Beit Midrash

  • Pesach
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Chapter Sixteen-Part Seven

The Mitzva to Eat Matza


Rabbi Eliezer Melamed

22.The Mitzva to Eat Matza
There is a Torah commandment to eat matza on the night of the fifteenth of Nisan, as it states: "In the evening, you shall eat matzot" (Shemot 12:18). This matza must have been guarded (shmura), as it states: "And you shall observe (u-shemartem) the matzot" (ibid. 17), and some poskim say it must be made by hand, with the specific intention of fulfilling this mitzva (see above 12:4). One who eats stolen matza does not fulfill his obligation (SA 454:4). Therefore, it is good to pay for the matza before Pesaĥ, or at least obtain the explicit consent of the storeowner to grant the buyer ownership of the matza even if it has not yet been paid for, because if the storeowner does not agree to give the matza on credit, one cannot fulfill his obligation with it (MB 454:15). 19 As soon as one eats a kezayit of shmura matza he has fulfilled the Torah commandment, because all eating-related commandments in the Torah require the consumption of at least a kezayit.
Beyond the Torah obligation, the Sages ordained three more kezeytim of matza to be eaten at the Seder, making a total of four. After reciting the berakhot of "ha-motzi" and "al akhilat matza," we eat, le-khatĥila, two kezeytim: one from the top matza, for "ha-motzi," and one from the broken middle matza for "al akhilat matza." Later, we eat another kezayit with maror, for korekh, and at the end of the meal we eat one more kezayit as the afikoman (some say it is preferable to eat two kezeytim for the afikoman).
Before getting into the specifics of the size of a kezayit, let us clarify the practical halakha: there is a consensus that a kezayit is about a third of a piece of machine-made matza, and about the same-sized piece of a handmade matza. Thus, right after reciting "ha-motzi" and "al akhilat matza," two-thirds of a machine matza must be eaten. Another third should be eaten for korekh and one more for the afikoman (for those who are stringent about eating two kezeytim for the afikoman, one half of a matza suffices for this purpose).
The kezayit of matza must be eaten continuously. If one pauses while eating, and as a result takes longer than a shi’ur akhilat pras to eat a kezayit, he does not fulfill the mitzva. We shall soon discuss exactly how much time a shi’ur akhilat pras is, but for now, it is enough to say that whoever eats a kezayit of matza continuously fulfills the mitzva without question and need not look at the clock, because the only way it is possible to take longer than akhilat pras is if one stops eating for a few minutes.
23.Calculating the Size of a Kezayit for Torah Commandments
The long exile gave rise to uncertainty regarding the size of a kezayit. According to Rambam, a kezayit is slightly less than a third of the volume of an egg; according to Tosafot, it is about the volume of half an egg. In practice, due to this uncertainty, the custom is to follow the stricter ruling of Tosafot. The equivalent of half an egg was calculated as being a third of a piece of machine matza and as a similar-sized piece of hard handmade matza, whose thickness is similar to that of a machine matza.
This is the consensus of all Sephardic and most Ashkenazic authorities. However, one of the most prominent Ashkenazic Aĥaronim, R. Yeĥezkel Landau (also known as "Noda Bi-Yehuda"), reached the conclusion, based on his own calculations, that our eggs are half the volume of the eggs that existed at the time of the Sages. It follows that a kezayit is not half the size of one of our eggs, but is the size of a whole contemporary egg. R. Avraham Yeshaya Karelitz ("Ĥazon Ish") concurred with Noda Bi-Yehuda’s calculations. Thus, in order to fulfill the Torah commandment using the "Ĥazon Ish shi’ur," one must eat an egg’s bulk of matza. Although the halakha usually follows the standard shi’ur and does not take Ĥazon Ish's shi’ur into consideration, when it comes to the Torah commandment of eating matza, it is proper le-khatĥila to satisfy all opinions. Ideally, then, one should eat a Ĥazon Ish kezayit of matza, or approximately two-thirds of a matza.
This, however, is not really much of a stringency, since anyway our custom is to eat two kezeytim initially – one for "ha-motzi" and another for "al akhilat matza" (SA 475:1). Since these two kezeytim contain a single Ĥazon Ish kezayit, we fulfill the Torah commandment according to all opinions.
One who finds it difficult to eat two-thirds of a piece of machine matza can eat one third, because according to the standard calculation, a third of a matza contains a kezayit. One even recites the "al akhilat matza" blessing before eating this amount, for the standard measure is so well founded that it is not considered the sort of uncertainty that causes the berakha to be canceled. 20
24.The Sephardic Custom Regarding a Kezayit
Sephardic Jews customarily do not give any consideration to the Noda Bi-Yehuda/Ĥazon Ish position, because their own tradition about these measurements was handed down in an orderly manner from generation to generation, without change. Even with regard to Torah commandments, they are not concerned about the Ĥazon Ish shi’ur. It follows that the volume of a kezayit does not exceed one third of a piece of machine matza (based on the position of Tosafot that a kezayit is about half an egg).
The above applies when one measures according to volume; however, most Sephardim actually have a custom to base the shi’ur on weight, as it is difficult to calculate the volume of each food independently to determine whether one must recite a berakha aĥarona after eating it. After all, foods come in all sorts of shapes and sizes: long and thin, round and square, etc. Some foods contain hollow spaces that are not factored into the volume. Thus, in order to make it easier to calculate shi’urim, the practice of measuring by water weight was adopted. It was thus determined that a kezayit, or half an egg, is equal to 29 grams (a more recent adjustment puts it at 25 grams). In order to eat this amount of matza, one must eat nearly a whole piece of machine matza. In other words, if we calculate a kezayit of matza by weight, it comes out almost three times more than if measured by volume.
This means that one must eat four machine matzot on the Seder night: two after the initial berakhot, one for korekh, and one more for the afikoman (and for those who are stringent – two more for the afikoman).
Yet is it clear that in principle all measurements are by volume, not weight, as several leading Sephardic poskim – R. Ben-Zion Abba Shaul and R. Shalom Messas – have ruled. Since the stringency of measuring matza by weight raises justifiable difficulties and consternation among many participants, we may instruct all Jews, Sephardic and Ashkenazic alike, that a kezayit is a third of a machine matza. 21
25.How Much Is a Shi’ur Akhilat Pras?
We have now seen that in order to fulfill the mitzva of eating matza, as well as any other Torah commandment governing eating, one must eat at least a kezayit. One condition must now be added: it is only considered a single act of eating if it is completed within the amount of time it takes to eat half a loaf of bread, or a shi’ur akhilat pras. If one eats half a kezayit, waits ten minutes, and then eats another half a kezayit, it is as if he has only eaten half a kezayit, and hence he has not fulfilled the mitzva (SA 475:6).
In the past, people would bake loaves of bread that would feed one person for a day – half a loaf (a pras) at each of the two main meals.
Once again, our long exile has caused disagreement among poskim over the precise size of a pras: according to Rambam, it is the volume of three eggs, and according to Rashi, four eggs. Several leading Aĥaronim tried to measure how long it takes to eat a pras, and many opinions have been offered: nine minutes (Ĥatam Sofer), seven and a half minutes (Arukh La-ner), seven minutes, six minutes, five minutes, and four minutes (R. Ĥayim Naeh and Kaf Ha-ĥayim).
However, all these opinions relate only to a be-di’avad situation, because le-khatĥila one should eat the matza continuously, and whoever does so certainly fulfills his obligation. In addition, there is no need to look at the clock while eating the matza, because any ordinary person who eats casually but without interruption will certainly finish eating in time. Even a slow eater, if he does not stop to do other things, will assuredly finish eating a kezayit within a shi’ur akhilat pras, because a pras is eight or nine times the size of a kezayit, and it is inconceivable that one who eats a kezayit without stopping will not finish in the time it takes to eat eight or nine times that amount. 22
26.How the Matza Is Eaten
Hands are now washed with a berakha, and the Seder leader holds up the three matzot and recites the berakha of "Who brings forth bread from the earth" ("ha-motzi leĥem min ha-aretz"). The top and bottom matzot, which are whole, constitute leĥem mishneh. After this berakha, he puts down the bottom matza so that he is left with the whole top matza and the broken middle matza (which represents "leĥem oni" – the "bread of poverty") and recites the berakha "Who sanctified us with His mitzvot and commanded us concerning eating matza" ("asher kideshanu be-mitzvotav ve-tzivanu al akhilat matza"). Then he takes a kezayit from the upper, whole matza, and a kezayit from the middle matza, and eats them together.
If there are many participants, it makes sense to add more matzot to the bottom matza, so that portions can be given to everybody. Once the Seder leader has finished distributing from the middle, broken matza, he no longer needs to give two kezeytim to the remaining participants, only one. Only when one distributes portions from the middle matza is it necessary to give a kezayit from the broken matza and a kezayit from the whole matza, but when the broken matza is finished, one gives only a kezayit to each person. However, as we have seen, in order to satisfy the opinion that today’s eggs are smaller than those of the Sages’ time, it is better to give each participant the equivalent of two-thirds of a machine-made matza. It makes no difference whether this is given from one matza or from parts of two matzot.
The Seder leader should taste a little bit of the matza before distributing portions, in order to avoid an interruption between the berakha and the eating. After distributing matza to everybody, he reclines and eats two kezeytim with the intention of fulfilling the mitzva.
According to Sephardic custom, the Seder leader dips the matza in salt before distributing it to the participants, just as he does throughout the year. The custom of Ashkenazic Jews, on the other hand, is not to dip the matza in salt, because without salt it appears much more like leĥem oni (SA 475:1).
Some people have a custom of giving each participant three matzot, so that everyone can have a kezayit from a whole matza and a kezayit of a broken matza, and neither the leader nor the participants have to wait to receive matza after the berakha. But the widespread custom is that the Seder leader distributes matza to everybody, and the fact that everyone eats together and that the Seder leader recited the berakhot on everyone’s behalf enhances the mitzva. Others have a custom to put out three matzot before the head of each household, who distributes portions to his family members. Even though each of these practices is fine, it is best for the head of each household to distribute matza to his family members.
The matza is eaten while reclining. One should have in mind to fulfill the Torah commandment, remembering that it is eaten in commemoration of the matzot our forefathers ate when they left Egypt for freedom.
^ 19.. Some stringently insist that the head of the household purchases the matza specifically for his guests and adult children, so that they eat matza that belongs to them. See Sidur Pesaĥ Ke-hilkhato 2:8:3. Nevertheless, one who eats matza owned by the head of the household fulfills his obligation, even if he performed no act of acquisition, since one can fulfill his obligation with borrowed matza (MB 454:15).
^ 20.. The size of a kezayit is a very long topic, and is explained in Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 10:5-6 and in the notes there. I will summarize it here.
SA 486:1 rules that regarding the requirement to eat matza, we follow Tosafot that a kezayit is the size of half an egg’s bulk. SAH (486:1) states that for Torah commandments, one must be stringent and follow Tosafot, but for rabbinic mitzvot, such as eiruvin, one may follow the lenient opinion of Rambam, who maintains that a kezayit is slightly less than a third of an egg’s bulk. MB 486:1 states that when it comes to reciting a berakha aĥarona, which is only required if one eats a kezayit, one must follow Tosafot, since we are lenient whenever there is uncertainty in the laws of berakhot. Thus, one is only required to recite a berakha aĥarona if he eats at least half an egg’s bulk, not less. Le-khatĥila one should not invite an ambiguous situation, and should eat either less than one third of an egg’s bulk, in which case he would be exempt from a berakha aĥarona according to everyone, or more than half an egg’s bulk, in which case he would be required to recite a berakha aĥarona according to everyone. Regarding matza, one must be stringent and follow the opinion of Tosafot. Similarly, one must follow the opinion of Tosafot vis-à-vis maror, since we recite a berakha on it. On the other hand, when it comes to the requirement to eat a kezayit of korekh and the requirement to eat a kezayit of afikoman, one may be lenient and follow Rambam.
BHL on 271 explains the opinion of Noda Bi-Yehuda. MB (486:1) quotes Sha’arei Teshuva that regarding Torah commandments, including mitzvot like kiddush with a biblical basis, one should be stringent and follow Noda Bi-Yehuda. On the other hand, vis-à-vis rabbinic mitzvot like the four cups of wine, one need not follow Noda Bi-Yehuda. MB (ibid.) also states that regarding berakha aĥarona one need not follow Noda Bi-Yehuda; rather, he should recite a berakha aĥarona after eating the amount of half an egg, as per Tosafot. Sephardim do not show any concern for Noda Bi-Yehuda’s measurements, since the tradition regarding halakhic measurements was passed down, uninterrupted, in the regions near Eretz Yisrael, and every time the sizes were recalculated, the same results were found.
It should also be noted that there are two opinions within the view of Noda Bi-Yehuda that the kezayit of Tosafot is the size of a modern-day egg: according to MB this means an egg with its shell, and according to Ĥazon Ish this means an egg without its shell; the difference between these two opinions is about ten percent.
MB 486:3 states that one must realize that all of these measurements are based on volume, and only when there are large air pockets is one required to compress the food. The food’s natural texture does not need to be compressed. Therefore, the weight of a kezayit often varies, depending on the density of the food.
After measuring, it emerges that a kezayit according to Tosafot, which is the size of half a modern-day egg, is at most a third of a machine-made matza. If we multiply this shi’ur based on MB’s stringent explanation of Noda Bi-Yehuda, namely, that a kezayit is the size of a whole egg with its shell, a kezayit is approximately two-thirds of a machine-made matza. According to Ĥazon Ish’s understanding of Noda Bi-Yehuda, roughly half of a machine-made matza is sufficient, or, according to some, slightly more than half. In any case, one who eats two-thirds of a machine-made matza fulfills his obligation according to even the most stringent opinions (the weight of a machine-made matza is approximately 33 grams). See Sidur Pesaĥ Ke-hilkhato 2:8:4, which explains the calculations practically.
After reciting the berakha, one must eat two kezeytim (SA 475:1 citing Rosh and Mordechai). One kezayit is taken from the top, whole matza for the berakha of "ha-motzi," and one kezayit is taken from the middle, broken matza for the berakha of "al akhilat matza." BHL questions this ruling, since it does not seem that any other Rishonim require eating two kezayit-sized pieces. Nevertheless, the custom is to follow SA. However, one certainly does not need to be stringent in measuring the two pieces; therefore, if he ate a kezayit according to the measurement of Noda Bi-Yehuda, he has already fulfilled the obligation to eat two kezayit-sized pieces according to the accepted measurement (that of Tosafot) and has eaten more than three kezayit sizes according to the measurement of Rambam.
One who has difficulty eating two-thirds of a machine-made matza may eat one third and may recite the berakha of "al akhilat matza," since, as we already mentioned, technically the halakha follows the accepted measurement (Tosafot), and even regarding berakha aĥarona one need not follow Ĥazon Ish (with the exception of his students and followers). Regarding the practice to eat two kezeytim, we have already mentioned that not all Rishonim agree that this is a requirement; moreover, one third of a machine-made matza likely contains two kezayit sizes according to Rambam. Therefore, one who eats one third altogether should eat a small piece from the whole matza and a small piece from the broken matza.
^ 21.. The vast majority of Rishonim maintain that shi’urim are calculated by volume. This is the ruling of Yeĥaveh Da’at 4:55 regarding the minimum shi’ur for the tithing of ĥalla. See the addendum "Shi’ur Kezayit" at the back of R. Harari’s Mikra’ei Kodesh part 4 and 6:3. See also Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 10:6, 7 and the expanded notes ad loc. Nevertheless, Sephardic Aĥaronim customarily calculate a kezayit by weight, as Ĥida writes in Maĥzik Berakha 168:6; see also Kaf Ha-ĥayim (168:45-46 and 486:1, 3) which cites more sources. This is also the ruling of R. Ovadia Yosef and R. Mordechai Eliyahu. Some poskim raise the possibility that shi’urim should be calculated by weight even in principle, since perhaps volume must be calculated after the food has been compressed, and a kezayit of fully compressed food will have the same weight as water. However, it is clear that the real justification for measuring by weight is that it is easier. Therefore, even a Sephardic Jew who normally measures by weight may rely on a volume-based measurement for matza. Indeed, R. Ben-Zion Abba Shaul and R. Shalom Messas maintain that one should calculate by volume le-khatĥila.
Additionally, since our custom is to eat two kezayit-sized pieces initially, one must eat two-thirds of a machine-made matza. Even according to the weight-based measurement, two-thirds of a machine-made matza constitutes a kezayit according to Rambam.
It should also be noted that according to the latest calculations of Rambam’s opinion, it emerges that the weight of half an egg is c. 25 grams, not 27, 28, or 29 grams as calculated by those who follow R. Ĥayim Naeh. See Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 10:6, 11. Nevertheless, the key point is that we calculate by volume, and by eating one third of a machine¬-made matza, one removes all doubt. See Sidur Pesaĥ Ke-hilkhato 2:8:4. Sephardim who eat thick, soft matza may also calculate by volume, since this is the primary halakhic method. However, it is easier to eat a weight-based (25 gm) kezayit of this matza. After the initial berakhot, when we eat two kezeytim, one may use Rambam’s kezayit, which is less than a third of an egg, and c. 30 gm of matza would suffice in this instance.
^ 22.. As we have seen, according to Rashi, a pras is the size of four eggs, and according to Tosafot, a kezayit is half an egg. Thus, a pras is eight kezeytim. According to Rambam, a pras is the size of three eggs, and each egg is a bit more than three kezeytim. Thus, a pras is just over nine kezeytim. (If we combine Rashi’s pras with Rambam’s kezayit, a pras would come out to be twelve kezeytim. If we combine Rambam’s pras with the kezayit of Tosafot, a pras would be six kezeytim.)
Although some individuals measured and discovered that they could not eat a kezayit of matza within a shi’ur akhilat pras, they only reached this conclusion because they used conflicting measurements. On the one hand, they measured a kezayit according to the most stringent opinion possible – a Ĥazon Ish shi’ur calculated by weight – and on the other hand, they calculated a shi’ur akhilat pras based on the smallest possible measure – Rambam’s shi’ur of three eggs, calculated by volume. These two measurements are contradictory: a Ĥazon Ish kezayit by weight is c. 50 grams, while the three eggs’ volume of matza is c. 54 grams. Since matza is difficult to chew, and a shi’ur akhilat pras is calculated based on the time it takes to eat bread that is easy to chew and swallow, these individuals discovered that they could not finish that "kezayit" in time. According to this, the Sephardic custom to eat two weight-based kezayit-sized pieces, or c. 58 grams of matza, in the time it takes to eat three eggs, or c. 54 grams, is certainly impossible under normal circumstances. Rather, one must calculate the size of a kezayit and the shi’ur akhilat pras using the same standard: if one is stringent regarding the size of a kezayit (and measures it by weight), he must allow himself more time to eat it by calculating the size of an egg based on weight as well, meaning that a shi’ur akhilat pras would be fifteen minutes or more.
Therefore, anyone who eats casually, provided that he does not pause or excessively procrastinate in his eating, will certainly be able to finish the kezayit within a shi’ur akhilat pras; thus, there is no need to glance at one’s watch while eating.
Nevertheless, if one paused while eating and did not finish one third of a matza within four minutes, he should act stringently and eat another piece in that time. Logic dictates that since the determination of shi’ur akhilat pras is based on the average person, and since there are so many measurements offered, we should calculate it based on the median of the opinions of the Aĥaronim (6-7 minutes). However, since the mitzva of eating matza is from the Torah, one should follow the strictest opinions. See Peninei Halakha: Berakhot 10:7, 8.
Additionally, according to Minĥat Ĥinukh and Responsa Torat Ĥessed OĤ 32, the shi’ur akhilat pras is determined separately for every food, based on the ease or difficulty of eating it. Accordingly, the shi’ur akhilat pras for matza would be longer than usual, since matza is difficult to chew and swallow. Nevertheless, most poskim who determined a shi’ur akhilat pras understood that it is a fixed standard based on the eating of regular bread.
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