I. After the Afikoman
The culmination of the seder meal with the Afikoman matzah can, actually should, leave a distinct taste in your mouth. Some people may understandably wish to remove that taste. After the seder, are you allowed to use mouthwash or, if you generally do so on Yom Tov, brush your teeth?
The Mishnah (Pesachim 119b) states that one may not take part in an Afikoman after eating the final matzah of the seder. While contemporary terminology labels that matzah as Afikoman, technically the term refers to the activity prohibited after eating the matzah. Prof. Saul Lieberman (Ha-Yerushalmi Ki-Fshuto, vol. 1 p. 521) explains that this term relates to the Greek practice of epikomazein, at the peak of a banquet, going from house to house and forcing others to join the party. After the seder, we are not allowed to act similarly.
II. Eating and Drinking
The question is: why not? Presumably, religious Jews could conduct such parties in an appropriate way. What specific obligation prohibits this activity after the seder? Two explanations offered are:
- A prohibition against going elsewhere to eat, which includes even eating more in the same place (Tur, Orach Chaim 478)
- An obligation to refrain from removing the taste of matzah from one’s mouth. While you will remove some taste with the subsequent two cups of wine at the seder, you may not further remove the remaining taste. (Tosafos, Pesachim 120a sv. maftirin)
In addition to the prohibition against eating after the Afikoman matzah, there also exists a prohibition against drinking anything other than the subsequent two cups of wine. Commentators offer three possibile reasons for this additional prohibition:
- The requirement to continue discussing the Exodus and the laws of Passover throughout the night. Too much alcohol will prevent the study. Therefore, you may drink non-alcoholic beverages. (Tur, Orach Chaim 481 in the name of Rabbenu Yonah)
- A prohibition against adding to the four (or five) cups of the seder. Therefore, you may not drink even popular non-alcoholic beverages (“chamar medinah“). (Ramban and Ran on Pesachim 119b)
- An obligation to retain the matzah taste, as above. Therefore, you may not drink any tasteful beverages. (Tosafos, Pesachim 117b sv. revi’i)
The Taz (Orach Chaim 479:2) follows the first reason in each issue (see Peri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 479:3, 481:1). However, the Magen Avraham (478:1, 481:intro) disagrees and also forbids drinking anything but water after the Afikoman, implicitly accepting the final view (on both issues). According to the Magen Avraham, not just eating but any form of removing the Afikoman taste is forbidden.
III. Beyond Eating
While smoking today is forbidden on Yom Tov because it is no longer very common (and during the week because it is dangerous), in past times it was permitted because its prevalence constituted a near-universal need (and its danger was not yet known). However, for the above reason, the Birkei Yosef (Orach Chaim 481:1), Ba’er Heitev (481:1), Kaf Ha-Chaim (481:4) and others forbade smoking after the Afikoman (drinking “titon” or “tabak” means smoking cigarettes). Clearly, they considered smoking a removal of the Afikoman taste even though it involves neither eating nor drinking.
In general, halakhic authorities differ over whether to follow the Taz or Magen Avraham on this isssue. The general consensus seems to adopt a strict stance, at least le-chatchilah (e.g. Chayei Adam 129:14; Mishnah Berurah 478:2; Aruch Ha-Shulkhan 478:1,3). If so, rinsing with mouthwash or brushing with toothpaste would be forbidden because doing so removes the matzah taste of the Afikoman.
V. Brushing Teeth All Night
R. Avraham Borenstein (Avnei Neizer, Orach Chaim 382:5) assumes that this rule only applies during the time of the mitzvah to eat matzah. Therefore, according to the view that the mitzvah must be performed by midnight, we may eat other foods (or drink or rinse with mouthwash) after that time. However, R. Borenstein follows a broad consensus in allowing for the other possibility, that the matzah may be eaten all night (see Beis Yosef, Orach Chaim 577, 2nd entry). According to R. Borenstein, you may not brush your teeth until dawn. R. Moshe Feinstein (Iggeros Moshe, Orach Chaim 5:38:8) disputes R. Borenstein’s entire premise and argues that, according to both views, you may not remove the taste of the Afikoman matzah until dawn.
It seems to me that the consensus view would forbid brushing your teeth or rinsing with mouthwash at night. Throughout the past centuries, authorities have permitted more drinks after the Afikoman. At first, only water was allowed. Tea was added, and seltzer and lemon-flavored water and then coffee (according to some) and more. As I understand it, these authorities allowed drinks that may have diluted the Afikoman taste but did not replace it. Brushing your teeth with toothpaste or rinsing your mouth with mouthwash replaces the Afikoman taste. However, perhaps rinsing with just water or brushing without toothpaste is similar to drinking water and would be allowed. Additionally, flossing (with pre-cut string and assuming your gums don’t bleed) would be similar.
(Note that there are grounds for leniency on the second night or if this really bothers you. As always, ask your rabbi.)