Indigestible Matzos, or Performing Mitzvos When Suffering from Food Allergies

clip_image002[1]Question #1: I have acid reflux, and 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 to 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 when the only variety available is straight horseradish?

Consuming matzoh, maror, wine or grape juice is uncomfortable for many people for a variety of reasons. Consumption of these foods exacerbates many 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 whether 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 pesach.)

PIKUACH NEFESH

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 to grain may not consume matzoh or any other grain product – ever — and this prohibition applies fully on Seder night.

NOT DANGEROUS BUT UNPLEASANT

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? As always, our column is not intended to provide psak halacha; that should be left for one’s personal rav. Our goal is to provide halachic background.

RABBI YEHUDAH’S HEADACHE

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 tells us 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 Shavuos” (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 HaShulchan (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 harm (in Hebrew, mazik) one must undergo to fulfill the mitzvah does not include physical harm, but is limited to discomfort or moderate pain.

DERECH CHEIRUS

In Shaar HaTziyun, the Mishnah Berurah explains why he permits refraining from arba kosos under such circumstances: Becoming bedridden because one consumed arba kosos is not derech cheirus, which I will translate as demonstrating freedom. 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 freedom?

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 does 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 could not apply under these circumstances.

(There may be a difference in opinion between the Mishnah Berurah and the Aruch HaShulchan 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.)

ALCOHOLIC CONTENT

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).

DILUTING WINE

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

Some authorities contend that one fulfills this 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 and still recite over it hagafen. The Pri Megadim (Eishel Avraham 204:16) rules that although Chazal diluted their wine significantly (Shabbos 77a), our wine is very weak and should be diluted very 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 stricter, that any added water renders our wines into 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 still fulfills the concept of cheirus.

ARBA KOSOS SUBSTITUTES

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 medinah 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 medinah.

SOME PRACTICAL SUGGESTIONS

Thus far, we have concluded that someone who will become 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 more 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.

WHAT ABOUT MATZOH?

Our second question above read: “My body is intolerant to 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, that 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 must someone ill 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 Kesubos 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 Shelomoh, 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 kosos 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.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN MATZOH AND WINE

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

MATZOH:

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

ARBA KOSOS:

In addition to the above leniencies regarding matzoh, there is an additional lenience regarding the arba kosos. Someone who will become sick enough that they will become 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 also extends to the rabbinic mitzvah of maror.

NON-WHEAT FLOURS

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.

No discussion of this topic is complete without mention of the following responsum by the great nineteenth century authority, the Maharam Shik (Shu”t #260). Someone for whom eating matzoh or maror is 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 hamotzi! His reason is that consuming harmful food is not considered eating, but 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 since it 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 instead 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 kosos, 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 and the rededication of the Beis HaMikdash, and be zocheh to fulfill all of these mitzvos including the korban pesach!

Only the Choicest of Wine – What’s Best for Kiddush and Arba Kosos?

clip_image002Yankel enters my study, with one of his inquisitive looks on his face.

“Rabbi,” he begins, “I have heard that it is best to use red, non-pasteurized wine at the seder. However, my father-in-law likes Chablis, which is a white wine, and my mother-in-law never drinks any wine. The grape juice she likes is from concentrate, and someone told me that one cannot use it for kiddush. What should I do?”

Knowing that Yankel likes very complete explanations, I prepared myself for a lengthy conversation.

“Let us divide your shaylah into its four constituent parts: Color, cooked (mevushal), alcohol, and concentrate. We’ll discuss each part of the shaylah separately and then we’ll see what is preferable to use.”

RED OR WHITE

The Gemara (Bava Basra 97b) quotes the following discussion: Rav Kahana asked Rava “May one use chamar chivaryin, white wine.” Rava answered him by quoting a pasuk in Mishlei (23:31), “Do not pay attention to how red your wine becomes,” (meaning focus your life on permanent, spiritual values and not on the transient and physical). The pasuk implies that the redder the wine, the better its quality.

This Gemara, which is discussing the requirements of wine for kiddush and other mitzvos, implies that one may not use white wine for kiddush, and indeed this is the way the Ramban rules (ad loc.). However, Rashbam concludes that the Gemara is discussing only whether white wine is kosher for nisuch (libation) on the mizbeiach, but it may be used for kiddush. Others reach the same conclusion that our white wine is acceptable for kiddush, but for a different reason. They contend that the Gemara is not discussing quality white wine, but inferior wine that has no color at all (Tosafos). (White wine is always light-colored or yellowish.) According to this opinion, quality white wine is acceptable even for the mizbeiach.

The halacha is that one should preferably use a red wine unless the white wine is better quality (Rama 472:11; Mishnah Berurah 272:10). At the seder, there is an additional reason to use red wine, because it reminds us of Pharaoh’s slaughter of Bnei Yisroel (Mishnah Berurah 472:38). Therefore, if one chooses to use white wine, some suggest mixing red wine into the white wine to give it a little red color (Piskei Tshuvos 472:10). When mixing the wine, it is preferred to pour the red wine into the cup first and then add the white. If one adds red wine to white wine he will color the white wine, which is prohibited on Shabbos and Yom Tov according to some poskim because of the melacha of tzove’a, dyeing or coloring (see Mishnah Berurah 320:56).

MEVUSHAL (Cooked)

Cooking wine harms it, and cooking grape juice affects its ability to ferment naturally. Indeed, some winemakers never pasteurize the juice from which they produce their wines because heating compromises the taste. For these reasons, halacha views wine that is mevushal as inferior, and this has several ramifications. The prohibition not to use wine touched by a gentile, stam yeinam, does not exist if the wine was mevushal before the gentile handled it (Gemara Avodah Zarah 30a). This is because no self-respecting idolater would consecrate cooked wine to his deity (Rambam, Hilchos Maachalei Asuros 11:9; cf. Rosh, Avodah Zarah 2:12 who explains the halacha somewhat differently).

Similarly, one may not pour cooked wine as a libation for a korban. Some poskim contend that mevushal wine is so inferior that one does not recite hagafen on it but shehakol, and that it is invalid for kiddush and arba kosos (see Tosafos Bava Basra 97a s.v. ileima; Tur Orach Chayim, Chapter 272). Although we recite hagafen on mevushal wine and rule that it is kosher for kiddush and arba kosos (Shulchan Aruch 472:12), one should try to use uncooked wine unless the mevushal wine is superior (Rama 272:8; Mishnah Berurah 472:39).

There is one situation where one must use mevushal wine, and that is when gentiles might handle open bottles of wine. This is why most hechsherim insist that all wine served in restaurants and at catered events be mevushal.

Incidentally, almost all bottlers in North America pasteurize their juice before bottling. Commercial pasteurization of juice products is usually at about 180° Fahrenheit.

BUT I HEARD THAT PASTEURIZATION DOES NOT NECESSARILY EQUAL BISHUL?

The early poskim state that heating wine until it begins to evaporate makes it mevushal (Shach, Yoreh Deah 123:7, quoting Rashba and Ran). How hot is this temperature? Rav Moshe Feinstein ruled that 175° Fahrenheit is definitely hot enough to be considered mevushal (Igros Moshe, Yoreh Deah 2:52; see also 3:31), although some poskim contend that wine must be heated to a much higher temperature (see Darchei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 123:15; Minchas Shlomo 1:25). Because of this dispute, some hechsherim rule that only wine and grape juice that is heated until boiling is considered mevushal, whereas others consider all commercially available grape juice as mevushal.

However, some poskim contend that the laws of mevushal wine do not apply to contemporary pasteurized juice since the processing is made in a way that the wine does not taste inferior (Shu”t Minchas Shlomoh 1:25). Thus, one could use wine made from pasteurized juice or pasteurized juice without any concern, but one should not use wine that was cooked after fermentation which definitely tastes inferior. According to this opinion, a gentile touching pasteurized wine or grape juice will make it prohibited.

At this point in my monologue, Yankel interjected a question:

“I am not sure if I understood you correctly. If grape juice is usually pasteurized, then according to Rav Moshe’s psak, it is all mevushal. And, since one should preferably not use mevushal wine, one should not use grape juice for kiddush or arba kosos?”

“That is correct,” I responded. “Actually, there is also another reason why it is preferable to use wine for arba kosos.”

WINE VS. GRAPE JUICE

One may use freshly pressed grape juice for kiddush, even though it contains no alcohol (Gemara Bava Basra 97b). However, one should preferably not use grape juice for the seder as I will explain.

In the time of the Gemara, wine was so strong that people diluted it with three parts water (per one part wine) before using it for kiddush and other mitzvos. The Gemara teaches that someone who drank the wine without dilution fulfills the mitzvah of drinking four cups of wine, but does not fulfill the mitzvah of cheirus, freedom (Pesachim 108b). This is because the complete mitzvah of arba kosos requires drinking wine with a pleasurable amount of alcohol. This undiluted wine is too strong and not pleasurable. We derive from this Gemara that wine is better for the seder than grape juice, because the alcoholic content of the wine provides the element of cheirus.

However, someone who cannot drink wine may fulfill the mitzvah of arba kosos with grape juice.

Yankel interjected another question. “My mother-in-law never drinks wine the rest of the year. If I tell her that she should drink wine, she will do it because of the mitzvah. How much wine must she drink?”

“She can use a small cup that holds exactly a revi’is of wine with very low alcohol content or even mix wine and grape juice in the cup so that one can barely notice the alcohol and she will fulfill this mitzvah,” I replied. “The poskim dispute how much is a revi’is, with different opinions ranging from three ounces to five ounces. This the minimum amount of wine for each of the four cups. She is required to drink only a little more than half the cup, although it is better if she drinks the entire cup. She should drink the entire last cup in order to recite the bracha acharonah.”

RECONSTITUTED GRAPE JUICE

Reconstituting grape juice involves evaporating at least 80% of the water that is naturally part of the juice, and then later adding water back. (Juice is concentrated and then reconstituted because it saves tremendous amounts of shipping and storage costs, and because the concentrate has a longer shelf life.) It is important to note that the concentrate is not drinkable before adding water.

Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach has a lengthy tshuvah whether reconstituted grape juice may be used for kiddush and whether its correct bracha is shehakol or hagafen. The basis of his discussion follows:

The correct bracha on all beverages except wine is shehakol. Wine merits a unique bracha because it is special in that it “makes man and Hashem happy” (see Mishnah and Gemara Berachos 35a). Men appreciate the intoxicating properties of wine, and in addition, it is the only liquid that the Torah commands us to pour on the mizbeiach every day. (Water, the only other liquid ever poured on the mizbeiach, is only poured on the mizbeiach during Sukkos.)

Grape juice does not have all of these qualities since it does not contain any alcohol. However, since it can potentially become wine, it merits the special bracha of hagafen and may be used for kiddush.

Rav Shlomo Zalman posed the following question: Do we consider natural grape juice as a mixture of the tasty part of the grape and plain water, or do we make no distinctions and consider grape juice as a mixture of everything inside the grape?

Obviously, everyone will conclude that grape juice is what grows inside the grape. Although natural juice is over ninety percent water, the water that grows inside the grape is considered grape juice, not water. However, water added to concentrate does not metamorphose into juice but remains water. Thus, he rules that the finished product is concentrate mixed with water and not pure grape juice.

“I understand that the water in a cup of reconstituted grape juice should not be counted and therefore you should not use it for kiddush,” Yankel interjected. “But I don’t see why there is a shaylah what bracha to make since you are tasting and drinking natural grape juice?”

“Good question,” I responded. “However, Rav Shlomo Zalman points out that the concentrate may not be considered grape juice since during the processing it becomes undrinkable. Therefore, the juice is no longer a prize beverage that warrants its own unique bracha, nor can it potentially become wine. This is why Rav Shlomo Zalman conjectures that even after the juice is reconstituted, its bracha may be shehakol, not hagafen (Minchas Shlomoh #4). Although some poskim disagree with Rav Shlomo Zalman’s conclusions, it is advisable not to use reconstituted juice for kiddush and arba kosos (Shu”t Minchas Yitzchok 8:14; ViZos HaBeracha pg. 116; Piskei Tshuvos, 272:2).

Yankel had one more question. “I was told that one should not drink a new wine during the seder meal that was not on the table at the beginning of the seder. Is this true, and if so, why?”

“Answering this question requires an introduction,” I responded.

HATOV VEHAMEITIV

When there is one wine on the table and the host serves another variety of wine, Chazal instituted a special bracha called “Hatov vehameitiv.” This bracha demonstrates our appreciation of the increased joy brought about by having varieties of wine (Mishnah Berurah 175:2). (Some authorities explain that the reason for this bracha is the exact opposite. To make sure that the additional wine does not cause too much frivolity, we recite a bracha that reminds us of the destruction of Beitar when the Romans crushed the Bar Kochba rebellion [Kad HaKemach]. Chazal instituted the fourth bracha of bensching, which is also called “Hatov vehameitiv,” when the Jews finally received permission to bury the thousands of people killed. Thus, the bracha on the new wine reminds us of the bracha recited because of that tragedy.)

Someone who brings out a new bottle of wine in the middle of the seder should technically recite the bracha of hatov vehameitiv. However, many poskim contend that reciting an extra bracha on a cup of wine makes it appear that one is adding another cup to the four that Chazal instituted (Maharil, as explained by Mishnah Berurah 175:2). Therefore, they ruled that one should not bring out a new variety of wine during the seder meal.

Yankel prepared to leave. “So which wine is choicest?” I asked him.

“One should drink a red wine that has never been cooked. However, if a white or cooked wine is better, one should use the better wine. Someone who does not like wine may mix grape juice with wine as long as they can still taste the alcohol, but they should not use reconstituted grape juice.”

“May we all have a Yom Tov of freedom and celebration!”