THE MINHAG OF NO MATZAH ON PESACH
by: NESANEL GANTZ
THE FASCINATING STORY BEHIND THE MINHAG OF NOT EATING MATZAH ON PESACH AND HOW THE LISKA REBBE PERPETUATES THIS RARE CUSTOM TODAY.
Purim has mishloach manos and hamantashen, Shavuos has dairy products and cheesecake and Rosh Hashanah has the simanim and honey. While many of our Yomim Tovim are associated with festive joyous spiritual meals and specific foods, perhaps no one Yom Tov is symbolized by a certain food then the Matzah we eat on Pesach. The holiday celebration revolves around Matzah’s origination in Egypt; hours are spent baking them, lots of money is spent buying them and the whole month of Nissan we refrain from eating Matzah so that the Matzah we eat on Pesach is unique and special to us. Twice daily, for seven or eight straight days all of Torah Jewry begins the Yom Tov Seudah by making Kiddush and eating Matzah; everyone that is except a select few Yidden who don’t eat Matzah on Pesach besides for the required Kezaisim (mimimum Torah requirement) during the Seder. Now allow those words to digest for a few moments; no-Matzah-on-Pesach. After being made aware of this fascinating minhag by Ami’s Editor-In-Chief, Rabbi Yitzchok Frankfurter, I was privileged to interview the current Liska Rebbe, Rav Tzvi Hersh Friedlander SHLIT”A, whose family and Chassidim are the main vessels by which this sacred and extremely rare tradition are transmitted throughout the generations.
It must be noted that for the purpose of brevity and clarity, throughout the article where the words “no Matzah on Pesach” are used we are referring to the remaining days of Yom Tov, not the minimum Matzah that is eaten by all Yidden on the Seder Night.
After hearing of this minhag for the first time, I must admit I was flabbergasted to say the least. I began asking many people if they heard of the minhag, let alone knew anyone who kept it. While no-one I spoke to actually practice this minhag, a few people said they knew of select people, mostly in Eretz Yisroel who kept it. The general consensus was that those who practiced it were of an older generation and did not make the same request of their families. It is only logical that there would be a pocketful of people who never lost the chain of mesorah in this minhag despite the generation gap; however they are few and far between.
The origin of this minhag stems from Klal Yisroel’s scrupulous quest to ensure a Chometz free Pesach. This includes the fact that our Matzahs are baked in a manner in which all fears of it later becoming Chometz would be eradicated. While this is the simplest definition of what Matzah is; a non-chometz form of bread, the reason why some people have the custom not to eat gebrochts (broken in Yiddish, referring to Matzah that has absorbed liquid), is due to the fear that a small part of the Matzah that wasn’t baked properly can come in contact with liquid thus rendering it chometz. It is this same fear of Matzah becoming chometz that is the catalyst for those who do not eat Matzah on Pesach. The fear of unbaked flour pockets that can possibly become chometz has led to people to value Matzah baked in certain bakeries as they have higher standards of Kashrus and more stringencies implemented. Top dollar is paid today for Matzah that meets the many possible chumros (stringencies) in baking Matzah.
The Sharei Teshuvah (on Halachah) mentions this chumrah and writes as follows “There are those that are machmir and don’t eat Matzah other than the first night (in E.Y.) of Pesach …. Many have deviated from this minhag because of Simchas Yom tov and on both of these groups of people whose sole intention is towards heaven I call them “Kulom Tzaddikim”, wholly righteous.
Many earlier Torah sages kept this custom including the “Arye D’Bei Ilui”, Rav Lifschitz, the Baal Ari Sh’Bachubarah, Reb Pinchos of Koritz, Reb Shayale Kerestirer, Reb Meir of Premishlan and others. While origins of the minhag can be traced as far back as the Arizal, the first person famously documented to have practiced this minhag was the Yismach Moshe of Ujhel, Hungary, Rav Moshe Teitelbaum (1759-1841) who kept this minhag his whole life and encouraged his family to accept this minhag. However throughout the generations his descendants decided to discontinue it as they felt the Simchas Yom Tov felt by eating Matzah overshadowed the fear of the eating of Matzah.
The Satmar Rebbe, Reb Yoel ZT”L once discovered a small unbaked pocket of flour in one of his Matzahs during Pesach. Horrified, he said “If this could happen in our (Satmar) Matzah Bakery in which I instituted the highest level of stringencies and hashgachic care; now I truly understand why my grandfather the “Yismach Moshe” had the minhag not to eat Matzah on Pesach. That year the Rebbe refrained from eating Gebrochts on the last day of Pesach, with his reasons ultimately known only to him.
Some early Torah leaders would hold a variation of this minhag; they would eat the minimal required amount of Matzah during the Seder and Yom Tov day meals but would refrain from eating Matzah during the weekday days of Chol Hamoed. Many Brisker followers also try to minimize Matzah consumption throughout Pesach as well.
It must be noted that although many leaders of yesteryear felt strongly about the minhag there were many leaders who were vehemently against it as well. Most notably amongst its detractors was the “Divrei Chaim” Reb Chaim Halberstam of Tzanz. He wrote in a letter “In regards to keeping this minhag of not eating Matzah all days of Pesach; this is not the correct thing to do in our times as we are a weakened generation. (mid 1800’s) Keeping this minhag contains therein a bitul (cancelation) of simchas Yom Tov and therefore one shouldn’t keep it…rather one should be matir neder, (absolve his vow) immediately.” The impact of the leaders against the minhag has certainly led to its decline.
Upon first hearing about this minhag, many questions automatically pop into one’s head. “But it’s a Mitzvah!”, “What about Simchas Yom Tov?”, “Don’t you have to wash at every Yom Tov Seuda?” are amongst the basic ones asked. To cover the whole topic of eating Matzah on Pesach is beyond the scope of this article as further research reveals an intricate web of Halachah and minhag of which this author feels is way beyond his level to attempt to navigate. I will however cover some of the answers to the common questions of curiosity along with a myriad of other fascinating facts behind this minhag. No halachic ramifications should be derived as the purpose is solely to defend and source this minhag. A token of appreciation is owed to R’ Ezra Friedlander, president of the Friedlander Group and R’ Yisroel Friedlander founder of Machon Dor L’Dor for providing me with a wealth of Torah on the subject.
Another fascinating reason for this minhag is brought in the Sefer Segulas Yisroel by Rav Shabsi Lifschitz. It says in the Torah “Shivas Yamim Matzah Tocheilu”, with the Artscrollian translation being “thou shalt eat Matzah for seven days”. Rashi proves from a Gemara in Pesachim that the Mitzvah of eating Matzah on Pesach besides for the Seder is a Rishus, an option; not the obligation of the Torah. The Baal Haturim and the Shulchan Aruch (siman taf-ayin-hei seef zayin) codifies that the Mitzvah Min Hatorah is only the first night (and second night outside of E.Y.) whereas the eating of Matzah on the rest of Pesach fall under the category of Rishus. Although the Torah refers to the Mitzvah of Matzah only at the Seder, the Karaites purposely misinterpreted the pasuk to imply that the Mitzvah M’Doraisah of Matzah is all of Pesach. In facts the Karaites would eat Matzah all 7 days as their contorted biblical requirement. That is another reason, says the Segulas Yisroel why many have this custom. They refrain from eating Matzah on Pesach with the sole intention of going against the Karaites.
Amongst all the early Chassidic Rebbes who kept the minhag, no one felt as strongly about it and urged others to accept it upon themselves as the Rebbe, Reb Tzvi Hersh of Liska known by his sefer the “Ach Pri Tevuah”. While many Rebbes who felt spiritually strong to accept it upon themselves; however, they would not expect others to do so as well, except for the Liska Rebbe. He would often mention this minhag to other people he encountered and urged them to accept it upon themselves. When being mesader kiddushin at a wedding he would require the new chosson would accept upon himself this minhag before proceeding. It is also written in the sefer “Darchei Hayashar” that when a chassid was in the need of a yeshua (miracle), the Rebbe would only promise him he would honor his request contingent on the chassid accepting this minhag. It is certain that it is due to this strong feeling in keeping this minhag that the only Chassidic court to keep this Minhag today can only be found amongst Liska.
The current Liska Rebbe graciously welcomed me into his home in Boro Park to discuss this Minhag which is a mantle of pride in the family and Chassidus. While the name Liska is known throughout the Judaic world, today Liska is not a large Chassidic court; and isn’t of the first few names when thinking of different Chassidus’. The Liska Rebbe by his own admission is not someone who is looking to spread his Chassidus. It is precisely for this reason that the knowledge of this minhag is a relative secret and surprise to most people.
The Rebbe has vast knowledge of the history and many halachos and different customs pertaining to not eating Matzah on Pesach. He published an extensive 11 page halachic Teshuva (responsa) in his sefer “Chamudai Tzvi” that deals specifically with this minhag.
I asked the Rebbe why his family kept this minhag as opposed to the descendants of original followers who abandoned over a century ago. He cited his ancestor’s strong adherence to the minhag as the main reason for its preservation.
The Rebbe admitted to me that he once questioned himself whether he should discontinue the minhag but decided against it. He related that he was once visiting a Matzah bakery and after the prescribed 18 minute shift, noticed a small clump of dough the size of a pre-flattened raw Matzah in the middle of the table. A young woman working at the bakery, obviously not wanting to get into trouble ran over to the overlooked dough and furiously started to flatten it saying “sorry, it was for me”. The Rebbe asked for the dough (to prevent the obvious possible chometz) and said “No, that dough was for me. It is a sign from heaven that I should not abandon the ways of my ancestors”. That incident erased any doubt as to the significance of the adherence to the minhag even in today’s generation.
After I pressed him for more sources on the minhag, the Rebbe told me that literally the day of our discussion he had come across a fascinating Ohr Hachaim on Chumash that he feels is directly correlating to his family minhag. While discussing the different Pesukim that discuss eating Matzah on Pesach, the Ohr Hachaim draws the conclusion that the act of not-eating Chometz during Pesach is considered as if one would have eaten Matzah all seven days. Thus, one could fulfill the Mitzvah of eating Matzah on Pesach all seven days by the very act of not eating Chometz throughout the rest of Yom Tov. One would seemingly not have to physically eat Matzah yet can fulfill a mitzvah nonetheless.
Interestingly, women and boys under bar-mitzvah have historically not kept this minhag even in families where the men of the house would refrain from eating Matzah. The women of the house would actually wash and then the Seudah would commence. The Rebbe said that he remembers in his home, his father Rav Yoizef Friedlander, the previous Liska Rebbe ZT”L (of the first Chassidic Rebbeim in Boro Park) would make it a point of waiting until his Rebbetzin washed and ate her Matzah before continuing his seudah. Perhaps says the Rebbe, that symbolically, while not going into the halachic ramifications, the traditional washing on Matzah is being fulfilled in the household through the women.
On Achron Shel Pesach, the last day of Yom Tov many who refrain from eating gebrochts during Yom Tov will eat gebrochts food on the last day of Pesach. Even the followers of this rare minhag also eat gebrochts on that day. The Rebbe pointed out a Chassidic explanation for the minhag to eat gebrochts on the last day of Yom Tov. The commonly accepted reason for gebrochts on the 8th day is due to it being a “Sfeikoh D'Yomah", an extra day of Yom Tov observed due to us being unaware of the true day of the Yom Tov's beginning and end; thus the stringencies are minimized on that day. The Rebbe offered another explanation brought down in Chassidic sources “On Pesach, many have the minhag that “M'Misht Zich Nisht", we don’t intermingle on Pesach. With our families minhag this is most definitely true. While the reasons we don’t eat with others is steeped in holy traditions, it still causes a certain distancing amongst family and friends. On the last day of Yom Tov we all eat the same things to show that we are B’Achdus, in unity as one nation”
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