Since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E. the central symbol of the seder is clearly the matzah. Indeed already in the Torah, the festival is called “The Festival of Matzot.” What then exactly is matzah? What does it signify? In this shiur we will explore what the Rabbis understood matzah to be and how that shaped the halakhot that defined what type of matzah one can use at the seder to fulfill the biblical commandment to eat matzah on the first night of Pesah. Deuteronomy 16:3 (source 1) states:
- You are not to eat it with leaven; seven days you are to eat it with matzot, bread of affliction (lehem oni), for with trepidation you went out from the land of Egypt. (Everett Fox, translation)
The translation “bread of affliction,” which is commonly found in modern translations, implies that the matzah recalls the affliction of the Israelites in Egypt. The new JPS translates the phrase as “bread of distress” which seems to be quite similar to “bread of affliction.” However, the rabbis usually, albeit not exclusively, interpret the word oni to refer to poverty, implying that we should translate the word as “a poor person’s bread.” As Jeffrey Tigay (JPS Commentary on Deuteronomy, p. 154) claims, this fits the simple reading of the verse better than “affliction” for the verse connects the matzah with the haste with which the Israelites left Egypt and not with the enslavement in Egypt. The same meaning of matzah can also be found in Exodus 12: 33-34, 39.
The rabbis go a step further in their understanding of the term lehem oni and read it as providing a normative guide as to how matzah is to be made. According to the following midrash from the Mekhilta de-Rabbi Shimon 12:20 (source 2), one of the earliest sources concerning this topic, the matzah that is eaten at the seder must be lehem oni.
- Why does the Torah state “lehem oni“? To exclude [from use] matzah that has been kneaded with wine, oil or honey.
According to the midrash, one is permitted to eat matzah that has been kneaded with wine, oil or honey during Pesah. As long as it has not been allowed to rise, it is not considered hametz. However, such matzah is not lehem oni, and therefore one cannot use it to fulfill the obligation to eat matzah at the seder.
There are several other rabbinic sources (midrashim and tannaitic halakhot) that rule out other similar types of bread/pastry from use as matzah at the seder because they are not lehem oni, a poor person’s bread. Note that these types of cakes/pastries are not considered hametz, as long as they have not become leavened. They are kosher for Pesah but are not sanctioned for use at the seder. For instance, Mekhilta De-Rabbi Ishmael Pascha 10 (Lauterbach, p. 80) (source 3) states:
- May it not also mean to include sponge cakes, honey cakes, pastry, pudding cakes and pancakes? Scripture says, “lehem oni“, thus excluding all these for they are not “the bread of poverty”, the words of Rabbi Ishmael.
But the sages say he can fulfill his obligation with them…So then why does it say “lehem oni“? To teach that one should not knead with wine, oil or other juices…
While there is disagreement between R. Ishmael and the other sages as to exactly what types of mixtures cannot be used as matzah at the seder, most tannaim (sages from the time of the Mishnah) agree that flour must be mixed exclusively with water for it to be “poor man’s bread.” Although there is no reason that flour kneaded with wine, oil or honey cannot be eaten during Pesah, it may not be used as matzah at the seder, because it does not fulfill the biblical description of matzah as lehem oni.
In contrast with these midrashim, the Babylonian Talmud contains some conflicting information concerning the use of flour mixed with wine, honey or oil. Is such a mixture usable as the obligatory matzah at the seder? And furthermore, can such a mixture become hametz, if given time to rise, just as flour mixed with water can become hametz if given time to rise? An interesting (and somewhat amusing) passage on Pesahim 35a-b states (source 4):
- Rabbah bar Bar Hannah said in the name of Resh Lakish: Dough that has been kneaded with wine, oil or honey—one is not liable for karet if one eats it after it has become hametz.
- Rav Papa and Rav Huna the son of R. Joshua were sitting in front of Rav Idi bar Avin, and Rav Idi bar Avin dozed off. R. Huna son of R. Joshua said to Rav Papa: What is the reasoning of Resh Lakish?
- Rav Papa said to him: for the verse says, “You are not to eat it with leaven; seven days you are to eat it with matzot, bread of affliction (lehem oni).” For things which a person can use to fulfill his obligation for matzah, he is liable if they are [eaten in the form of] hametz. But these things, since one cannot use them to fulfill his obligation [at the seder] for they are matzah ashirah (rich matzah), one is not liable for them if they are [eaten in the form of] hametz….
- Rav Idi bar Avin woke up and said to them: Little children, Resh Lakish’s reasoning is that these [liquids] are all fruit juices, and fruit juices do not cause [dough] to become leavened.
In this discussion we can see some development with regard to the rule concerning dough mixed with oil, honey and wine. Resh Lakish, an early Eretz Yisraeli amora, states that if one kneads flour with one of these liquids and then lets the dough rise, bakes it and eats it, he is not liable for karet, the usual punishment for eating hametz (section 1). Before Rav Idi bar Avin wakes up, the other amoraim (section 3) believe that Resh Lakish rules this way because one cannot use matzah made from this dough to fulfill his obligation at the seder, as we learned in the earlier midrashim. In other words, matzah and hametz are two sides of the same coin and if something cannot be used as matzah at the seder, one is not liable if he eats it in the form of hametz (even if he has given it time to rise).
However, when Rav Idi bar Avin awakes (section 4), he provides a different reason for Resh Lakish’s rule—these liquids do not cause dough to become hametz. Thus, even were one to let such dough rise, it is not considered to be hametz. This principle seems to turn the earlier midrashim into a scientific/culinary principle. Matzah is lehem oni and therefore anything that is not lehem oni neither counts as matzah for use at the seder nor, even if permitted to rise, as hametz to be prohibited throughout Pesah. In contrast, Rav Papa stated that while one is not liable for eating dough mixed with wine, oil and honey, such dough can still become hametz. One might say that Rav Idi bar Avin transforms halakhah (dough mixed with fruit juice does not legally count as hametz) into science (such dough is not actually hametz)!
A few pages later the Talmud (Pesahim 36a) (source 5) returns to discuss the same topic—can matzah made of dough kneaded with wine, oil or honey be used at the seder to fulfill one’s obligation? Can such a mixture become hametz?
- Our Rabbis taught:…R. Akiva says: The Torah says “matzot” implying that different types of matzot can be used. If so, why does the Torah say “lehem oni“? To exclude dough that has been kneaded with wine, oil or honey…
- But does R. Akiva hold that one cannot use dough mixed with wine, oil or honey? But does it not teach: “One does not knead dough on Pesah with wine, oil or honey…And R. Akiva stated: I was sitting with R. Eliezer and R. Joshua and I kneaded dough with wine, oil and honey and they didn’t say anything to me…..
- This is not a difficulty: One refers to the first night and one refers to the second night.
The baraita in section one is similar to the tannaitic sources we saw previously—dough mixed with wine, oil or honey cannot be used at the seder to fulfill the mitzvah of matzah because it is not lehem oni. However, the Talmud brings in another tradition (section 2) in which R. Akiva is portrayed as kneading dough mixed with one of these liquids. The Talmud’s assumption at this point (in section 2) is that such matzah is usable even at the seder as the mandatory matzah. The resolution in section 3 reflects Rav Idi bar Avin’s answer from the previously examined passage. Such dough cannot be used on the first night at the seder because it is not lehem oni; matzah must be poor man’s bread, and poor people do not use wine, oil or honey to make their bread. On the second (and subsequent nights) such dough is kosher for Pesah, because fruit juices cannot cause dough to become hametz, even if the dough is actually given time to rise. This resolution makes explicit what has been assumed in the earlier sources – a category of baked goods that is not lehem oni and hence cannot fulfill the requirement to eat matzah at the seder, and yet is not hametz and hence may be eaten during the rest of the holiday.
Based on this passage (and ruling like R. Akiva), the Shulkan Arukh Orah Hayyim 462:1, (following earlier poskim, of course) issues the following rules (source 6):
- Fruit juices without water do not cause any leavening whatsoever. And it is permitted to eat on Pesah matzah that has been kneaded with fruit juice even if it was left all day to rise. However, one cannot use this dough to fulfill one’s obligation [at the seder] for this is matzah ashirah (rich bread) and the verse calls [matzah] lehem oni, poor person’s bread.
Thus according to the Shulkhan Arukh, one could in essence make rolls, cakes, bread, whatever, as long as he doesn’t use any water. He could even give this bread time to rise. While such bread would be matzah ashirah, rich [man’s] bread, and would not be usable at the seder as the mandatory matzah, it could be eaten during the rest of the week. However, as is often the case with regard to the rules of Pesah, the Ashkenazim rule more stringently. The source below (continuation of source 6 on source sheet) is from three paragraphs later in the Shulkhan Arukh (462:4). The first sentence, in larger font, is the words of R. Joseph Karo, of Sephardi origin, while the second sentence is from R. Moses Isserles, of Ashkenazi origin:
- Eggs and other liquids are all included in the category of fruit juice. Hagah [gloss]: In these lands [Ashkenaz] the custom is not to knead with fruit juice, and even to glaze is not customary, only after they have been baked. One should not change this custom except in times of great need, for instance for the sake of a sick person or the elderly.
Thus in traditional Ashkenazi practice egg matzah or matzah kneaded with any liquid besides water (and using no water) is not eaten at all during Pesah, neither at the seder nor during the week, although it is not considered hametz. Sephardi custom allows such matzot (or cakes) for use during Pesah, even if they have been given time to rise. However, Sephardi tradition agrees that such matzot may not be used at the seder because they do not fulfill the mandate that matzah must be lehem oni, poor man’s bread and not matzah ashirah, rich [man’s] bread.
Note on Sources:
Words that are in brackets and/or a smaller font are not translated into English in the attached shiur. I have included them here so that the reader can see the full contexts of the quotes, but due to the constraints of this forum, I have not fully delved into the meaning of each of these sources.