09 Mar HALACHICALLY SPEAKING: GEBROKTS & OTHER CUSTOMS ON PESACH
One of the most commonly accepted chumros on Pesach is to avoid gebrokts –matzah which was fully baked and then soaked in water. When did this custom start? How binding is it? Does it apply to children? Can one use a little water? Does a woman follow her husband’s custom? These questions and many others will be answered in this issue.
From the Gemorah and Shulchan Aruch it is clear that soaked matzah need not be avoided on Pesach (other than using it for the mitzvah of matzah). Nonetheless, the custom of many has become not to soak matzah in water.
Some say the reason is that we are concerned that a pocket of dry flour might be in the matzah. This flour will turn into chometz if it is subsequently immersed in water. This was not a concern in earlier times, as they kneaded the dough properly. Others suggest that we want people to maintain the taste of matzah in their mouths, and soaking would spoil the flavor. Some say that the prohibition is to avoid a maris ayin issue, as matzah meal (which is gebrokts) may be confused with regular flour.
The Stringent Custom
The custom, followed primarily by those with Chassidic background, is to refrain from soaking matzah in any amount of water (see fruit juice below). This was the custom of the Chofetz Chaim zt”l. The custom of the Steipler zt”l was to be stringent as well.
Many have the custom to cover the matzah all Yom Tov (except last day, see below) to avoid any contact with water. Some people wipe the containers which contain the matzah in order to avoid any possibility of chometz. Some do not eat matzah with any dish. Those who adhere to this custom do not place the matzah in water, soup, batter, or make fish with matzah meal.
The Lenient Opinions
The opinion of many poskim is that one does not have to be concerned about this, as our matzahs are very thin and there is no concern of dry flour in the dough. In addition, any dry flour was baked together with the matzah, and once it is baked it cannot become chometz. Based on this, the custom of many people is to brok on Pesach.
What is Included in Gebrokts?
Gebrokts is not limited to matzah which becomes wet. Rather, it applies to any food containing matzah or matzah meal that was mixed in liquid or made into a dough or batter and then baked or cooked. Examples include matzah balls, kreplach, all cakes and pastries made from a matzah meal batter, and gefilte fish made with matzah meal.
According to some poskim, gebrokts is permitted on Erev Pesach, as cooked matzah is not considered matzah (matzah may not be eaten on Erev Pesach). This is very common when Erev Pesach falls out on Shabbos and one wants to eat shalosh seudos and brok (i.e. kneidlach, kreplach, or gefilte fish made with matzah meal). L’halacha it should only be eaten until the tenth hour of the day. One is not permitted to eat cake made from matzah meal on the entire Erev Pesach.
Chicken stuffing made with matzah meal is considered cooked for this purpose, even if it is roasted, because the fat and juices of the chicken have the effect of cooking the matzah. Cakes and cookies made with potato starch are permitted the entire day.
Soaking in Fruit Juice
The question arises whether the prohibition includes soaking matzah in fruit juice. Some poskim limit the concern to water, which alone can create chometz, but placing fruit juice on the matzah is permitted. The custom of many was to soak matzah in wine and milk (without any added water). According to this opinion, one may make matzah brei (crushed matzah fried in butter and eggs), pancakes made from matzah meal mixed with pure fruit juice and eggs, and cakes made with matzah meal, eggs, and pure fruit juice.
Others extend the prohibition to fruit juice as well.
The overwhelming custom today seems that we treat fruit juice like water.
This opinion causes some concern regarding charoses, which contains wine. If we treat fruit juice like water, how do we put maror with charoses on the matzah for the korech sandwhich? Some say that one should take some dry charoses and put it on and shake some of it off.
Some have the custom that one may place the matzah in boiling water even if he does not brok.
A utensil which was used with gebrokts food may be used for non-gebrokts. Nonetheless, the custom of some is to have separate utensils for gebrokts, and only use such a utensil on the last day of Pesach (see below). Some permit food which was cooked in the same pot with gebrokts foods.
Women and Children
Some say that this stringency does not apply to women and children. A woman who was once stringent, and now finds it hard to do so should be matir neder before abandoning the custom.
Eating it Right Away
Some poskim say that one may soak the matzah in water and eat it right away, since there is not enough time for it to become chometz. Thus, one could dip his matzah in soup and eat it immediately.
Many people have the misconception that one who does not brok may not have a spread on the matzah. However, some permit butter or cheese on matzah. Eggs are permitted as well.
Frozen matzah may be eaten without a concern of gebrokts.
The Last Day of Pesach
The custom is to be lenient with gebrokts on the last day of Pesach. Some explain that we signify that those who eat gebrokts the entire Yom Tov are not doing anything wrong. Others explain that one should have Simchas Yom Tov. Others say that the various dietary customs preclude any possibility of people mingling. We want to accomplish this at least on the last day of Pesach, so we all brok. This was the custom of the Chofetz Chaim zt”l.
Although many do not use matzah meal that is gebroked on Pesach (except for the last day) it is not muktzah throughout Pesach.
One is allowed to be m’zamin with someone who eats gebrokts even if he does not.
Matzah is Hard to Chew
One who finds it hard to eat the matzah may dip it in water without soaking it. If the matzah is still too hard one should be matir neder and brok. One may place water in his mouth and then eat the matzah.
Cooking and Preparing Gebrokts on Chol Hamoed
According to some poskim, one should not cook gebrokts on Chol Hamoed for the last day of Yom Tov. Others say that one can be lenient, and this seems to be the custom of many people.
Husband and Wife
The custom of broking can sometimes cause discord between spouses, with some people refusing to eat at the in-law’s home. The question arises if the wife has to follow the husband’s custom in this regard or not.
The consensus of the poskim is that the wife should follow the custom of her husband, and there is no need to be matir neder beforehand. The husband may choose to allow her to follow her father’s custom.
If the father has the custom not to brok, his child may switch his custom if there is an important need to do so. He should be matir neder in such a case.
Gebrokts After Pesach
There is no reason to refrain from eating gebrokts after Pesach due to the concern that one may get used to eating it on Pesach (of the upcoming year).
If it is questionable whether water touched matzah one can be lenient and eat the matzah even if he is stringent with gebrokts.
Other Customs Regarding Food
Besides the custom regarding gebrokts, there are many other customs that apply during the Yom Tov of Pesach. The main reason for the added chumros is because even a slight amount chometz is forbidden. The Radvaz addresses why chometz is so stringent that even a slight amount is ossur on Pesach, and we have to search, burn and annul it. He explains that, “We know chometz on Pesach alludes to the yetzer hara (the leaven in the dough). A person must therefore completely rid himself of the yetzer hara, searching after it in all areas; even the slightest amount can not be ignored.” He concludes by saying, “This explanation is true and correct.” In addition, it is quoted in the name of the Arizal that one who is careful with a slight amount of chometz is guaranteed that he will not sin all year. Every woman should follow her husband’s chumra.