Beit Midrash

  • Pesach
To dedicate this lesson
Chapter Two-Part One

General Rules of the Prohibition against Hametz


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

1.Four Mitzvot Concerning the Prohibition against Ĥametz
Four Torah commandments deal with the prohibition against ĥametz on Pesaĥ: three negative and one positive.
The first prohibition is to refrain from eating ĥametz, as it is written, "And ĥametz shall not be eaten" (Shemot 13:3). Our Sages taught that the prohibition against eating ĥametz on Pesaĥ includes not deriving any kind of benefit from the ĥametz. The Torah also says, "You shall not eat anything leavened; in all of your settlements you shall eat matzot" (Shemot 12:20). Our Sages concluded from this verse that not only something that had fermented on its own is prohibited, but even food that had been leavened by some external agent may not be eaten on Pesaĥ. It must be noted that the Torah was particularly stringent concerning the prohibition against eating ĥametz. Almost all of the Torah’s food prohibitions are punishable by lashes, while eating ĥametz on Pesaĥ is punishable by karet (extirpation), as it is written, "whoever eats ĥametz from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel" (Shemot 12:15).
The second prohibition is that no ĥametz may be found in our possession, as it is written, "Seven days there shall be no se’or found in your homes" (Shemot 12:19). Se’or is the leavening agent that one uses to make dough ferment. This verse means not only that se’or is forbidden, but also that no ĥametz may be found in our possession on Pesaĥ. This prohibition is often called bal yimatzei.
The third prohibition is that no ĥametz may be seen in our possession, as it is written: "Matzot shall be eaten seven days; and no ĥametz of yours shall be seen, and no se’or of yours shall be seen within all your borders" (Shemot 13:7). One violates the second prohibition (bal yimatzei) and this third prohibition (called bal yera’eh) only if one has in his possession on Pesaĥ at least one olive’s bulk (kezayit) of ĥametz. If the volume of the ĥametz that remained in one’s possession was less than a kezayit, he does not violate bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei on account of that ĥametz.
The fourth mitzva – a positive commandment – is to get rid of ĥametz and se’or in advance of Pesaĥ, as it is written, "Seven days you shall eat matzot; however, on the first day you shall remove the se’or from your houses" (Shemot 12:15).
2.The Times When Ĥametz Is Prohibited by Torah Law and by Rabbinic Law
Although the prohibition against ĥametz applies primarily during the seven days of Ĥag Ha-matzot, from the fifteenth through the twenty-first of Nisan, nevertheless we were commanded to remove ĥametz from our homes at noon on the fourteenth of Nisan, Erev Pesaĥ.
The prohibition against eating ĥametz also begins at noon on the fourteenth, as is written, "And you shall sacrifice the Pesaĥ [offering] to G-d … you shall not eat ĥametz with it" (Devarim 16:2-3). This prohibits the eating of ĥametz from the time fit for bringing the Pesaĥ sacrifice, i.e., at noon on the fourteenth of Nisan. This prohibition against eating ĥametz includes the prohibition against deriving any benefit from it. 1
In order to distance one further from possibly violating commandments, the Sages added to the prohibitions and forbade gaining benefit from ĥametz for an additional hour. They also forbade eating ĥametz for two extra hours, since on a cloudy day people are likely to err by as much as two hours.
These times are calculated by dividing the day into twelve equal parts, each of which is called "a seasonal hour" ("sha’ah zmanit"). Thus, one may eat ĥametz for the first four seasonal hours of the fourteenth. During the fifth hour it is rabbinically forbidden to eat ĥametz, but it is permissible to derive benefit from it by, for example, feeding it to an animal or selling it to a gentile. When the sixth hour of the day begins, possession of ĥametz becomes prohibited rabbinically, and if one forgot to sell it to a gentile, it must be destroyed. When midday arrives, that is, after the sixth hour ends, ĥametz is forbidden by Torah law both for consumption and for deriving any benefit, and one must dispose of it as soon as possible. Every moment that one does not get rid of it, he violates the positive commandment to remove the ĥametz (see below 3:6 concerning the mitzva of removing the ĥametz).
Once the holiday begins, two additional prohibitions apply: bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei. 2 The prohibition against eating ĥametz also becomes more severe: one who willfully eats ĥametz after midday on the fourteenth is punishable by lashes only, whereas one who willfully eats ĥametz after the holiday begins is punishable by extirpation. This is based on the verse: "whoever eats ĥametz, from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel" (Shemot 12:15).
Ĥametz becomes permissible once again after Pesaĥ, except that our Sages forbade ĥametz that belonged to a Jew during the holiday ("ĥametz she-avar alav ha-Pesaĥ"). Since by keeping the ĥametz on Pesaĥ he violated the prohibitions of bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei, the Sages prohibited eating or gaining benefit from that ĥametz even after Pesaĥ. Ĥametz that was in the possession of a gentile during Pesaĥ, however, is permissible; a Jew may buy it and eat it (SA 448:1-3).
3.What Is Ĥametz and What Is Se’or?
The ĥametz that is prohibited by the Torah on Pesaĥ is any one of the five species of cereal grains that came into contact with water and fermented. The five species are wheat (ĥitta), barley (se’ora), oats (shibolet shu’al), rye (shifon), and spelt (kusmin). These species are used to make bread, the staple food of mankind. The Sages ordained a special blessing to be recited before eating bread – "Who brings forth bread from the earth" ("ha-motzi leĥem min ha-aretz"). After eating bread, the Torah commanded us to recite Birkat Ha-mazon. So that bread will be tasty and easy to digest, its dough is fermented and made to rise.
There are two types of leaven products: ĥametz and se’or. Both are produced by mixing flour and water. Ĥametz is the regular leavening of dough to bake bread and cakes. The fermentation is accomplished by leaving the dough at rest without handling it. If one wants the leavening to be faster and of higher quality, one mixes se’or (sourdough) into the dough. Se’or is the second type of leavening. It is produced by leaving ĥametz for a long time, so that it continues to effervesce and ferment, until it tastes so sour that people cannot eat it. As noted, the purpose of se’or is to hasten and improve the quality of the leavening process of various types of dough, for the preparation of breads and cakes. More specifically, ĥametz is intended for eating while se’or is a leavening agent in preparing ĥametz foods. The Torah prohibited both, and the law is the same regarding both. One who leaves a kezayit of either of them in his possession during Pesaĥ violates bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei (Beitza 7b).
But if flour of the five cereal grains is mixed with water, kneaded rapidly, and put it into an oven immediately, then the dough will not have enough time to rise. This is the matza that we are commanded to eat on the first night of Pesaĥ, as a remembrance of the Exodus from Egypt, as is written, "And the people picked up their dough before it fermented" (Shemot 12:34). Thus, specifically those species of grain that may become ĥametz are the species from which one makes matza for the mitzva (Pesaĥim 35a).
Although rice and millet are similar to the five species of cereal grain, and although they rise, they do not undergo a complete fermentation process as the five cereal species do. Therefore, the prohibition against ĥametz does not apply to them, and if one made matza out of one of them, one does not fulfill any mitzva with it on Pesaĥ.
Note that kusmin (spelt) is not the same as kusemet (buckwheat). The former is one of the five species of cereal grain, whereas the latter is a type of legume and may be eaten on Pesaĥ by those who eat kitniyot; even among those who do not eat kitniyot, it is permitted for sick people (MB 453:4, 7. Note that some mix up the names and call spelt kusemet).

^ 1.. The mitzva of removing the ĥametz applies from noon on the fourteenth, as it is written, "However, on the first day you shall remove the se’or from your houses" (Shemot 12:15). The Sages demonstrated from other verses that "the first day" refers to Erev Pesaĥ. Since the ĥametz must already have been removed by the onset of the holiday itself so as not to violate bal yera’eh and bal yimatzei , the mitzva of removing the ĥametz must be in the middle of the day preceding Pesaĥ, that is, at noon (Pesaĥim 4b).
The prohibition against eating ĥametz and obtaining any benefit from it applies from noon on the fourteenth, according to R. Yehuda, as explained in Pesaĥim 28a. Rambam, as well as R. Yitzĥak ibn Gi’at, Rosh, and most Rishonim, ruled in accordance with this view. R. Shimon’s view is that the prohibition against eating ĥametz begins with the holiday itself, and it is only the mitzva of removing the ĥametz that comes into effect at noon on the fourteenth. Some Rishonim rule in accordance with this view, although they disagreed about what the mitzva of getting rid of ĥametz entails according to R. Shimon. Let us mention two approaches. According to Ramban and Raavad, since one must get rid of the ĥametz, he is also not allowed to eat it; yet Torah law permits him to benefit from it in the course of its being burned. Only the Sages prohibited deriving any benefit from the ĥametz from the beginning of the sixth hour of the day. According to Ha-ma’or, the mitzva of disposing of the ĥametz does not imply a prohibition against eating it, since by eating it, one is, in fact, disposing of it (see Encyclopedia Talmudit, vol. 16, s.v. "ĥametz", p. 66; Hilkhot Ĥag Be-ĥag, p. 8, n. 3). Again, the view of most poskim is that the halakha follows R. Yehuda’s view that the prohibition against eating ĥametz and the prohibition against deriving any benefit from ĥametz are of Torah origin, and apply from noon. This is how the halakha is decided in SA (443:1).
^ 2.. This is the opinion of most poskim, since for these prohibitions the term "seven days" is stated explicitly; see MB 443:1 in the name of MA and others. However, SHT 443:2 states that not everyone agrees to this, and according to Rashi the prohibition starts on midday of the fourteenth. This also seems to be the opinion of Rabbeinu Ĥananel and Itur, namely, that according to R. Yehuda these prohibitions are like the prohibition of eating and begin at midday.
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