This week’s article will discuss gluten-free bread and its relationship with mitzvos. Must challah be separated from gluten-free dough and bread? How much wheat must be in a dough or bread containing a mixture of wheat and rice flour? Is rice flour any different from other gluten-free flours like almond, potato, or chickpea flour? Can these flours be used for baking matzos for the Pesach Seder? What bracha is recited on gluten-free matzos? What defines a grain as one of the five species of grain? Is oat matzah kosher for the Seder? Can oats become chometz? Of this and more in the coming article.
The Mitzva of Challah
In Parashas Shlach we receive the mitzvah of hafrashas challah: “Hashem spoke to Moshe saying: Speak to the children of Yisrael and you shall say to them. When you arrive in the Land to which I am bringing you, and you eat from the bread of the Land, you shall set aside a gift for Hashem. The first portion of your dough, you shall separate a loaf for a gift” (Bamidbar 15:17-20).
The original mitzvah of hafrashas challah calls for separating and giving a portion of dough to a Kohen. The portion is called challah. This obligation was specific to Eretz Yisroel, when most Jews lived there. Today, the mitzvah is a mitzva d’rabbanan, and outside of Eretz Yisroel we observe the mitzvah so it will not be forgotten.
This week’s article will discuss the laws of challah in light of recent developments in the food industry and health sensitivities: gluten-free flours which can be used for making breads. What is the bracha on these breads? Can they be used for Hamotzi on Shabbos and Yom Tov? Is gluten-free matza sufficient for the Seder? Can the mitzva of separating challah be performed on the dough?
Before going into the halachic details of gluten free, we will first provide the context for the discussion.
What is gluten? Gluten is a protein found in grains, specifically wheat, barley, spelt and rye. Oats that contain gluten are simply contaminated from other gluten grain, and when grown in a clean environment, grow gluten free. Gluten helps foods maintain their shape, acting as a glue that holds food together. It is responsible for the stability and elasticity of the dough, allowing the yeast to ferment the bread properly and aids in producing well-risen baked goods. This explains why gluten is added to all bakery products.
Medical research has shown that there are several groups of people who are adversely affected by gluten:
- Celiac (Coeliac) disease — a condition where the immune system attacks digestive tissues in reaction to eating gluten. This damages the small intestine and interferes with absorption of nutrients such as iron and certain vitamins. Celiac disease can cause a range of symptoms including diarrhea, abdominal pain, and bloating. Research suggests that a protein in oats called avenin can trigger a similar response to gluten, though it is thought to be a separate sensitivity.
After they are damaged, recuperating can take up to two years. The only cure is sticking to a gluten-free diet. For celiac sufferers, gluten can cause numerous diseases, especially cancer of the digestive tract — from esophagus to the lower bowls.
- Digestive diseases such as Crohn’s can cause an adverse reaction to gluten.
- Gluten intolerance or non-celiac gluten sensitivity — Gluten sensitivity and celiac disease cause a lot of the same symptoms, but while celiac only causes long term damage, gluten intolerance can, in rare cases cause suffocation due to inflammation of the throat or esophagus.
It is important to differentiate between the various levels of gluten intolerances. Halachically, eating even one kezayis of gluten is forbidden for people with celiac and non-celiac gluten sensitivity. Therefore, a rabbi and doctor should be consulted before determining how to perform various related mitzvos.
Gluten in Halacha
Interestingly, the Five Species of Grain in halacha are those same grains that contain gluten. Only bread made from these grains is halachically considered bread. What are the halachic solutions for people with gluten-intolerance? How can they perform these precious mitzvos?
Mitzvos With Bread
- The mitzva of separating challah can only be performed on dough or baked goods made of the Five Grains.
- The blessing of Hamotzi is only recited on bread made of the Five Grains, and the blessing after it is Birkas Hamazon. Even when made in a non-bread form, the blessing is Mezonos and Al Hamichya. The blessing for bread made of any other grain is Shahakol and Borei Nefashos. The only exception to this rule is rice, for which the first blessing may, under certain circumstances, be Mezonos.
- Only grain of the Five Species can become chometz. Bread made with other grains is not forbidden on Pesach. While Ashkenazim customarily refrain from eating other grains on Pesach, it is not forbidden under the Torah prohibition of chometz.
- Only matzah made of the five species can be used for the mitzva of eating matza at the Seder.
- The first night of Succos has a similar obligation of eating a kezayis of bread made of the Five Species.
- Any food made of these species must be eaten in a Succah on Succos.
- The prohibition of Chadash (“New grain”) only applies to grain of these Five Species.
- Only bread of the Five Species enables one to fulfill the mitzva of eating a Shabbos or Yom Tov meal.
- One opinion sees the biblical mitzva of Truma and Ma’aser as applying only to the Five Species of grain, grapes and olives. According to this opinion, tithing all other species is rabbinic.
- Prayer cannot be recited near the excrement of a child once he is able to eat a kezayis of bread made of the Five Species.
- All meal-offerings in the Mikdash were made of wheat, with the exception of the Omer and Sota meal-offerings which were made of barley.
- Wheat and barley are two of the seven species which Eretz Yisroel is praised for (spelt, rye, and oat are considered sub-types of wheat and barley. See Har Tzvi [volume 1 OC 108].).
While rice is not one of the Five Species, it does have a special characteristic: when mixed with wheat it receives wheat-like qualities. Therefore, the Shulchan Aruch rules (OC 453:2) that matza made of a mixture of wheat and rice, even if mostly rice, can be eaten to fulfill the mitzva of eating matza at the Seder.
Similarly, elsewhere, the Shulchan Aruch rules (YD 324:9) that challah must be separated with a bracha from a dough made with rice flour as long as there is a small amount of wheat flour mixed in and the dough’s volume is the required size for the mitzva.
While some require the amount of wheat flour to be any amount provided it can be tasted, others require there to be enough to allow the size of a kezayis to be eaten at the rate of k’dei achilas pras (17%-13% of the mixture, depending on the various opinions). The Mishna Brura rules (453:14) that optimally one should follow the stringent ruling, but, when necessary, the lenient opinion can be relied upon.
Is the presence of gluten essential for a grain to be included in The Great Five, or is gluten’s presence a mere coincidence and if somewhere, sometime, a grain of these five species will be found to be gluten free they would still be called The Five Species?
Defining the Five Grains
The Gemara defines the differences between the Five Grains and other grains (Paschim 35a and elsewhere): while the five grains ferment when mixed with water, the others simply spoil. Rabbi Yochanan ben Nori opines that both rice and another grain called karmit (which is, according to many opinions, what is known today as nigella) also ferment. The Yerushalmi askes – why the discussion? Let us simply check if they ferment or not! And the Gemara answers: Chazal were divided as to the results of the experiment; were the results considered fermented or spoiled? How are the two defined?
Chazal identify the five grains from the pasuk in Yeshayahu: “Is it not so? When he smooths its surface, he scatters the black cumin and casts the cumin, and he places the prominent wheat, and the barley for a sign, and the spelt on its border” (28:25). Chazal explain (Yerushalmi, Challah 1:1) that this pasuk identifies the species from which bread can be made.
L’halacha, chachomim’s approach overrides Rabbi Yochana ben Nori’s, and rice and karmit are not included in the Five Species. Therefore, only bread made from the above-mentioned species can be considered halachically as bread.
Does the dough have to be fermentable in order to produce a halachic bread, or is it enough for it to be made of a species that can, theoretically, ferment?
The Chayei Adam (Nishmas Adam part II, 119:16) discusses matzos made of wheat that underwent heating and roasting before being ground into flour. Since roasted grain can no longer ferment, is matza made of flour from roasted grain kosher for the Seder?
The Chayei Adam notes that the Rishonim disagree on this point. According to the Rambam (Chametz U’mtza 6:5) the dough does not need to have the actual possibility of becoming chometz in order to produce kosher matzah. However, the Magid Mishna (ibid) notes several opinions of other Rishonim that the mitzvah of matza only is fulfilled when made of dough that could actually ferment and become chometz. The Chayei Adam notes that the overriding approach follows the Rambam’s opinion and therefore, where necessary, it is possible to be lenient.
This halachic debate only refers to the mitzva of eating matza at the Seder. For the mitzva of separating challah, the ability or inability of the dough to ferment is not a factor, as previously mentioned.
This debate led Rabbi Wosner to rule (Kol Torah 59, p. 48-56) that celiac patients can rely upon the lenient opinion and use oat matza even when the oats underwent a heating process causing them to longer be able to ferment (obviously, provided the process didn’t cause them to become chametz). However, healthy people should use matza made of dough that could have fermented and become chometz (but obviously, again, didn’t).
What happens to wheat from which the fermentable parts were removed and can no longer ferment?
The Magen Avraham (454:1) discusses matza made of certain non-fermentable parts of wheat and remains undecided about it. Therefore, if gluten-free wheat flour cannot ferment, its halachic status would depend upon this discussion.
Do oats and gluten free wheat flour ferment? Contemporary poskim agree that the grain we have today that is called oats is the same as the oats mentioned in the Mishna, and is therefore a version of barley. The Chazon Ish permitted (Kilayim 3) grafting and growing oats and barley together. Rav Moshe Feinstein, Rav Yona Merzbach, and Rav Elyashiv all agree that oats have the halachos of the five species of grain both for leniencies and stringencies. The reason is because the grain has been identified as that same grain for over a thousand years.
However, Rabbi Shraga Kreisler (Kovetz Shaarei Tzion 1, p. 64-66) raised a question in this regard. The Gemara (Paschim 35a) points out that the Five Grains are the only ones that ferment, while rice and other grains simply spoil. According to Rabbi Kreisler’s findings, oats don’t ferment but rather spoil and grow mold like rice.
However, Rabbi Efrati shlita (Halichot Sade issue 57 p.11-15) claimed that the test was not done professionally. He asked Dr. Moshe Zacks to repeat the test, and his conclusion was that while oats do ferment less than wheat, they ferment the same way that barley flour ferments.
It is important to note that regular commercial oats undergo heating or steaming to remove a bitter enzyme immediately upon harvesting. Checking the way oats ferment requires procuring fresh oats that did not undergo this process.
Is gluten-free wheat flour still considered flour?
Apparently, the answer to this question depends upon the fermenting question — can gluten-free wheat ferment or not?
Regular gluten-rich wheat flour is unquestionably the best flour for baking the fluffiest breads. Fluffy, well risen bread is a result of a multi-step process. First, the starch must come in contact with water. At this stage the starch begins breaking up, causing a release of carbon dioxide. This is the natural fermentation process. At this point additional faster agents can be added to the bread to cause it to rise faster – either natural sourdough starter which is well fermented dough, or synthetic yeast that mimics the fermentation process and speeds it up. The gluten in the flour causes the dough to create three-dimensional netting which trap the air bubbles inside and cause the dough to be elastic and fluffy.
What is the halachic definition of fermenting? Is it when it begins bubbling or when the dough starch changes to alcohol, or is it the general combination? Is it the starch which causes it to rise, the gluten, or the general interaction between the ingredients?
In the practical sense it is difficult to define the exact difference between spoiling and fermenting in Chazal. Therefore, most poskim leave gluten-free an unanswered question, both, if the gluten was mechanically removed, or if it was — through genetic engineering – grown without gluten.
The poskim are still undecided regarding gluten-free wheat flour, both genetically designed and mechanically removed. The developments in the area are constant and ongoing, and every change in the process and reality can result in a change in halacha.
In the meanwhile, the following are practical halachos for gluten-free as I have come to conclude:
- Challah must be separated from gluten free dough and bread just like for regular dough and bread, both from wheat and oat flour, provided there is enough flour in the mixture to perform the mitzva.
- Wheat and rice flour: if the amount of rice flour brings the dough to the size requiring separation of challah but would not be required without it, challah must be separated without a bracha.
- Wheat and oat flour do not combine to reach the volume necessary for separating challah, even if both are touching each other or are placed in the same bowl. If each has the required volume for separating challah, challah must be removed from each dough separately (Shulchan Aruch YD 324).
- People with gluten intolerance can recite Hamotzi and Birkas Hamazon on gluten-free wheat or oat bread, but for healthy people the blessing remains a question (Hamotzi or Mezonos) (Sha’arei Hora’ah volume III, p. 42).
- Oat matza can certainly be used for the mitzva of eating matza at the Seder provided the oats didn’t undergo heating or steaming before being ground into flour. Oats that underwent heating or steaming, or matza made of gluten-free wheat flour remain a question. Therefore, people who are severely allergic to gluten or suffer from celiac should not be stringent and eat regular matza. Instead, they should rely upon the Chayei Adam’s opinion permitting using it for the mitzva of matza (Kol Torah, 59 p. 56, citing Rabbi Wosner).
- Gluten-free flour can certainly serve as halachic bread for the purpose of Shabbos and Yom Tov meals.
- Gluten-free flour should be regarded as chometz with no leniencies whatsoever.