Pesachim 36

Egg matzah and jam for Frances.

Yesterday, we learned about the types of grains from which matzah can be made in order for it to be able to fulfill one’s obligation on Passover (wheat, spelt, rye, barley and oats). Today, we learn about what other things can and cannot be added to the dough.

The Torah calls matzah “lechem oni,” or “poor person’s bread.” (Deuteronomy 16:3) Only this type of unleavened bread — made with just flour and water — fulfills the obligation of eating matzah on the first day of Passover. 

On our daf, however, the Gemara brings two different, opposing opinions from Rabbi Akiva about whether we can eat enriched matzah or not. Here’s the first one:

Rabbi Akiva says, The repetition of matzot matzot serves to amplify, and teaches that all types of matzah may be eaten on Passover. If so, what is the meaning when the verse states lechem oni, poor man’s bread? This phrase excludes dough that was kneaded with wine, oil, or honey (which is not classified as poor man’s bread and therefore cannot be used for this mitzvah).

Rabbi Akiva picks up a discussion from the previous daf, in which the Talmud posits that the repetition of the word “matzahs,” which is found throughout the biblical text, clues us into the various types of matzah that different people may eat (in that case, it was about priests who can eat matzah made from tithed produce, and Levites and regular Israelites, who cannot). He says what appears to have already been made clear: that matzah is lechem oni, poor person’s bread, and thus cannot be enriched; the Torah’s repetition of the words “matzot matzot” is simply referring to consecrated and unconsecrated grain.

So, is there any hope for those of us that look forward to eating egg matzah with butter and jam, or cream cheese and honey (seriously, try it) for breakfast on Passover?

The debate continues for several more lines. The rabbis insist that enriched matzah is unacceptable. Then we get this story in which Rabbi Akiva seems to have changed his mind:

And Rabbi Akiva said: It was my Shabbat to serve before Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua during Passover, and I kneaded for them dough with wine, oil and honey, and they said nothing to me by way of objection.

Rabbi Akiva recalls now that he served enriched matzah to colleagues on Passover, and they ate it without objection. 

So what does Rabbi Akiva really think? About halfway down 36a, we thankfully get clarification:

This is not difficult, as Rabbi Akiva’s first statement is referring to the first day of the festival. However, that second teaching pertains to the second day of Passover. 

Hurrah! At the Passover seder and on the first day of the festival, we are all oni’im — poor people. We are commanded to view ourselves as if we personally came out of Egypt, with the unleavened bread drying out on our backs. And we are also commanded to eat matzah. No eggs or apple juice here, just plain matzah of flour and water. By the second day, though, we are no longer commanded to eat matzah, just to refrain from eating hametz. Our matzah can now be kneaded with enrichments like juice, oil or eggs and we can certainly schmear on toppings to our heart’s content.

Parsing through this discussion also gives us a taste of the manner in which the editors of the Gemara stitched together seemingly contradictory opinions — in this case, by the same rabbi. Having the opportunity to witness the back-and-forth of the sages as they attempt to find clarity resulting in a definitive ruling to the important question — can we eat the matzah?! — is, in my mind, what makes Talmud study both endlessly challenging and thoroughly rewarding. 

Whether the rabbis had the blessing of chocolate-covered matzah is a question for another day.

Read all of Pesachim 36 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on December 27th, 2020. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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Gittin 36

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