than that.

No wonder some of the Christian commentators would understand the biblical "honey" from a moral point of view, where honey is read as a sign of sensual pleasure:

Jerome: They quote the passage which says that “the lips of a strange woman drop as honeycomb,” which is sweet indeed in the eater’s mouth but is afterward found more bitter than gall. This, they argue, is the reason that neither honey nor wax is offered in the sacrifices of the Lord, and that oil, the product of the bitter olive, is burned in his temple. Jerome, Letter 128.2.4

Jerome: Under no circumstances is there an offering of honey. “Whatever happens,” it says, “will be impure.” Honey is a sign of pleasure and sweetness, and believe me, sensual pleasure always brings death; sensuality as such is never pleasing to God. Jerome, Homily 75.5

More or less the same idea, when leaven was also used metaphorically to refer to the heart being soured or embittered by sin

Psalm 73:21

When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart ... (ESV)

For my heart was in a ferment, And I was pricked in my reins ... (JPSTanakh)

In this respect, leaven and honey share the same meaning, really. It is that that has to be left behind in order to focus on a different direction. It is atonement and consecration, expressed in a symbolical way.

Indeed, leaven and honey have had a symbolic significance to the ancient Israelites, a significance just good enough to make leaven and honey suitable for celebrating fellowship with God. So leaven and honey per se are just fine.

Why then the leaven prohibition in Exodus 23:18 and Leviticus 2:11? Because, from an OT outlook and in a symbolical way, Passover is about atonement and consecration, about leaving something behind (even if you like that thing very much) and about focusing on something even if this something is not looking very promising to you in the present. Not at all far from:

Luke 5:37-38

And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. (ESV)

I am well aware this is not a full answer to your question, yet perhaps it is offering you some ideas to get to a solution. It was too long for a comment, this is why I decided to post it as an answer.

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    +1 very useful answer. There is lots of food for thought here. I like the Daat Zekenim's observation but it in itself insufficient, because we first need to explain the significance of salt, only then may we fully appreciate the other related prohibitions. In regards to the paganistic explanation i'm aware of it, indeed Maimonides suggests this in his Guide but i believe it is insufficient and that it is not the whole story.
    – bach
    Apr 2, 2018 at 3:33
  • Regarding the symbolic significance of leaven and its relationship with leaving behind the old roots to achieve atonement and consecration it resonates with me. Indeed i was thinking along the same lines, namely that leaven symbolizes contamination while the unleavened bread represents purity of mind and heart. The significance of the leaven prohibition lies within the ideal to leave behind the paganisitic foreign influences to go back to the old pure roots of the patriarchs and monotheism.
    – bach
    Apr 2, 2018 at 3:33
  • Indeed they are all feasible explanations, but there is no evidence for such theories and i would be reluctant to say that this is indeed the idea behind the leaven prohibition in the OT. In any case i gained from your answer.
    – bach
    Apr 2, 2018 at 3:33
  • Did you make the translations of the Jewish commentaries yourself, or were they taken from somewhere online?
    – user22655
    Apr 2, 2018 at 3:50
  • @ Bach Salt is a preservative, whilst leaven and honey are spoiling food. However, by spoiling food, leaven and honey are making food tastier. Salt is making food tastier too. This I think is the practical, phenomenological part of these symbols. Perhaps this is where we should start, indeed. Still many gaps awaiting to be filled in. Apr 2, 2018 at 14:32

I did not see a response to my comment about providing a strictly New Testament answer, so I’m taking a risk that you may find this response useful. I apologize if the NT doctrine here offends you but to properly address your question, we must address the fundamental difference between Judaism and Christianity, namely Law vs Grace.

The use (or non use) of leaven in OT sacrifices including the Passover is another Old Testament metaphor explained by the New Testament. The New Testament indicates that leaven is emblematic of the out dated teaching of the Old Covenant by the Pharisees, specifically about attaining holiness through keeping the Law of Moses.

Matthew 16:5-12 (parallel passage Mark 8:15-21) In this section, leaven is compared to the false doctrine of the Pharisees.

5And when his disciples were come to the other side, they had forgotten to take bread. 6Then Jesus said unto them, Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees. 7And they reasoned among themselves, saying, It is because we have taken no bread. 8Which when Jesus perceived, he said unto them, O ye of little faith, why reason ye among yourselves, because ye have brought no bread? 9Do ye not yet understand, neither remember the five loaves of the five thousand, and how many baskets ye took up?
10Neither the seven loaves of the four thousand, and how many baskets ye took up? 11How is it that ye do not understand that I spoke it not to you concerning bread, that ye should beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees? 12Then understood they how that he bade them not beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees.

Luke 12:1.

In the mean time, when there were gathered together an innumerable multitude of people, insomuch that they tread one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.

Here, Christ tells us specifically that leaven represents the incorrect doctrine of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy. Based on Christ’s repeated confrontation of the Pharisees attempting to get them to understand that no one can keep the law (as specified in Malachi 3:7, ”Even from the days of your fathers, ye are gone away from my ordinances and have not kept them.”), this is a plain reference to the Pharisees erroneous teaching about attaining holiness through keeping the law.

1 Corinthians 5

6Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump? 7Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: 8Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

In the early verses of 1 Corinthians 5, the Apostle Paul when dealing with a sin issue, accuses the Corinthians for being partial in their dealing with a member of their church (see reference to “glorying” in verse 6). In the Books of Romans and James, partiality is one of the prime evidences that we are NOT able to keep the Law of Moses.

In verse 6, Paul then goes on to say that “a little leaven, leavens the whole lump” which reinforces Paul’s NT teaching that the Gospel is 100% based of faith/grace and not the works of the law. So, by allowing a little false doctrine, that will destroy their testimony in Christ.

This exact phrase (“a little leaven, leavens the whole lump) is used in Galatians 5:9. The entire Book of Galatians is about Paul defending the Gospel of Grace/Faith in Christ against the false doctrine of those who wanted to bring the Law of Moses back to the Galatians relationship with God.

In 1 Corinthians 5:7, Paul then encourages the Corinthians to “purge out the old leaven” (ie, purge out the Old Covenant of the law) “that you may be a new lump” (reference to the new birth through Grace and Faith in Christ) “as you are unleavened” (or free of the false doctrine of the requirements of keeping the law).

Paul then ties the reference to being “unleavened” directly back to the Passover where salvation through the sacrifice of the Passover lamb is by grace/faith and not the works of the law. Hence, the Passover bread (representative of NT communion) was unleavened to represent the absence of the Law of Moses and the Commandments.

Paul then concludes by saying in verse 8: ‘Therefore, let us keep the feast (Passover) not with the old leaven (Old Covenant) neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness (reference to Galatians 5 and the works of the flesh - powered by keeping the law) but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” The word sincerity is the Greek word for purity (EILIKRINES) which means “unalloyed pure” or without mixture. This ties back to a “new lump” which would be completely free from any leaven of false teaching about the law.


You can gain insight into why God generally forade leaven by looking at the other sacrifices prescribed in Leviticus - one in particular that was explicitly required to contain leaven.

Leviticus 23 describes the holy days God commanded the Israelites to observe. The first one was the Passover where (as you said) the offering was supposed to be unleavened. After Passover came the Days of Unleavened Bread which (it is in the name) no leavened bread was supposed to be eaten.

YLT Leviticus 23:6-8:


and on the fifteenth day of this month is the feast of unleavened things to Jehovah; seven days unleavened things ye do eat;

on the first day ye have a holy convocation, ye do no servile work;

and ye have brought near a fire-offering to Jehovah seven days; in the seventh day is a holy convocation; ye do no servile work.'


Deuteronomy 16:3-4 says not only should unleavened bread not be eaten during these days, but leaven should not even be found in their possession:


‘Thou dost not eat with it any fermented thing, seven days thou dost eat with it unleavened things, bread of affliction; for in haste thou hast come out of the land of Egypt; so that thou dost remember the day of thy coming out of the land of Egypt all days of thy life;

and there is not seen with thee leaven in all thy border seven days, and there doth not remain of the flesh which thou dost sacrifice at evening on the first day till morning.


In stark contrast to all this is the next feast, called the Feast of Weeks (also called Pentecost) in which one of the offerings is commanded to contain leaven.

Leviticus 23:10-17:


'Speak unto the sons of Israel, and thou hast said unto them, When ye come in unto the land which I am giving to you, and have reaped its harvest, and have brought in the sheaf, the beginning of your harvest unto the priest,

then he hath waved the sheaf before Jehovah for your acceptance; on the morrow of the sabbath doth the priest wave it.

'And ye have prepared in the day of your waving the sheaf a lamb, a perfect one, a son of a year, for a burnt-offering to Jehovah,

and its present two tenth deals of flour mixed with oil, a fire-offering to Jehovah, a sweet fragrance, and its drink-offering, wine, a fourth of the hin.

'And bread and roasted corn and full ears ye do not eat until this self-same day, until your bringing in the offering of your God -- a statute age-during to your generations, in all your dwellings.

'And ye have numbered to you from the morrow of the sabbath, from the day of your bringing in the sheaf of the wave-offering: they are seven perfect sabbaths [this is why it is called the Feast of Weeks];

unto the morrow of the seventh sabbath ye do number fifty days [this is why it is called Pentecost], and ye have brought near a new present to Jehovah;

out of your dwellings ye bring in bread of a wave-offering, two loaves, of two tenth deals of flour they are, with yeast they are baken, first-fruits to Jehovah.


Paul makes a clear connection between the Passover lamb and Jesus Christ in many places that is outside the scope of your question.

But Paul also makes a connection between this firstfruit offering at the Feast of Weeks and the people that became the Church of God after Jesus Christ was resurrected.

1Corinthians 15:20-23


And now, Christ hath risen out of the dead -- the first-fruits of those sleeping he became,

for since through man is the death, also through man is a rising again of the dead,

for even as in Adam all die, so also in the Christ all shall be made alive,

and each in his proper order, a first-fruit Christ, afterwards those who are the Christ's, in his presence,


Leaven puffs up dough and makes it look like more than it actually is.

In 1Corinthians 4, Paul has to deal with some arrogant people in the congregation who - as he says himself - were puffed up and started to have an inflated estimation of their own worth. (We even use this kind of language today.)

1Corinthians 4:6-7, 15-19


And these things, brethren, I did transfer to myself and to Apollos because of you, that in us ye may learn not to think above that which hath been written, that ye may not be puffed up one for one against the other,

for who doth make thee to differ? and what hast thou, that thou didst not receive? and if thou didst also receive, why dost thou glory as not having received?


Not as putting you to shame do I write these things, but as my beloved children I do admonish,

for if a myriad of child-conductors ye may have in Christ, yet not many fathers; for in Christ Jesus, through the good news, I -- I did beget you;

I call upon you, therefore, become ye followers of me;

because of this I sent to you Timotheus, who is my child, beloved and faithful in the Lord, who shall remind you of my ways in Christ, according as everywhere in every assembly I teach.

And as if I were not coming unto you certain were puffed up;

but I will come quickly unto you, if the Lord may will, and I will know not the word of those puffed up, but the power;

for not in word is the reign of God, but in power?

what do ye wish? with a rod shall I come unto you, or in love, with a spirit also of meekness?

Paul was a Pharisee. He knew all about the sacrifices that were done at God's House, and he employed this language because it was something that would have been commonly understood among the people he was writing to.

You said, "I would think that leaven had some symbolic significance to the ancient Israelites which made it unsuitable for sacrifice." You are right. It was symbolic of pride and arrogance and ego and pretense and vanity.

You also said "What is it about leaven that the bible found to be so loathsome to God?" Proverbs 6:16 says:


These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:


The first item it mentions there is a proud look.


If you dig in PubMed (a medical research clearinghouse sponsored by the National Institute of Health), search for ASCA (antibodies to bakers yeast) and autoimmune diseases, cancer, Crohn’s, RA, lupus, etc. You will find it is implicated I all kinds of health issues. Those who have it often have a genetic predisposition for it due their innate immune systems being a low mbl genotype. When I was trying to understand this (due to my own health issues), it made me wonder about the Leviticus passage. Researchers who study ASCA and health related issues worry about the use of bakers yeast as a adjuvant in some vaccines.

  • Welcome to BHSE! Make sure you take our Tour. (See "?", upper right). Thanks Nov 15, 2019 at 21:11

I don't believe we need to search father than Deuteronomy 16:3, already quoted:

3 Thou shalt eat no leavened bread with it; seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread therewith, even the bread of affliction; for thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt in haste: that thou mayest remember the day when thou camest forth out of the land of Egypt all the days of thy life.

It seems straightforward: escaping Egypt was a big deal, they didn't have time to make proper bread, so God wants to remind them of this by commanding them to eat crackers for a week.

Let's take a more down-to-earth approach to this. Suppose you're in a relationship, but suddenly you break up and have to leave the domicile: are you going to bother making a sandwich, or just grab something quick to eat on the way out?

There's no need for all this symbolic stuff. The Israelites ate roti on their way out of Egypt, or maybe afterward in the desert where leavening and all that would have been difficult, and God, knowing that people are most affected by culinary taboos, chose this as a means of remembrance of the event.

He'd already taken their foreskins to get them to remember something else, so what else could He fasten upon that they'd take seriously? Their lechem -- the very stuff of life.

  • thanks for your time, but it doesn't satisfy me. It is one thing to command them to eat matzah to commemorate this incident, yet it's another thing to prohibit the eating of leaven for seven days! One doesn't necessarily follow from the other, yet God commands us to abstain from bread. Then there are the parallels in the text to indicate that there is something more significant (perhaps symbolic) at play here.
    – bach
    Aug 23, 2020 at 1:18
  • Of course it doesn't satisfy you. Well look, we're talking about a capricious, angry, and rather wanton deity, who decided the only way to be sure of the Hebrews' fealty was for them to cut off their sons' foreskins. And you want some completely rational explanation for the unleavened bread commandment? Petitio principii, friend. Oct 4, 2020 at 8:38
  • Your comments and answer don't match. In the answer you give a "down to earth approach", and suddenly now God is capricious wanton, and irrational? If you truly believe that, why did you bother answering my question? I asked a sincere question and I deserve a sincere answer. If you don't think there is, you shouldn't be on this site! -1.
    – bach
    Oct 5, 2020 at 14:14
  • I don't see being down to earth and describing God's behavior in what you take to be negative terms as mutually exclusive; indeed, one permits of the other, while a strict religious approach would obfuscate about it. It's important to consider that God is irrational or Himself contradictory; for if that is true, then your hunt for logical consistency is misguided. Perhaps you should consider letting such things stand, to consider the possibility that not everything is logical, even if everything is Logos, rather than trying to force it into a blueprint. Well, good luck hunting your symbols. Oct 14, 2020 at 21:36

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