Pesach – The First Question Is:
“How quickly must I eat my matzoh on Pesach to be able to bensch?”
Matzoh – The Second Question Is:
“How quickly must I eat my matzoh at the Seder to fulfill the mitzvah?”
Maror – The Third Question Is:
“How quickly must I eat my maror at the Seder to fulfill the mitzvah?”
Wine – The Fourth Question Is:
“How quickly must I drink the wine of the four kosos at the Seder?”
In some households, there is a big rush to eat the matzoh as quickly as possible, and similar pressure to eat the maror and drink the four cups of wine at the Seder. This article will research how quickly we must eat or drink mitzvah foods to fulfill the Torah’s requirements. Since this is a vast topic, our article will be focused on some of its specific aspects. Were we to attempt to cover more of the subtopics, we would be biting off more than we can chew.
In several places, the Gemara states that shiurim, the measurements that are a very important aspect of the halachos of the Torah, are halacha leMoshe miSinai (Eruvin 4a; Sukkah 5a). This means that when Moshe Rabbeinu was taught the Torah by Hashem, he was taught the quantities necessary to fulfill the mitzvos, although there is little or no allusion to these details in the written Torah. For example, the halacha that one must eat at least a kezayis (an olive-sized piece) of matzoh to fulfill the mitzvah is a halacha leMoshe miSinai (Brachos 37b; Rashi, Sukkah 42b).
The mitzvah to eat maror at the Seder is min haTorah only when there is also a korban Pesach. Until the time that we are again able to offer the korban Pesach, which we pray will be in time for this year, the mitzvah of eating maror is only a rabbinic requirement. Notwithstanding the fact that the requirement to eat maror is only miderabbanan, we are still required to eat a kezayis to fulfill the mitzvah (Rosh, Pesachim 10:25).
How big is an olive?
As we are aware, Hashem created olives, like most items, in different sizes. How big an olive is intended to fulfill the mitzvos? The Mishnah states that it is an average-sized olive (Keilim 17:8). Of course, this may not help us, since we do not know what the Mishnah considered to be “average-sized.” Among the acharonim, this became a very hot topic, with some prominent authorities ruling that the olives available in the contemporary world are considerably smaller than what was considered an “average” olive of the days of Chazal (Tzelach, Pesachim 116b). Although most authorities disagree with this approach, accepted practice is to be stringent and follow this opinion, at least in regard to fulfilling mitzvos min haTorah (see Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim 1:127; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 168:13, Yoreh Deah 324:5, 6; Shi’urei Torah of Rav Avraham Chayim Na’eh 3, note 19). This explains why the amounts we find that many authorities mention for the mitzvah of matzoh is much larger than the size of any olive that we have ever encountered. Also, since most authorities rule this way only germane to mitzvos that are min haTorah, this explains why the size of a kezayis for the mitzvah of achilas matzoh is greater than it is for the mitzvah of koreich or for bensching, which are not requirements min haTorah.
How much must I imbibe?
The mitzvah to drink four cups of wine at the Seder is rabbinic in origin, and, therefore, by definition, was not taught at Sinai. When Chazal instituted this mitzvah, they required that a person have a cup that contains at least what they called a revi’is. (Most late authorities calculate a revi’is to be a little more than three ounces, but some feel that it is closer to five ounces or even a bit more. Because of space constraints, we will not be able to discuss the details of this question.) Regarding how much must be drunk, most authorities contend that it is preferable to drink an entire revi’is, although all agree that someone who drank most, but not all, of the revi’is has fulfilled the mitzvah.
What is the halacha if someone is using a cup that is larger than a revi’is? Is it sufficient for him to drink most of a revi’is, or must he drink most of the volume of the cup, even when that is more than a revi’is? The rishonim discuss this issue, some contending that it is sufficient to drink most of a revi’is, whereas the Ramban rules that he must drink most of the contents of the cup that he is using (quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 472). To accommodate both opinions, the Magen Avraham advises that someone who cannot drink a lot of wine should use a goblet that holds only the minimum amount of a revi’is.
Although the minimal amount for most mitzvos that involve eating is a kezayis, this rule is not universal. Yom Kippur is one example that is different, where the minimum amount to be culpable for the Torah’s punishment of koreis is the eating of a koseves, the size of a large date, which is considerably larger than an olive. Based on a passage of Gemara, the rishonim conclude that a koseves is slightly smaller than a kebeitzah, the size of an egg (Yoma 79b; Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 612:1).
The Gemara (Yoma 73b) discusses whether it is prohibited min haTorah to eat less than a koseves on Yom Kippur. The universally accepted conclusion is that it is prohibited min haTorah to eat or drink even a small amount on Yom Kippur, unless the situation is life-threatening. The well-known concept called pachus mikeshiur, which permits eating less than a koseves or drinking an amount smaller than the minimal shiur and then waiting several minutes before eating or drinking again,is permitted only when fasting is potentially life-threatening. The principle of pachus mikeshiur is that, even when it is permitted for someone to eat on Yom Kippur, we are required to minimize the level of the violation (Ran, based on Yoma 82b). In other words, in a situation in which it is dangerous for someone to fast, he may eat or drink only the minimal amount that mitigates the life-threatening emergency. If he can eat a very small amount and then wait to eat more, he may not eat more, now.
In parshas Eikev, where the Torah requires that we recite a blessing after eating, it states, Ve’achalta vesavata uveirachta es Hashem Elokecha, “When you eat and are satisfied, you should bless Hashem, your G-d.” The implication of the posuk is that the requirement to bensch is only when someone ate enough to be fully satisfied, meaning that he ate a full meal. Indeed, most halachic authorities rule that this is true min haTorah, and that the requirement to bensch when eating less than this amount is only rabbinic.
The Gemara quotes a dispute among tanna’im how much food requires the recital of birchas hamazon, and the conclusion is that it is required whenever someone ate a kezayis, the same minimum required for the mitzvos of matzoh and maror. Someone who ate less than a kezayis of bread, whether it is leavened or not, is not required to recite birkas hamazon, and, therefore, it is forbidden to recite birkas hamazon if one ate less than a kezayis.
At this point, we can begin discussing the opening question of today’s article: “How quickly must I eat my matzoh on Pesach to be able to bensch?” In other words, is there a minimum amount of time within which I must eat a kezayis of matzoh to be required to bensch? This question introduces our next subtopic.
Among the many measurements that the Oral Torah teaches is the concept of kdei achilas pras. I will shortly explain what this term means, but first I will explain the principle. Fulfilling the mitzvos of eating matzoh and maror requires not only eating at least a kezayis, but also that the kezayis be eaten within a minimal period of time. Similarly, there is a requirement to bensch when eating at least a kezayis of bread, but only when it is eaten within a minimal timeframe. The minimal time limit required for all mitzvos germane to eating is to eat the specified amount within a period of time called kdei achilas pras (see Pesochim 114b).
Literally, kdei achilas pras means as much time as it takes to eat half a loaf of bread. This is, of course, meaningless, unless we know the size of the loaf, what type of bread it is, who is eating it, and under what circumstances. How big a loaf is the subject of a dispute among the tanna’im, and how we rule in this dispute is, itself, disputed by the most prominent of rishonim: The Rambam’s opinion is that kdei achilas pras is the amount of time it takes to eat white bread the size of three eggs (Hilchos Shevisas Asor 2:4; Hilchos Chometz Umatzoh 1:6; Hilchos Ma’achalos Asuros 14:8; see also Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 39:18), whereas Rashi (Brachos 37b; Pesochim 44a; Avodah Zarah 67a) concludes that it is the amount of time it takes to eat white bread the size of four eggs. We will discuss shortly how we measure this in minutes, but it does mean that whatever the timeframe is according to the Rambam, Rashi holds that it is one third longer.
The time limit of kdei achilas pras applies not only to mitzvos but also to prohibitions. For example, there are Torah prohibitions against eating non-kosher species, or against eating blood or cheilev, certain fats. Although it is prohibited min haTorah to eat any amount of these substances, the punishments that the Torah describes are only when someone eats a kezayis of these prohibited foods within kdei achilas pras.
The Shulchan Aruch quotes the dispute between Rashi and the Rambam without making a decision which approach we should follow. For this reason, the consensus of the subsequent authorities is that we should always be stringent, at least when we are dealing with a de’oraysa case.
Does the size of kdei achilas pras depend on how quickly this individual eats, or does it depend on how long it takes most people to eat? Germane to the law of consuming pachus mikeshiur on Yom Kippur, where we are trying to determine how long a person must wait between eating minimal portions of food, the Mishnah Berurah (618:21) states that this is contingent on how long it takes the person in question to eat bread the size of four eggs. However, the Mishnah Berurah then quotes the Chasam Sofer, who rules that someone eating pachus mikeshiur on Yom Kippur should allow at least nine minutes between one eating and the next. This ruling of an objective time figure assumes that the time of kdei achilas pras is dependent not on the individual, but is a standard measurement. The latter approach is what many later authorities conclude (Chazon Ish, Orach Chayim 39:18; Shi’urei Torah 3:13 and others). Because of questions germane to the Mishnah Berurah’s statement on this issue, some prominent later authorities conclude that the Mishnah Berurah himself did not mean that kdei achilas pras is dependent on the individual; he also agrees that kdei achilas pras is dependent on an “average” person, whatever that term means.
Kdei achilas pras
How many minutes constitute the time that we call kdei achilas pras? This question is discussed by the acharonim, with a wide range of opinions. Since the different approaches are based more on conjecture than on absolute proof, most authorities rule that we should follow a much longer amount of time when it is a chumra, such as on Yom Kippur, when we are gauging how to space the food in a way that mitigates the prohibition, whereas on Pesach night we should follow a much shorter amount of time, since we are deciding the minimum amount of time in which to eat the kezayis of matzoh.
I mentioned above the ruling of the Chasam Sofer that kdei achilas pras is nine minutes, which is the longest opinion of which I am aware. The Maharam Shik, a proud disciple of the Chasam Sofer, explains that this calculation should really be eight minutes, but that the Chasam Sofer added an extra minute to be on the safe side (Shu”t Maharam Shik, Orach Chayim #263). The Bikurei Yaakov,a prominent work on the laws of sukkah written by Rav Yaakov Ettlinger, the author of the classics Aruch Laneir and Binyan Tziyon, holds that it is sufficient to wait only 7.5 minutes. To quote him in context: “It is forbidden to eat more than a kebeitzah outside the sukkah… however it seems to me that this is only when he ate it within kdei achilas pras, which is approximately 1/8 of an hour” (Bikurei Yaakov 639:13). One eighth of an hour is seven and a half minutes; however, the Aruch Laneir does not tell us how he arrived at that figure. The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 618:14) is more lenient than any of the opinions we have quoted so far, ruling that kdei achilas pras in regard to someone who is eating on Yom Kippur pachus mikeshiur is “six or seven” minutes.
Kezayis and matzoh
Thus far, we have been estimating kdei achilas pras when a longer period of time is a chumra, as it is germane to pachus mikeshiur on Yom Kippur and eating outside of the sukkah. However, in our opening questions regarding the minimum time within which we must eat our kezeisim of matzoh and maror on Pesach, the shorter period of time for kdei achilas pras is the chumra. There are a few opinions that contend that the amount of time within which to eat a kezayis of matzoh is less than three minutes. For example, the Marcheshes (Orach Chayim 1:14:6) rules that the minimum time within which it is required to eat a kezayis of matzoh is 2.7 minutes. Because of considerations beyond the scope of this article, Rav Avraham Chayim Na’eh (Shi’urei Torah 3:15) writes that this is too short a time. In a very lengthy essay, he discusses many opinions and analyzes their sources. He concludes that one should try to follow the most stringent approach, but he rejects those who consider kdei achilas pras to be less than four minutes. Therefore, he concludes that one should try to eat the first kezayis of matzoh within four minutes, but for pachus mikeshiur on Yom Kippur, one should assume that the time of kdei achilas pras is nine minutes.
However, other authorities rule that one should be stricter regarding the timeframe within which to eat the kezayis of matzoh and perhaps even other mitzvos. The Aruch Hashulchan (202:8) concludes that kdei achilas pras for these purposes should be calculated at “three or four minutes,” being more stringent than Rav Avraham Chayim Na’eh. Rav Moshe Feinstein concludes that one should eat the kezayis of matzoh within three minutes. He rules this way even regarding rabbinic laws, concluding that bensching requires eating a kezayis of bread within less than three minutes (Shu”t Igros Moshe, Orach Chayim 4:41 s.v. Al kal panim).
Thus, we can now answer the second and third of our opening questions: “How quickly must I eat my matzoh at the Seder to fulfill the mitzvah?” and “How quickly must I eat my maror at the Seder to fulfill the mitzvah?” Since the mitzvah of matzoh is min haTorah, according to Rav Na’eh, one should try to complete it within four minutes.
Food versus beverage
At this point, we will address the last of our four opening questions:
“How quickly must I drink the wine of the four kosos at the Seder?”
Until now, we have been discussing kdei achilas pras. To the best of my knowledge, this is universally accepted as the minimal timeframe for all mitzvos that involve eating. However, whether this is the minimal time for drinking of beverages is a dispute among the rishonim. The Maharitz Gei’us, one of the early Spanish rishonim (he was the Rif’s predecessor as the rav of Lucena, Spain), and the Rambam rule that the minimal time limit for drinking is the amount of time it takes to drink a revi’is, which, according to the Aruch Hashulchan, is perhaps as short as a minute (see Orach Chayim 202:8). (Some authorities rule that the amount of time to drink a revi’is is shorter.) On the other hand, other halachic authorities, including the Ra’avad (Hilchos Terumos 10:3), the Ran (Yoma) and the Gra (Orach Chayim 612:10), rule that the minimum timeframe for beverages is kdei achilas pras, the same as it is for foods. This dispute has major ramifications for many halachos, including what is the minimum time allowed to drink each of the four cups of wine.
How do we rule?
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 612:10), in the laws of Yom Kippur, rules that the primary opinion is that the minimal timeframe for beverages is the time it takes to drink a revi’is, although he also mentions the approach that the timeframe is kdei achilas pras. Many late authorities assume that it remains unresolved whether the requirement for drinking the wine at the Seder is the very short amount of time it takes to drink a revi’is or the considerably longer time of kdei achilas pras, and, therefore, it is best to drink each of the four kosos without interruption, to accommodate the stricter approach.
As Rav Hirsch proves, the Bnei Yisroel were taught the details of the oral Torah years before we were given the finished written Torah, which we first received shortly before or shortly after Moshe Rabbeinu’s passing, depending on two opinions in the Gemara. Moshe taught us the oral Torah, including the shiurim of mitzvos throughout the forty years in the Desert. Thus, we see the importance of being careful with the details of these laws, even though they are not mentioned in the written Torah.