By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
In the past 25 years, Pesach cakes have almost become completely gebrochts-free. They have also become quite expensive. Indeed, one recent shopper at Brach’s supermarket in Lawrence, new York recently commented, “I have become gebroke from gebrochts!”
What is gebrochts all about and where did it come from?
The Shulchan Aruch (OC 461:4) writes that one fulfills the Mitzvah of Matzoh with matzoh shruyah – gebrochts, soaked Matzah – as long as the Matzoh remains intact and whole. This is based upon the Gemorah itself (Psachim 41a) which states the very same law. What then is the source for the custom of avoiding Gebrochts – dipped or wetted Matzoh?
Almost without exception, the custom to refrain from Gebrochts has spread throughout the Chassidic world and even among others. What are some of the halachos of this Minhag? How did this Minhag develop? In this article we will address some pertinent halachos as well as attempt to trace the origin of this stringency.
WOMEN AND GEBROCHTS
A woman should follow the custom of her husband. Thus, if while she was single she did not eat gebrochts, but married someone whose custom is to eat it, she may eat gebrochts on Pesach — even without doing hataras nedarim. This is the view of Rav Moshe Feinstein (IM Vol. I #158), Dayan Weiss (Vol. IV #83) and Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Halichos Shlomo, Pesach 4:20).
Some who have the minhag to avoid gebrochts do allow semi-solids on the Matzah such as butter. Others forbid this as well (See Piskei Teshuvos 458, note 23).
Some allow children to eat gebrochts while they themselves avoid it.
The first reference this author could find that directly mentions the Minhag of avoiding a form of gebrochts is the Olas Shabbos (453:3) who discusses a halacha in the Bach that Matzos should be baked prior to Pesach and not during Pesach. Why is this so? Chometz is only batel before Pesach and not during Pesach. The Olas Shabbos adds, “And one who is concerned for this stringency should not cook a baked Matzoh on Pesach either, for how is it different than baking?” In other words, the Olas Shabbos is concerned that the Chametz that was mixed into the Matzoh but became nullified before Pesach is now re-awakened on Pesach itself.
The Mogain Avrohom 458:1 cites the Olas Shabbos and asks a series of questions on it, differentiating between the Bach’s case and the scenario described by the Olas Shabbos.
Regardless, the concern of the Olas Shabbos deals with a Gebrockts of actual cooking. Simply soaking the Matzoh would not seem to be a concern of the Olas Shabbos, because it is not reawakened yet through any process.
The Knesses HaGedolah cited by the Mogen Avrohom (OC 473) tells us to avoid using it it as a fish coating because of a woman who once confused it with flour. The Pri Chadash in 461:2 disagrees and writes, “I say that this is all permitted and we cannot make our own enactments, and who cares if one woman made a mistake in halachah?”
The Shaarei Teshuva in OC 460:2 after explaining that it is technically permitted, writes, “Nonetheless, one who wishes to sanctify himself with that which is permitted.. we do not stop him.”
The next time we see a concern for Gebrokts in print is in the response of Rabbi Shniur Zalman of Liadi, the GraZ or the Baal HaTanya. The concern he raises is that perhaps the Matzoh was not kneaded sufficiently, and some unbaked flour remains on the Matzoh. The soaking will thus bring about a Chometzization process.
The observant reader will note that this is a different concern that that mentioned by the Olas Shabbos. The Machtzis HaShekel voices the same concern in 458:1 about the unbaked flour. The Aishel Avrohom (Botshatch 447:4) is similarly concerned.
HINTS IN THE GEMORAH
If we wish to find hints to the common practice of avoiding some form of Gebrokts – we can. The Gemorah in Psachim (40b) discusses an item called Chassissi which the workers of the house of the Raish Galusa would make. There were Amoraim, the Gemorah indicates, who were unsettled with eating it, however. Although Rabbi Yitzchok quoted in Tosfos understands it to be a lentil paste, the Rif describes it as Matzoh that was rolled and cooked.
There are also two fascinating quotes of the Raavan (Psachim 73b). Firstly, he writes that one should avoid soaked Matzoh in soup on the first night of Pesach — because this takes away the taste of Matzoh itself. This is actually a proof to the notion that on the rest of Pesach one can eat Gebrokts. However, he also writes that one should avoid making Matzoh balls because people may come to do it with flour itself and cook it. The Be’er Heitev OC 460 cites the Knesses HaGedolah to this effect as well.
The Ravya (Psachim 475)also explains that some people do not make kneidlach out of a concern that others may mix this up with doing it with flour and water. He describes this stringency as a Chumrah of a Baal Nefesh (a worthy individual).
The Maharshdam (responsa OC #26) describes Yupkes, a Matzoh meal based item, and explains that a Baal Nefesh should avoid it.
How does it fit into common practice? For the Korech section of the Pesach Seder people that avoid Gebrochts just dip the Marror in the Charoses — not the Matzah (See Mishna Brurah 475:19). Is it Muktzah for those who do not eat it? The Chazon Ish (Shabbos 49:15) rules that cooking Kneidlach from Yom Tov to Shabbos may be Muktzah if one’s minhag is that Gebrochts are forbidden. If one is merely stringent to avoid it, then it is permitted.
FORBIDDING AVOIDING GEBROCHTS
There are also opinions that it is forbidden to be stringent. The Sheilas Yaavetz (Vol. II #65) cites his father the Chacham Tzvi that it is wrong to disallow the Simchas Yom Tov with far-fetched stringencies!
WHEN DID IT START?
So when did the Chassidim start it? Reb Mendel of Vitebsk is cited by many of the early Chassidim as attributing it to the Maggid of Mezrich and that, believe it or not, the Baal Shem Tov did eat Kneidlach!
The Chsam Sofer (Responsa OC 138) also used to consume Gebrokts — especially with soup Kneidlach. Rumor has it that some members of the Chsam Sofer’s family even have the recipe for Kneidlach that his wife used.
BACK TO PESACH CAKES
It is also interesting to note that the change in our Pesach cakes adversely effects Sefardic Jews and those who follow the customs of the Vilna Gaon. How so? When there is no mezonos (Matzah meal) in what is baked, it is not subsumed under the leniency of Pas Palter — baker’s bread. It would be considered Bishul Akum for Sefardim and for followers of the Vilna Gaon. Since most of our bakeries have an aino yehudi preparing the Pesach cake — the non-gebrochts Pesach cakes would not be kosher for Sfardim.
In conclusion, Pesach allows us yet another opportunity to connect with our generations past, by strictly adhering to the Minhagim of our parents and grandparents. Focusing on this aspect of the Minhag will allow us to ever further our growth over this Yom Tov. A gut Yom Tov!