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Laws Regarding ‘Rich Matzah’ and Medicines on Passover

‘Rich matzah’ (matzah ashira), meaning dough that was mixed with fruit juices, is forbidden to eat on Passover according to Ashkenazi custom. For Sephardic Jews as well, it is best to avoid eating it, unless one’s rabbi permits it * Additionally, one who comes from a family that abstained from eating soaked matzah is allowed to eat it today, but if they knew it was a stringency and observed it for several years, it is good for them to receive a formal annulment in front of three people * Medications without taste do not require kosher certification for Passover, and even medications with taste can be used if one cannot verify whether they are permitted on Passover

Q: Is it permissible to eat cookies on Passover that are made with fruit juices, which are called “rich matzah” (matzah ashira)?

A: The chametz (leavened bread) prohibited by the Torah is created from flour and water, but if the flour is kneaded with fruit juices, even if it sat for a full day until the dough rose, it is not considered chametz, because this rise is different from the rise of chametz prohibited by the Torah. The liquids considered fruit juices are wine, honey, milk, oil, and egg yolk water, as well as all juices squeezed from fruits like apple and strawberry juice. Since fruit juices cannot become ferment, according to the basic law, it is permissible on Passover to knead dough with fruit juices, bake it, and eat it. However, according to Rashi, even though this dough cannot become fully leavened chametz, it is considered chametz nuksheh “hardened chametz,” meaning chametz by rabbinic decree, and therefore it is prohibited to eat it.

All of this applies when the flour was kneaded with fruit juices alone, but if they also mixed in water, the dough can become chametz. And according to many poskim (decisors), water mixed with fruit juices causes faster leavening, and in order not to enter the concern of leavening, our Sages prohibited kneading dough on Passover with fruit juices and water (Shulchan Aruch 458:1-3).

Ashkenazic Custom

According to Ashkenazic custom, it is forbidden to eat on Passover anything kneaded with flour and fruit juices, because they are concerned that water may have become mixed into the fruit juices, and then the dough will leaven quickly and perhaps they will not supervise it properly. Additionally, they are concerned about Rashi’s view that fruit juices alone can cause rabbinically-prohibited leavening. And although according to the basic law one could be lenient like the clear majority of poskim, the Ashkenazic custom is to be stringent, and this should not be changed.

Sephardic Custom

According to Sephardic custom, it is permitted to prepare Passover cookies from flour and fruit juices, but it is forbidden to mix in water, since that can cause faster leavening. Retroactively, if water was mixed in, one should bake them immediately (Shulchan Aruch 458:2).

In practice, the cookies that receive Passover certification according to Sephardic customs are usually made on a base of fruit juices, taking care that no water is mixed in, but various other ingredients are added. Those who permit them maintain that these other ingredients are not considered like water. This was also the ruling of Rav Ovadia Yosef. In contrast, Rav Mordechai Eliyahu was very stringent about this, due to the concern that the status of the additional ingredients is like water, and it is even possible that the leavening agents are worse than water, so that even if they are produced under special supervision, it would be considered chametz even retroactively (like the law of chametz that became leavened due to another factor, Pesachim 28b). Therefore, in practice, even according to Sephardic customs, it is correct to equate the Ashkenazic and Sephardic customs, and refrain from eating them. However, one who has a rabbi who permits it, may act in accordance with his ruling (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 8:1).

Soaked Matzah

Q: Is there room to be stringent and not eat “soaked” matzah, (matzah sheruya, or gebrokts), meaning matzah, or matzah crumbs, that have been soaked in water?

A: After the matzah has been fully baked, the leavening power in the flour is nullified, and even if the matzah is soaked in water for a long time, it will not become chametz. A sign that the matzah has been fully baked is that its surface has become crusted, and if one breaks it, no dough threads will be drawn from it. Since matzah that has been properly baked cannot become chametz, it is permissible to soak it in soup. And an elderly person or sick person who cannot eat dry matzah at the Seder night is permitted to soak the matzah in water and eat it soft (Shulchan Aruch 461:4). Similarly, if the matzah has been ground into flour, it is permissible to knead the matzah flour with water, and there is no concern that it will become chametz, since after being thoroughly baked it can no longer become chametz (Shulchan Aruch 463:3). And this way one can bake Passover cakes from the five grains or cook various types of patties that contain matzah flour (kneidelach and gefilte fish).

Stringency of the Chassidim

However, some have the custom to be stringent and not soak the matzahs, lest some of the flour in the dough was not kneaded properly and remained within the matzah without being baked, and when soaked in water, that remaining flour will become chametz. And they were also concerned that some flour may have stuck to the matzah after baking, and when soaked in water it will become chametz. Regarding matzah flour, there is an additional reason for stringency, lest there be ignorant people who will confuse matzah flour with regular flour, and come to the prohibition of chametz on Passover. This was the custom of the Hasidic disciples of the Baal Shem Tov, to be stringent and not eat soaked matzah.

The Practical Halakha

However, the opinion of the vast majority of poskim is that there is no need to be stringent about this, because usually the kneading was done properly and no flour remained unblended and unbaked. And this is the custom of Sephardic and non-Chassidic Ashkenazic Jews. The Chassidic Ashkenazim have the custom to be stringent.

The Custom in Chassidic Families

Even among those of Hasidic descent, some are lenient today, because the custom of prohibition was founded at a time when thick matzahs were commonly baked by the multitude of Jews by hand, and there was reason to fear that a particle may have remained un-kneaded and not baked properly. But today, when the kneading is done by machine or by hand with great precision, and the matzahs are thinner, and great care is taken to separate the flour area from the area where the matzahs are removed from the oven, all the concerns have been eliminated.

Therefore, even one whose parents refrained from eating soaked matzah is permitted to eat it today, provided that it does not involve disrespecting his father. And if he knew that this was a stringency and practiced it for some years, it is good for him to receive a formal annulment (hatarah) in front of three people for not having said bli neder (“without a vow”) regarding his stringency. And if he thought it was an obligation and now has learned that there is no such obligation, he is permitted to stop without an annulment (Peninei Halakha: Passover 8:2).

Medicines on Passover

The question of medicines on Passover is very common. When it comes to a medicine that has no taste, it does not require kosher certification, because even if chametz was mixed into it in the past when it was edible, since now it is no longer fit even for a dog’s consumption, there is no longer a prohibition of chametz. Although there are those who are stringent about this due to a concern of a rabbinical prohibition. However, the halakha follows the opinion of the majority of poskim who permit swallowing a medication that is unfit for eating (Peninei Halakha: Pesach 8:7).

Therefore, the thick booklets published before Passover are unnecessary, and it would have been sufficient to focus on flavorful medicines. The principle of “you grasped too much, you did not grasp” applies here. Due to the extensive focus on tasteless medicines, efforts are not invested in verifying the composition of the flavorful medicines, which is where the verification is truly important, and in which there is often negligence.

Can a Flavorful Medicine Be Taken Without Kosher Certification?

However, when the medicine is flavorful, such as a syrup or lozenge, it clearly requires Passover certification, lest chametz be mixed into it. Only one who is dangerously ill, and has no good substitute for the medicine, is permitted to consume it, since the imperative of saving a life overrides the prohibition of eating chametz.

However, I previously wrote (in Peninei Halakha 8, end of footnote 9) that in a time of pressing need, when it is impossible to verify if the flavorful medicine is kosher, even not for a life-threatening situation, it is permitted to take it on Passover, since the majority of medicines do not contain chametz, one can be lenient based on the majority, as explained in the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 110:3).

But now my esteemed friend, Rabbi Shaul David Botchko, has sent me a responsum in which he clarified that there is no concern of chametz even in flavorful medications. Firstly, because only an infinitesimal percentage of them contain starch or alcohol derived from the five grains. And even in those that contain grain-derived starch, there is no concern of chametz, because this starch has been separated from the rest of the wheat components, and alone it cannot become chametz, as Rabbi Shar Yashuv Cohen clarified regarding citric acid (see Peninei Halakha: Passover 8:8). And even if a medication contains alcohol derived from the five grains, it is different from drinking alcohol, since it is intended for a medicinal purpose of dissolution. The alcohol concentration in it is between 95-99%, and such a liquid is unfit for drinking, and therefore even if derived from the five grains, it was disqualified from being edible by a dog before Passover, and thus there is no prohibition of chametz in it.

How Long Should Kaddish Be Said in the Year of Mourning?

Q: How should children properly conduct themselves in saying Kaddish during the year of mourning for their parents? Should they say Kaddish for the entire year, and in a leap year for 13 months, or 12 months, or only 11 months? Are there differences in the customs of Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews?

A: It is a mitzvah for one who is mourning a parent to say Kaddish in the first year for the elevation of the deceased’s soul. And this has great benefit for the deceased, for through the son saying Kaddish and sanctifying God’s name, the deceased’s merits are increased, and if they were sentenced to Gehenna (hell), their punishment is lightened.

However, if they were to say Kaddish for the full twelve months, it would appear as if they are considering the deceased a wicked person who was sentenced to Gehenna. Therefore, only when it is known that the deceased was wicked is Kaddish said for the full twelve months. But when it is not known that they were wicked, in order not to appear as if they are considering the deceased a wicked person, Kaddish is not said for the full twelve months.

There are two customs regarding this:

The first is the custom of most Sephardic Jews. In order to show that they do not consider the parent a wicked person, they do not say Kaddish in the first week of the twelfth month, and then continue saying Kaddish until the end of the twelve months (Rav Pe’alim 3, Yoreh Deah 32). This was the custom in Babylon, Turkey, Persia, Syria, and Egypt.

The second custom is to say Kaddish for eleven months after the passing, and in the twelfth month they do not say it. This is the custom of all Ashkenazic Jews (Rema, Yoreh Deah 376:4), most North African Jews (Otzar HaMichtavim 3:1:2599; Shemesh U’Magen 3:60), and most Yemenite immigrants.

This article appears in the ‘Besheva’ newspaper and was translated from Hebrew.

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