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The Minhag of Gebrokts

Probably the most often-asked Pesach related question is: “Do you eat gebrokts?” “Gebrokts” is the German or Yiddish term referring to something “broken apart” – in this case, matzah. (In Hebrew, this practice is referred to more accurately as “sheruyah” – “soaked.”) Many communities refrain from eating matzah or matzah products that have come in contact with liquids on Pesach. Additionally, there are varying levels of stringencies concerning utensils that have come in contact with these foods, and regarding how far one has to go in order to avoid eating gebrokts. Let us examine the sources of this custom.


Although the minhag of not eating gebrokts is predominantly a Chassidic one, it actually has its roots in sources that predate Chassidim. One of the earliest sources is the Shiyarei Knesses HaGedolah, authored by a seventeenth century posek, which forbids the use of matzah meal in cooking because of an incident that occurred. Apparently, a particular woman saw the wife of a talmid chocham prepare a dish using matzah meal and mistakenly thought that it was regular flour. She subsequently used regular flour for cooking and it became chametz. In order to prevent this from reoccurring, the author of Shiyarei Knesses HaGedolah decreed that one may not use matzah meal (Sha’arei Teshuvah 460:2).

However, the Pri Chodosh (461:2, s.v., ve’od) argues at length against this contention and maintains that one may not institute new decrees unless there is a basis in the Gemara or Rishonim. Furthermore, we need not be concerned if one person makes a mistake.

Even though these two Acharonim argue whether one may or may not institute a new decree in this situation, there is actually a Rishon, the Ra’avan, who sides with the stricter opinion. He mentions this incidentally while explaining the reason why some had a minhag of not soaking matzah in their soup on the first night of Pesach. Although many thought the reason for this was so that the matzah should not turn into chametz, the Ra’avan writes that this is incorrect. The correct reason is so that the taste of the matzah will remain in one’s mouth the entire night and if the matzah is soaked it loses the matzah taste. He concludes by saying that it is a good idea not make “farfel” from matzah meal in order that people should not come to confuse matzah meal with flour (Ra’avan, Pesachim 162a). The commentary to the Ra’avan, Even Shlomoh (#36), points out that the Sha’arei Teshuvah and other Acharonim who discuss this issue apparently did not see the opinion of the Ra’avan.

Another Rishon, the Ra’avyah, also points out that there are those who are strict not to use matzah meal out of concern that one might come to confuse it with flour. However, he concludes by saying that this is a stringency for a ba’al nefesh, a very conscientious person (Pesachim #475).


As an aside, it is interesting to note that this opinion of the Ra’avan regarding eating gebrokts on the first night of Pesach is in concurrence with a tradition that comes from Rav Chaim Volohziner and Rav Chaim Brisker. They were strict and did not eat gebrokts on the first night of Pesach, although they would do so the rest of the week, because of the Rambam’s opinion that matzah on the first day of Pesach must be “lechem oni” – poor bread. Matzah that has been mixed with other ingredients and cooked loses the status of lechem oni. Therefore, in their opinion, by eating gebrokts on the first day as opposed to regular matzah, one is missing the opportunity to eat lechem oni (Shu’t Teshuvos v’Hanhagos, vol. II, #203).


The next source for the stringency of not eating gebrokts requires an introduction. The Gemara (Pesachim 40b) relates that Rav Pappa permitted the bakers in the home of the Reish Gelusa (the Exilarch, the head of the Jewish community in Bavel) to line the pots with “chasisi” on Pesach. One of the Rishonim (Rif) explains that “chasisi” is matzah meal cooked in water.

At this point, the Gemara cites two versions of Rava’s reaction to Rav Pappa’s leniency: 1) he exclaimed: “Is it possible that someone should permit this where there are servants!?” In other words, since there are servants in the household of the Exilarch, and it was common for them to be lax in mitzvah observance, it was unadvisable to permit them to be lenient in this regard, as they might come to use regular flour (Rashi); 2) Rava did not take issue with Rav Pappa’s ruling, rather he himself lined the pots with chasisi.

There are two approaches in the Rishonim how to understand the two versions of Rava’s reaction: 1) In the first version Rava clearly is disagreeing with Rav Pappa’s contention and feels that one may not be lenient where there is concern that people will be even more lenient. However, according to the second version, there is no concern that anyone will confuse matzah meal and flour, and for this reason, Rava used the matzah meal mixture in order to line the pots. This approach is followed by the majority of Rishonim (Rif, Rosh, Rambam) and the Shulchan Aruch and the halacha is that we are unconcerned that some might confuse matzah meal with flour (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 463:3).

2) The minority of Rishonim (Tur 463) hold that the two versions of Rava’s reaction do not dispute each other. Rather, Rava maintains that if there is a concern that others will come to confuse matzah meal with flour, one is forbidden to use the matzah meal. This is why he took issue with Rav Pappa. This is his position even in the second version, and the only reason he allowed himself to use matzah meal is because he knew that he would not confuse it with flour. This approach is not the accepted halacha. However, there is an opinion that this minority view is the basis for the stringency of not eating gebrokts. According to this approach, since there is concern that one will confuse matzah meal with flour, matzah meal should not be used for cooking (Chochmas Shlomo 463).

The concern of the sources that we have quoted until now was that one might come to confuse matzah meal with flour and eat actual chametz on Pesach. In other words, there is no actual concern that cooking matzah or matzah meal will create chametz. Rather, the issue is whether mistakes will result from eating gebrokts.


However, there are other sources that raise a different issue with gebrokts. Namely, when the water and flour are mixed together to form the dough, perhaps not all of the flour was mixed sufficiently and did not become dough. This flour remains on the surface of the dough throughout the baking process and when it later comes in contact with water it becomes chametz. Although most Rishonim hold that roasted flour cannot become chametz and any flour on the surface of the matzah will be roasted during the baking process, nevertheless, there is still concern that there ma be flour inside the matzah which does not become fully roasted, since it is not exposed to the fire (Machatzis HaShekel 498:1).


All that has been quoted until now are sources that predate Chassidus, and since these were the minority opinion, people who refrained from eating gebrokts were few and far between. All of that changed with the advent of Chassidim in general and the responsum of Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi, the Ba’al HaTanya and Shulchan Aruch HaRav, in particular. Approximately two hundred years ago, Rav Shneur Zalman penned a teshuvah that advocated the chumrah of not eating gebrokts and from that point on this minhag became one of the defining issues of Chassidim.

Rav Shneur Zalman’s main contention is that it is possible to see flour either on or inside the matzah that was not kneaded properly into the dough. Although flour on the surface of the matzah would be roasted by the fire and could no longer become chametz, this is not the case with flour inside the matzah.

Anticipating the question as to why poskim in earlier generations did not point out this problem, he writes that this is only an issue “with dry dough that does not knead well. In earlier generations they would spend a long time kneading and rolling until it was kneaded properly.” Apparently, before Rav Shneur Zalman’s time, matzah dough was much moister and took longer to knead. He continues that this was true “until about twenty years ago when a carefulness spread among Jews to greatly hasten the kneading,” by decreasing the amount of water in the dough, making the dough drier and harder. Unfortunately, this brought about the problem that “they do not knead it properly. Therefore, a small amount of flour can be found in the matzos of dry dough, as can be readily seen by those who are really careful.”

It is interesting to note that Rav Shneur Zalman’s main concern with gebrokts is allowing plain matzah to come in contact with liquids. This is because the flour in the matzah would then become chametz. However, with regards to kneidlach, where the matzah is crushed into powder and mixed with other ingredients, he writes that there is more room to be lenient. The reasoning behind this leniency is beyond the scope of this article, but in truth it is actually a moot point. This is because Rav Shneur Zalman concludes with the opinion of the Arizal that one should be stringent with all of the chumros of Pesach.


On the other hand, we find many poskim who were unconcerned about the stringent opinions and permitted the consumption of gebrokts. The Sha’arei Teshuvah (460:2) maintains that the basis for the chumrah was that at one time matzos were made very thick and the dough inside was not kneaded or baked well. Although he points out that every Rav should supervise the matzah baking in his town to ensure that this does not occur, nevertheless, this was a valid concern. However, he continues, nowadays when the matzos are made very thin, there is no concern and “lo machzikinan issura” – one does not need to presume that there is anything prohibited unless he knows it to be a fact. He cites the She’ailas Yaavetz who quotes his father, the Chacham Tzvi, that one should not refrain from simchas Yom Tov because of far-fetched concerns and that he saw “chasidei olam” – exceedingly righteous people, who ate soaked matzos. Similarly, the Vilna Gaon is quoted as permitting soaked matzos (Ma’aseh Rav).

The Mishnah Berurah (458:4) quotes the Sha’arei Teshuvah that according to the basic halacha one is allowed to eat gebrokts,especially since our matzos are very thin. However, one should not spurn those who are stringent.


It is interesting to note that there is a discrepancy in the sources regarding the Chasam Sofer’s custom vis-à-vis eating gebrokts. On the one hand, he writes in a teshuvah (Yoreh Deah, #222, s.v. ela) that it is a “mitzvah and prishus” not to eat soaked matzah on Pesach. This would indicate that he did not eat gebrokts. On the other hand, we find in the Minhagei Chasam Sofer (10:25) that he ate knaidlach. (See also Shu’t Maharshag [mahadura kama] 56:2.)

It is possible that the Chasam Sofer held that there is room to be stringent according to halacha, but when it came to his minhagim, he did not wish to deviate from how his teacher, Rav Nosson Adler, conducted himself. Therefore, in his responsa he wrote what he held, while in his personal conduct he acted differently. Since he held that it was only a chumrah, he did not accept it upon himself as it meant changing a minhag. (See Shu’t Sheivet Sofer, Orach Chaim #27; Sefer Moadim l’Simcha, vol. V, pg. 442.)


We have cited two reasons for the stringency of not eating gebrokts: 1) the possibility of confusing matzah meal with flour and 2) the chance of flour remaining on the matzah, which could become chametz when coming in contact with water. However, it seems from the halachic literature that discusses the issue of gebrokts, that the second reason is the primary concern of those that advocate this minhag.

One of these issues is which types of liquids must one prevent from coming in contact with the matzos. This requires an introduction. The halacha is that the five grains: wheat, barley, spelt, rye and oats, and their flours can only become chametz if they come in contact with water. If they come in contact with “mei peiros,” no chimutz, or fermentation, takes place and no chametz is created. What are mei peiros? This term literally means “fruit juice,” but it includes any liquid that is not water or water-based. Therefore, oil, honey, eggs, milk, butter, cheese, wine, and pure fruit juices are considered mei peiros (Orach Chaim 462 and Mishnah Berurah ad loc.). However, water with flavorings added, such as soda, tea and coffee is considered to be water. (Although wine has water in it, since the water changed into wine through fermentation, it loses the status of water [ibid.].)

According to this, even according to those who are stringent regarding gebrokts, it should be permissible to allow matzah to come in contact with mei peiros. This is because even if there would be some flour left on the matzah, the subsequent exposure to mei peiros will not cause it to become chametz. Indeed, this is the position of Rav Shneur Zalman in his responsum and many are accustomed to allow mei peiros to come in contact with the matzah although they would not allow water. (See also Sha’arei Teshuvah 460:2, Eishel Avraham [Butchach] 462 and Mikra’ei Kodesh [Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank] #15 who rule leniently regarding matzos and mei peiros.)

There are others however, who are stringent and do not even allow mei peiros to come in contact with the matzah. The reason for this requires another introduction. Although, as we mentioned, only water can bring about fermentation and mei peiros cannot, this is only true regarding pure mei peiros. If the mei peiros are mixed with water, or if the five types of grain or their flours come in contact with both water and mei peiros, not only will fermentation take place, but we are concerned that it will it occur at a faster rate than a mixture of plain water and flour.

This being the case, there is concern that, assuming there is some flour on the matzah, this flour already came in contact with the water that was in the dough and was just not sufficiently kneaded. When the flour subsequently comes in contact with the mei peiros, it is possible that the combination of earlier exposure to water and the current contact with mei peiros will cause the flour to become chametz (Sefer Ma’adanei Shmuel [by the author of Minchas Shabbos] #110, based on Pri Megadim 467, Dinim Mechudashim #1 at the end of Mishbetzos Zahav).


Some people are accustomed to be lenient with gebrokts only through the method of “chalitah.” In order to understand this, an introduction is needed. Although, as we mentioned, when water comes in contact with the five grains or their flours it is possible for them to become chametz, this is not always the case. The Gemara (Pesachim 37) tells us that if one were to do chalitah, the resulting product does not become chametz. Chalitah is placing grain or flour into boiling water. Once it is placed into boiling water, the grain or flour cooks instantly and can longer become chametz. This is not the case if the water has not yet boiled, for the grain would become chametz before it reaches the boiling point. Once boiled, the grain and flour cannot become chametz even if they were to be subsequently mixed with water, kneaded into a dough and baked.

Although this would seem to be a great way of avoiding chametz issues on Pesach, it is not practical. This is because the Geonim forbade the use of this method since we are no longer proficient in the procedure of chalitah (Rav Hai Gaon and Rav Sherira Gaon, quoted in Rif ad loc.).

Some have the custom to do chalitah when it comes to gebrokts. For example, when preparing knaidlach, they will mix matzah meal with mei peiros, such as eggs, and make sure to put the mixture into a pot that has come to a rolling boil. By following this procedure, they reason that there is no concern of any possible flour becoming chametz. Even though we do not know the correct method of chalitah, but since gebrokts is only a chumrah, such people hold that one can rely on this procedure (Chazon Ish, quoted in Orchos Rabbeinu, vol. II, pg. 52). It is interesting to note that some time during Pesach the Maggid of Koznitz would eat matzah boiled in a liquid in order to show that those who ate gebrokts were not doing anything wrong (Hagadas Avodas Yisrael HaShalem, pg. 283).


Although there are those who refrain from eating gebrokts the entire eight days of Pesach, there is a widely accepted minhag to be lenient on Acharon shel Pesach (the “last” or eighth day). On the surface this seems odd. If one does not eat gebrokts out of concern that some flour might become chametz, why should one be lenient on the eighth day when chametz is still forbidden. Several reasons have been suggested and we will mention one of them.

The author of the Sefer Bnei Yisaschar, Rav Tzvi Elimelech m’Dinov, contends that the issue of gebrokts is a chumrah and not basic halacha. Additionally, the last day of Pesach (in Chutz La’Aretz) is miderabbanan. If one were to keep all of the Pesach stringencies even on the eighth day, he would be indicating that these are not chumros, but rather basic halacha and there is a real concern of chametz. This would imply that those who do eat gebrokts the entire week are eating chametz, chalilah. Therefore, the stringencies are relaxed on the last day (Sefer Derech Pikudecha, Lo Ta’ase 12).


The rules of not eating gebrokts vary. There are different minhagim regarding how careful one should be to ensure that liquid does not come in contact with matzah. These minhagim range from the very strict to the very lenient. Some are very machmir and do not allow matzos on the table for this reason. Others allow matzos on the table but they cover them. And some, while they would not actively place matzah into liquid, are unconcerned if some matzah crumbs get wet.

Additionally, there are varying customs regarding the use of utensils that came in contact with gebrokts. While some will use dishes that were used with gebrokts, others have separate utensils for situations when gebrokts is called for, for children or on the eighth day of Pesach. Others have a custom of kashering all utensils that were used for gebrokts before using them again.

What is interesting to note is that even those who are relatively strict and would not use dishes or pots that came in contact with gebrokts, do not hesitate to use the dishes again the following Pesach. The reason for this is based on a teshuvah of the Chacham Tzvi (#75). Someone inadvertently cooked food on Pesach in a clean pot that had been used two years beforehand for chametz. At first glance, the food should be forbidden since the taste of the chametz in the pot was expelled into the food during cooking. However, the Chacham Tzvi contends that after a period of twelve months any flavor in the pot has totally dissipated.

Although the consensus of the poskim is not to rely on this opinion when it comes to using actual chametz utensils on Pesach when they have not been used for a year, nevertheless, many are lenient with utensils used for gebrokts. However, some maintain that since there are actually twelve months minus eight days between one Pesach and the next, one may not use utensils for gebrokts on the last day of Pesach unless the coming year will be a leap year, thereby adding a month to the year.


Although the minhag of refraining from eating gebrokts is well founded in halachic sources, one must take care not to become too over zealous when it comes to the minhag and thereby ignore the basic halacha. There is a positive Torah commandment for every adult to eat a kazayis of matzah on the first night of Pesach. For some, especially older people, it is difficult to eat the hard, dry matzah. The solution to this problem is to soak the matzah, thereby softening it and making it easier to swallow (Shulchan Oruch 461:4; Mishnah Berurah 17). It goes without saying that this halacha overides the chumrah of not eating gebrokts (Shu’t Revavos Efraim, vol. II, #129:14).


This tendency to allow minhag to overule halacha is also found when washing dishes on Shabbos and Yom Tov during Pesach. I have heard from various people that they always wash the dishes after the Shabbos or Yom Tov meals even when they will not be needed again that day. They do so out of concern that there are matzah crumbs on the dishes and if left they will become chametz.

In Shulchan Aruch the halacha is clear: one is only allowed to wash dishes on Shabbos or Yom Tov if there is reason to believe that they will be needed again on that day. Otherwise, the washing is considered “hachanah” – preparation for after Shabbos (Orach Chaim 323:6). The minhag of gebrokts cannot push aside this halachah.


Let us conclude with the words of the Sha’arei Teshuvah (460:2): Both those who are stringent and those who are lenient are directed towards Heaven. Those who are stringent intend to avoid the slightest suspicion of the smallest amount of chametz, while those who are lenient do so because of simchas Yom Tov, as plain, dry matzah is unappealing… Regarding both of these groups whose intention is for the sake of Heaven, I apply the passuk, ‘and Your people are all righteous.’”

This article appeared in the US edition of the Yated Neeman.

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