Pesachim 37-38 Must the matza you eat on seder night belong to you?

In loving memory of my dear father, Moreinu haRav Avraham Benzion ben Azriel Hertz Isaacson zt’l, whose love of Torah, passion for justice, and acts of kindness inspire everything I do.

There is a well-known dispute between Rabbi Akiva and Chachamim regarding מעשר שני  (the second tithe that is supposed to be eaten in Jerusalem.)

Rabbi Akiva holds that this tithe is ממון גבוה  (the property of Hashem, so to speak) which the owners have the right to eat under certain conditions.

The Chachamim hold, in contrast, that it is ממון בעלים, the property of the owners, albeit with certain restrictions that apply to where it may be eaten.

At the bottom of daf 37b, Rav Asi lists 3 ramifications of this debate:

  1. A loaf of maaser sheini –  according to Rabbi Meir, חלה  need not be separated, whereas according to Chachamim, it must be.
  2. Matza of maaser sheini- according to Rabbi Meir, one may not fulfil one’s obligation with it on pesach night, whereas according to the Chachamim, one may.
  3. An esrog of maaser sheini- according to Rabbi Meir, one may not fulfil one’s obligation on the first day of sukkot with it, whereas according to Chachamim, one may.

The implication of Rav Asi’s words are that both Rabbi Meir and Chachamim agree that one needs to own the matza one uses on pesach night, just like with esrog and the dough which challah is separated from, the only debate is to whether a person is the owner of his maaser sheini or not.

Rav Papa immediately questions this ruling :

When it comes to the obligation of  separating challah, the passuk specifically refers to “עריסותיכם”  (your loaves), and regarding estrog (and the other 4 species) it specifically says “ולקחתם לכם”  (and you shall take for yourselves)- yet we do not see any such requirement regarding מצה!

Rava answers that we learnt his requirement from a   גזירה שוה  (comparison based on similar usage of language.)

Both מצה  and the dough which requires challah to be taken are referred to as  “לחם”  (bread) and both thus have to belong to the person.

Given that this is derived from one of the 13 principles used to interpret the Torah, it would seem that this is a biblical requirement without which one might not fulfil his obligation.

The Gemara then brings a beraisa to support the ruling of Rav Asi:

This beraisa says explicitly that maaser sheini is exempt from challah according to Rabbi Meir and liable to challah according to Chachamim.

The wording of the beraisa is so similar to Rav Asi’s first law that the Gemara wonders what is being taught by this.

It answers that the Amora meant to bring this beraisa as a support for ALL 3 rulings of Rav Asi- This is not a foregone conclusion for  we might have thought that Rav Asi’s נפקא מינה (practical ramification) was limited to challah where the word “עריסותיכם” is mentioned twice , but that when it comes to matza and esrog, even Rabbi Meir would agree that one can use maaser sheini, despite the גזירה שוה  and word “לכם”.

The obvious difficulty with this suggestion is that it does not seem to make sense ממה נפשך (whatever you say.)

If maaser sheini is ממון בעלים, then it  belongs to the owner of the produce and all 3 should be valid.

If on the other hand it is ממון גבוה, it does NOT belong to him and the fact that the requirement for ownership is mentioned once and not twice doesn’t change that!

Anticipating this issue, Rashi explains that we might have thought that the single mention of the requirement for ownership is coming to exclude a stolen or borrowed item, not מעשר שני  which one is at least permitted to eat , and that only in the case of challah (and possibly מצה  via ג”ש  but this is another subtlety in the text that requires study) where it is mentioned twice, is מעשר שני  also excluded.

The essence of Rashi’s explanation is that there are two different levels of lack of ownership:

  1. In the case of something that one has stolen or borrowed, one is not permitted to eat the item but must return it (one who is שואל  (borrows) an item is permitted to make use of it as is but not to eat or destroy it.) 

It is thus considered completely detached from him ownership-wise .

  1. In the case of מעשר שני , even Rabbi Meir agrees that although it is not one’s property, one is permitted to eat it. This gives a person a certain level of ownership in it, which we might have thought would be enough for the mitzva of esrog (and possible matza.)

The fact that the Gemara brought the Beraisa as a proof for all 3 rulings of Rav Asi, however, shows that there it holds that there is no distinction in practise, and that all 3 mitzvos require full ownership. (see in contrast Sukkah 35a where Rabbi Chiya bar Aba indeed holds that permission to eat the esrog is enough to make it fit for the mitzva!)

If we have read the sugya correctly, it seems to follow that just like the esrog has to belong to the person using it for the mitzva on the first day of sukkos, so also the matza has to belong to the person eating it for the mitzva on the first night of Pesach!

Not only would stolen matza not do the trick, but neither would borrowed matza!

This could have various ramifications:

  1. If many people put their matza in the same oven to bake, it would be necessary to ensure that everyone gets his own matza back, or at least make some form of valid transaction among one another that transfers ownership of each matza to whomever gets it back from the oven.  We have indeed seen a similar idea regarding lulavim left in shul over shabbos. (Sukkah  42b)
  2. If one borrows matza from one’s neighbor, one might need to take full ownership of it before using it for the mitzva.
  3. If one eats at someone’s else’s home and eats from HIS matzos, one might need to ensure that the owner legally (either implicitly or explicitly ) gives the matza to him as a gift before eating it, something that does not appear to be widespread practise.

The Tosfos seem to take the requirement for matza to belong to the eater seriously enough that they ask why the Gemara earlier brought other reasons for invalidating מצה של טבל  (matza that has not been tithed.)- it should be unsuitable simply because it does not fully belong to the eater! (see Tosfos on 38a for the two different answers he gives.)

Yet the Rambam (Chametz uMatza 6/  7 ),  while ruling that stolen matza may not be used,  groups it together with other things that one is not permitted to eat, such as טבל  and  מעשר ראשון from which תרומת מעשר  has not been separated.

He rules that anything which one does not say ברכת המזון ( grace after meals) for due to the act of eating it having been a sin, may not be used for matza, but that anything on which one does say it may indeed be used.  

It seems clear that the Rambam is only concerned about the aveira aspect and not the lack of ownership.

This reason is also backed by the Yerushalmi  (quoted by the Rosh and others) that specifically brings this reason.

Consistent with the above, the Rambam also allows one to use maaser sheini for matza, despite the fact he rules like Rabbi Meir that maaser sheini is ממון גבוה ! (Maaser Sheini 3/24)

The simple explanation of this Rambam seems to be that he does not rule like Rav Asi who requires the matza to belong to the eater, but followers the Yerushalmi that simply requires it to be something that one is halachically permitted to eat, due to the concern of מצוה הבאה בעבירה.

As normal practise is to follow the Bavli in a dispute with the Yerushalmi, this is unusual, but not entirely unprecedented for the Rambam, and in this case, it could be because Rav Asi’s ruling is subject to dispute by Rabbi Chiya bar Aba in the parallel sugya (Sukkah 35a.)

As such, the Rambam might hold that so longer as the person eating matza has permission from the owner to do so, and no sin is being committed by so doing, he fulfills his obligation, irrespective of whether he has full ownership of it or not.

In the case of the multiple people who put their matza in the oven and receive different matzos back, the fact that people implicitly give permission to others to eat their matza in exchange for them reciprocating might be sufficient according to the Rambam to remove any concern of מצוה הבאה בעבירה  even if ownership itself is not transferred, and the same would apply to borrowed matza.

On the other hand, according to Tosfot and other Rishonim who seem to see Rav Asi’s ruling as authoritative (see מהר”ם חלואה  who specifically rules this way regarding someone else’s matza) it seems that explicitly having in mind to transfer ownership might be required.

When it comes to eating matza given out by one’s host, it is necessary to determine what the halachik status of the host’s action is:

  1. He could be giving it as a complete gift to the guest
  2. He could simply be giving permission to the guest to eat HIS food without giving him ownership over it. This certainly seems to be the situation at a simcha buffet where one is permitted to eat whatever one wishes but may not take anything home with him, even once put on his plate.

If the former is correct, one would have to deal with the prohibition against acquiring things on   shabbos or Yom-Tov, but if a solution were found for this issue, one would fulfill one’s obligation according to all opinions.

However, if the second option his correct, then whereas according to the Rambam, permission to eat the matza might indeed be enough, according to the opinions that require complete ownership, one would need to ensure that he acquires the matza legally, assuming this is in fact possible on Yom-Tov.

When it comes to matza which one has borrowed from a neighbor, it seems that just like one may not use a borrowed esrog or lulav for the mitzva on sukkos, one may not used borrowed matza for the mitzva on pesach either.

However, the consensus of the poskim (Taz O.C. 454/4 , Mishna Berura 454/16) seems to be to follow the reasoning of the Ritva (Sukkah 35a)  who claims that borrowing matza is intrinsically different to borrowing an esrog.

When one borrows a consumable item like matza, the lender knows that the borrower is going to eat it and will not be returning the very same piece of matza that he received.

This  gives the transaction the status of a הלואה  (monetary loan,) where we apply the rule of מלוה להוצאה נתנה (a loan Is given to be spent.)

Unlike when one borrows an item for use and eventual return, borrowed money (or in this case food) automatically became the property of the  לוה (borrower) and a debt is created whereby the borrower owes the lender the equivalent amount.

In short, while there is reasoning to allow one to fulfill one’s obligation with one host’s matza, given that we are dealing with a biblical obligation, one would do well to consider all the above issues and it might indeed be preferable to bring one’s own matza with or make a valid transaction on the matza one is going to eat before Yom-Tov.

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha

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