Be Careful Regarding the Matzah

Does the prohibition of eating kitniyot (legumes) on Pesach for Jews of Ashkenazi descent apply to quinoa? * The mitzvah of making family members, the poor, the lonely, and teachers of Torah happy on the holiday * Keeping a pleasant and friendly family atmosphere * The importance of eating matzah shmurah at the Seder, and the hidur of hand-baked matzah *Matzot shmurot are prepared more carefully in regards to chametz, therefore it is best to eat them for the entire holiday of Pesach * The dispute between the poskim whether chametz before Pesach is batel b’shishim * Is it better to forgo buying expensive, mehudar matzot shmurot and instead, give the money to charity?

Quinoa for Ashkenazim on Pesach

Q: According to the minhag (custom) of Ashkenazim, is quinoa also included in the prohibition of kitniyot (legumes)?

A: There are poskim (Jewish law arbiters) who are machmir (stringent) because quinoa looks like kitniyot, and there are others who are meykel (lenient) because the minhag of prohibition does not apply to it, since only in the last generation people began to eat it. In addition, its granules are much smaller than other species of grain, and thus, can be easily differentiated.

In practice, someone who wishes to be lenient is permitted, provided he checks the grains carefully, and one wants to be stringent tavo alav ha’bracha (he who is stringent will be blessed).

The Mitzvah of Joy on the Holiday

The essence of the mitzvah on Chag is to be happy and make others happy, because true happiness is achieved only when efforts are made to please others, as it is written: “You shall rejoice on your festival along with your son and daughter, your male and female slave, and the Levite, proselyte, orphan and widow within your gates” (Deuteronomy 16:14).


Upon further observation, we find that this mitzvah has two parts: First, to rejoice together with one’s family and household members. It should be pointed out that the word ‘ata’ (you) in the above mentioned verse, includes both husband and wife alike; one’s spouse always comes before all other relatives. Indeed, we find that the main feature of men’s simcha is the festive meal, which is customarily prepared by the woman, and the main aspect of women’s simcha is for her husband to buy her new clothes or jewelry. Both the man and the woman split the responsibility of sharing their joy with all the family members, for the simcha of the Chag is incomplete without their participation.


The second part of the mitzvah is bringing joy to neighbors and poor, lonely friends. The orphan and widow mentioned in the verse were typically poor, seeing as their main source of sustenance was shattered, and the mitzvah to gladden them is by means of giving them tzedakah (charity). And the ger (convert), who left his homeland and family, may very well suffer from loneliness, and the mitzvah to make him happy is achieved by inviting him to participate in the festival meal.


It should further be noted that the Torah commanded to include the kohanim and levi’im (priests and Levites) in the joy. Their task was to teach and instruct the Jewish nation – both young, and old. From this, we can learn that today, Torah scholars, who are the Rabbis and teachers, should be made happy on the Chag, as were the priests and Levites (Binyan Shlema, 1:33).


The Responsibility Lies on All Participants of the Meal


To fulfill the mitzvah properly, each member of the family must maintain a good atmosphere during the Chag, especially while dining. Everyone must try their best to avoid offensive speech and make an effort to cheer those gathered at the table with friendly words; this is the way to be truly happy.


On the other hand, there are some Jews who, having been influenced by secular culture, find family gatherings on the Chagim to be a burdensome and frustrating event. Cynically, they make snide remarks to their relatives about their appearance or behavior; suddenly out of nowhere, they remember past insults, and start bickering about them. Then, of course, everyone complains about their diet which, until Chag, they were so successful in maintaining … This is the unfortunate outcome of secularism alienated from the sanctity of the Chagim and family values. All of this is reflected in the words and writings of most of the secular journalists.


The stronger our understanding is of the sanctity of the holiday and of family values, the easier it will be to refrain from upsetting our family members. As a result, we will wish to compliment and gladden them, and thereby merit fulfilling the Chagim with happiness and peace, and draw blessing from them all year round.


Matzot Shmurot for the Seder Night


The Torah states, “And you shall observe (u-shemartem) the matzot” (Shemot 12:17). The Sages interpreted this to mean that the matza must be guarded from becoming chametz. This refers specifically to the matzot eaten on the Seder night in fulfillment of the mitzvah, for the very next verse states, “in the evening you shall eat matzot.

According to RifRambam, and other Rishonim, the wheat needs to be guarded from the time it is harvested; according to Rosh, Rashi and others, from the time that it is ground. In addition, the poskim differ on whether the guarding requires deliberate intention that the matza is to be used for the mitzvah (She’iltot, Rashba), or it is enough to guard the matza from becoming chametz, but requires no special intent while doing it (Ra’ah).

In practice, today’s custom is to be scrupulous about shmura matza; matzot that have been guarded from the time of harvest are used to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matza on the Seder night. Even though according to halakha, one can fulfill the mitzvah with matzot guarded from the time of grinding, nevertheless, l’chatchila (preferred), one should fulfill the mitzvot of eating matzah on Seder night with matzot whose grains were guarded from the time of harvest (Peninei Halakha 12:2-3).


Does One Need to Prepare Handmade Matzot for the Seder?


Many are scrupulous about fulfilling the mitzvah with handmade matzot that were baked under proper supervision, because some poskim say that the matza eaten on Seder night requires the entire process of kneading and baking be done with explicit intent that they are le-shem matzat mitzvah, and since a machine cannot have intentions, one would not fulfill the mitzva of eating matza on the Seder night with machine-made matza.


Most poskim maintain that one can fulfill the mitzva by eating machine-made matzot, for several reasons. Firstly, some explain that the mitzvah of guarding the matza only requires one to ensure that it does not become chametz, and it is irrelevant whether this is done while making the matza by hand or by supervising the activity of a machine. Furthermore, a human-being operates the machine, and if he operates it with the intent of making matzat mitzva, then automatically all of the machine’s operations are considered to have been done for the sake of the mitzvah.

In practice, machine-made matza may be used l’chatchila to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matza on the Seder night, and it is a hidur mitzvah (an embellishment of the mitzvah) to eat handmade matzot.


Should One Buy Matza Shmura for All of Pesach?

Q: Should I go all out and buy matza shmura for the entire holiday, or can I make do with regular matzot which cost about a third less of the price?

A: There are two sides to the question: 1) pertaining to the mitzvah of eating matzah. 2) Regarding the concern of chametz.

1) In the opinion of a few Achronim (Rosh, Gra) there is a mitzvah to eat a kazayit of matza at two meals every day of Pesach. To facilitate this, however, one can make do with regular matzot, because even though they are called non-shmura matzah, in truth, they are guarded from the time of grinding, and therefore, b’sha’at ha’tzorech (in times of need), they may also be eaten on Seder night; all the more so is one able to fulfill the mitzvah of eating matza during the seven days of Pesach with them.

2) However, in regards to the concern of chametz, there definitely is a hidur to be meticulous to eat particularly matzot shmurot from the time of harvest. This is because, in practice, the regular matzot contain a certain mixture of chametz, which, although according to most authorities is batel b’shishim (annulled when the amount of permitted food is sixty times more than the forbidden food), and therefore kosher, nevertheless there are poskim who are stringent and hold that on Pesach, chametz is not batel b’shishim, and therefore in their opinion, eating regular matzot is prohibited. Allow me to explain further.

Regular Matzot Compared to Shmura Matzot

The tendency with regard to the baking of non-shmura matza is to produce and sell it as cheaply as possible, so that the general public will be able to afford it, whereas shmura matzot are more carefully supervised.

The kernels used for shmura matza are harvested before they dry out to prevent any concerns of rainwater potentially making them chametz. The kernels are then stored in a dry place, preventing any kernels from puffing up or splitting, which would indicate that they have started to become chametz. On the other hand, wheat imported from abroad, from which all other matza is made, sometimes contains kernels that have already become chametz, either because of rain that fell on them after they dried but were still in the field, or because of the water that sometimes accumulates at the bottom of their warehouses.

Even during the kneading process there is a significant difference between the two types of matza. When baking shmura matzot, bakers are careful to perform all of the other steps in the most meticulous way possible: during baking, they stop the machines every eighteen minutes and clean them thoroughly; they constantly declare that they are working le-shem matzat mitzva; and they are more careful to supervise the entire process.

Conversely, the trend with regard to non-shmura matza is to produce and sell it as cheaply as possible, so that the general public will be able to afford it. Therefore, only the mixers used for kneading are changed every eighteen minutes, but the rollers are cleaned while they are running. Although they are cleaned in a way that ensures that every part is cleaned every eighteen minutes, seeing as the cleaning is done while the machines are running, it is more difficult to clean the machines thoroughly.

The Rules of Halakha to Consider

Apparently, according to this, everyone should be stringent to eat only shmura matza. However, in keeping with halakha, we have a rule that most prohibited foods are batel b’shishim, i.e., they are annulled when the amount of permitted food is sixty times more. Thus, the grains of chametz and particles of dough remaining in the machines are batel b’shishim.

And although our Sages were stringent and declared that chametz on Pesach is not batel (void) even in a thousand, nevertheless, according to the majority of poskim when the mixture occurred before Pesach, it was already batel b’shishim, and is no longer prohibited (Shulchan Arukh, Orach Chaim 447:4).

Nevertheless, there is room to be stringent, because some authorities are of the opinion that even chametz that was batel b’shishim before Pesach, chozer v’neor (the reawakening of the original non-kosher food) when Pesach arrives, and prohibits all mixtures (Rambam, Rashba). And although halachically one can rely on the lenient poskim who are the majority, and furthermore, this controversy is of rabbinical nature for it was the Sages who decided that chametz on Pesach is not batel even in a thousand – nevertheless, there is certainly a hidur to fulfill the mitzvah with matzot that comply with all opinions.

Summary of the Halakha

The regular, non-shmura matzot which were guarded from the time of grinding are kosher for all of Pesach l’chatchila, and even according to those authorities who are of the opinion that it is a mitzvah to eat matza all seven days of Pesach – by eating them, they fulfill the mitzvah. The mehedrin (those who embellish the mitzvah) eat matza shmura from the time of harvest, mainly because they are more carefully supervised in regards to chametz.

Which Mitzvah to Embellish: Shmura Matza, or Tzedakka?

There are some people who argue against those who embellish the mitzvah by purchasing shmura matzot, claiming that it is preferable to give charity to the poor than to buy shmura matza for the entire holiday. However, this argument can be made only by someone who does not waste money on luxuries – for such a person can indeed rightfully say that charity to the poor is more important than the hidur of matza shmura. On the other hand, someone who spends thousands of shekels lavishly on expensive furniture and clothing, why on hidurei mitzvoth should he so sparing by buying regular matzot?!

Ultimately, in practice, regular matza is kosher, and one may rely on the fact that the kashrut supervisors do their jobs properly. When it comes to fulfilling higher standards of mitzvot, one must decide if and how he wishes to go beyond the letter of the law.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper, and was translated from Hebrew.


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