Eating Matza for Health Reasons in Nisan

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by R. Daniel Mann

Question: I now eat matza throughout the year as a replacement for bread as a big part of reducing salt intake, on doctor’s orders. My family minhag I have always kept is to suspend eating matza from Rosh Chodesh Nisan. May I continue to eat matza until erev Pesach?

Answer: The Yerushalmi (Pesachim 10:1) forbids eating matza on Erev Pesach, comparing it to having relations with one’s fiancée before their wedding. One explanation is that when eating matza is about to be a mitzva, one should wait to eat it as a mitzva as opposed to personal desire (see Levush, OC 471:2; Igrot Moshe, Orach Chayim I:155). The Rambam (Chametz U’matza 6:12) says that it is to make the mitzva of matza recognizable. There is a machloket among Rishonim whether this restriction is only at the time of day when it is already forbidden to eat chametz (Rosh, Pesachim 3:7) or is all day (Ramban, Pesachim 15b of Rif’s pages, accepted by the Rama, Orach Chayim 471:2). Poskim disagree regarding the night before (see opinions in Dirshu 471:7). (This is important when Erev Pesach is on Shabbat – see Living the Halachic Process IV, D-15). Before this time, no one forbids eating matza on standard halachic grounds.

The expansion to well before Pesach comes at the time of early Acharonim. The Sheyarei Knesset Hagedola (471, HBY 3, quoted as an option by several Acharonim) cites a minhag in Constantinople to refrain from eating matza from Rosh Chodesh Nisan. Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe ibid.) explains the logic as follows. Once one is already supposed to be thinking about Pesach, there is logic to avoid eating matza before it is a mitzva. The earliest time is 30 days before Pesach (see Pesachim 6a), which is too early to expect of most people, but it is positive if righteous people accept it upon themselves from Rosh Chodesh or even 30 days.

The Sheyarei Knesset Hagedola seems to understand the rationale differently. He connects the minhag to a minhag the Rama (ibid.) brings to eat a minimum amount of matza on the first day of Pesach in chutz la’aretz to help go into the second Seder with an appetite for more matza. This stresses the “experiential” rather than the matza’s halachic status.

Even on Erev Pesach, a few leniencies might apply to your case. It is agreed that it is only for the type of matza one can use for the Seder, which excludes at least matza ashira (egg matzas) (Shulchan Aruch, OC 471:2). It is a good question whether it applies to matzot whose physical qualities are like matzot for Pesach but were not prepared with the halachot of matzot for Pesach. The Rivash (Shut 402), stressing the halachic side, forbids to eat such matza on Erev Pesach because of the opinions that permit them for the Seder if proper matzot are not available. The experiential approach helps us understand the lenient opinion regarding the “extension time” that those who always eat hand-matzot at the Seder may eat machine matzot before, because they taste different (Piskei Teshuvot 471:4 based on unnamed poskim).

Based on regular halachic rules, there is no need to be machmir on an optional extension of a Rabbinic halacha in the face of important health considerations. (Even if you can find dietary alternatives, few people are good at effectively changing a system that is working.) The problem is that you have been refraining even from matza that is not for Pesach. While a family minhag is weaker than the minhag of a place (Pitchei Teshuva, Yoreh Deah 214:5), since you have been following it as an adult (ibid.) and especially if it has been in your family for generations (see Kol Nidrei 75:8), it should be binding on you.

You might draw on the Divrei Yatziv’s (OC 188) logic – it should be permitted to eat matza due to sickness, because it is not giving in to desires. Even if we will not rely on that logic, we usually assume an originally optional family minhag does not apply when a special strong need exists to not follow it (see Chayei Adam II:127:6). However, it is best to also do hatarat nedarim on the minhag (see Kol Nidrei 76:3).

לעילוי נשמת יואל אפרים בן אברהם עוזיאל זלצמן ז”ל

About Daniel Mann

This column is produced on behalf of Eretz Hemdah by Rabbi Daniel Mann. Rabbi Mann is a Dayan for Eretz Hemdah and a staff member of Yeshiva University's Gruss Kollel in Israel. He is a senior member of the Eretz Hemdah responder staff, editor of Hemdat Yamim and the author of Living the Halachic Process, volumes 1 and 2 and A Glimpse of Greatness.

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