PESACH WITHOUT MATZAH BALLS?! THE CUSTOM OF 'GEBRUCKS'

 

There is a custom that has become popular over the past few centuries in Chassidishe circles not to eat any matzah soaked in water or other liquids on Pesach. The main reason for this custom is that there may be some flour that is left unbaked on the matzah, and soaking it will result in its becoming chametz (assuming that it is not baked very soon after the soaking). This custom is known commonly as "gebrucks" or "matzah sheruya" (soaked matzah), and, as we will see, is a rather curious law. Our investigation this week will first examine the halacha pertaining to soaked matzah, and then will deal with some of the issues that have come up with regard to this custom.

This issue begins in Pesachim 41a. The gemara there cites a debate between Rabi Meir and Rabi Yosi with regard to whether or not one fulfills his obligation of eating matzah on Pesach if he eats matzah that has been soaked in water. Rabi Meir says that one does fulfill his obligation, whether the matzah is soaked or boiled, so long as the cooking does not lead to its disintegration (and thus "matzah oatmeal" would not work at the seder), while Rabi Yosi allows one to use matzah that is soaked, but not matzah that has been boiled. Rashi explains that once it is cooked in such a manner, it is no longer called bread, and thus one cannot discharge his obligation of having "bread of affliction" with such an entity. Tosafot cite the view of Ri who claims that even if the cooked matzah has a thick consistency and thus still resembles bread, it can nevertheless not be used for the Pesach seder, since it falls under the category of "matzah ashira" matzah that has been enriched (usually with eggs or fruit juices, but here with the extra cooking).

Rif raises this discussion a level and introduces a new factor. He rules like Rabi Yosi, saying that one cannot use matzah that has been cooked, offering the reason that the cooking detracts from the taste of the matzah (which is an integral part of the mitzva of eating it). As such, one is allowed to have wet matzah so long as it still tastes like matzah. For this reason, Rabbeinu Manoach, in commenting on Rambam's (Hil. Chametz U'Matzah 6:6) assent to Rif's view, notes that one may soak matzah in water, but not in wine or anything else that would overpower the flavor of the matzah. Maharil (cited in the Bach) agrees with this view and forbids soaking the matzah in soup or anything else that will kill the taste. By contrast, the Magen Avraham infers from the Shulchan Aruch that the latter would allow soaking the matzah in wine or other liquids besides water.

Rabbeinu Manoach also notes one potential inconsistency in this view. In an earlier law (6:2), Rambam rules that if one were to swallow matzah without chewing it he would fulfill his obligation, even though he would not actually taste the matzah! Despite the fact that this makes it seem that Rambam does not actually demand that one taste matzah, Rabbeinu Manoach explains that in such a case, one could taste the matzah if he wanted to, yet he chose to devour it via an alternative method. In the case of boiling the matzah, there is no potential for the person to have tasted it, and thus the matzah itself is disqualified from the mitzva.

Both the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch (O.C. 461) side with Rif and Rambam in allowing a person to use soaked matzah (we should note that all of this is only in the case of an old or sick person who cannot handle regular matzah; anyone who is healthy should certainly use unsoaked matzah to fulfill their obligation). The Beit Yoseif stresses the factor that the matzah should still be recognizable as matzah. He cites a gemara in Chullin 120a which says that one does not fulfill his obligation if he melts down matzah and swallows it, and explains that in that case the key is that the matzah has been disintegrated beyond recognition and thus may not be used for the mitzva. He further cites a view of the Rokeiach that forbids soaking matzah in warm, but not boiling water, although the Beit Yoseif himself that such water is not considered to be cooking the matzah and thus can be used.

It seems very clear from this mini-analysis that there is no prohibition against eating matzah that has been soaked in liquid. This entire discussion is only about whether or not a person may use such matzah for the mitzva at the seder, but even those views who do not allow such matzah still do not see any form of a chametz problem coming into play. In fact, the Magen Avraham even claims that for those people who cannot eat matzah, eating soaked matzah is an optimal way of fulfilling this mitzva (l'chatchila). Given the fact that from the gemara through the Acharonim there is virtually no one who outright forbids matzah soaked in some liquid, how did the prohibition of "gebrucks" come into play?

A possible early explanation for this custom can be found in Ra'avan's commentary on Pesachim 39a. After explaining that cooking matzah in water cannot cause it to become chametz and is thus permitted, he comments that as early as the twelfth century there were those people who refrained from eating matzah soaked in soup on the first night of Pesach since they saw their fathers do that. These people believed that their fathers did so out of a fear that it would become chametz. However, such was not the case. The fathers merely wanted the taste of the matzah to remain in their mouths, and thus they did not want to mix its flavor with anything else. Nevertheless, from this misconception we have an early source for this custom.

Rav Yaakov Emden cites his father, the Chacham Tzvi, who noted that there were those people in the eighteenth century who were being strict and not eating matzah soaked in water. While the Chacham Tzvi refuted this practice, it nevertheless was apparent over two hundred years ago. There is also an interesting note in the Pitchei Teshuva. He cites the Binyan Tzion (#29) who writes that it is better to crumble the matzah before soaking it rather than to soak it whole.

This custom likely received its greatest strength from Rav Shneur Zalman of Liady, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, who said that although there is no actual prohibition involved, one should be careful and refrain from eating gebrucks, since it is better to not risk violating a d'oraita (Torah-ordained) law (see Shulchan Aruch HaRav, end of volume 5). He explains that in recent years (late eighteenth century) people had gotten lazy in kneading the dough, and thus there would often be flour left that did not fully mix in. Citing the position of the Arizal that one should always be strict in the laws of Pesach, he feels comfortable recommending that people be careful in this area.

Most Acharonim have opposed this view. The Sha'arei Teshuva (O.C. 460:10) notes this practice and says that it may have arisen (no pun intended) from the fact that matzot used to be made thick, and thus there was a legitimate concern that there was some unbaked portion remaining in the middle. However, since most people no longer make such matzot, there is no longer a problem. He also notes that for those people who want to take on this stringency, even though there is no problem involved, they may do so without worrying about appearing to be haughty ("yuhara") or separating themselves from the practice of the community ("lo titgodedu"). The GR"A also saw no problem with eating gebrucks, and the Minchat Yehuda cites a story where Rav Chaim of Volozhin went to the GR"A's house and was served matzah balls.

Gershon Eisenberger, in his new book Otzar HaYediot, notes that even though he did not believe that there was a problem with gebrucks, the Beit HaLevi, and Rav Chaim after him, refrained from eating gebrucks on the first day of Pesach. This stems not from the fact that there is a chametz problem, but rather from the fact that Rambam says that one should not eat matzah ashira on the first day of Pesach and there is at least one opinion that we have seen that feels that the problem with soaked matzah is that it becomes matzah ashira (Briskers are generally known for accepting stringencies upon themselves so as to conform to as many views of Rishonim as possible).

Finally, Rav Ovadiah Yoseif (Yechaveh Da'at 1:21) takes an interesting position on this matter. He was asked if a person did not eat gebrucks on Pesach and now he wants to change his custom, whether or not such a person would have to do a hatarat nedarim (annulment of vows), as is customary when one wants to change his customs. Rav Yoseif replies that if the person accepted this custom thinking that there was an actual problem with eating gebrucks on Pesach, then no annulment is needed, since his custom is based on foolishness. However, if he accepted this custom knowing that it was essentially permitted and he were merely being strict, then an annulment in front of three people should be performed.

I end this Chabura with an open question. What is the source for the various customs that people have whereby they will not eat gebrucks for most of Pesach but will eat it on the eighth day (outside of Israel)? This custom is taken so far that some people even have a special set of dishes just for that day, not wanting to contaminate their Pesach dishes with "quasi-chametz." If this is really not chametz, then why not eat it the rest of the time and why require a second set of dishes? If it really is chametz, then why is the eighth day any different? Even if that day is of a lower status halachically, it is still undeniably considered to be Pesach and chametz is still undeniably forbidden? Where did this leniency come from?


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