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The accepted halacha is clear that matzah for the Seder should be shmurah mish’at ketzirah – made from grain protected from contact with water since the time of harvest. This type of matzah is colloquially referred to as “shmurah matzah.” However, some individuals consume such matzah not only at the Seder but throughout Pesach and refuse to eat any other. Is this practice worthwhile?

The requirement that matzah for the Seder be shmurah – literally, “guarded” – originates from the Torah’s statement “And you shall guard the unleavened breads” (Exodus 12:17). While other interpretations of the verse are possible (see Rashbam), Chazal’s halachic exegesis takes it literally: We must “guard” the matzah during its production to ensure that it not become chametz (Pesachim 38 and 40a).[i]

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But isn’t this requirement obvious? How can one eat anything made from dough on Pesach without protecting it from leavening? The Talmud states that to avoid transgressing the prohibition of chametz, it would technically be sufficient to assess dough prepared by a non-Jew for signs of leavening.[ii] If one found it to be unleavened, one could bake it and consume it on Pesach. For the mitzvah of eating matzah at the Seder, however, a Jew must actively “guard” the dough-making process.

One should use guarded matzah – i.e., shmurah matzah – for hamotzi at the Seder and for the kezayit of matzah eaten at the end of the meal (the “afikoman”).[iii] But if one does not have enough for both, one should save the shmurah matzah for the meal’s end. Rav Huna presents this rule concisely: “One may eat one’s fill of gentiles’ dough so long as one eats an olive’s bulk of matzah at the end” (Pesachim 40a).

The Gemara indicates that matzah need not actually be watched from the time of harvest to be considered “guarded.” Rather, it’s sufficient for it to have been watched from the beginning of the kneading process – i.e., when the grain is first mixed with water and could conceivably become chametz (see also Yerushalmi, Beitzah 1:10).

The Gemara, however, quotes the view of Rava, who maintains that guarding matzah from the time of kneading is insufficient. Indeed, he even instructed people who assembled bundles of grain for matzah during harvesting season to bear in mind that these bundles would be used for matzah. Mar, the son of Ravina, seems to have held a similar opinion, as his mother prepared for him special vessels of grain to use for matzah (Pesachim 40b).

Rava’s opinion is the source of the contemporary practice to eat matzah shmurah mish’at ketzirah. But why should we follow his opinion when the Gemara cannot find any support for it and seems to conclude that guarding from the time of kneading suffices?

The Rif (Pesachim 12a) and Rambam (Hilchot Chametz uMatzah 5:9) maintain that the Talmud quotes Rava’s opinion despite it being at variance with the Gemara’s conclusion in order to teach us that it should be considered normative.

Interestingly, the Rambam (and probably the Rif as well)[iv] maintains that Rava’s opinion is more stringent than the Gemara’s conclusion in another way: He believes that Rava requires “guarding,” not just for matzah eaten at the Seder, but for all grain one consumes on Pesach. Thus, the Rambam is the source for the practice to eat only matzah that is shmurah mish’at ketzirah for all of Pesach.

Although eating such matzah is ideal according to the Rambam and Rif, it’s clear that they don’t consider it an absolute requirement even for the Seder, let alone for the rest of Pesach (Maggid Mishneh and Rabbeinu Manoach ad loc.).[v] After all, both rule (based on Rav Huna’s statement) that if one has an extremely limited quantity of “guarded matzah,” one should save it for the afikoman; the rest of the time, one may eat “non-guarded” matzah (Rif, Pesachim 27a; Rambam, Hilchot Chametz uMatzah 8:13).

Although the Rif and Rambam are central halachic authorities, all other poskim disagree with them in this matter. In the view of all other poskim, Rava’s position – if it is to be accepted at all – applies only to the matzah used to fulfill the mitzvah at the Seder. For the rest of Passover, no guarding is necessary at all – not even from the time of kneading (see Beit Yosef, Orach Chayim 453).

Even regarding matzah at the Seder, not all authorities advocate following Rava’s opinion. The Rosh states that since the Gemara clearly rejects Rava’s stringent definition of “guarding,” Rava’s (and Mar son of Ravina’s) insistence on watching the grain from the time of harvest despite this rejection must have been a personal stringency (Pesachim 2:26). The basic halacha follows the Gemara’s conclusion; one may thus purchase flour “from the marketplace” and need not begin guarding the matzah for the Seder until the time of kneading.[vi]

In practice, however, the Rosh records that although Ashkenazic Jews did not observe Rava’s stringency to its full extent,[vii] they were not so lenient as to only supervise matzah from the time of kneading. They compromised at shmurah mish’at techinah – guarding from the time of milling the grain into flour. The Rosh considers this approach very sensible; after all, that is when grain is first brought into proximity with water (since mills were water-powered in those days). (See also Rashi, Chullin 7a s.v. “di’v’mitzvah.”[viii])

The Shulchan Aruch does not even mention the opinion of the Rif and Rambam and states explicitly that the requirement of guarding applies only to the matzah used for the Seder. Preferably, this matzah should be guarded from the time of harvest, but guarding from the time of milling is also acceptable (Orach Chayim 453:4). Shulchan Aruch further cites the ruling that if nothing else is available, one may even bake matzot for the Seder with flour “from the marketplace.”

According to the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, which follows that of the vast majority of authorities, all matzah eaten on Pesach except for the matzot used at the Seder can theoretically be made from flour that was not specially supervised for Pesach.

Practically speaking, however, one must supervise flour used for Pesach nowadays since contemporary commercial flour is known to be made of tempered (wetted) grain. As such, flour “from the marketplace” today may be actual chametz and may not be used at any point during the holiday.[ix]

For this reason, all matzah produced nowadays is made from flour guarded from the time of milling. Although the “shmurah” label is reserved for matzah that is shmurah mish’at ketzirah, even so-called “non-shmurah” matzah is actually shmurah in that it is shmurah mish’at techinah. Today’s “non-shmurah” matzah would thus have been used for the Seder according to the old Ashkenazic standard; it is certainly more than acceptable for consumption during the rest of Pesach.

Why, then, do many people insist on eating only “shmurah matzah” (i.e., shmurah mish’at ketzirah) for all of Pesach? Some pious individuals maintain that since shmurah matzah is so easy to come by nowadays, it’s proper to accommodate the opinion of the Rif and Rambam. But while showing love for mitzvot is beautiful, one must also bear in mind that the Rif and Rambam are alone in their opinion, and, even according to them, eating such matzah is not absolutely essential.

As such, if being careful to eat only this kind of shmurah matzah for all of Pesach would amount to a financial burden, or would be an imposition on others in any way (for example, one insists that one’s family or host obtain “shmurah” matzah or matzah meal), it would be misguided to adhere to this practice.

Others eat only shmurah mish’at ketzirah throughout Pesach following the practice of the Vilna Gaon (Maaseh Rav 186). Contrary to popular misconception, however, the Vilna Gaon did not believe that halacha fundamentally mandates eating only matzah shmurah mish’at ketzirah. Maaseh Rav states explicitly that the Vilna Gaon only adopted this practice because he was concerned about specific agricultural conditions in Lithuania that made it likely that grain would become chametz at harvest time.[x]

All indications in the writings of the Vilna Gaon point to the fact that he essentially agreed with the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch. Therefore, non-shmurah matzah today (which is actually shmurah mish’at techinah) is absolutely permitted even according to the Vilna Gaon.

There is, however, a different ruling of the Vilna Gaon that could potentially support the idea of eating only matzah shmurah mish’at ketzirah during the entirety of Pesach. Although eating matzah is only an absolute Torah obligation on the first night of Pesach (and, in the diaspora, a rabbinic obligation on the second night), the Vilna Gaon maintains that it is nevertheless an “optional mitzvah” throughout Pesach – i.e., although it’s not required, one gets reward for all the matzah one eats during the holiday (Maaseh Rav 185).

In order to fulfill this “optional mitzvah,” which is an extension of the requirement on the first night, one presumably needs to eat matzah that is appropriate for fulling the mitzvah at the Seder (Hilchot Chag beChag Pesach, ch. 16 end of n. 19). Thus, if one wishes to receive these extra “mitzvah points,” one should be stringent to eat the same type of matzah throughout Pesach that is consumed at the Seder – shmurah mish’at ketzirah.

However, this argument is extremely questionable. First, many authorities disagree with the Vilna Gaon and rule that there is no mitzvah whatsoever to eat matzah except at the Seder (see ibid. n. 23). Second, shmurah mish’at ketzirah is not absolutely essential even for the first night; since all our matzah nowadays is shmurah mish’at techinah, it is technically acceptable even for the Seder. One may certainly therefore eat matzah shmurah mish’at techinah for the possible fulfillment of a mitzvah to eat matzah throughout Pesach.

In conclusion: While one should make every effort to use “shmurah matzah” (i.e., matzah that is shmurah mish’at ketzirah) at the Seder, “non-shmurah” matzah is completely acceptable lechatchila for the rest of Pesach.

It should be noted, however, that some very punctilious matzah bakeries produce only matzah that is shmurah mish’at ketzirah, and it is by no means the intention of this article to encourage using non-shmurah matzah (matzah that is shmurah mish’at techinah) if doing so will result in a general lowering of one’s halachic standards vis-à-vis eating matzah.[xi]

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[i] According to some Rishonim, “guarding” matzah means also having in mind that it will be used for the mitzvah. Rav Moshe Mordechai Karp convincingly argues that this type of guarding is certainly not required before the kneading (Hilchot Chag beChag Pesach ch. 16 n. 19.

[ii] According to some Rishonim, visual inspection of the prepared dough is sufficient; others rule that a Jew must at least minimally supervise the dough’s production. In practice, of course, we follow the stringent view (see Chok Yaakov 453:15).

[iii] If one has enough, one should preferably eat only guarded matzah throughout the entire Seder, as all the matzah one eats on this night is in fulfillment of the mitzvah (see Hilchot Chag beChag Pesach ch. 15 n. 3).

[iv] There is no explicit indication in the Rif that he disagrees with the Rambam (as noted by Maggid Mishneh, Hilchot Chametz uMatzah 5:9), although the Tur interprets the Rif’s words as applying only to the matzah with which one fulfills the mitzvah at the Seder (Orach Chayim 453).

[v] Among other things, this is indicated by the fact that the Rambam introduces his comments on eating only guarded matzah during Pesach with the words “amru chachamim” (“the Sages said”), which he generally uses to introduce instructions that are not clear-cut halachot.

[vi] The reason regular flour is permitted is because grain is presumed to be kosher l’Pesach (it has a chezkat hetter) unless there are specific grounds to be concerned that it might have gotten wet at some point (Teshuvot HaGeonim Sha’arei Teshuvah 293). The Geonim, however, only permit using regular flour in an emergency.

[vii] In fact, it would have been extremely difficult to obtain flour that was shmurah mish’at ketzirah because Jews didn’t own fields and thus had no access to grain when it was harvested (Sefer Ha’Agudah, Pesachim 38).

[viii] Rava actually never explicitly said that guarding from the time of harvest is required; he merely said one must begin guarding the grain some time before it’s kneaded (although his personal practice was to guard from the time of harvest, as the Gemara records). Thus, it’s possible that Rava fundamentally simply holds that one should begin guarding the grain as early as feasible (cf. Ran, Pesachim 12a in the Rif).

[ix] It is far from certain that the soaking it undergoes is truly sufficient to render it absolute chametz; therefore, many authorities permit using regular flour upon the termination of Pesach even if it was owned by a Jew over the holiday (which is rabbinically prohibited for true chametz). However, one may obviously by no means risk violating a severe Torah prohibition by consuming such flour on Pesach itself.

[x] Apparently, the stalks were left attached to the ground after the grain had finished growing, which means it was possible for it become chametz when rain fell. Maaseh Rav states that this situation undermined the grain’s presumption of permissibility (its chezkat hetter).

[xi] All hand matzah bakeries nowadays produce only shmurah mish’at ketzirah. Thus, those who eat only hand matzah for all of Pesach eat only shmurah matzah by default. In addition to wanting to be stringent in general, hand bakeries presumably only make shmurah matzah to service the many people who use hand matzah for the Seder even if they eat machine matzah during the rest of Pesach. Thus, it’s easier for them to make all their matzah useable at the Seder. Nevertheless, it would please this author very much if some matzah bakeries would also make reliable handmade non-shmurah matzah.

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Rabbi Yaakov Hoffman leads Washington Heights Congregation (“The Bridge Shul”). He is a member of the Kollel L’Horaah of RIETS and has had a lifelong interest in the history of halacha. He can be reached at rabbi@bridgeshul.com.