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Chametz (also transliterated hametz) is the Hebrew term for leavened bread, which is forbidden during the Jewish feast of Pesach (Passover). The prohibition does not apply merely to eating chametz, as it states lo yeira'eh lekha, you may not have chametz "in your borders", i.e. in your possession in any form. This rule is observed strictly and in the widest possible sense of the word. To give a few examples:
  • All observant Jewish families engage in a massive spring cleaning operation before Passover in order to eliminate any bread crumbs that may be lurking in dusty places.
  • In Jewish shops, all shelves retailing items that are or contain chametz are covered with sheets to prevent people from accidentally buying any.
  • Most pet food contains chametz, so observant Jews have to figure out other ways to feed their pets or risk contamination.
  • In ultra-Orthodox circles in Israel, even drinking tap water during Passover is forbidden, since the water comes from Lake Kinneret (Sea of Galilee). The reason this is a problem is that there are many fishermen on the lake, some of whom may use chametz as bait!
And in case you're wondering why this is such a big deal, take a look at Passover for the rationale.

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