Women and Reading Megillah

Question #1: Ba’alas Korei

May a woman be the ba’alas keri’ah of the megillah?

Question #2: Kiddush and Arba Kosos

The elderly Mr. Klein is fully alert, but, unfortunately, he has difficulty enunciating. May Mrs. Klein recite kiddush and the other brachos of the seder for him?


Although there is a general rule exempting women from mitzvos aseih shehazeman grama, (time-bound requirements involving positive action), such as tefillin, sukkah and tzitzis, there are numerous exceptions to this rule. For example, women are required to observe mitzvos related to Shabbos and Pesach and to hear Megillas Esther on Purim, all topics that we will discuss.

Part of the miracle

In three places, the Gemara quotes an early amora, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, who ruled that women are obligated to fulfill the mitzvos of megillah, ner Chanukah and the four kosos of seder night. Although these are all time-bound mitzvos aseih, women are obligated to observe these specific mitzvos because of a different rule, af hein hayu be’oso haneis, “they were also included in the miracle.” This rule means that, when Chazal created the mitzvos of kindling Chanukah lights, reading megillah on Purim or consuming the four cups on the first night of Pesach, they included women in the obligation, notwithstanding that they are usually exempt from mitzvos aseih shehazeman grama.

The rishonim dispute what the term af hein hayu be’oso haneis means. Is this emphasizing that they were saved by the miracle, or does it mean that they were involved in bringing about the miracle?

Rashi and the Rashbam (Pesachim 108b) explain that af hein hayu be’oso haneis means that women were involved in causing the miracle (think of Esther declaring that the Jews fast and do teshuvah, approaching Achashveirosh and setting Haman up for his execution). On the other hand, Tosafos (Megillah 4a s. v. She’af; Pesachim 108b s. v. Hayu) contends that it means that women, also, were saved by the miracle of survival, either physical or spiritual, that we celebrate in each of these observances.

Mitzvos min haTorah?

Note that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi applied his principle to three mitzvos, each of which is a requirement only miderabbanan. Is this coincidental, or is the principle of af hein hayu be’oso haneis a principle that Chazal created that does not apply min haTorah? This issue is disputed by two Ba’alei Tosafos. The first opinion cited by Tosafos contends that af hein hayu be’oso haneis is a rabbinic principle and will not create a Torah requirement (Tosafos, Megillah 4a s. v. She’af; Mordechai, Megillah #780). The disputant, Rabbeinu Yosef of Eretz Yisrael, rules that af hein hayu be’oso haneis applies even to mitzvos that are min haTorah.

Shomei’a ke’oneh

Prior to answering our opening questions, we need to understand a halachic principle called shomei’a ke’oneh, which translates, literally, as “hearing is like responding.” This principle means that when I hear someone recite a prayer, the megillah, kiddush or havdalah, it is considered as if I, myself, recited it.

I will explain this principle with an example that we utilize regularly: Except for heads of household, most of us fulfill the mitzvos of kiddush and havdalah by hearing someone else recite them. But the mitzvah is to recite kiddush and havdalah, not merely to hear them. So, how do we fulfill these mitzvos when we are only hearing them? The answer is that, because of shomei’a ke’oneh, it is deemed that we recited kiddush and havdalah ourselves.

Three conditions

For shomei’a ke’oneh to work, three conditions must be met:

(1) The individual performing the mitzvah must have in mind to be motzi the other people, meaning that he knows that he is acting on behalf of those listening.

(2) The individual performing the mitzvah must be required to observe this mitzvah. In other words, if a child (under bar or bas mitzvah) recites kiddush or havdalah on behalf of an adult, the adult does not fulfill the mitzvah, since the child is not obligated in this mitzvah min haTorah (see Brachos 20b).

(3) The listeners must have in mind that they are discharging their obligation to perform the mitzvah by hearing this recital.

Parshas Zachor

It is for this last reason that, immediately prior to Parshas Zachor, the gabbai announces that everyone should have in mind with the reading of the ba’al keri’ah to fulfill the mitzvah of remembering Amaleik’s dastardly deeds. Only the ba’al keri’ah actually reads the appropriate Torah portion. The rest of us discharge our obligation to observe this mitzvah by hearing the ba’al keri’ah, which, because of shomei’a ke’oneh, is considered as if we read it ourselves. In addition to Parshas Zachor, brachos, reading the Torah and the megillah, kiddush and havdalah, there are numerous other applications of shomei’a ke’oneh.

Not now!

We should note that, although the person being motzi others must be obligated by the Torah to fulfill the mitzvah, this does not require him to fulfill the mitzvah with this reading, by which he is being motzi others. He may recite kiddush or havdalah for someone else, even if he, himself, has already fulfilled the mitzvah, or if he intends to fulfill the mitzvah later with a different recital of kiddush or havdalah. That is why a ba’al keri’ah can read megillah many different times to be motzi other people, even though he has already fulfilled the mitzvah. This is also the reason why kiddush and havdalah are recited in shul, notwithstanding that the person reciting them plans to recite them again at home.

Ba’alas korei

At this point, I can present the halachic background behind our opening question: May a woman be the ba’alas korei or ba’alas keri’ah of the megillah?

Whether a woman may assume the role of ba’alas keri’ah is the subject of a fascinating dispute among rishonim, as we will soon see.

The Mishnah (Megillah 19b) states: Everyone is qualified to read the megillah except for a minor and someone who is not halachically responsible for his actions. The Gemara (Arachin 2b) asks: what is being added by emphasizing that “everyone” is qualified to read the megillah? The Gemara replies that women, who are usually not obligated in time-bound mitzvos, are obligated to read the megillah, to the extent that they may read the megillah to be motzi others. Rashi explains, explicitly, that this means that a woman may read the megillah to be motzi a man in his obligation. Thus, according to Rashi, a woman may be the ba’alas keri’ah of the megillah.

However, the Ba’al Halachos Gedolos (usually abbreviated as Bahag, the author of a halachic work from the era of the geonim) notes that the Tosefta, a halachic work dating back to the era of the Mishnah, disagrees. The salient part of the Tosefta (Megillah 2:4), as we have its text, reads: “All are obligated in the reading of the megillah… . Women… are exempt and cannot be motzi the public (rabbim) from their responsibility.”

Is there any way to resolve this contradiction between the Mishnah, as understood by the Gemara, and the Tosefta?

The Bahag presents an approach to explain the Mishnah and the Tosefta such that there is no conflict between the two positions. When the Mishnah implies, and the Gemara states explicitly, that a woman can be motziah (the feminine of motzi; plural motzios) someone else, it means that she can be motziah a woman, but not a man.

Why should this be true? The Bahag explains that there are two levels of mitzvah regarding the megillah:

(1) To read the megillah.

(2) To hear the megillah.

Ordinarily, a man fulfills both requirements when he hears the megillah from another man, since the person reading the megillah, who has both obligations, reads it for the purpose that the listeners fulfill all their megillah-related obligations. However, since a woman’s obligation is only to hear the megillah, but not to read it, it is not within her ability to be motzi someone who is obligated to read the megillah (Rosh, Megillah 1:4; note that Shu”t Avnei Neizer [Orach Chayim #511:4-5] and the Brisker Rav [Al Hashas, Inyanim #15] explain the Bahag’s approach slightly differently).

With this approach, the Bahag explains that the Mishnah refers to a woman reading the megillah for other women, which she can do, and the Tosefta refers to a woman reading the megillah for men, which is why it states that a woman cannot be motziah the public, which includes men.

The Tosefta according to Rashi

According to Rashi, either the text of this Tosefta is in error (as is not uncommon in our texts of the Tosefta) or it disagrees with the Mishnah as understood by the Gemara, in which case we rule according to the Mishnah and Gemara (both of these approaches are mentioned, in different places, by the Bach, Orach Chayim 689). We should point out that the texts that we have received of the Tosefta are notoriously unreliable, since copyists often made errors and, as a result, texts that were studied less frequently are often inaccurate. As an example, the rishonim who quote this Tosefta cite it with at least three significantly different texts.

Also, if, indeed, there is a dispute between the tanna who authored the Mishnah and the one who authored the Tosefta, the halacha follows the author of the Mishnah. Thus, either approach used to explain Rashi’s position is highly satisfactory.

Other rishonim?

Several authorities infer from the Rambam that he agreed with Rashi’s halachic conclusion (Magid Mishnah, Hilchos Megillah 1:2; Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 689). The Beis Yosef and the Darkei Moshe quote other rishonim on both sides of fence: The Or Zarua rules like Rashi, whereas the Ra’avyah and the Mordechai (Megillah #779) rule like the Bahag. The Shulchan Aruch’s conclusion is unclear (Orach Chayim 689:2), whereas the Rema rules like the Bahag.

According to the Bahag’s opinion, some authorities contend that a woman hearing megillah when no male is fulfilling the mitzvah should not recite the brocha al mikra megillah, since she is not required to read the megillah, but to hear it. The Rema records that she should recite lishmo’a megillah, but others prefer that she should recite lishmo’a mikra megillah (Mishnah Berurah 689:8).

Getting a third opinion

Are there any other opinions? We actually find a few other opinions among rishonim, who present alternative ways of resolving the contradiction between the Mishnah and the Tosefta, with halachic results unlike either Rashi or the Bahag. Rabbi Moshe of Coucy (France), a ba’al Tosafos who wrote a halachic work based on the 613 mitzvos, usually called Sefer Hamitzvos Hagadol (abbreviated as Semag), agrees with the Bahag that a woman cannot be motziah a man, but disagrees with the reason why. In his opinion, just as Chazal ruled that a woman cannot fulfill the mitzvah of keri’as haTorah, because it is not kavod hatzibur for her to read for the community (Megillah 23a), she may also not read to be motzi a man in megillah (towards the beginning of Hilchos Megillah in the Semag). Tosafos (Sukkah 38a s. v. Be’emes at end) may agree with this opinion of the Semag.

With this approach, the Semag answers the contradiction between the Mishnah and the Gemara, on one hand, and the Tosefta, on the other, in a way similar to that of the Bahag. The Mishnah and Gemara teach that a woman may read the megillah for someone else; the Tosefta is ruling that she may not be the ba’alas keri’ah for a community.

There is yet a fourth approach to the issue, that of the Ba’al Ha’itur (Hilchos Megillah, page 110, column 1), but the details of his opinion are somewhat unclear (see Ran [Megillah 19b, 6b in the Rif’s pages]; Tur and Bach, Orach Chayim 689).

Three is a crowd

There is yet another opinion, contending that the Tosefta means that a woman should not read the megillah for more than one other woman (Korban Nesanel, Megillah 1:4:60, in explanation of Tosafos, Sukkah 38a s. v. Be’emes). According to this position, the Tosefta meant this when it said that a woman she should not read for the “public” (“rabbim” in the words of the Tosefta). The Mishnah Berurah quotes this approach as authoritative halacha (Shaar Hatziyun, 689:15). This opinion actually ends up with a stricter ruling, since, according to both Rashi and the Bahag, a woman may read megillah to be motziah other women, regardless as to how many there are, whereas this opinion allows her to be motziah only one other woman, not any more.


Does this principle of the Bahag apply to kiddush just as it applies to the reading of the megillah? Let us explore the halachic data on the subject.

The Gemara (Brachos 20b) states, unequivocally, that women are obligated in the mitzvah of reciting kiddush. Does this mean that a woman may recite kiddush to be motzi a man? Or, is this dependent on the dispute between Rashi and the Bahag?

Several early acharonim understand that the same dispute that exists between Rashi and the Bahag regarding women reading the megillah for men applies to women reciting kiddush for men (Maharshal and Bach, in their commentaries to Tur Orach Chayim 271). They conclude that a woman may recite kiddush for other women, but may not recite kiddush to be motzi a man in kiddush.

However, the Taz, who was the son-in-law of the Bach, disputes his father-in-law’s conclusion, contending that the Bahag’s opinion is limited to reading the Megillah, and does not apply to reciting kiddush. Since the Gemara concludes that women are obligated in kiddush min haTorah, it appears that they can be motzi men in kiddush. (This approach appears to be implied by the Gemara, Brachos 20b).

Kiddush according to the Semag

We noted above the opinion of the Semag that women cannot be motzios men in reading the megillah, just as they cannot be called up to read the Torah. This position should apply only to a woman reading the megillah, but not to reciting kiddush, which is usually not performed publicly, but recited at home.

Arba Kosos

At this point, let us explore one of our opening questions: The elderly Mr. Klein is fully alert, but, unfortunately, he has difficulty enunciating. May Mrs. Klein recite kiddush and the other brachos of the seder for him?

Chazal required that men and women have four kosos at the seder. It is difficult to imagine that someone can be motzi someone else in this requirement – drinking the four cups of wine it a mitzvah degufei, a mitzvah that is performed with one’s body, similar to matzoh, lulav and tefillin, which preclude one person performing the mitzvah for another. However, someone can recite the brachos that pertain to these kosos for someone else.

The Gemara states that each of the four kosos is associated with a different mitzvah of the seder, and, in fact, each of these mitzvos includes at least one brocha. We hold the kos while we recite these brachos.

1. The first kos is kiddush.

2. Over the second kos, we recite the brocha of Asher Ge’alanu, which completes the mitzvah of magid.

3. The third kos is used for birkas hamazon.

4. The fourth kos is the brocha upon the completion of Hallel.

Women are obligated in all the laws of the seder, which includes reciting the brachos associated with its four kosos. Does it say whether they can be motzios a man in these brachos? Would the Bahag’s opinion that they should not be motziah a man in megillah apply to these brachos? I did not find anyone who discusses this issue.

How do we pasken?

Having explained the understanding and ramifications of all these issues, let us present the halachic conclusions:

Most late authorities conclude that, regarding the reading of the megillah, we should follow the approach of the Bahag that women should not read megillah for men, and, also, we should follow the approach of the Semag that women should not read in public for a group of women. If no man is available who can read the megillah for her, a woman may read the megillah for herself, and she may also read the megillah for another woman.

Regarding the halachos of women being motzios men in kiddush, the later authorities do not accept the approach of the Maharshal and the Bach that the same ruling applies to kiddush. Instead, they contend that when there is a valid reason for a woman to make kiddush for her family, she should do so and be motziah the male members (Magen Avraham, 271:2 and later acharonim). Regarding the bracha of Asher Ge’alanu at the seder, my halachic conclusion is that Mrs. Klein may recite these brachos and be motziah Mr. Klein with them.


Why are women exempt from mitzvos aseih shehazeman grama? Most people, and certainly several commentaries, assume that this is because a woman’s family responsibilities should not be subject to other mitzvos that may conflict with them. However, not everyone agrees with this idea. Some note that there already is a halachic principle of oseik bemitzvah patur min hamitzvah, someone occupied with fulfilling one mitzvah is exempt from performing a different mitzvah, until the first mitzvah is completed. Thus, it would seem superfluous for the Torah to have established yet another rule, to exempt women from mitzvos aseih shehazeman grama, because of the exact same rationale.

Other authorities contend that Hashem, Who created all of our neshamos, knows which mitzvos our particular soul needs in order to thrive, and each individual’s neshamah needs different mitzvos. Following this idea, it is obvious that kohanim need certain mitzvos, but are excluded from others; men require certain mitzvos and cannot fulfill others, and so, also, with women. Each person’s neshamah has its own Divinely created formula for what it needs.

Indigestible Matzos, or Performing Mitzvos When Suffering from Food Allergies

This week is Shabbos Rosh Chodesh and also Parshah Hachodesh, which discusses both the mitzvah of creating the calendar and the mitzvah of korban Pesach. Over the years, I have discussed these topics many times, and I have also written articles on some of the unique features of Shabbos Rosh Chodesh. These articles can all be found on this website. For those wanting to read up on the many topics germane to Pesach, the website also contains a variety of articles, which can be found by using the search words matzoh, Pesach, wine, kitniyos, sefiras ha’omer, hallel, yom tov, chol hamoed, or eruv tavshillin.

Question #1: I have acid reflux; as a result, I never drink any alcohol since it gives me severe heartburn. I also have difficulty tolerating grape juice, which does not agree with me. Am I required to drink either wine or grape juice for the four cups at the Seder?

Question #2: My body is intolerant of gluten. Am I required to eat matzoh on Pesach, and if so, how much?”

Question #3: How far must one go to fulfill the mitzvah of maror if the only variety available is horseradish?

Consuming matzoh, maror,
wine or grape juice is uncomfortable for many people, for a variety of reasons.
Consumption of these foods may exacerbate certain medical conditions, such as
allergies, diabetes, celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome
and reflux. To what extent must someone afflicted by these conditions extend
him/herself to fulfill these mitzvos? Does it make a difference if the
mitzvah is required min haTorah, such as matzoh, or only miderabbanan,
such as arba kosos, the mitzvah of drinking the four cups of wine at the
Seder. (Similarly, the mitzvah of maror is required today only miderabbanan,
since the Torah requires eating maror only when we offer the korban


One is never required
to perform a positive mitzvah when there is a potential threat to one’s life.
Quite the contrary, it is forbidden to carry out any mitzvah whose performance
may be life- threatening. Therefore, someone who has a potentially
life-threatening allergy or sensitivity to grain may not consume matzoh or any
other grain product – ever — and this prohibition applies fully on Seder night.


However, must one
observe these mitzvos when the situation is not life threatening,
but is painful or affects one’s wellbeing? Must one always fulfill the
mitzvah, even though doing so is extremely uncomfortable or makes one unwell?


The Gemara reports
that the great Tanna Rabbi Yehudah, who is quoted hundreds of times in
the Mishnah and Gemara, suffered from the consumption of wine.
The Gemara records the following anecdote:

Rabbi Yehudah
looked so happy that a Roman woman accused him of being inebriated. He
responded that he is a teetotaler, “Trust me that I taste wine only for
kiddush, havdalah and the four cups of Pesach. Furthermore, after drinking four
cups of wine at the Seder, I have a splitting headache that lasts until
(see Nedarim 49b).

This passage implies
that one is required to undergo a great deal of discomfort to fulfill even a
mitzvah that is rabbinic in origin, and certainly a Torah-required law, such as
consuming matzoh on Pesach. Based on this anecdote, the Rashba (Shu”t
1:238) requires someone who avoids wine because he despises its taste or
because it harms him (“mazik”) to drink the four cups; this conclusion
is quoted definitively in Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 472:10).
Thus, one might conclude that one must fulfill arba kosos in any
non-life-threatening situation, even when the consequences are unpleasant.

However, several
authorities sanction abstaining from arba kosos under certain
extenuating, but not life-threatening, circumstances, even though they also
accept the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch! For example, the Aruch
(472:14) permits someone who is ill to refrain from consuming
the four cups on Seder night, and the Mishnah Berurah rules
similarly (472:35). They explain that the harmone must experience to
fulfill the mitzvah does not include physical harm, but is limited to
discomfort or moderate pain.


In Shaar HaTziyun, the
Mishnah Berurah explains why he permits refraining from arba
under such circumstances: Becoming bedridden because one consumed arba
is not derech cheirus, which I will translate as demonstrating
. His reference to derech cheirus alludes to the following Gemara:

One who drinks the
wine undiluted has fulfilled the requirement of arba kosos, but he did not
fulfill the requirement of demonstrating freedom
(Pesachim 108b).

What does this Gemara
mean? Why does drinking one’s wine straight not fulfill this mitzvah called demonstrating

The wine of the Gemara’s
era required one to dilute it before drinking. Imbibing it straight was not
the normal method of drinking and, therefore, would not demonstrate the freedom
that the Seder emphasizes.

The Mishnah Berurah
contends that a mitzvah whose purpose is to demonstrate that we are freemen
cannot require becoming bedridden as a result. Although a potential massive
headache, such as what affected Rabbi Yehudah, does not exempt one from the
mitzvah, becoming bedridden is qualitatively worse. The Aruch HaShulchan rules
similarly, although he omits the reasoning of derech cheirus and simply
assumes that the mitzvah does not apply under these circumstances.

(There may be a
difference of opinion between the Mishnah Berurah and the Aruch
germane to mitzvas maror. The Mishnah Berurah’s
reason of derech cheirus applies only to the arba kosos, and
therefore he might hold that one must eat maror even if he becomes
bedridden as a result. However, the Aruch HaShulchan’s ruling may apply
to any rabbinic mitzvah, and thus permit someone who would become ill from
eating maror to abstain from performing this mitzvah.)


Let us assume that our
patient could drink grape juice without any ill result, but may have some
difficulty with wine. Is there a requirement for him/her to drink wine?

The Gemara states
that “One may squeeze a cluster of grapes and then immediately recite Kiddush
over it” (Bava Basra 97b). Obviously, this grape juice has no alcoholic
content, and yet it is acceptable for Kiddush.

However, the Gemara’s
ruling that someone who drank the arba kosos without dilution does not
fulfill cheirus implies that the Seder mitzvah requires a wine
with alcoholic content, and therefore grape juice does not perform this aspect
of the mitzvah. Nevertheless, someone who cannot have any alcohol may fulfill
the mitzvah of arba kosos with grape juice (Shu”t Shevet HaLevi 9:58).


Is it better for
someone to dilute their wine with water, rather than drink grape juice?

Some authorities
contend that one fulfills the concept of cheirus as long as one can
detect alcoholic content, even though the wine is diluted. However, before
diluting our wine with water, contact the manufacturer or the hechsher,
since some wines are already diluted to the maximum halachically
allowable that one can and still recite over it hagafen. The Pri
(Eishel Avraham 204:16) rules that although Chazal diluted
their wine significantly (Shabbos 77a), our wine is very weak and should
be diluted only moderately. He contends that if one adds more water than wine
the bracha becomes shehakol; one can certainly not use this wine
for Kiddush or arba kosos. The Aruch HaShulchan (204:14)
rules even more strictly, that any added water renders our wines shehakol
and invalidates them for Kiddush or arba kosos. I suspect
that this was not a dispute, but a reflection of the quality of the wine
available; the wine available to the Pri Megadim could be diluted
without ruining it, as long as there was more wine than water, whereas that
available to the Aruch HaShulchan was easily ruined.

On the other hand,
diluting wine with grape juice does not jeopardize the bracha, and, if
the alcohol content is still noticeable, one will fulfill the concept of cheirus.


If someone cannot
drink four cups of wine or grape juice, should they simply not drink anything
for the arba kosos?

The Mishnah Berurah
rules that one may substitute chamar medinah, literally, the
national “wine
.” This follows a ruling of the Rama (483) that
someone who has no available wine may fulfill the mitzvah of arba kosos with
chamar medinah.

Exactly what chamar
includes is beyond the scope of this article. For our purposes, I
will simply note that there is much discussion about this matter, some rabbonim
holding that tea or coffee qualifies, others contending that it must be
alcoholic and still others maintaining that most places today have no chamar


Thus far, we have
concluded that someone who becomes ill enough to be bedridden may not be
obligated in arba kosos, but someone who finds drinking four cups of
wine or grape juice uncomfortable and even painful, but does not become
bedridden as a result, is required to drink them. However, note that sometimes
one may be lenient and use a smaller cup and drink a smaller proportion of its
wine than we would usually permit. These are matters to discuss with one’s rav.


Our second question
above read: “My body is intolerant of gluten. Am I required to eat matzoh on
Pesach, and if so, how much?”

Our previous
discussion only explained the rules pursuant to drinking the four cups of wine,
which is a rabbinic mitzvah. Does any leniency exist to exempt someone from
eating matzoh Seder night, in non-life-threatening situations? Granted one is
certainly not required or permitted to eat matzoh if doing so may be
life-threatening; but if the results are simply discomfort, to what degree must
one extend oneself to observe a positive mitzvah min hatorah?

The Binyan Shelomoh
(#47), a nineteenth century work authored by Rav Shelomoh of Vilna, the city’s halachic
authority at the time, discusses this very issue. (Out of deference to the
Vilna Gaon, the Jewish community of Vilna appointed no one to the title of rav
from the passing of the Gaon, until the government required them to do so,
in the era of Rav Chayim Ozer Grodzenski, over a hundred and twenty years
later.) In a lengthy responsum, The Binyan Shelomoh establishes how far
someone who is ill must go to eat matzoh, when there is nothing
life-threatening. He based his analysis on the following law:

Chazal prohibited spending more than one fifth of one’s money to
fulfill a positive mitzvah (Rambam, Hilchos Arachin 8:13, based on Gemara
50a. See also Rambam’s Peirush HaMishnayos Pei’ah 1:1).

The Binyan Shelomoh
reasons that since maintaining good health is more important to most people
than spending a fifth of one’s money, one is exempt from performing a mitzvah
that will impair one’s health, even when there is no risk to one’s life. (We
find other authorities who derive similar laws from this halacha. See
for example, Shu”t Avnei Nezer, Yoreh Deah #321; Shu”t Igros Moshe,
Even HaEzer
1:57). The Binyan Shelomoh applies this rule to all mitzvos:
One is exempt from observing any mitzvah, if fulfilling it will seriously
impair one’s health. Furthermore, one could conclude that, if fulfilling a
mitzvah causes such intense discomfort that one would part with one fifth of
one’s financial resources to avoid this pain, one may forgo the mitzvah.

According to the Binyan
, if this law is true regarding matzoh, it will certainly hold true
regarding arba kosos and maror, which are only rabbinic
requirements. Thus, someone who will not be bedridden as a result of consuming arba
or maror, but whose health will be severely impaired as a
result of this consumption is absolved from fulfilling this mitzvah, as will
someone to whom the consumption is so unpleasant that he would gladly part with
one fifth of his earthly possessions to avoid this situation.


If we assume that the Mishnah
Berurah accepts the Binyan Shelomoh’s approach and vice versa, we
would reach the following conclusion:


Someone whose health
will be severely impaired is not required to eat matzoh on Pesach, even if no
life-threatening emergency results.


Aside from the above
leniency regarding matzoh, there is an additional leniency regarding the arba
.Someone who will become sick enough that he will be bedridden
is absolved from drinking four cups at the Seder, even though it will not result
in any permanent health problems. However, it is unclear whether this latter
leniency extends also to the rabbinic mitzvah of maror.


In the last few years,
matzoh for Pesach produced from either spelt or oat flour has become available.
For a variety of reasons beyond the scope of this article, only someone who may
not eat regular matzoh should eat these matzohs on Pesach. However, someone who
is absolved from eating matzoh on Pesach according to the above-mentioned
definition, but who can eat either of these varieties of matzoh, should eat
them to fulfill the mitzvah on the first night of Pesach. Someone who can
tolerate both spelt and oat matzoh should eat spelt.

Regarding this topic, the following responsum by the great nineteenth century authority, the Maharam
(Shu”t #260) is of interest.
Someone for whom eating matzoh or maror was potentially life-threatening
insisted on eating them at the Seder, against the halacha. The Maharam
Shik was asked whether this person should recite the bracha al
achilas matzoh
before eating the matzoh and al achilas maror before
eating the maror!

The Maharam Shik
responded that he is uncertain whether the patient may recite any bracha
at all before eating the matzoh and the maror, even the bracha of
! His reason is that consuming harmful food is not considered
eating, but is considered damaging oneself, and one does not recite a bracha
prior to inflicting self-harm! The Maharam then questions his
supposition, demonstrating that someone who overeats recites a bracha, even
though he is clearly damaging himself. He therefore concludes that one does not
recite a bracha when eating something that causes immediate damage.
However, when eating something where the damage is not immediate, reciting a bracha
before eating is required.

Pursuant to the
original shaylah whether one recites al achilas matzoh before
eating the matzoh and al achilas maror before eating the maror,
the Maharam Shik concludes that one should not recite
these brachos in this situation. Since the patient is not permitted to
eat matzoh and maror which is dangerous to his life, he is not
performing a mitzvah when eating them, but a sin of ignoring the proper care
his body requires, and one does not recite a bracha prior to transgressing.

In conclusion, anyone
to whom these shaylos are, unfortunately, relevant should discuss them
with his/her rav. We found that the Shulchan Aruch rules that one
is required to fulfill arba kosos, even if one will suffer a severe
headache as a result, and certainly if one despises the taste. However, should
one become bedridden as a result or suffer severe health consequences, there
are authorities who permit forgoing drinking wine or grape juice and
substituting a different beverage that qualifies as chamar medinah.
Similarly, there are authorities who permit forgoing consuming matzoh at the
Seder if one would suffer severe health consequences as a result — even if the
situation is not life-threatening.

Although not everyone
may be able to fulfill the mitzvos of eating matzoh, maror, and arba
, hopefully, all will be able to discuss the miracles that Hashem
performed when removing us from Egypt. In the merit of joyously performing the mitzvos
of Seder night, may we soon see the return of the Divine Presence to
Yerushalayim, the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash, and be zocheh
to fulfill all of these mitzvos, including the korban pesach!