By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
Hamlet first introduced the quandary regarding existence – To be or not to be? Now, more and more businesses are applying this question to the notion of using Matzoh products with liquids – To Bruk or not to Bruj. Should they avoid Gebrochts – Matzah with water – in their menu to accommodate the growing number of customers with this Minhag?
The question is not moot and has remarkably pertinent commercial business applications. More and more bakeries, food manufacturers, hotels, and take-out food places are changing over to potato starch rather than Matzoh meal as the main ingredient in their products. As a consequence, the bracha that needs to be recited on most cakes now is Shehakol – not Mezonos. For Yom Tov and Shabbos morning Kiddush this presents a real problem – How can one fulfill Kiddush BeMakom Seudah? The leniency of relying on drinking wine is not the ideal.
Some people are so strict in their observance of avoiding Gebrokts that not only do they not eat it, but they refuse to have it in their homes (See Shaivet haLevi 8:163 who dismisses this as too extreme).
And there are modern questions too. How about refrigerated and frozen Matzoh, for example? Rabbi Yoseph Greenwald z”l, the founder of the Pupa institutions in the United States in his Responsa (Vayan Yoseph OC #294) rules that there is no problem of gebrukts in regard to the liquid formed around refrigerated Matzoh, but there is a problem in the ice formed around Matzoh when it is frozen in the freezer.
In this article we shall attempt to trace some of the history and controversy surrounding Gebrokts.
The Talmud states explicitly (Psachim 39b), “Three things cannot become Chometz: A baked item that was soaked in water, a baked item that was cooked in water, etc.” The Rambam (Hilchos Chometz 5:5) and Shulchan Aruch (463:3) codify the matter clearly as well. The Mishna Vrurah in 458:4 also writes that halachically there is no problem whatsoever in regard to Matzah dipped in water.
HISTORY OF THE CUSTOM
The first mention that we find of the Minhag is in the Raavan’s commentary on the Gemorah in Psachim (39b). He writes that the custom evolved on account of misunderstanding. They saw that their father’s did not dip Matzoh in the soup. They assumed that the reason was because of a concern of it becoming Chometz. However, their real reason was so that the taste of Matzoh would remain in their mouths.
The Shaarei Teshuva (OC 460:10), however, gives a different reason for how the custom to avoid Gebrokts developed. He writes that the concern was because back then the Matzoh was made quite thickly. Nowadays, he writes, that we no longer make thick Matzos – there is no concern.
There were, however, a number of Poskim that were stringent on the matter. These Poskim recommended that people refrain from the consumption of Gebrokts. Their reasons can be divided into three major concerns.
The first concern is based upon the idea that there is a possibility of the existence of flour that never got mixed in the dough. We know that when someone has an existing dough that is too liquid – it is forbidden to add flour to it (See Trumas haDeshen 124 cited in Shulchan Aruch 459:6). The Mogain Avrohom (463:4) rules that if one did this – it is forbidden b’dieved. The Machatzis HaShekel (458:1) writes that the concern of unmixed flour exists in all Matzoh doughs, and therefore a Baal Nefesh should avoid it completely.
The second reason why some Poskim were stringent is because of the concern that unlearned people will see that flour from Matzoh was added to the food, and think that one may do so with regular flour too. The Tur (OC 463) mentions this concern based upon the Gemorah in Psachim (40b), where Rav forbade the practice in the home of the Raish Galusa where there were numerous unlearned servants. The Taz (463:3) and the Chochmas Shlomo are both concerned for the opinion of the Tur – even in areas where there are no unlearned people.
A third reason is found in the responsa of the GRaZ (#6) [Rabbi Zalman of Liady – the first Rabbi of Lubavitch]. The responsa deals with different definitions of the Rishonim for Kimcha DeAbishna – dried flour. The GRaZ writes that since the issue is Pesach we must be stringent according to all opinions and that there does appear to be a flour on top of our Matzos after they are baked. He writes that we should be stringent with this. This is different, however, than the flour that may not have been mixed inside the Matzoh dough mentioned earlier.
The overwhelming majority of people that are concerned for Gebrokts, however, are not stringent on the last day of Pesach which is only Derabanan (See Aishel Avrohom 463).
It should be noted, however, that the Vilna Gaon and the Chsam Sofer were not at all stringent in the area of Gebrokts. Indeed, they are both quoted as having said that one cannot fully observe Simchas Yom Tov without having dipped Matzah on Pesach (think kneidlach in the soup).
The main thoughts should be to follow one’s family Minhagim – which are the links and bonds that date back to Sinai. As far as adopting a new stringency is concerned, it is important to note two thoughts of the great Gedolim of this past generation. Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zatzal said that one should only adopt a Chumrah if one understands the underlying reasons behind it. Rav Henoch Leibowitz zatzal once said that one should only adopt a Chumrah if it does not cause you to look down at other people even one iota. It would seem that both of these important pieces of advice should be observed before adopting any Chumrah.