Question: How much matzah must one eat at the Pesach Seder?
Answer: The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 486:1) rules that one must eat at least an olive’s worth (kzayit) of matzah to fulfill the mitzvah. It states that an olive is equivalent to half of an egg. The Noda B’Yehudah argues that eggs in Talmudic times were much larger than eggs nowadays. Accordingly, whatever amount one comes up with for a kzayit must be doubled. The Mishnah Berurah rules that people should follow this stringent opinion when observing biblical mitzvot.
Rav Moshe Shternbuch (Haggada of Pesach p.42, rule 5) notes that, practically speaking, this stringency means that one should eat 30 grams, or the size of a whole matzah, to fulfill the mitzvah. Since there is a debate whether the kzayit should come from the broken matzah or the whole one, Rav Shternbuch notes that one should eat a kzayit from both the whole and broken matzot.
But is this the minhag of klal Yisrael? Many people who have spent a Pesach Seder with chassidic Rebbes report that they hand out very small pieces of matzah to those at the table. In addition, many people don’t recall eating so much matzah when they were growing up. They received relatively small pieces from the head of the family and that was it. Was everyone just ignorant of basic halacha?
Based on the belief that that there must be a halachic rationale for such a widespread custom, the following is suggested as a possible explanation:
The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 271:13) rules that a person who makes kiddush on Friday night should drink at least a mouthful (melo lugmav) of wine. If he doesn’t drink the requisite amount but everyone collectively does, the Shulchan Aruch writes: “some say they have fulfilled their obligation since their collective drinking combines to complete the required measure.” The Mishnah Berurah (271:72) rules that this is only true post facto (bidi’eved). Initially, though (l’chat’chila), the person making kiddush should drink the requisite amount himself.
The Aruch HaShulchan (271:36) discusses this issue at length. Those who argue that the person making kiddush must drink the required amount himself reason that a person doesn’t derive pleasure from drinking less than this amount. Those who argue that it’s not necessary reason that a person derives pleasure even from a sip (which is why drinking even a small amount of wine requires a blessing). This is the position of the Ritva.
In an attempt to find support for this latter position, the Aruch HaShulchan notes that the Talmud (Yoma 39a) states that kohanim in the Beit Hamikdash ate less than a kzayit of the lechem hapanim even though the verse, “And they shall eat it in a holy place” (Vayikra 24:9), requires the eating of at least a kzayit. The Aruch HaShulchan argues that the only way this Gemara makes sense is if it maintains that the requisite kzayit may be eaten collectively.
Thus, if a group can combine to drink the minimum amount of kiddush wine and if a group of kohanim can combine to eat the minimum amount of lechem hapanim bread, perhaps everyone sitting at the Pesach Seder may combine to eat the minimum amount of matzah. If that is the case, no single individual at the Seder would need to eat very much matzah.
Rabbi Cohen, a “Jerusalem Prize” recipient, has just published “Jewish Prayer The Right Way: Resolving Halachic Dilemmas” (Urim Publications), available at Amazon.com and Judaica stores.