Gebrochts – Holier Than Moses

Dov Bear has a post on gebrochts, the custom of not eating matza that has in any way become wet. Dov Bear’s point, based in part on Rabbi Eliyahu Kitov (a Chabadnik), is that the custom has no halakhic source. If memory serves me, the Rema* mentions the custom and is also puzzled by its source, and posits that children saw their parents not eating wet matza on the first night of Passover and confused this custom, creating the new “minhag” of gebrochts. Why not eat wet matza on the first night of Pesach? An opinion of the Rambam (here brought by Amshinover in the comments to Dov Bear’s post):

[W]e quote from Nefesh HaRav by R. Hershel Schachter, shlita, Rosh Kollel of R.I.E.T.S. This sefer represents the views of his rebbe, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, zt”l. R. Schachter writes (p. 18: “Even though mitnagdim [as opposed to Chassidim] are not accustomed to refrain from eating gebrockts (matza sheruya) on Passover, the Beit Halevi [the Gaon R. Yitzhak Zeev Soloveichik] and after him his son, the Gaon R. Chaim Soloveichik, were both careful to refrain from eating gebrockts on the first day of Passover because of Rambam`s ruling [in Hilchot Chametz U`Matza] that one should not eat matza ashira on the first day of Passover, even when not eating it for the specific purpose of mitzvat matza at the Seder. Cooked matza is likened to matza ashira in this regard, and this chumra (stringency) is a tradition from R. Chaim of Volozhin.”

Matza ashira (grape matza, egg matza, etc.) is extended – without precedent in any halakhic literature or practice – to include shemurah matza broken up into soup. This morphs into never eating any wet matza. Which morphs into the Chabad custom of not eating matza that has come into contact with any food. All of this because of the fear that unbaked flour within the matza will somehow rise when brought in contact with liquid (or, in the case of Chabad, solid as well).

But to really understand this custom, one needs to look back to its origin and then slightly before that. The custom is not much older than 500 years old, if that. And it began not long after another Passover custom got its start – thin, cracker-like matza. Before this time (and in many Sefardic communities to this day) matza was soft and thick, like a large Arabic flat bread. These matzot were sometimes several inches thick, but more commonly 1/2 to 1 inch in thickness. These were the standard matzot eaten by Jews the world over until a custom began in (where else) Eastern Europe among those identified with Ashkenazim to – for fear of hametz being found in soft matzot. This probably took place after these communities first came in contact with Europeans who baked water crackers and saw what they felt was an advantage in the process. Soon matza was wafer tin and baked at extremely high heat. And our flat matza was born.

But all was not rosy in matza land. The rapid high temperature baking of the new matza often left pockets of under-baked dough within the matzot. Although halakhicly these matzot could not become hametz, the especially pious (and the ignorant) nonetheless feared the possibility. I believe it was then that the “custom” of gebrochts entered the Jewish community, and the memories of zeiydi who didn’t eat gebrochts on the first night of Passover because of a stringent reading of the Rambam blurred into zeiydi who didn’t eat gebrochts, period, because of fear of hametz.

There is no halakhic source for the custom. It is a custom described in halakhic literature as foolish. It was propagated largely by the then-nascent hasidic movement, whose hallmark was anti-intellectualism and anti-rationalism. And now, the same people who rioted in Boro Park and Jerusalem are sitting around their Passover tables believing they are frummer than everyone else, in part because their matzot don’t see the insides of soup bowls. And, perhaps even more absurd, thousand of Chabadniks all over the world eat their burned shemurah matza from plastic bags to prevent matza crumbs from contaminating their tables and tableware, just as Moses did in the Sinai desert 3300 years ago.

* Can anyone cite this souce?

Advertisements

18 Comments

Filed under History

18 responses to “Gebrochts – Holier Than Moses

  1. Yochanan Lavie

    What about saliva and digestive juices? Couldn’t they make matzah gebrochts? Here’s how Moshe Rabbeinu davka did it: Grind the matzah into a fine powder. Pour it into condoms. Swallow them whole, like drug smugglers do with cocaine. This is truly minhag avoseinu beyadeinu.

  2. Nigritude Ultramarine

    >eat …. from plastic bags

    i.e. feed bags

  3. mazeartist

    The condom comment is nasty, it’s sad that this site attracts not only people who genuinely seek to keep Judaism from going extreme, but also people who have no interest in Judaism at all, except to insult it. While Shmarya remains an observant Jew, in spite of being ostracized- other posters on this site are simply here to post insults.

    In regards to the article, will these self-described poskim soon ban matzah meal too? My grandma makes loaves of matzah meal pastries. Matzah meal pastries are so soft, they taste like chometz.

  4. The counter illuy

    The condom comment is nasty, it’s sad that this site attracts not only people who genuinely seek to keep Judaism from going extreme, but also people who have no interest in Judaism at all, except to insult it.

    Sorry mazeartist,first, these idiocies are not judaism, in fact they are harmful to judaism, as r’ o. yosef is often quoted saying, that he who prohibits the mutar (the permitted) will end up permitting the assur (that is prohibited).
    With so much baseless chumros of chassidim shotim, yahadut ashkenaz, engendered the reform movement, the conservative movement, the reconstructionism, the communism & plain atheistic jews.
    Did somebody mention earlier on this blog the issur de oraita of “lo tossifun” . Do these Rabbis read the Torah, or they go straight to Tanya ?
    Who are they fooling with these foolish chumrot, are they playing tricks on G-d ?
    You accuse others to be posting insults ?
    How about your question on matzo meal?
    Is it any more reverent than that of the condom ?
    Why, just a day or so before yomtov, we “learned-(some education)” that Rabbi Eliahu, pasqened that Viagra , which is safeq chometz, can be taken on pessach, provided it is wrapped in advance in a kosher gel capsule, so it does not get in touch with the user’s upper part of the digestive tract. That is exactly the same suggestion as that of the condom.

  5. hashfanatic

    I think that, even though a lot of the sentiments that may come about here may seem distasteful, we HAVE to deal with the fact that many a truth is spoken in jest.

    Worse yet, I don’t think anyone’s joking anymore. It may very well have fallen upon us to seperate what is fraudulent and silly from legitimate calls for justice.

    We may be the only ones left.

  6. Yochanan Lavie

    It was a JOKE. Maybe I am the rasha, but I too was at the Sedar table. I merely want to save my religion (which despite everything I beleive is the true religion- given by God) from obscurantism (look it up).

  7. ah yid

    when moshiach comes we will all eat Gebrochts. the afikomon will consist of meat-whet with matzo.

  8. Basil

    it seems as if the people writing these posts either dont know the facts or just arent thinking. one simple question: the origin of the thin matzos? it didnt just start on its own. the ramo [a bit less than 500 years] introduced them, not some fellow in a yankees cap. if leaven on pesach bothers someone, he’ll do what he can to prevent it. in the same way, matza shruya .rather err on the side of cautious, if you care about it. better than moses? no in moses’ time the process was different and fat matza wasnt a problem [all written about and talked about before]. if you dont learn how are you gonna know so i dont hold it against you, but in the same way that i wont comment on your yoga, dont comment on our judaism.

  9. jewish

    why are these ignorent people like shmarya challenging and mocking such minhagim and such scripulous behavior in regards to matzah on pesach? first of all whover mocks it should be aware that they are playing with fire!!! what makes you think that you know more than all of the holy people and tzadikim that keep these things?? and besides the whole point of pesach is to go out of your boundaries and go extreme for 8 days without trying to use your little brain and try to make logic out of them and decide which ones are important and which arent

  10. Neo-Conservaguy

    “the whole point of pesach is to go out of your boundaries and go extreme for 8 days”

    God bless you for having the courage to honestly admit your insanity.

  11. “it seems as if the people writing these posts either dont know the facts or just arent thinking. one simple question: the origin of the thin matzos? it didnt just start on its own. the ramo [a bit less than 500 years] introduced them…”

    Absolutely false. The Rema did not “introduce” these minhagim – and he did not keep them himself.

  12. “why are these ignorent people like shmarya challenging and mocking such minhagim and such scripulous behavior in regards to matzah on pesach?”

    These so-called minhagim have no halakhic source and began as mistakes. Why are mistakes made by YOUR grandfather holy?

  13. The Rema was ate thin matzo – it was already the norm where he lived – but he clearly writes why they became thin and he does not endorse the reason.

  14. Anonymous

    since when was kitov a lubavitcher?

  15. Aviel

    The condom comment WAS funny. I laughed out loud. Chag sameach!

  16. Rowan Berkeley

    The ironic remark about Moses reminds me of a Pesach painting I saw somewhere on the web several years ago and have never been able to find since. It showed a fully laden Pesach seder table, all by itself in the middle of the Egyptian desert, with the pyramid of Cheops in the background. I’d love to find that illustration again, it was everything kitsch is supposed to be.

  17. Dovid Lerner

    Are you sure that Kitov was a Chabadnik from birth?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s